How To Write a Resume

How to Write a Resume to Land Your Dream Job

So, it’s finally come along. Your dream job. The kind that makes you sit up straighter in your chair and stop thinking about the next Indeed listing — this is it.

Now, to get your foot in the door, you need a spectacular resume. One that shows how perfect you are for the job and how foolish they’d be to hire anyone else.

This guide will help you learn how to write a resume as strong as it can possibly be.

Step 1: Lay It Out

Blank pages are intimidating, even for professional writers. Before you start crafting your showstopping resume, layout the structure and label its parts.

The most common format is called a chronological resume. It organizes your work experience in reverse time order, starting with your current or most recent position and progressing back in time.  For example:

Chronological Resume Example

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Every resume should include the same basic sections:

  • Header
  • Summary/Objective
  • Work Experience
  • Education
  • Skills

You might end up moving some of these sections around on the page, depending on the template you use. For example, modern resume templates tend to put skills, education, and contact information in a sidebar:

Modern Resume Example

Image source:  ResumeGenius

Note: If you have little to no job experience, recently changed careers, or have gaps in your work history, skip ahead to the section called How to Write a Resume with No Job Experience. You’ll use a different structure, and it helps to see what that is before you start writing.

Step 2: Create Your Header

At the top of your resume, list your name and contact information. That includes:

A header traditionally includes a mailing address, but it’s less of a universal practice than it used to be. Many people have privacy concerns when applying online, and few use the mail as a main contact method today.

Still, employers like to know your location, and many automated applicant tracking systems filter by ZIP code. An estimated 98% of Fortune 500 companies, plus 65% of large businesses and 35% of small companies, use an ATS to screen resumes, so it’s best not to leave your location off entirely.

Don’t worry — you don’t have to include your entire street address. City, state, and ZIP code will usually be enough.

Step 3: Write a Summary or Objective

Just like blog posts and social media, resumes include a “Too Long; Didn’t Read” section at the top. On a resume, it’s called either a summary or an objective statement.

Both describe who you are as a candidate and why you’re a good match for the role. They’re about three lines of text long, unless you’re in a very technical professional and need more space.

Which one you choose depends on where you are in your job-seeking journey.

Summaries and When to Use Them

A summary describes your qualifications for the position. It typically includes how many years of experience you have and what you’ve done with that experience.

For example:

Customer-focused service representative with 7+ years of experience in busy call center settings. Successful in reducing escalations and increasing customer satisfactions cores by 25% to 40%.

Accomplished inside sales professional with 20 years of experience in mid-sized to large corporations.

This style of sentence fragment is standard for a resume summary or objective. It can drive writers a little bit crazy at first, but you’ll get used to it.

What About Objective Statements?

An objective statement is a brief overview of your career goals and what you’re looking for in a position. It’s best suited for candidates who are new to the industry or the job market.

It’s easy for objective statements to sound too candidate-focused. Avoid this by focusing on the value you provide and what the company would gain by hiring you. For example:

Motivated coding bootcamp graduate seeking a full-time position as a front-end developer. Seeking a position where I can apply my JavaScript knowledge to improve user experience.

Dedicated early-career business analyst, looking to apply my 10+ years of team management in a small to mid-sized company.

Be as specific as you can about what you bring to the table and target your statement to the company. Let them know why you’re the best hire, even if your direct industry experience is limited.

Step 4: Describe Your Work Experience

Your work experience section describes what you’ve done and where. It lists your accomplishments in each position, starting with the most recent or current one.

How to List Your Experience

Each listing in your work experience section includes four elements:

  • Job title. This is the first thing recruiters and hiring managers look for. Consider using a bold font and always use your official title.
  • Company name and location.  If it’s not a well-known company, find a way to mention what it does. You can add it to the name line (“Murphy & Hansen, Family Law”) or work it into your achievement section (“…for a family law firm.”)
  • Employment Dates. Standard format in the U.S. is MM/YYYY (06/2012 – 07/2015­ or 07/2018 – Present). It’s okay to estimate the month if you can’t remember your hiring date. 
  • Achievements and Responsibilities. Aim for three to five relevant responsibilities per position. You can list fewer for a simpler position like cashier or restaurant server. You may need more for a long-term, advanced, or technical job.

Here’s how it looks in practice:

Marketing Work Experience Example

Image source:

How Long Can It Be?

This is where many job seekers get stuck, mostly because so many people say that resumes can absolutely, positively be no more than one page.

Turns out, that advice is a little bit outdated. According to a 2019 study, recruiters are more likely to prefer two-page resumes. They’re more detailed and they tell the recruiter more about you.

If you only have enough material for one page, that’s fine! Someone with three jobs over an eight-year career, for example, will probably be able to express everything on a single sheet.  

But don’t leave out key achievements or relevant work experience for the sake of brevity. Employers invest a lot in their new hires, and they’d rather know more about you.

Pro Tips for Work Experience Entries

Use active verbs. Start every bullet point with a word like spearheaded, facilitated, and innovated. These give the impression that you’re a proactive team member. If you need some inspiration, check out this list of active verbs for resumes.

Keep each bullet point short. Aim for three lines, max — two is better. This makes your resume more scannable and keeps you from over-describing your experience.

Use quantifiable proof when possible. If you improved your company’s customer retention rate by 20% or reduced costs by $2,000 a year, work that in.

Connect it back to the job. If the listing asks for a candidate with Python experience and a knowledge of front-end and back-end development, point out that you “created front-end and back-end interfaces using Python.”

Don’t go back more than 10 to 15 years. Accomplishments from 20 years ago are probably dated now, and ageism in the workplace is real. Very impressive accomplishments are the exception.

Leave off standard duties. You don’t need to tell an employer that you answered phones as a receptionist. Save that space to mention that you created new sign-in system to reduce wait times.

Step 5: List Your Skills

After working diligently through your work experience section, the skills section will be a bit of fresh air. You don’t have to worry about phrasing or active verbs or anything of that nature.

All you have to do is make a bulleted list of your relevant abilities.

Plan to include a mix of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are quantifiable and teachable, like technical skills or familiarity with a certain methodology. Soft skills are your less measurable qualities, such as communication and customer issue resolution.

That said, if you’re applying for a highly technical job, you may want to create a Technical Skills section. This lets you group your skills by type, as in the following example:

Technical Skills Resume Example

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Always match your skills to the job description. (Do you sense a pattern developing here?) Look through the requested qualifications and use similar wording wherever possible.

For example, if the company is asking for an elementary teacher with “strong behavior management skills,” list Behavior management as your bullet point instead of Classroom management.

Step 6: List Your Degrees and Certifications

Like your work history, your education goes in reverse chronological order. The certification you completed last year goes above your master’s degree from five years ago, which goes above your bachelor’s degree.

For each school or training organization, list:

  • The institution’s full name (“Massachusetts Institute of Technology” instead of “MIT”)
  • Your degree or certification and what it’s in, if applicable (Bachelor of Arts in Education, Certified Medical Assistant)  
  • Any high-profile awards or accomplishments (cum laude, Dean’s list, Law Review editor, etc.)

You don’t need to list your GPA, unless it’s 3.5 or higher and you graduated two years ago or less. Also, avoid listing your graduation year unless you just graduated. In that case, 

Finally, only list as far back as your undergraduate degree, unless high school was your highest level of formal education.

How to Write a Resume with No Job Experience

If you have minimal work experience, you can re-structure your resume to emphasize your skills and education. Some job-seekers do this by using the functional resume, which emphasizes job skills and de-emphasizes work history. It’s most common among:

  • Candidates with little or no job experience
  • Career changers
  • People with gaps in their work history

A functional resume does include professional or academic accomplishments, but it sorts those accomplishments by skill set instead of position. Work history is de-emphasized and usually at the bottom, as in this example:

Work History Resume

Image source: MyPerfectResume

Be aware, recruiters don’t always love this format. They see it as a bit of a red flag, since people with lots of experience and accomplishments don’t tend to use it. It’s also less informative and applicant tracking systems don’t read it well, so you might get filtered out too early.

Most job seekers are better off with a hybrid resume, also called a combination resume. This style focuses on skills but also includes the chronological work history that recruiters and ATS systems want to see. Here’s an example:

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This is a great format because it’s extremely adaptable. For example, if you’re fresh out of school, you might decide to add your education section above work experience and highlight accomplishments from your classes.

Pulling It All Together

Now that you have the content of your resume ready to go, you need to make it look polished.

One option is to use a resume template. Any word processor you use, including Microsoft Word and Google Docs, have built-in free templates that look streamlined and professional.

You can also use an online resume builder like NovoResume, ResumeGenius, or Zety. If none of those appeal, just Google “resume builder” and you’ll have your pick of numerous options.

Ready, Set, Apply!

This is your dream job, so take your time with the process. Have someone read over your resume and offer their thoughts. Read it yourself a second time and check for any mistakes. (Great resumes are always error-free.)

And whatever you do, don’t forget the cover letter. No matter how great your resume is, you’ll need a great cover letter to close the deal. Don’t minimize this step — sometimes a cover letter is what gets your resume read!

Finally, it’ll be time to send off your carefully constructed resume and cover letter. It might take a few weeks to hear back, so take a breath and relax. You’ve done everything you can. Now it’s up to the hiring manager to see how great you are.