Post courtesy of Jon Shields of Jobscan
Creating a resume for your job search should be easy. Download a template, write up your work and education history, then fire it off to eager potential employers. But once you start, the questions start piling up. Are objective statements still a thing? Do I put the company name or my job title first? Which skills and duties do they care about? How small can I make my fonts and margins to fit everything on a single page? And what’s this I’m hearing about applicant tracking systems?
We’ve got answers– 52 resume tips to guide you through the process. Below you’ll find:
- Resume Sections: What Goes Where (1-7)
- Resume Formatting and Style Tips (8-16)
- ATS optimization (17-25)
- Highlighting Your Skills (26-29)
- Honing Your Experience (30-38)
- Additions and Subtractions (39-42)
- Wordsmithing and Resume Writing (43-50)
- Online Resume Tips (51-52)
Resume Sections: What Goes Where?
1. Every Time: Name, phone number, and email address
With so much else to consider, job seekers sometimes forget to make themselves reachable. Just ask an experienced recruiter.
Ensure that your name is prevalent at the top of your resume, followed closely by a personal phone number and email address. Don’t use your work contact information if you have other options.
2. List a professional-sounding email address
Your email address is typically at the top of your resume and one of the first things a recruiter will see, so email@example.com won’t cut it.
While it’s your personal email address, make sure it still strikes a professional tone and is with a modern provider. Forbes once found that 31% of resumes were thrown out due to unprofessional email addresses. Cute or funny usernames don’t belong on a professional resume.
Outdated email clients like AOL or even your old college .edu email address can also be a turnoff. If you don’t already have one, set up a free Gmail address based around your first and last name.
3. Include your LinkedIn URL with your contact info
These days, you should absolutely include your LinkedIn URL on your resume with the rest of your contact information. The recruiter is going to look it up anyway, so you might as well make it easy for them.
Customize your LinkedIn URL by navigating to your profile and clicking, “Edit public profile & URL.”
Ideally, your URL is simply first name-last name. Some people add a word for their industry or position. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, get one right away.
4. Set the tone with a headline, summary or objective statement
Using a resume summary statement isn’t always necessary but can be a great way to set a recruiter’s expectations, add measurable results, and pack in additional resume search terms. Executive resume writer Adrienne Tom recommends using a LinkedIn-style headline. For example:
President and CEO: Manufacturing Start-Ups and Turnarounds
P&L up to $160M | Global Teams of 300+ | 300% Revenue Growth in 3 Years
The traditional resume objective statement is generally considered outdated.
5. Ditch your references to save some space
Hiring managers assume that you have them, so you don’t need references on your resume. Do not include a list of references or the phrase, “references available upon request” unless the job listing says otherwise.
6. Know where your education section should go
For most job seekers, the education section should be kept simple — degree, graduation year, school name, location — and placed below work experience.
Recent grads should move the education section near the top of their resume, underneath their contact information. Listing relevant coursework, honors, clubs, extracurriculars, and other job-relevant details will help make up for a lack of professional experience.
Be aware that some industries or companies prefer to see education highlighted no matter how long you’ve been working. For example, Google asks their applicants to lead with education.
7. Mix and match resume sections to highlight your best experience
While most resumes should include your name and contact information, work experience, and education, there are a number of other resume sections that can showcase your most relevant experience. Some examples include:
- Career Summary or Objective Statement
- Accomplishments or Achievements
- Skills Section
- Volunteer Work
- Executive Core Qualifications
- Certifications and Licenses
- Awards and Honors
- Hobbies and Interests
Resume Formatting and Style Tips
8. Do not add a headshot to your resume
It’s become trendy for resume templates to include a place for your photo, but this may come back to bite you. Some recruiters automatically reject any resume that includes the applicant’s photograph to keep themselves above claims of discrimination.
“[Using a headshot] drives me nuts and immediately opens the door to recruiter discrimination,” a corporate tech recruiter told Jobscan, “which is obviously something everyone is trying to avoid.”
9. Recruiters don’t trust the functional resume format
Job seekers with unconventional work history or gaps in their resume prefer the functional resume format because it shifts the focus away from work experience and onto skills and accomplishments. Unfortunately, recruiters are suspicious of it for the exact same reasons.
The functional resume tips recruiters off that there’s something wrong. Furthermore, it takes skills and accomplishments out of context and makes it harder for the recruiter to figure out what a candidate really has to offer.
“Recruiters hate the functional resume,” a recruiter in the healthcare industry told Jobscan. “It’s a waste of time.”
10. Try the hybrid/combination resume format instead
If functional resumes are out and the traditional chronological resume doesn’t allow you to effectively tell your story, try the hybrid resume format. It’s also known as a combination resume because it combines the best elements of the functional and chronological resume formats.
With the hybrid format, you can create a top-loaded resume using a summary statement or skills section without stripping useful context away from your work experience.
11. Add months to your employment dates
When listing your start and end dates in your work experience, failing to include months can make a hiring manager suspicious. After all, an employment period of “2016-2017” could mean anything from one month to two years.
Stating “November 2016-June 2017” shows the hiring manager you have nothing to hide, even if the employment period was only six months. Additionally, some applicant tracking systems need the months to accurately parse your resume data into a digital candidate profile.
12. Choose the right resume font
Recruiters spend mere seconds deciding whether your resume is worth investigating. Make your resume easy to read and skimmable with a straight-forward, common font. The best resume fonts include serif fonts like Cambria, Garamond, Palatino, Calibri, and Helvetica, or sans-serif fonts like Tahoma and Verdana.
Digital applicant tracking systems could also be tripped up by unconventional fonts, which could display in the software as gibberish (like this ⌷⌷⌷⌷) or cause errors.
13. Keep your formatting consistent
“I’m looking at the logical flow of it, how you categorize the information, how does it read,” a healthcare recruiter told Jobscan. “The quality of presentation did tell me something about you.”
Beyond readability, your formatting and design choices will impact how a recruiter judges your attention to detail and professionalism. Whatever design or template you choose, ensure that your fonts, heading styles, indentation, and the way you use italics or bold fonts are consistent throughout your resume.
14. Protect your white space
There’s a lot of advice saying you should keep your resume to one page at any cost, but you might be better off with a two-page resume rather than a single page stuffed to the margins with content.
- Keep your margins at 0.75-1″ rather than the minimum 0.5″
- Use bulleted lists rather than big block paragraphs
- Add space between sections
White space between sections makes your resume more digestible for a recruiter. Ideally, you are able to edit out extraneous resume content to maintain white space while keeping your resume to a single page.
15. Don’t hyperlink important information
If you are listing a LinkedIn profile, portfolio link, or other important information on your resume, it’s better to write out the full URL rather than rely on an in-text hyperlink.
The first link will do you no good if the resume is ever printed out and might not work properly in whatever software the recruiter or hiring manager is using to view your resume. Save them the frustration by showing the whole URL when possible.
Before you add any URLs or links to your resume, be sure they actually work.
16. Creative resumes are for creative industries
After a few rejections, you might be tempted to try a bold, colorful, creative resume format.
It can be beneficial to show off your creativity, style, and design chops with your resume… if the job requires creativity, style, and design ability. If you use an off-the-wall resume design for, say, a corporate sales position, the effort you put into the design could lead a recruiter to the conclusion that you’re not serious about the job, or make the information difficult to comprehend.
Additionally, custom resume formats are unlikely to interact well with applicant tracking systems.
17. Understand applicant tracking systems
Most hiring companies, including 98% of Fortune 500 companies, use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to collect, filter, and search job applicants.
There are dozens of ATS, each with their own unique features and bugs. Even if you’re highly qualified for a position, failing to optimize your resume for ATS could cause you to slip through the cracks.
- Taleo: 4 ways the Most Popular ATS Ranks Your Job Application
- Jobscan Learning Center: Applicant Tracking Systems
- 8 Things You Need to Know About Applicant Tracking Systems
18. Tailor your resume keywords
Many popular ATS either automatically rank applicants based on how their resume compares to the job description, or allow the recruiter to search applicant resumes for key terms.
These search terms are typically job titles or hard skills. For example, a recruiter looking for an administrative assistant might start by searching for administrative assistant to find candidates who have done the job before. After that, they might search for desired skills and experience like Microsoft Office, Scheduling, or Compliance.
Matching the job description or coming up for recruiter searches is all about having tailored resume keywords.
Identify important keywords in the job description and add them exactly as they appear to your resume where applicable. The keywords most critical to the job should appear multiple times in your resume.
Learn more: Why ATS Resume Keywords Matter
19. Optimize your keywords with Jobscan
Resume keyword matching is easy with Jobscan. You just paste in or upload your resume and paste in the job description to receive an instant analysis that includes a match rate, job title matching, missing hard skills, and many other resume tips and best practices that go beyond ATS.
You can try it out right here on the blog:
20. Don’t be a keyword cheater
Some try to trick the ATS by using white text to either
- List the top keywords over and over
- Paste the entire job description into their resume
In theory, this creates a great resume for the ATS ranking algorithms while appearing completely normal to a human recruiter. In reality, this is called resume keyword stuffing and is easily detectable.
ATS that analyze your resume keywords tend to parse your resume into a digital applicant profile. That means that recruiters can plainly see your raw resume content. Furthermore, some systems, like the Taleo example below, highlight search terms in the raw text. In either case, it will be obvious that you’ve cheated the system. Getting caught using white text would be pretty embarrassing.
Recruiters don’t like cheaters.
21. Use ATS-friendly section headings
Make your resume easily parsable by ATS by using common section headings. For example, “Work Experience” and “Education” will be identifiable by ATS, whereas combining them into “Work Experience and Education” or getting cute with something like “Where I’ve Been” might not. If your resume is not parsed correctly, it could cause a mess that the recruiter won’t want to bother cleaning up or could keep you from coming up as a search result for key terms.
22. Order matters in your experience headings
Another tip for a parsable, ATS-friendly resume is to use this format for your work experience section headings:
Job Title, Tenure
Jobscan, Seattle, WA
Content Producer, (June 2017-Present)
This is the most common order ATS expect information.
23. Have to re-enter your resume info? Take it seriously
Some online applications require you to upload a resume then re-enter all that information into text fields online. Do not leave these blank or type “see resume.” In these cases, the resume you uploaded is for the recruiter to glance over or print out, whereas the text fields will be used to create search results or filters within the ATS.
At bare minimum, copy the information from your resume into these fields. To create an even more ATS-optimized application, use the extra space to expand upon your work history, skills, and accomplishments.
24. Don’t upload your resume as an image file
Because ATS are known to mess up your resume’s formatting, some try to preserve their design by uploading their resume as a static image, like a .jpg file. However, this will only puzzle recruiters, cause errors in systems, and make your resume unsearchable. Always use a .docx or .pdf file.
25. File names matter in ATS
Your resume’s file name will be listed front and center for the recruiter in some ATS interfaces. Keep your resume file name professional. Use your name and the position for which you’re applying in the file name. For example: Jon_Shields_Project_Manager.pdf
It’s a small thing, but it keeps your name at top of mind and shows that you’re organized.
Highlighting Your Skills
26. Create a skills section
Having a dedicated skills section near the top of your resume is a great way to show off your most important abilities. This approach helps optimize your resume for ATS by ensuring you have important skills in your resume, but can also catch a recruiter’s eye and quickly confirm that you have what they’re looking for.
An example skills section for a sales development representative might sit below the contact information and read:
Top Skills and Proficiencies
- CRM, Salesforce
- Business Development
- Outbound Calling
- Inside Sales
27. Back up your skills with context
That said, a bullet list of keywords is not enough. It might help you come up in an ATS search or catch a recruiter’s interest, but they won’t believe you’re actually skilled just because you put it in a list. All skills must be backed up with context.
One way to do this would be by expanding within the bullet list. For example:
- CRM, Salesforce: 4+ years experience operating daily within Salesforce CRM. Earned Salesforce Certification in January 2018. Also, have experience with Pipedrive (1 year), and Highrise (6 months).
If you don’t want to use so much room at the top of your resume, instead work this context into your work experience section. Once a recruiter sees Salesforce in your skills list they’ll skim through your work experience trying to figure out where, when, and how you utilized it in your career.
28. Demonstrate your soft skills
All hiring organizations want to hire employees with excellent soft skills — leadership, communication, creativity, etc.
Unfortunately for job seekers, it’s very difficult to include these on your resume. Just like with a hard skills list, you can’t just list problem solving and critical thinking on your resume and expect a recruiter to believe it. Once again, working these soft skills into your resume is all about providing context.
Use accomplishments, measurable results, and examples throughout your resume to prove your soft skills.
- How to Showcase Your Top Executive Soft Skills on Your Resume
- Should You Include a Soft Skills Section on Your Resume?
29. Changing careers? Lean on your transferable skills
Being able to clearly demonstrate your soft skills is especially important when transitioning to a new career. Soft skills are inherently more transferrable than hard skills.
Before you write your career change resume, take time to identify all your best soft skills and how they will benefit you in your new environment. For example, if you’re a teacher pursuing a career in sales, your ability to communicate and present to others is a huge plus.
Honing Your Experience
30. Maintain a master resume
Yes, you’re supposed to tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for, every single time. That doesn’t mean you should write your resume from scratch every time.
Consider maintaining a master resume or career management document. Think of this as a giant, overstuffed curriculum vitae. It should contain all your job duties, all your accomplishments, all the tools you used– everything you can think of for every job you’ve ever had. Maintaining a document like this can provide a great starting point for new resumes, ensuring that you don’t forget anything important while allowing you to simply delete content rather than rewriting.
31. Don’t get precious with your experience
That said, cutting things out of your resume isn’t always easy. These duties were part of your daily life. You worked hard to develop these skills. It can be hard to come to terms with the idea that some of those skills won’t always be applicable.
Let’s say you had a job at ABC Company in which you spent 70 percent of your time providing customer service and 30 percent of your time fulfilling online orders from the e-commerce site. Now you want to apply for a new job as a Fulfillment Coordinator. The section on your resume describing your time at ABC shouldn’t reflect the reality of 70 percent customer service and 30 percent fulfillment. You would have more success flipping it around and focusing more on your fulfillment experience.
This isn’t dishonest. If you think you can do the job, you want your prospective employer to know that you have the experience required. Getting bogged down in the less relevant customer service duties — that you performed well — will only distract them from your most important skills.
32. Know your value
You have to know what value you bring to the table. In relation to the job, which of your skills make you the most valuable? To help brainstorm, write down 4-5 reasons why you’d be the right fit for the job then start adding details. Not only will it help build your resume, but it’ll help you excel in interviews. Confidence is everything.
33. Make it skimmable
Recruiters are reading resumes all day. Don’t make them work for it by cramming 800 words into a single page of big block paragraphs.
Top-load your resume.
Use short sentences and bullet points.
As resume writer, Adrienne Tom wrote, “eliminate wordiness and excess details and just deliver straight facts.”
34. Duties tell, accomplishments sell
Duty: Respond to customer service inquiries via email and live chat platform.
Accomplishment: Respond to an average of 176 customer service live chats and 203 emails per week, improving response time by 74% and customer satisfaction by 31% between 2016 to 2017.
Duty: Write articles for blog according to SEO best practices.
Accomplishment: Write articles for blog according to SEO best practices, resulting in 53% increase in organic search traffic YoY.
Most people only list duties on their resume, but what good is that if the recruiter or hiring manager has no idea whether you’re good at it? Replacing duties with accomplishments can set your resume apart.
35. Contextualize measurable results
Measurable results are worthless without context.
“Signed $2 million in new business in Q3” could mean wildly different things depending on the business. If each deal is worth around $10,000 and no one had ever sold more than $1.5 million, this accomplishment shows that you’re a sales genius. But if each deal is worth $2 million, well… at least you got one.
Detail your accomplishment as well as why it was a big deal for you and your employer. Using percentages (“…increased sales 34% YoY”) is one way to provide context.
36. CAR and STAR aren’t just for interviews
CAR: Context/Challenge, Action, Result
STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result
These methods are more commonly used to prep for interviews, both for interviewees and interviewers. They are also a great template for presenting your top skills and measurable results on your resume.
You won’t have room to address each of these items for every duty and accomplishment, but they can make your top selling points more impactful. What happened? What were you trying to accomplish? How did you deal with it? What was the end result?
37. Align your resume with company values and culture
Interviews exist for a reason. Hiring managers want to get a better idea of who you are and how you would fit in with the rest of the company. While details about your personality don’t have a place in your resume, you can demonstrate your cultural fit in other ways.
For example, read up on the company’s values and see if any volunteer work or side projects you’ve done align with their mission. Consider removing experience from your resume that conflicts with the company’s mission (differing politics or religion come to mind). You can also check out your prospective manager and team members on LinkedIn and find out if there are any skills or passions that tie them together.
38. Fight back against age discrimination
The United States government has protections on the books to protect professionals over 40 but age discrimination in hiring is still very real. Some ways to keep yourself in the running against younger applicants:
- Stay current (and show it) – Keep up with technology, training, and modern business practices.
- Highlight recent experience – Depending on your field, you probably don’t need to list experience from 10-15+ years ago.
- Don’t be a jack of all trades – Silicon Valley recruiter Linda Tuerk: “Get over the generalists point of view. This is a time where specifics matter.”
- Embrace LinkedIn – This is where recruiters live. Make sure your photo exudes energy. Use content sharing and status updates to show that you’re invested in moving your industry forward.
Additions and Subtractions (and Addition by Subtraction)
39. Don’t be afraid to leave jobs off your resume
Just as you should exclude extraneous and irrelevant job duties, you should also leave jobs off your resume if they hurt your chances of moving forward in your career. A few examples of what to consider trimming:
- Experience over 10 or 15 years old – Fight ageism and focus on your most recent, relevant experience… especially if you’re in tech
- Odd jobs – The summer jobs you worked before your career took off or your current weekend gig that supplements your income will only distract from your core qualifications.
- Short-term busts – If you started a job and quit after 2 months, it will do more harm than good on your resume.
- Bad experiences – If it’s on your resume it could come up in an interview. If you really don’t want to talk about what went down, consider leaving it off completely.
40. But don’t lie
There is a line between excluding distracting information and outright lying on your resume. Resume lies like saying you have a degree when you don’t, fudging employment dates, or overstating your abilities with key technical skills could be uncovered in the interview and vetting processes. Once that happens, there’s no coming back.
Instead of lying, try patching up shortcomings in a resume summary statement or cover letter.
41. Fill employment gaps with side hustles
You don’t need a job to get to work. Add a side hustle to your resume to add new skills, fill resume gaps, and showcase an entrepreneurial spirit.
“I could have left a year’s gap on my resume,” wrote marketing exec Dina Louie about her layoff and resume gap. “Instead, I started some freelance work and my own project the month after my layoff to show I had other things I was focused on. This made a world of difference when I interviewed!”
42. Show that you’re always learning
Continuing your education shows that you’re serious about your career and adds value to your resume. This doesn’t have to mean heading back to school to get your master’s degree. There are a number of free certifications that can be added to your resume, such as Hubspot Academy’s Inbound Marketing Certification.
Wordsmithing and Resume Writing Tips
43. Use active voice and action words
Using passive voice on your resume will make you seem insecure and unwilling to take responsibility for your successes. It also tends to be needlessly wordy, using up precious real estate and making it harder for a recruiter or hiring manager to read.
Passive Voice: Over 10,000 widgets were shipped each month by the department I oversaw.
Active Voice: Oversaw shipment of over 10,000 widgets per month.
Use strong resume action words (designed, eliminated, led) at the beginning of your sentences to focus your duties and accomplishments while showing off your confidence.
44. Remove “was”
To make your resume sound strong and deliberate, try removing every “was” and “were” you can. For example, “Was responsible for maintaining client relationships” can become “Maintained client relationships.” See the difference?
45. Get rid of lazy words
Lazy words and phrases such as “etc.,” “so on,” and “and more” just take up space. If there’s more relevant information to be added, add it. If there isn’t, then you can lose the filler words.
46. Go easy on the buzzwords and cliches
On a resume or in a job interview, everyone is a team player. Everyone is a go-getter who thinks outside the box. Everyone is detail-oriented and results-driven. Of course, these are desirable traits — that’s why they’ve become cliches.
Avoid empty jargon frequently used on business resumes, like synergy, best of breed, thought leadership, or dynamic. And please know that the rockstar, guru, and ninja trend started dying a few years ago.
Recruiters sometimes look at thousands of resumes per week. Whenever they see these words, they cringe.
Remove the fluff. Show, don’t tell. Find ways to show what you accomplished and how you did it.
47. List numbers numerically
This is one goes against typical writing rules. In your resume, even numbers 10 and under should be listed numerically rather than spelled out. They will stand out for a hiring manager skimming your resume, drawing attention to your resume achievements. Plus it saves space.
48. Work in your resume keywords and skills naturally
When it comes to applicant tracking systems (see resume tips 17-25), it’s important to identify keywords and then use them in your resume exactly as they appear in the job description. This leads to one of our most common questions at Jobscan:
“Changing the tense of a verb just to satisfy an ATS often creates a resume that appears sloppy to a human reader because adjacent bullet points are in different word tenses,” said Jobscan user Darren W. “I need to make the change to get past the ATS, but end up with a poor resume when presented to a reader.”
It’s possible to create an ATS-optimized resume that also reads well. Simply move the tense to a different word in the sentence. For example:
|Current Phrase (Past tense)||Keyword Variation||Alternative Phrase (Past Tense)|
Managed team of 15 engineers…
|Manage||Brought in to manage team of 15 engineers…|
|Manager||Served as manager for team of 15 engineers…|
|Managing||Tasked with managing team of 15 engineers…|
|Management||Excelled in management role over team of 15 engineers…|
Learn more: Wordsmithing Your Resume for Tenses and Plurals
49. Avoid repetitive language
If you’re applying for a Social Media Coordinator position and you know social media is the most important skill for the applicant tracking system ranking algorithm, you might fall into this keyword over-optimization trap:
“Led social media marketing efforts which included writing social media content and using social media management platform Hootsuite to schedule social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks.”
This will do more harm than good. Seed in keywords as much as you can while still sounding relatively natural. Read it out loud.
Also, try to mix up your action verbs. This can be easier said than done. If you were in a writing position, for example, the most natural action word is going to write/wrote. “Wrote blog posts. Wrote press releases. Wrote social media content. Wrote marketing copy. Wrote white papers…” Finding ways to mix up your sentences or bullet points will make your resume more compelling for the reader.
50. Proofread and triple-check
Spell check is not enough! Spell check won’t always catch the times you repeat words, or when your typos
spell other words.
Quickly reading back through your resume won’t cut it either. Your brain knows what you meant to say and will swear to you that you got it right. When applying for an important job:
- Reread your resume after stepping away for a couple hours
- Read it out loud or paste it into a text-to-voice reader
- Change the font and color and read it again
- Ask your partner or friend to review it
Online Resume Tips
51. Become a passive candidate
Don’t just peruse the job boards and apply for the jobs that catch your eye. Create an account on those sites and upload your resume so that you can be found by recruiters. This may open up job opportunities you didn’t even know were available.
52. LinkedIn isn’t your online resume
Many job seekers believe that LinkedIn is just their online resume. They paste their resume info into their profile and only come back to update it when they have a new job.
There are a number of ways that LinkedIn goes beyond the digital resume:
- Room to work with – On a resume, less is more. On LinkedIn, more is more. Still, strive to make your profile sections easy to read, but feel free to push the word counts to their limits. Your LinkedIn profile can paint a clearer picture of what you’ve done and what you can do than your one-page resume.
- Show of some personality – Since LinkedIn is a social media network, there is more leeway to inject personality into your work profile. Write a quippy LinkedIn headline. Tell your career story in your summary section. Inject some industry commentary into your profile or through status updates.
- Network – LinkedIn allows you to interact with thousands of professionals relevant to your career path and interests. Build a targeted LinkedIn network of past colleagues, industry peers, recruiters, and target-company decision makers.
|Video: Optimize Your Profile with Jobscan (2:53)||Jobscan’s LinkedIn Profile Writing Guide|
|Full text tutorial | LinkedIn Optimization Tool||LinkedIn Profile Writing Guide|