How to Write an Effective Resume
Have you been applying to hundreds of jobs, yet remained uninvited for an interview? You have a unique collection of educational, professional and life experiences. Isn’t that enough material for a great job? How do you stand out from the competition?
One recent analysis of over 170k resumes is a helpful guide of common resume trends.
Recruiters and hiring managers aren’t familiar with your unique journey. They need a logical map to understand your path. Learn how to write an effective resume and build the bridge to connect your professional past with your successful future.
What Kind of Resume Do Employers Prefer?
There are many kinds of resumes to choose from: functional, chronological, combination/hybrid, federal and more. The proper resume type will depend upon the type of employer requiring it.
Indeed.com establishes that between the varied options, “chronological format is the more traditional way to write a resume and is the preferred method for many job candidates and employers.” Chronological format refers to experience listed from most recent and working backward down the page.
Employers ultimately want to find a candidate that best matches the role they’re seeking to fill. Recruiters and hiring managers probably want to hire that winning employee as much as you’d like to be selected. The (not so hidden) secret is that they’ve already given you all the answers to the puzzle — Pro tip: everything you need to know is within the job description and company website.
You can’t copy and paste your way into the job, though. You need to customize and optimize:
- Customize: Find a specific company and available position that aligns with your interests and qualifications. Stack your resume with professional skills and successes supporting your candidacy for the available position.
- Optimize: Embed key words from the job description into the specific content used throughout your resume.
What is the Perfect Resume Pattern?
Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. For a job application, the beholder is the recruiter or hiring manager who wants to find the perfect candidate. Solidify the match. Use a familiar resume pattern to meet the employer’s expectations. Then, balance it with your unique spark of relevant experiences.
Open a blank document and create the framework of items below to begin drafting your resume:
Name & Contact Information
This detail will sit at the top of your resume. Your first and last name should be in a larger, bolded font as the first line of the document. On the subsequent line, note your city and state, phone number, professional email address, and a plain-text URL to your LinkedIn and/or another professional online portfolio.
Tell the recruiter or hiring manager that the job they’re offering is your main aspiration. Change this desired job title at the top of your resume each time you apply to a different position.
This section is your resume highlight reel. Describe the values that make you a potential asset to the company. As a modernization of the formerly acceptable objective statement, a professional profile is a 3-4 sentence proposal of not what the employer can do for you but what you can do for the employer. Check out these options from The Balance for examples of professional profiles.
List relevant certifications in reverse chronological order from the date obtained. This can include certificates awarded by professional associations, or free training completed on LinkedIn Learning. If the credential highlights any of your interests or skills related to the open position, include it! Note the certification name and the organization from which you received it. Include the completion month and year as well as the city and state of the certifying organization as applicable.
You’ve worked, or are working, hard to earn your academic credentials. List the degree program as the Associate, Bachelor or Master of Science / Arts with your applicable major, the school with its city and state, and the date of degree completion or anticipated conferral. You can choose to include your GPA if it is 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale. Include your high school diploma or equivalency information only if it is your highest completed or in-progress credential; exclude it otherwise.
Does your transcript include courses that may be intriguing for the employer to note your knowledge? Create a bulleted list of courses that echo expertise for the job requirements. You don’t need to include every course, only list those that are relevant to the open role.
Skills & Qualifications
Populate this section with hard skills such as languages, software and other technical training, as well as soft skills such as organization, effective communication or other keywords relating to personal habits or traits of your work style. You may choose to mirror certain words from the job description that relate to your actual experience and include those here.
Think about your past work experience. Does it consist of professional titles, volunteer positions, part-time roles or academic projects? Use this section to detail what you’ve done professionally, and what you can do in the future.
Start with the most recent experience and work backward down the page, chronologically. First, note each professional title in bold font with the beginning to the ending month and year for when you were involved in that role (i.e., January 2020 – December 2022). If you're still employed there, note the ending time frame as Present. On the next line, write the company name and its city and state.
Create accomplishment-focused bullet points under each role. Use action-oriented verbs and use quantifiable examples when possible. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recommends the following formula:
(Action Word + Tasks) + Result = Bulleted Statement
Former Google Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO), Laszlo Bock, prefers leading with accomplishments. Bock proposes the following formula:
Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z]
Whichever method you prefer, aim for 3-5 strong bullet statements per role.
Let's practice. You're the recruiter.
Option A: I helped to increase sales by being nicer to customers to sell more items
Option B: Launched quality customer service campaigns including personalized initial phone calls, email correspondence and follow-up outreach plans to increase profits by 15% ($1.2M) in 2021
Option C: Increased profits by 15% ($1.2M) in 2021 by launching quality customer service campaigns including personalized initial phone calls, email correspondence and follow-up outreach plans
The pattern of how to write an effective resume showcases you as an ideal candidate designed to suit the employer’s needs. The contact information, job title and professional profile should remain at the forefront. Otherwise, you can mix and match the placement of the other sections to your preference in whatever form and composition you feel will best resonate with the hiring team. Omit any sections that are not relevant to your experience but keep in mind the valuable skills you’ve developed over the years. What’s most important in how to write an effective resume is the distinct representation of your relevant qualifications within the framework.
What are the 7 Basic Steps to Write the Perfect Resume?
The Ladders Eye-Tracking Study in 2018 reported that recruiters spend an average of 7.4 seconds skimming through applicant resumes (Ladders PDF source). Make an impression with that precious little time. There are a variety of ways to write an effective resume because every individual job at each company has its own unique qualifications. The basic steps below will help you to develop a greater impact:
- Immerse yourself in the company culture. Reread the job description and the Careers webpage or overall website of the company to get a full sense of the company atmosphere, messaging and needs for the open position. You may decide to look at reviews online from customers and employees to understand external perceptions and ensure it’s the type of company where you see yourself working.
- Develop your game plan. Write down skills and qualifications from the job posting and specific requirements where you could provide examples from your own experience. It may be helpful to copy and paste the entire job description into a WordCloud generator to see what values stand out to the employer so you can reflect that in your resume.
- Format your document plainly. According to Chelsea Kaled, a career advisor at Southern New Hampshire University, “the format of your resume should simply be words on a Word document.” Exclude formatting tools like headers, footers, tables, and images that are not recognizable by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and may get your document kicked out before it reaches a single human.
- Raise key details to the front. File at the top of your resume any sections of information you’d want the recruiter to see first.
- Include job-relevant skills. Transferrable skills exist across industries. Think critically about the experiences from any of your educational, volunteer and professional involvement related to what the company is seeking. Employ action-oriented verbs with measurable supporting examples. Include details from the past 7-10 years, if possible.
- Construct your content intentionally. The company carefully crafted the job content to communicate their needs. Use that to your advantage by paraphrasing verbiage from the job description. Draft bulleted sentences of your past experiences by reflecting the provided words creatively.
- Paint a concise picture. Efficiently illustrate what you've done, but also how you did it. The term résumé originates from a French verb meaning to summarize. According to The Brittanica Dictionary, to summarize is “to tell (information) again using fewer words.” Make your points and make them quickly. Avoid filler words like “I” or “my” pronouns and adverbs that provide more fluff than function.
Your resume is your professional summary. It provides limited space with a single chance to make that first impression. Keep the document to one page, preferably, per the 69% majority of other one-page resumes according to the KickResume.com report. You can extend the resume length to two pages if you possess extensive relevant experience. Take your time to ensure the included content is clear and direct, while pertinent and persuasive.
Which of the Following Should Not be on your Resume?
Proofread carefully and ask a friend or family member for their review as well. Be sure to avoid common mishaps such as:
- References Available Upon Request
- Grammatical Errors
- Unprofessional Email Address
- “I” or “my” pronouns
- Date of Birth
- Technology Trends for Resume Writing
New tools and technological advancements have transformed traditional methods for how to write an effective resume. If you’re having difficulty putting the right words together, these tools can be helpful to get the juices flowing:
- KickResume.com AI Resume Builder
- O*NET Online
- Bard by Google
- JobScan ATS Resume Checker
Be careful not to over-optimize or rely too much on AI-powered tools. You want to align with the job description effectively, but you also need to always proofread, revise and verify the writing and content. Ensure your authentic voice stands out at the loudest volume on your resume. Even if you make it past the initial resume screen, you’ll still need to show up and speak about your specific experience during the interview.
Remember the Cover Letter for Your Resume
With the limited space for personal expression permitted on the resume, including a supplemental cover letter to bolster your experience through targeted storytelling can help you stand out from the competition as well.
Learn how to write a cover letter that will intrigue recruiters.
The foundation is set, the building blocks are ready, and your toolbelt is full to construct your professional future. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so remember to stay positive throughout the process. Give yourself time to research, plan, process, write and rewrite your resume. You can make changes at any time. Once you’ve templated a core resume document, slight adjustments to certain bullet statements and sections will come with greater ease.
Lean on your university career services team, if available, or a local workforce development office. Career advisors and career coaches have a passion for helping you reach your professional goals.
An effective resume is the master key to the front door of your professional future. Once the right key is created, there’s an array of employers excited to invite you into their organization and see what your skills, knowledge and experience will help to develop.
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Dana McGrath is an employer relations partner with Southern New Hampshire University Career Services. She began her SNHU career journey as an admission counselor and was promoted in 2021 to her current role, where she meets and collaborates with external recruiting contacts interested in hiring talent from SNHU online programs. Connect with McGrath on LinkedIn.
About Southern New Hampshire University
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