6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing
For busy hiring managers, your resume provides a snapshot of your career and is often the determining factor in whether you land an interview. If job search is a journey, a stellar resume is your passport.
The fundamental principles of resume writing have remained constant for generations, but evolving technologies mean more aspects of the application and hiring processes take place online than ever before. It’s up to you to stay informed of modern best practices and really put your resume to work for you.
If you’re getting ready for your next career move, keep these six universal rules in mind as you create or update your resume.
1. Cover all the basics
The goal of a resume is to best represent your relevant skills and accomplishments, and there are several ways to do that successfully. That said, every resume requires these basic elements:
Contact information. Your full name, the city where you live, your email address and phone number. Because this personal information is sensitive, you should be cautious about who you share your resume with. Read over these guidelines for a safe job search to protect yourself.
Relevant skills that relate to the job. Use some of the words in the job advertisement, provided you have those skills. Begin your list with the most important skills. Include your level of mastery (for example, ‘conversational Spanish’ or ‘familiar with Microsoft Excel’ vs ‘fluent in Spanish’ or ‘expert at Microsoft Excel’).
Relevant work and volunteer experience. Most people choose to list their experience beginning with their most recent job. Include the most relevant information from your past jobs; it’s alright to leave out some details if they don’t relate to the job you’re applying to now. Focus on listing achievements rather than tasks.
Relevant educational degrees or certifications. The importance of your educational background will vary based on the job or industry you’re interested in.
2. Explore other resumes for inspiration
Search online for the job title, industry or company that you’re thinking about and see how others present their backgrounds and skill sets. This is a great way to uncover stronger ways to describe your experience or to avoid overused words.
You can also get a sense of the internal language used within a particular industry or company. You might have experience that isn’t directly related but is still highly relevant to the position you’re applying for, and you want to include it in your resume. Someone else’s resume might feature a similar history and offer an example of how to frame this experience in a compelling way.
3. Use as few words as possible
Employers need to quickly understand your work experience. Format your experience as a list of short, scannable statements, rather than writing out dense paragraphs. For example:
Too wordy: Applied expert budget management skills to achieve a 20% reduction in departmental expenses through diligent research, identifying significant inefficiencies.
More concise: Achieved 20% departmental cost savings by eliminating inefficiencies.
Resumes can vary in length. The most important thing is to present relevant information in an easy-to-scan format so that the person reading your resume can immediately see how your skills and experience match their requirements. If you can’t decide what is essential, ask yourself if what you’re including is relevant to what the employer is asking for in the job description.
It’s also important to consider the kind of work you truly want to be hired to do. In other words, don’t include past experience for tasks you strongly dislike doing. Keep the experiences that you want to keep building on and match what the employer is looking for—this meets the definition of essential information to include on your resume.
4. Quantify your accomplishments whenever possible
Numbers and data bring your work experience to life and help hiring managers envision the potential impact you could have in their organisation. When you can, back up your achievements with real data to boost your credibility and add informative detail to your resume. For example:
Unquantified: Improved lead generation through strategic content marketing initiatives.
Quantified: Achieved 180% year-over-year lead growth through strategic content marketing initiatives.
5. Use keywords that employers are using in their job descriptions
Hiring managers want to see that you can speak their language and know the lingo of their industry. When they see their own keywords mirrored back to them in your resume, it reinforces the idea that you’re a strong candidate for the role. And if your resume will be posted to an online database like Indeed Resume, the right keywords are critical to getting found by employers.
6. Proofread several times to catch typos and misspellings
Unfortunately, a single typographical or spelling error is sometimes enough to get your resume discarded early on. Review your resume multiple times, doing a thorough line-by-line, word-by-word edit. Printing it on paper and following each line with a pen as you read it can also be helpful. Reading content backwards—awkward and time-consuming though it may be—is a great way to catch minor mistakes that you might otherwise miss. And an outside perspective is always a good idea. Ask a friend, mentor, or family member to review your resume for you before you begin submitting it to employers.
A strong resume can streamline your job search process, help you showcase your strengths and move you one step closer to your dream job. With some diligent work up front—and by adhering to these six rules—you can turn this fundamental job search document into one of your strongest professional assets.
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