Your resume is the first piece of any job hunt. It’s the foundational document for your job search—think of it like your own personal Constitution. But what if you’re just starting out, and don’t yet know the ins and outs of what a resume is for, what it’s supposed to achieve, and what you’re supposed to put in it? We got you. And if you just want a refresher on resume basics, you’re welcome to join in too.
What is the Purpose of My Resume?
Your resume is a snapshot of you as a professional. When you’re applying for a job, you don’t have the benefit of being able to introduce yourself in person, answer questions about what you do, or make a personal impression. So your resume has to do that talking for you. It includes basic contact information, information about your skills, a summary of the work experience you have, and usually an indication of what you’re seeking. It takes this information and organizes it in a straightforward, easy-to-read format for someone who likely doesn’t know anything about you. That’s it.
What a resume isn’t: It’s not a long, conversational story about your life. It’s not a place to give opinions about your last boss. It’s not a place to list every class you’ve ever taken. Your resume is a very focused, targeted version of you—the best version of your professional self, for the job opportunity you’re seeking.
How Should My Resume Look?
Traditionally, resumes have been very strict, templated affairs. Your contact info goes here, your experience comes next, your skills go here, and a neat note about references wraps it up. That rigid idea of what a resume should look like has loosened up a little, mostly thanks to the digital informality that seems to be affecting all aspects of our lives. (Think emails replacing letters, and text-speak popping up, well, everywhere.) But while things are getting a little more flexible in the hiring world, things haven’t gone too crazy. After all, your resume still has to have the same base information included:
- Contact info. This includes your name, address, phone number, and (professional-sounding) email address. (Sorry, email@example.com.)
- Summary/objective information. This is a leading sentence or two summarizing you as a job candidate, what makes you well-suited to this job, or why you’re seeking this particular job.
- Skills. These are bullet points listing out the hard skills (easily quantifiable skills like specific software expertise, typing speed, etc.) and soft skills (more general skills like communication, organization, attention to detail, creativity, etc.) relevant to the job.
- Experience. These are bullet points (no more than a sentence or two) showing what you’ve done in your career so far, or related volunteer/extracurricular work.
- Education. These are brief bullets related to your education. Here, you’d list any degrees or certificates you have—and, if relevant to the job itself, information about your major/course of study.
Then there are optional elements which are nice to include if you have them and have enough room, but aren’t necessary to complete the resume:
- A headline that summarizes your overall resume in a succinct one-liner
- Relevant hobbies (key word here: relevant)
- Languages you speak (if you’re multilingual)
- Volunteer work
And then there are things that you shouldn’t include in your resume:
- Information about your gender, age, or marital status. It’s illegal for potential employers to ask about those, so don’t even open the door.
- A photo of yourself. Same rationale as bullet #1. You want your accomplishments and skills to speak for themselves.
- Lies or exaggerations. It can be tempting to innocently boost some skills you don’t really have, or throw in a job responsibility that you didn’t have, but remember that you may always be called upon to prove anything in your resume.
As long as you include appropriate information in these basic areas, you can change the format up a bit in order to emphasize the information you most want the reader to know, or to deprioritize something you don’t want to emphasize (like an employment gap, or a lack of experience). However, some parts shouldn’t change—for example, your contact info should always be centered at the top, for easy reference, and your headline/objective/summary statements should go right under that to avoid confusion. But think of the other sections as moveable blocks that can be moved around for maximum impact. You can find a format that works best for you.
A Sample Traditional Resume
If you’ve got a lot of work experience in your field under your belt, then the traditional format might work best for your job search. In this “reverse chronological resume,” you put your work experience bullets up front, working backwards starting with your current or most recent job. This is followed by skills, education, and any other relevant information. Your resume would look something like this example:
[START RESUME EXAMPLE]
101 Main Street
New York, NY 12121
- Experienced leader guiding a large team of customer service managers and representatives.
- Proven track record of providing top-notch customer service and support for more than 20 years.
- Specialize in implementing customer feedback systems to improve service and boost customer relationships and provide better service.
- Consistently positive and dedicated attitude in working with customers and internal stakeholders, forming strong relationships both within the company and with external customers.
Global Communications Inc.
Director of Customer Service (2014 – present)
Senior Customer Service Representative (2008 – 2014)
Customer Service Associate (2001-2008)
- Manage a team of 25+ Customer Service Representatives.
- Serve as an escalation point for customers with challenging issues.
- Monitor and analyze monthly call volume reports, and identify trends.
- Refine customer service processes to improve customer experience and outcomes.
- Analyze and report business trends and employee statistics on a monthly basis.
- Manage all hiring for the department.
- Work closely with other departments within the company to ensure proper handling of customer service issues.
Customer Service Representative (1999 – 2001)
- Worked directly with customers via phone to address questions, product issues, and order issues.
- Developed a personal Excel tracking system to ensure comprehensive follow-up with customers.
- Worked with management and team members to incorporate customer feedback and improve the customer service experience.
Office Assistant (1997 – 1998)
- Provided administrative support for the Regional Director of Sales.
- Tracked sales data, collating monthly reports.
- Prepared financial reports.
- Customer service
- Complex problem solving with diverse types of customers
- Communicating with internal and external parties
- Time management
- Developing and implementing best practices
- Microsoft Office suite
- Call triage management software
- SalesTracker software
Anderson Business School, Leadership Training Seminar (completed May 2016)
University of South Beach, B.A. in Communications, 1996
[END RESUME SAMPLE]
A Sample Skills-Focused Resume
If you’re just starting out, or trying to change careers, you might want to set up your narrative a little differently, emphasizing your skills and capabilities instead of specific work experience. In this case, you might want to go with a “skill-based” resume, where you emphasize your qualities before your experience. Here’s an example of an internship resume based on this format:
[START RESUME SAMPLE]
1300 University Street
San Diego, CA 99999
Motivated, detail-oriented graphic design student seeking to leverage design skills, writing skills, and social media experience into an experience-building internship in graphic design.
- Creative visual design
- Completing projects on deadline
- Branded social media communication
- Ability to work in a variety of environments
- Working with clients and colleagues to complete projects on spec and on deadline
- Software: Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign
- Bilingual: French and English
University of San Diego, Expected graduation: May 2018
B.A. Graphic Design
Activities: Campus Happenings Magazine (layout and design for print and digital content)
Memorial High School, San Diego, CA, High School Diploma
Activities: Student Soapbox student newspaper (reporter and layout artist)
Franklin’s Pub April 2007 – August 2009
Server/Social Media coordinator
- Handled Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for the restaurant
- Acted as a brand ambassador for the restaurant
- Served customers and handled cash transactions
- Provided cheerful, courteous service to all customers
[END RESUME SAMPLE]
While your resume should formally look like a resume, that doesn’t mean you need to have the same resume as everyone else. You can structure it so that it shows your strengths right up front for the reader to see. For more on how to write your resume from scratch, click here.
You also don’t have to work from scratch. We’ve got lots of free templates you can use to get the process started.
Should I Get Fancy with My Resume?
Short answer: probably not. You can never go wrong with a classic, well-laid-out text document. Things like video resumes and infographic resumes get a lot of hype because they’re different and seem hipper, but it’s important to remember a few things about your resume:
- The first person reading your resume may be a robot. Online applications generally have some kind of screening process in place before a pair of human eyes ever reads applicants’ resumes. If your resume can’t be screened by standard text-based software, then it likely won’t move on to the next round.
- The average time that recruiters or hiring managers spend reading a resume is 8 seconds. Alarming, no? That means your information needs to jump out at them. The best way to do that is to use a familiar format, but make the information pop. If they have to spend time figuring out what they’re looking and and where to get the information they need, it can definitely work against you.
So again, unless you’re applying for a video-heavy creative arts position or a graphic design gig, “cool” formats should probably be secondary to a classic format.
How Do I Make My Resume Stand Out?
Once you’ve got the basic information in your resume, you can use these elements to make it stand out in a crowd of similar applicants:
- Deploy action verbs. Using strong words to describe your experience and responsibilities makes it more vivid and interesting to the reader.
- Use stellar spelling and grammar. Always, always, always proofread your resume, and have someone trusted do it as well. Glaring mistakes could cost you, especially since you likely used “detail-oriented” or something similar as one of your skills.
- Don’t overcrowd. We’ve all had it drilled into our heads that a resume should be no longer than one page. One page is still a decent rule of thumb, but if you genuinely need more space than that, don’t overcompensate by making the font and margins tiny to cram everything in. If your resume isn’t easily readable, chances are it won’t be read.
Whether you’re a resume first-timer or merely looking for a memory boost, we hope this info gets you started on the path to a kickass resume for your next job opportunity. Good luck!