How to Write a Resume: Expert Answers 19 Common Questions
If you’re on the job hunt, you have no time to waste. Let’s get down to brass tacks: a resume is not a simple, cut-and-dry collection of your technical skills and past job duties. It’s also not an opportunity for you to explain your long-terms goals or even your short-term career objectives.
A resume, in fact, is your own bonafide marketing document. It’s your big chance to prove your unique value to employers and to tell your one-of-a-kind work story.
So when you’re thinking about how to write a resume, don’t forget that you should be selling your skills and accomplishments, not just listing your work history and your old responsibilities.
Understandably, this can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a way with words. It can be challenging to transform that blank screen, cursor flashing ominously, into a glowing testament to your professional potential.
Another problem? When it comes to researching how to write a resume, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a lot of subpar, outdated information out there (ahem, fake news). That’s why we’ve gone to the trouble to talk resume nuts and bolts with Professional Certified Resume Writer Georgina Lozano, a four-year veteran who’s written hundreds of resumes for just about every industry under the sun.
Here’s what Georgina had to say in response to the 19 most common ‘how to write a resume’ questions.
1. What’s the Best Resume Format?
One of the most important parts of knowing how to write a resume is figuring out what format will best represent your background and achievements. There are three basic types of resume formats: chronological, functional, and combination or hybrid.
So what are the differences between the formats and which should you use?
A chronological resume is the most commonly used format and one of the easiest to update. It lists your work history in reverse chronological order and helps recruiters and prospective employers see your career growth and emphasizes a steady history of employment. A disadvantage of this type of resume is that it may call attention to gaps in employment or job-hopping.
A functional resume focuses on your skills and strengths. In this type of resume, information is organized into sections that highlight transferable skills and achievements. This type of resume is best used by new graduates with no internship or work experience, individuals with gaps in their employment history, career changers, and those re-entering the workforce. A functional resume also eliminates redundancy in explaining past responsibilities and is also recommended for individuals in professions like teaching or healthcare where one’s day-to-day responsibilities may not change. One major disadvantage of this type of resume is that because of the untraditional format, employers, recruiters, or headhunters may think you are trying to hide something in your work history such as gaps in employment, lack of experience, and yes, even your age.
A combination or hybrid, as the name implies, blends aspects of a chronological and functional resume. This type of resume highlights transferable skills, as well as a progressive work history. A combination resume is best used by career changers, workers with a strong employment history that want to highlight their skills, individuals re-entering the workforce, older workers, and new graduates with internship or professional work experience.
2. What Font Type Should I Use on My Resume?
Anyone who knows a thing or two about how to write a resume can tell you that readability is critical. That’s why, typically, font size should be no less than 10pt and no more than 12pt. If the font is too small, you resume will be difficult to read or skim for important information. If your font is too large, it may convey a juvenile or unprofessional image.
Font styles, likewise, should be clean and easy to read. You should select a font based on your resume’s content, format, and length. Some fonts look better smaller, some look better larger, and some look bolder while others require more whitespace to make them readable. Recommended fonts include: Tahoma, Arial, Century Gothic, Bookman, Garamond, Verdana, Cambria, and Times New Roman.
You should experiment with different fonts to see which enhances your resume best.
Good Resume Fonts
- Use this font for your resume Tahoma
- Use this font for your resume Arial
- Use this font for your resume Century Gothic
- Use this font for your resume Times New Roman
Bad Resume Fonts
- Don’t use this font on your resume Brush Script
- Don’t use this font on your resume Comic Sans
- Don’t use this font on your resume Papyrus
- Don’t use this font on your resume Impact
3. What are Some Examples of a Good Resume?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to understanding how to write a resume; however, you can find some good examples of job-winning resumes here as well as a few tips below to help you write the best resume for your specific needs:
- • Personalize your resume by adding pops of color or selecting an engaging, yet readable font (see
our resume templates if you need more help).
- • Leave out any details that may force an employer, recruiter, or headhunter to throw out your
resume before looking at it such as a headshot, marital status, religious affiliation, political
affiliation, and date of birth or age.
- • Avoid including buzzwords and soft skills that do not distinguish you from other candidates
applying for the same position such as ‘hard worker’ or ‘team player’.
- • Tailor your resume to the job you are applying to and emphasize skills that an employer is
looking for. Don’t include irrelevant work experiences.
- • Write your resume in the first person, but don’t use ‘I’ or ‘my’, and in present tense if you are
currently employed. Past work experience should be written in the past tense. Use as many
action words as possible and try to avoid repetition.
Quantify your accomplishments. This allows employers not only to understand past achievements but it also demonstrates what you can bring to a new company.
- • Try not to focus on what you can do, but rather on what you have done, your results, and
accomplishments. It is important to not only detail what you did, but also how you did it and
what the results were.
- • Don’t use acronyms or make abbreviations as recruiters may not know what the letters stand for.
- • Try to keep your resume to one page if you have less than 10 years of experience.
- • Control your timeline. Leave out dates that may age you, such as when you graduated or dates of
employment older than 15 years.
- • Avoid spelling or grammar errors. Read and reread your resume multiple times. Have one or
more friends take a look at your resume. Keep in mind that running spellchecker will not catch
spelling errors for words like trail/trial, on/one, an/and, or strip/stripe to name a few.
4. What Goes in a Resume Header?
A resume header should include your contact information, including name, address, phone number, and email. You can also put a link to your online portfolio or LinkedIn account in the contact section. If you feel uncomfortable including your home address on your resume, at least include your city, state, and zip code.
Create a new professional email address if you have a novelty email address! Including an .edu address is acceptable if you are currently a student or if you are an alumnus or alumna of a prestigious school; otherwise, it’s probably best to use a professional, personal email address. Further, don’t include a work email address unless you own the domain or company.
5. How Do I Write a Resume Objective?
Long gone are the days of the standalone resume objective. In fact, including a standalone objective statement may make your resume look dated and cause your resume to be overlooked by recruiters. Further, a resume objective statement tells a prospective employer what you want, not the value you offer. Instead, opt for a resume summary, also referred to as a career summary, professional summary, and executive profile, with an objective statement blended into the summary.
6. What’s the Difference Between a Resume Objective and Resume Summary?
So what is a resume summary? Think of this as a 30-second elevator pitch where you explain what you bring to the table and why a prospective employer should hire you. Ideally, a resume summary should be between 3 and 5 sentences and summarize who you are, what you have to offer, and why an employer should hire you. This is also an opportunity to explain (succinctly) what has motivated you to apply to this specific position, whether it’s a career change, the opportunity to take on additional responsibilities, re-entering the workforce, or launching your career. Below are a few examples of good (and bad) resume summaries:
“Technically savvy Social Media Manager offering over 10 years’ expertise in capitalizing on emerging platforms to grow brand and reach. Accomplished in building relationships with followers while driving web traffic and conversions. Proven leader focused on developing high-performing teams that overachieve customer service goals.”
“Patient-focused Registered Nurse bringing 5 years of success in providing outstanding, culturally competent care to diverse patient populations within hospital settings. Expert in all aspects of patient care with the ability to quickly recognize critical situations and initiate emergency interventions. Accomplished leader with active participation in unit-based committees that improve patient care, measurable outcomes, and the delivery of care. Looking to transition to rewarding RN Case Manager role with a growing insurance company.”
“Results-driven Account Executive with 10 years’ progressive experience and proven track record of excellence in selling tailored enterprise solutions to clients across multiple industries. Highly talented in developing sales strategies resulting in consistent account growth and multimillion-dollar revenues. Seeking to leverage leadership and expertise to take next career step as Sales Director.”
“I am a driven professional with a solid background in carrying out company plans in the best possible manner and delivering more than desired results. I am aggressive in pursuing opportunities and have proven to be an efficient and effective team player. I am a quick learner and can deliver desired results under pressure.”
“I am skilled at understanding the big picture and determining the steps needed to bring my customers to their goal. I have 24 years of technical experience working in the IT and pharmaceutical industries where I have gained the ability to multitask in a fast-paced work environment. Excellent time management with an ability to prioritize while not letting others fall behind. My greatest asset is my interpersonal skills that allow me to not only work independently but also as a team. With my proven ability to manage and sustain the highest standards, I can make a significant contribution to the team’s future success.”
“I am looking for an exciting and challenging career with a reputable company where I can further develop and apply my current level of education, experience, and skills.” – Who isn’t?
7. How to Write a Resume with No Work Experience?
Whether you are a recent graduate or a career changer, knowing how to write a resume when you have no work experience may seem daunting. However, it IS possible to write a strong resume if you have no direct work experience.
In these cases, it is important to emphasize your education, transferrable skills, and any volunteer or internship experience.
If you are a recent graduate with no work or internship experience, a functional resume can help to bring attention to what you have learned. Before you begin writing your resume, do some research into what types of jobs you want to apply to and what skills those employers are looking for. Not only will you know what keywords to include in your resume, but you will also be able to better determine what skills or coursework you should focus on.
If you are a recent graduate with some work or internship experience, a combination resume will help to create a balance between your education and hands-on experience. Since you may not have a lot of experience, it is important to include information that is relevant to your target job such as coursework, projects, extracurricular activities, or volunteer work. For recent graduates with work or internship experience, this type of resume can help you to demonstrate how you’ve applied your formal education in a professional setting, and it also lets you showcase what you’ve learned and how you’ve applied that information in an academic setting.
If you are a career changer, a combination resume lets you highlight relevant transferrable skills and accomplishments while also providing a snapshot into your background. A consistent work history can further emphasize your reliability, ability to work within collaborative environments, and willingness to go above and beyond your job responsibilities. Much like a recent graduate’s resume, it is important to bring attention to any relevant education, training, certification, professional development, or internship or volunteer experience.
8. How Many Years Experience Should I Include in my Work History Section?
Current ‘how to write a resume’ best practices suggest that a resume should go back 10 to 15 years. This not only helps to control the length of your resume, but also helps you control your timeline, eliminate obsolete information, and help hide your age from employers. While discriminating against a prospective employee based on their age is illegal, going back further than 15 years can expose you to potential bias. Older roles can be included as a space saving sentence like: “Past experience includes Customer Service Representative at ABC and Sales Manager at XYZ.”
Because there are no fixed rules to resume writing, there are always exceptions to what you should include on your resume. If you must include employment history that dates back further than 15 years because of your accomplishments or because of the company’s reputation, it is recommended that you leave off your dates of employment.
9. Can I Put Volunteer Work on a Resume?
Absolutely! You should definitely include your volunteer experience! The Deloitte Volunteer Impact Research shows that applicants with volunteer experience are more likely to get hired than those without volunteer experience. It is especially important to include your volunteer work if you have used these types of opportunities to develop hands-on experience in a certain field or if these opportunities can help close gaps in your employment history.
10. Should I Include GPA on My Resume?
Including your GPA on your resume, whether it is your cumulative GPA or your major GPA, depends on several factors.
When you’re a high school or college student, a GPA is good way to measure your success, but if you have a few years of professional experience under your belt, you should leave off your GPA.
What’s more, you should only put your GPA on your resume if it is 3.0 or higher. If your major GPA is higher than your cumulative GPA, use that number instead. Keep in mind that a prospective employer can ask for a copy of your transcripts, thus it is important to be up front and truthful about your GPA.
11. Is a Resume Writing Service Worth It?
In today’s incredibly competitive job market, your resume needs to stand out from the pile. Hiring a professional writer is an investment in your career that can exponentially boost your chances for a phone interview by turning your past experiences into your unique story. If you need a quick kick-start on creating a template first, check out a resume builder before hiring a professional. The easy-to-use online tool makes it quick and hassle-free to make your own personalized perfect resume.
Some more benefits of hiring a professional resume writer include:
- Highlight your achievements, emphasizing what you have
to offer for employers
- Apply with confidence knowing you have a resume that
sells your unique story
- A professional writer focuses your resume, giving you your best
shot at landing the interview
- Quality is often guaranteed; if you’re not satisfied with the
resume, you can get a free rewrite
Learn more about LiveCareer’s resume writing services.
12. How Can I Make Resume That Gets Past an ATS Machine?
Whether you are writing a resume for a company that uses an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or a hiring manager to screen resumes, you should strive to make your resume as perfect as possible.
According to Bullhorn, a staffing solutions industry leader, 64 percent of staffing firms use an ATS to screen incoming resumes for key experiences and skills that match the qualifications described in specific job postings.
of staffing firms use an ATS to screen incoming resumes
So how does an ATS work? When you submit your resume, an ATS stores your resume in a database that allows recruiters to scan your resume for specific keywords. When your resume contains the keywords a recruiter or employer is looking for, it gets ranked higher on their list of prospective employees.
To increase your chances of making it past the ATS screening, you should carefully review the job posting you are responding to and make sure that your resume contains the keywords and skills mentioned in the announcement.
What’s the Deal with an ATS?
An ATS (applicant tracking system) is a software tool that recruiters and hiring leaders use to screen resumes and weed out poorly qualified candidates.
Once a resume is submitted, an ATS slices up the information into different sections and keywords.
It then compares the wording in a resume with the wording in the job posting.
Some ATS systems not only discard resumes that don’t have many keyword matches, they also stack rank passing resumes based on the number
13. How Long Should My Resume Be?
It is a misconception that a resume should only be one page long. For recent graduates, a resume should not be longer than one page, whereas a professional-level resume can be up to 2 pages and an executive-level resume can be up to 3 pages. A good rule of thumb is that one resume page should cover approximately 10 to 15 years of experience.
14. Do I Still Need a Resume if I Have a LinkedIn Profile?
Absolutely! While both a resume and LinkedIn profile are snapshots of your work history, there are key differences between the two.
To begin, resumes are formal documents that are submitted at your discretion to prospective employers for a specific job. In terms of formatting and voice, a resume is succinct with tightly controlled wording—for example, you will never see the word ‘I’ in a well-crafted resume. Additionally, because your resume has limitations due to space, length, and the type of work experience included, it must constantly be fine-tuned.
On the other hand, LinkedIn is a social media platform so your profile is searchable by recruiters or prospective employers seeking qualified candidates for a role. Another key difference is how your LinkedIn profile is written. Whereas a resume uses formal language and must be updated frequently, a LinkedIn profile is conversational and grows organically as you learn more skills; it is perfectly appropriate to use ‘I’ on your online profile. Much like resumes that are written to pass ATS screening, LinkedIn profiles should be written with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind; SEO works similarly to an ATS as both systems look for keywords to screen candidates. Because LinkedIn is a social media platform, it provides you the opportunity to create and develop a professional network as well as to include interests, links to articles and other media, and professional endorsements from colleagues.
15. Should I Include References on my Resume?
Generally, references are provided upon request and should not be included on your resume. In addition to taking up valuable space on your resume, even including “References Available Upon Request” is an outdated practice and, again, may suggest that you are an older job applicant. When a job posting does request references, follow the instructions in the posting, and unless instructed otherwise, create a separate reference list that includes your references’ name, job title or relationship to you, company, phone number, and email address.
16. What’s the Best Way to Attach a Resume: MS Word Doc or PDF?
So you’ve ticket all the ‘how to write a resume’ boxes are now ready to submit your resume to a prospective employer and are wondering what format you should use. Well it all depends on whether or not the job posting instructions specify a particular format.
As we discussed, nearly 64 percent of companies use ATS screening to scan candidates’ resumes but not all companies use the same ATS software. While some ATS software may have trouble scanning PDF documents, ATS software can easily read a Word doc resume and nearly all computer systems have Word installed or some other application that can open and read .doc documents. However, the formatting may get corrupted if a recruiter opens it using an application other than Word. This format also gives others the ability to change or delete sections of your resume whether you want them to or not.
A PDF document, much like a .doc document, is a universal format and can be opened by just about everyone on their computer. This format also prevents accidental modifications or formatting corruptions and gives applicants more creative freedom in terms of graphics.
17. Does Every Resume Need a Cover Letter to Go With It?
When submitting a resume to a prospective employer, you should always include a cover letter. Think of a cover letter as an incentive for the employer to take the next step and review your resume. A cover letter is the perfect place to explain any gaps in employment, why you are a good fit for the posted position, and what future career goals you have. A good cover letter will also let your prospective employer understand what motivates you to apply to their company: whether it’s their reputation or an opportunity to close a much-needed gap.
18. Is a Resume Infographic Better Than a Written Resume?
Unless you are applying to a position within a creative industry, like graphic design, you should stick to a traditionally formatted resume. In a 2016 survey by the Creative Group, up to 78 percent of recruiters and prospective employers prefer a traditional resume compared to the 3 percent who prefer an infographic resume. Additionally, infographic resumes make ATS screening difficult, thus reducing your resume’s chances of making it past ATS machines and into the hands of a hiring manager.
19. Is There a Tool That Can Check My Resume?
Yes, LiveCareer offers a variety of resume-related tools to help you tell your unique story. Our powerful text-tuned resume checker can help polish your resume within minutes and ensure that your resume is mistake-free.
Using our resume checker will help you with…
- Writing analysis Does your resume sell your work story in the best way possible?
- Grammar Does your resume utilize proper English and adhere to grammar rules?
- Verb usage Does your resume include impactful word choice?
- Font optimization Is your resume easy to skim?
- Content organization Does your resume have a cohesive flow?
- Length Is your resume the right length based on your experience?
- Spelling Is your resume error-free?