How can you make your resume stand out to potential employers? There are a few guidelines to follow that can help your resume shine. Better still, a winning resume may encourage employers to contact you about job opportunities.
In this article, we’ll share what employers look for in a resume, how to describe your work experience and proofreading tips to make your resume shine.
What employers look for in a resume
Your resume is often your first and best chance to get noticed by recruiters and hiring managers. Your goal is to make it easy for them to see that you have the qualifications they’re looking for.
Often, employers have several core skills that they want candidates to demonstrate. Because they may be reading through hundreds of applications, a recruiter or hiring manager might quickly scan your resume to see if those qualifications jump out.
The importance of resume keywords
It’s also important to note that online job applications are often sorted through software called an applicant tracking system. This software scans resumes and cover letters for relevant experience, skills and other keywords so that qualified candidates are easy for employers to identify. By ensuring you match your resume to what employers might be searching for, you’ll increase your chances of being discovered.
Follow these guidelines to write a resume that’s easy for employers to find and read:
- Read job descriptions closely to identify required skills and experience. You may want to make a list of the requirements you see. Refer back to this list as you’re writing your resume. If you have these skills, list them prominently (more tips on this below). If you don’t meet the exact requirements, list your related or similar skills. For example, if a job description asks for three to five years of experience and you have two years, write “2+ years of experience in [your job or industry].” If you don’t have the required skills and experience, you may want to refine your job search to find a good match.
- Use a simple format. This means leading with contact information (your name, email address, phone number and the city where you live), followed by an optional summary, your work experience, skills and education. Complicated page layouts can be hard for applicant tracking systems to handle.
- Use a standard font. Arial, Calibri and Georgia are good options. Use 10, 11 or 12 point font.
- For most resumes, it’s best to keep it to two pages maximum. Carefully consider if everything you’ve included is necessary.
How to write your resume headline or summary (with examples)
Beginning your resume with a headline or resume summary statement (sometimes known as a resume objective) is one way to clearly callout your most relevant qualifications. This short description should quickly advertise your skill set and professional goals to any reader.
A headline is the shortest version: sum up your achievements in one line. In a summary or objective statement, you can get a little longer: one or two sentences is typically a good length.
To get started, think back on your proudest career accomplishments and what defines who you are in the workplace. Carefully read the job descriptions that you’re considering. Do they require a specific certification or years of experience? Your headline is the place to let the employer know you meet these requirements.
For example, a customer service representative with a track record of customer satisfaction might write: Customer success professional with 3+ years experience delighting clients in the retail industry.
Similarly, an experienced dental assistant could write: Certified dental assistant with 12+ years in direct patient care.
The above are both great examples of engaging and descriptive headlines. If you want, you can pair that with a slightly longer summary of your skills and career goals. Here are a few examples:
- Headline: Customer success professional with 3+ years experience delighting clients in the retail industry.
- Summary: Experienced in resolving client concerns via chat, email and phone; routinely recognized by management and peers for assertive and enthusiastic spirit. Excited to continue my career in ecommerce.
- Headline: Certified dental assistant with 12+ years in direct patient care.
- Summary: Extensive experience in charting, scheduling and delivering best in class customer service. Vast knowledge of clinical procedure and dental terminology. Looking for new opportunities in private dental practice.
- Headline: Aspiring financial services professional with degree in Business Administration.
- Summary: Advanced Excel and intermediate SQL skills, excellent written and verbal communication, pursuing entry-level roles in financial services.
- Headline: Graphic designer with strong experience as creative lead in an agency setting.
How to write out your work experience
Once you’ve written your resume summary, the next section to take on is your work experience. (Note: in some cases, your education may be listed before your work experience. Today, it’s more common for education to come at the end of the resume, though it depends on your industry and when you received your education. We’ll cover education further down.)
Listing out your experience is not as simple as writing down everything you’ve done in your career. Instead, you want to only include the details of your past work that are especially relevant to the work you want to do next.
Review our resume samples or follow the guidelines below when listing out your work experience:
- Use bullet points rather than paragraphs. Writing out your experience in a list has the double benefit of using fewer words and making it easier for employers to read.
- Lead with strong action verbs and follow with an accomplishment rather than a task. Employers are interested in what you’ve achieved, not just what you’ve done. What’s the difference between an accomplishment and a task? Here are a few examples:Task: Greeted customers
Accomplishment: Provided friendly and helpful service by greeting customers.Task: Analyzed marketing campaign performance
Accomplishment: Reported on ROI of marketing campaigns, improving campaign efficiency by 20%.Task: Took patient vitals and updated charts
Accomplishment: Performed routine clinical procedures while ensuring patient comfort and updating charts via an EMR system.
- Add quantifiable results whenever possible. This helps employers better understand your contributions. For example, an operations manager might write, “Identified and implemented supply chain improvements which decreased fulfillment costs by 17%.” Similarly, a retail sales associate might say, “Regularly evaluated showroom inventory and refreshed displays with stock, increasing daily sales by 22%.” Not every bullet point on your resume will have a quantifiable result. For everything you include, however, ask yourself if there is an applicable number that can help potential employers see your achievements clearly.
- Include more details about your most recent jobs and fewer details from roles you held earlier in your career. If you have many years of experience, it’s reasonable to only include information from the last 10 to 15 years. Employers are most likely to be interested in your current accomplishments.
- If you can, fill employment gaps with other experiences such as education or freelance work. Did you take classes, earn any certifications or volunteer during the time you weren’t formally employed? If you worked on personal projects or as a freelancer, you can put “Self-employed” where you would otherwise list an employer. The same guidelines about how to write out your accomplishments apply here, too.
What to include in the education section
These days, it’s common for education to be listed at the end of your resume. Exceptions to this may be if you’re applying for jobs that require specific certifications (as in the healthcare industry, for example), or if you are a recent graduate.
In the education section of your resume, list all of the relevant degrees or certifications that make you qualified for this job. If you have attained a degree, list your degree type and field of study followed by the name of your educational institution and the city and state. List honors, if you have them. You don’t need to include your GPA, especially if it’s under 3.5. Unless you’re a recent graduate, you don’t need to list your graduation date. For example:
B.A. in History
University of Arizona, Tuscon, AZ
Honors: magna cum laude
A.A.S. in Cardiac Sonography
Bunker Hill Community College, Boston, MA
Honors: Dean’s list
If you have multiple degrees, list your highest level of education first.
If you have attended a program of study but didn’t graduate, you can list the years you attended and the credits you received. For example:
Indiana State University, Terre Haute, IN
2010–2012; Completed 75 credits towards a Bachelor’s in Business Administration
If you are currently in a program of study, you can list the degree you’re pursuing and your expected graduation date. If you’re still in school and applying for internships, potential employers may want to know your GPA. For example:
B.S. in Computer Science, degree anticipated May 2020
Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, CA
What to include in your skills section
In your skills section, you want to list the professional skills you have that make you qualified for the jobs you’re applying for. Employers will indicate the skill sets they are looking for in their job descriptions. Look closely at the posting, and if you have the required skills be sure to list them.
In general, there are two types of skills: soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills include things like interpersonal communication, organization or attention to detail. Hard skills are more often tied to specific tools, software or knowledge (speaking a foreign language, for example). Hard skills will vary by industry or job type while soft skills tend to be more universal.
You can list your skills in a single paragraph with each skill separated by a comma. Start with the skills you’re most proficient in. You may choose to call out your levels of mastery, for example:
Advanced in Excel, Quickbooks, ProSystems. Some familiarity with SAP and Checkpoint.
Pro-tip: If you’re applying for a job where a specific skill is often taken for granted, don’t list it. For many jobs, one example is Microsoft Office. Instead, focus on proficiencies within that skill. For instance, instead of listing “Microsoft Office,” you could list “Macros, pivot tables and vlookups” if you know how to do these things in Excel.
Proofreading your resume
After taking the time to write a great resume, you don’t want typos and spelling mistakes to get in the way of submitting a winning application. Reread your resume from top to bottom and then from bottom to top, correcting mistakes as you find them. It’s also a good idea to ask a friend or family member to read it for you — they will look at it with fresh eyes and may find mistakes more readily.