How to Write a Resume

Learn tips on how to write an effective resume or curriculum vitae with free resume writing advice from a professional recruiter.

As the president and founder of Global Impact Staffing, I have been helping people find jobs and rebuild their resumes for almost 20 years. I will share with you what I have found that works; but note that I am going to get on my soapbox a bit while offering you my opinion based on my years of experience in the staffing industry.

First, regarding resume writing services … there may be some good ones out there, but I have yet to see a resume from a service that I didn’t have to rebuild myself. I believe that the person who helps you with your resume should be someone who has some skin in the game. Anyone can write you a resume the way ‘they’ think it should look. But the question is whether they can write it in a way that will get you hired. There is a right and a wrong way to format and write a resume. Keep in mind that your resume is a reflection of you; and from what I’ve seen over the years, resumes that are written by a service tend to be more of a reflection of the person writing them rather than the person being represented.

Similarly, you might need to reconsider some of the advice that you may have received from people such as your high school guidance counselor. Suggestions to make your resume unique by adding cute fonts as attention getters, or printing it on colored paper to make it stand out, or offering a big half page summary of all your accomplishments with only bullet points to highlight your job listings, should all be politely filed away in the ‘thanks for caring’ file.

When you are writing a resume, there is one important thing to always remember: “Get to the point.” I have seen many, many resumes during my career in recruiting, and too many of them ramble on and on about small and insignificant things that a person accomplished while working in his or her last position, leaving the important career bullet points completely lost in the information shuffle. What you need to understand is that a recruiter will only spend nanoseconds looking at your resume. So you need to make a good impression quickly.

Consider these recommended best resume-writing practices:

  • Use clean, common fonts like Arial or Times New Roman.
  • Use simple black bullet points. Use your choice of square or round; just not arrows, numbers, or dashes.
  • Don’t overuse tab stops; many recruiters see this as too detailed and distracting. It may be acceptable in more creative fields such as designing websites or programming code, but not if you are a hunter-type salesperson applying for a business development position.
  • The purpose of your objective statement is to express your desire to find a job similar to the position advertised by a company. This means that you may have to change your objective statement multiple times in order to coincide with the specific role for which you are applying.
  • A summary is just that. It’s not a novel. Three sentences; maybe four. Listing just a few of the key accomplishments in your career will show recruiters why you feel you are qualified for a certain position and will cause them to look at your resume further.
  • The layout of your resume is crucial. This is why a half-page summary at the top with a bullet-point list of your jobs at the bottom is bad form. It is likely to be perceived as if you are trying to hide something (like maybe several jobs in a short time span or that you have been working for over 20 years). Don’t do it.
  • Contain your resume to no more than two pages. And this doesn’t mean pushing the margins out either. You need to leave enough space in the margins so that recruiters and hiring managers can make notes on your resume. If you need to make cuts in order to get the page count down, start by listing only the company name, dates worked, and a few accomplishments on less relevant positions that are over 15-20 years old.
  • When writing about your work experience, it is sometimes necessary to describe the type of company you have worked for in the past. If so, keep it to a sentence. The company description should never be longer than your accomplishments, especially since many recruiters simply refer to the ‘about’ section of a company’s website anyway.
  • Regarding spelling … check, recheck, and use spell check! In many corporate or staffing offices, one spelling error will get your resume tossed.
  • Read your resume forward and backward looking for missing words, bad grammar, or words that spell check wouldn’t change (e.g. a mistyping of ‘form’ that should read ‘from’).
  • Read your resume aloud. Sometimes things sound differently out loud than they do in your mind.
  • Have someone proofread your resume.
  • Follow directions on how to send your resume. There is a reason that companies request that resumes be sent in Word document form, ASCII, text, or cut and paste into the body of an email.  Oftentimes, resumes are read by a company’s resume scanner. And if it can’t be read by the scanner due to an incorrect submission form, then the chances are good that it will get tossed out. In some offices, the recruiters NEVER see the paper copy of a resume.
  • When it comes to pictures/portraits, do not include them on your resume. Leave them for your driver’s license, the fireplace mantel, or your social media pages.
  • Include a link to your LinkedIn profile and make sure the information MATCHES your resume.
  • If necessary, update your LinkedIn profile picture. And please make sure the picture is appropriate to the position you are applying for. When applying for a leadership role, it is recommended that you appear in a suit and tie. And even though you may be a wonderful parent, I strongly recommend not including your children in your profile photo. Although it’s a sensitive subject, this will help you avoid any potential employers overlooking you as a potential candidate on the grounds that it appears that your commitments may be unbalanced (despite the fact that you may have great work-day and family-life equilibrium).
  • Similarly, in order to circumvent potential age discrimination, do not list your college graduation dates if you graduated more than 25 years ago.
  • Take an online inventory of what private personal information needs to remain private, and lock down your Facebook and Twitter accounts if necessary. Whether you like it or not, your public online presence is an extension of your resume and thus your reputation.

Once you send in your resume, always be sure to follow up by phone, email, or LinkedIn within 24 hours. Some recruiters might begrudgingly perceive my advice as an unnecessary catalyst for excess phone calls, but following up is in fact important. And the good recruiters who control their time appreciate qualified candidates that will follow up after sending their resume. I know some of the mega corporations make this task difficult; but if you want a job bad enough, you will find someone in HR (possibly through LinkedIn) to follow up with. One final tip: Don’t apply for positions that you are not qualified for. For example, “I’ve always wanted to try brain surgery…” Enough said.