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How To Write The Perfect Resume

7 minute read

Joshua Williams

By Joshua Williams

Looking for a new job can be tough. It drains your energy (and sometimes your confidence) until someone hires you or you just give up. We understand, and we’re here to help. You should begin your job search at the natural starting point — making sure potential employers will be unable to turn down your resume. There are plenty of ways you can form your resume in order to send it to the top of a prospective employer’s pile. Here are a handful of resume tips so you produce the best one possible. Hopefully, it helps you jam your toe into that partially open door.

Keep the Length at One Page

Imagine you’re working at a company, and you’re in charge of reviewing potential new hires. You received 20 new applications for a position this morning. Are you going to want to read multi-page resumes, as the applicant describes every detail of the part-time job he or she held ten years ago? No! In fact, you may end up resenting that person.

So only include directly relevant information, and keep the resume under a page. A resume with a lot of white space will give the impression that you’re under-qualified though, so aim for exactly one page. Two, at the very most.

Analyze the Job Description

The employer laid out the description of their ideal new-hire in the job’s classified ad. Use this information to your advantage. Make sure you use the same words to describe your qualifications that they do in their ad. Seriously, you can basically copy and paste their own wording almost directly.

If they say they require someone “proficient in C++ programming,” don’t just write that you have “a background in various programming languages.” Say that you’re “proficient in C++ programming” exactly (assuming you are). This goes for any other qualifications they list too. Think of it as repeating their own checklist of wants directly back to them.

Stay Focused and Targeted

You should have different resumes for submission to different employers. Unless you’re heading to a job fair, you shouldn’t have a single version of your resume that you use for everyone. Change it up a bit, to best fit the job you’re applying for. You may be surprised how a few small tweaks can make a big difference.

For example, if you’re in the finance industry, don’t use the same resume to apply to a job at a credit agency as you would to a hedge fund or accounting firm. Along with the previous tip, this will help convince the recruiter that you are the puzzle piece their company is looking for. They see tons of generic resumes. Try to tailor yours to fit their exact needs.

Business Man Overviewing ResumeShutterstock

Use Specific Actions for Descriptions

Your resume will appear more interesting — and your experience more substantial — if the descriptions of your jobs and accomplishments are better written. So go ahead and dress up the language in your resume a bit. Rather than saying your previous job involved “administration tasks,” you should say you “organized and maintained a 25-person office, helping keep tasks efficient, and constantly taking steps to improve workflow.” Doesn’t one of those things sound way more impressive than the other?

You should also try to avoid cliché buzzwords, like the infamous “synergy.” Most recruiters will be able to pick those out easily. To many hiring managers, they just scream “fake.” You should check out for a compiled a list of effective action verbs for resumes.

Use Facts and Figures When Possible

These are concrete and easily remembered by the reader. If you know how much money you saved your previous employer with a certain task or what percentage of customers you handled (or similar information) go ahead and WRITE IT ON YOUR RESUME. You don’t have to be modest and say your initiatives “provided substantial savings.” Instead, brag about how your “cost-saving measures ended up providing over $500,000 in savings per fiscal year.”

If you can get the potential employer to mentally associate you with a concrete level of savings, you’ll be on the short list to be hired. The same logic goes for anything you did that increased productivity, drove engagement, or raised sales numbers.

Highlight Big Problems Solved or Projects Complete

This works in conjunction with the last tip to show that you won’t just be an adequate employee. No, you’ll be an extraordinary one. Maybe at your last job you had to start a quarterly newsletter or help open a new office. Or maybe you oversaw a huge project from conception to implementation. Whatever personal highlights you had, go ahead and list them.

These things don’t have to be that large either. Whether it was a multi-million dollar project or something as innocuous as starting a Employee Social Group to plan bowling outings or Happy Hour gatherings, you still did it. Regardless, tangible examples of work completed will always look good on your resume.

Don’t Just Restate Your Cover Letter

The first thing most prospective employers will read is your cover letter that accompanies your resume. As such, it is important that the cover letter and resume are distinct from each other. As a general rule, you should use your cover letter to highlight your personal qualities and the approach you take to work.

The resume, on the other hand, should be a factual document that details the jobs and education you have obtained during the course of your career. Resumes should include the names of employers, job titles, key dates and roles and responsibilities. You should not use your cover letter to restate what’s in your resume. Keep the two documents separate and distinct.

Demonstrate Career Progression

A good resume should demonstrate career progression. You should have steadily grown into new roles with more responsibility during your career, and your resume should reflect this progression. Highlight the increasing responsibilities you have had as you have moved from one job to the next.

Employers want to see growth in people they are considering hiring. They don’t want to hire people who have stagnated in their careers or never taken on more responsibility or stretched themselves. By demonstrating consistent progression in your career, you will make yourself more desirable to potential employers.

Avoid Gaps and Absences

Gaps and absences on a resume can be a red flag for employers. If they see that you didn’t work for two years between jobs listed on your resume, they will wonder why and likely ask questions. Even if you have a legitimate reason for missing time at work (such as a maternity or paternity leave), it is best t include this on your resume.

Make sure that when writing your resume, all the dates line up and that the jobs you list are in chronological order from most recent to oldest position. Ensure that the jobs flow from one to the next in a steady progression. If there is a gap, insert a line or two explaining why, even if the reason is that you were looking for work during an extended period of time.

Man reviewing his resumeShutterstock

List Major Achievements

Don’t be afraid to brag about yourself on your resume. Be sure to list and draw attention to your major achievements in various roles you’ve had. Perhaps you were the top salesperson one year, or you brought a project in significantly under budget, or you supervised a large team of employees. Whatever the accomplishment, be sure to highlight it on your resume.

Achievement is important as it lets employer know that you are goal oriented and capable. Potential employers want to hire people who can accomplish task for them. So be sure to note the major victories you’ve had in your career to date. Don’t be shy or dismissive when it comes to your achievements. Rather you should sing your own praises.

Avoid Complaining

A big no-no on any resume is to complain about past jobs, colleagues or bosses you’ve had. While we’ve all had negative experiences throughout our careers, it is unprofessional to complain about them on a resume. Complaining will only give the impression that you are a negative person and are not taking responsibility for past failures or problems.

It is always best to leave any and all complaints you might have about a past job or role off a resume, and don’t mention it in your cover letter either. Stay positive and accentuate the lessons you’ve learned throughout your career. Remember that successful people manage to turn failures into positive learning experiences.

Let a Friend Read It

Before you send out your resume, let a trusted friend or family member look it over. Do they find it interesting and memorable? Do they find any part confusing? Tell them to give you any constructive criticism they can think of. If you know someone who does hiring, even better.

Even if you don’t, you’ll want to find a good editor to make sure there are no spelling or grammar mistakes. Those innocent mistakes can sink a job application pretty fast. Once they feel they’d be obligated to hire such a diligent and qualified applicant, send it in. Good luck!

The Bottom Line

A resume is a marketing tool. It is your way of marketing yourself to prospective employers. As such, you should use your curriculum vitae to talk about your career progression, successes and responsibilities. Write succinctly and clearly. Be accurate and honest. And avoid negativity. Promote yourself and use your resume to clearly outline why you are the best person for the job and any employer would be lucky to have you on their staff. Believe in yourself and sell yourself with your resume. Happy job hunting.

Joshua Williams


Joshua is a freelance writer with years of experience blogging about business and finance, and a whole host of other things too. When he's not writing, he enjoys camping with his dog, a golden retriever named Oakley.


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