At one point in our adulting journey, we’ve all wondered how to write a resume effectively, especially one that’s stellar enough to land our dream job.
From struggling to introduce ourselves properly, to quantifying our skills and organizing all our qualifications in an orderly manner, writing a resume takes work. Let’s not forget to mention how day-to-day exhaustion and our tendencies to procrastinate can get in the way and further exacerbate the process, too.
For all the trouble it takes to whip up the “perfect” resume, it comes as no surprise then that it is considered the factor that can make or break a job seeker’s application process. After all, your resume embodies who you are professionally, and it is what initially speaks to hiring managers on your behalf, so to speak (pun intended).
Whether you’re a first-time job seeker or an experienced employee to date, learning how to write a resume effectively is an adulting necessity, and we’re here to help you out.
The sum of its parts: resume vs CV
Before we get to learning how to write a resume, let’s first cover a topic that most job-seekers get confused about. What’s the difference between a resume and a CV?
The term resume comes from the French word résumer, meaning “to sum up”. This is etymologically apt, as the resume is a document that details your qualifications relevant to the job you are applying for.
It is often confused with the curriculum vitae (or CV, in short), which, in turn, is Latin for “course of life”.
Where the resume lists the 101 on you relevant to a job opportunity, the CV is a document that provides an extensive view of your qualifications, particularly your educational accomplishments. It is, quite literally, your personnel file on yourself.
To better distinguish between the two documents, keep in mind these three main differences: purpose, length, and layout.
A resume is typically used for job applications in both the private and public sectors, thus making it the more common requirement from hiring managers.
On the other hand, a CV is used when applying for academic and scientific research positions, as well as in the medical field. It is also submitted alongside a grant or fellowship request.
The etymologies of the terms inherently hint at how long each document should be. A resume is usually 1–2 pages long, although one-pagers are increasingly preferred by hiring managers. Since it is meant to sum up, it only focuses on a summary of skills and recent work experiences.
In contrast, a CV is usually 2–3 pages long, but it can definitely go longer the more experiences and achievements you have. In a way, the CV is an expanded version of the resume, digging deep into the course of your professional life.
Compared to a CV, which is minimalist in design, a resume has more free reign in the sense that it can either follow the minimalist peg, too, or venture into the creative side by using colors (more on that later) and icons.
The use of bullet points is also permissible in resume writing, but it is most often than not avoided in its counterpart. Instead, CV writing favors lots of written out sections.
Now that we’re clear on the differences between a resume and CV, let’s get into the process of writing the former.
The art of self-pitching: How to write a resume
There are many ways to go about writing a resume, and depending on your experiences and how you want to present yourself to hiring managers, no one size truly fits all.
This isn’t to say, however, that anything goes. There are still standard elements that must be present for a resume to be considered, well, a resume, and a general format that needs to be followed.
Depending on who you ask, writing a resume can take anywhere between seven to twelve (or even more) steps. For those of you thinking that takes too much work, we hear you. Writing a resume is challenging, but it shouldn’t be hard.
Below, we’ve compiled a five-step guide on nailing your resume.
Step 1: Collect and select
Ever heard your tita give the dating advice of “collect, collect, collect before you select”? It’s essentially a PG-13 version of sowing your wild oats, and working on your resume follows a pretty similar pattern—but maybe not in the way you’re thinking of right now.
It’s pertinent that you start writing your resume by first collecting all the information you have on your qualifications, work experiences, skills, and achievements and compiling them all on one document for easy (and future) reference. This is to help you visualize what you have to work with, and is a handy way of keeping tabs on your career progression.
The more important reason why this practice should be your first step, though, is because the most effective way to write a resume is to do so with a specific job in mind. This follows the logic that not all job positions that pique your interest will be in the same field—and even if they are, hiring managers won’t always be looking for the same things.
The best way to address this is to customize your resume for each job position. You read that right: for each job position.
Before you stop reading this article for false promises of simplified resume writing, hold your horses and hear us out. Customizing your resume for each job position you come across may seem like a tedious thing, but it’s precisely here that having a prepared document with all your professional information in takes the burden off your hands.
How, you ask? Simple: this centralized document makes it easier for you to “mix and match” the content that goes into each resume. All you have to do is to plug the information you need where you need them, and voilà. Instant resume. Okay, maybe not instant resume, but you get the picture.
Preparation beats perfection most of the time, so if you’re worried about collating your information in some “perfect” manner, don’t. Just have all the information ready and preferably in chronological order, then leave it be. Don’t sweat it! You can be as kalat in your document as you need to be—it’s not your actual resume yet, anyway.
Now that you’ve collected, it’s time to select.
Like we’ve mentioned earlier, the content of your resume is dependent on the job position you’re applying for. For example, if you’re gunning for a marketing position, your graphic design and/or copywriting skills are more likely to snag you an interview than the certificate you got at coding camp three summers ago.
With this in mind, it’s important for you to learn how to analyze job postings. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the ultimate goal of this role? How can I help meet this?
- What are the required qualifications and preferred skills? Which ones do I match?
- What are the traits of an ideal candidate? Which do I already embody?
You’ll notice that we’ve paired each job position-related question with one for self-reflection. This is intended to get your creative thinking juices running.
Are you fit for the job? Or better yet, is it one you want, after all? If your answer to both is yes, then you’ll be able to whip up the content of your resume in no time.
Simply select 3–5 experiences, skills, and achievements each that are most relevant, i.e. that match the answers to the aforementioned questions, and keep in mind that it’s quality over quantity. A long resume means nothing if it bears irrelevant information. So pick each item that will pique the hiring manager’s interest and build up your image to give the impression that you are the best fit for the job.
After all, resume writing is the art of marketing yourself well.
Step 2: Choose the right format
Now that your content is ready, it’s time to choose the right format to plug them into.
You have four options, each of which place a different emphasis on the qualifications to be highlighted. Our advice is to choose the one that emphasizes what you want hiring managers to notice.
This is the traditional format most job seekers use. It shows a clear, vertical progression of your career, starting with your latest experiences. It’s easy to read and to scan, but it has the downside of plainly showing a lack of experience, too, should that be the case.
Therefore, this is the best format for job seekers with plenty of work experience notched in their belts. For undergraduates, fresh grads, and job seekers who have been unemployed for some time, you might want to consider the other formats instead.
This format focuses on the job seeker’s skills and abilities, rather than experience. It lists your qualifications by theme at the top of the resume, so for example, a hiring manager will expect to see your “marketing skills” or “coding skills”. This helps you soften your lack of experience and to bolster your skillset instead.
Keep in mind though that this may inadvertently come across as hiding to some. But don’t worry, you can indicate your extracurricular activities or volunteer experience, instead. These will cushion your resume a bit more and lend credibility to the skills you’ve listed.
As such, this format is best for undergraduates and fresh grads, as well as for those who are in the midst of changing careers.
This format combines key elements from the first two formats to highlight a core skill a job seeker possesses within a particular career. As this suggests, this format is a two-parter: the first details your qualification and skills like a functional resume, and the second your work history like a reverse-chronological one.
It has similar advantages to the reverse-chronological, but with the added bit of flexibility. Although this format is not often used and is not quite suitable for entry-level positions, it does help to address periods of unemployment, career changes, and job-hopping.
Evidently, job seekers who are hoping to jump back into the fray of things can benefit from this format the most.
This format is relatively new as it capitalizes on graphic design elements. Consequently, you can use any of the three formats previously mentioned to structure the content. This will definitely help you stand out given the flair it inherently provides your resume, but it is harder to execute and therefore harder to pull off.
This format is best suited for job seekers with a background in graphic design or the arts, as it provides them with the two-fold benefit of visually showcasing their skill and style.
Step 3: Assemble your resume
Resumes are typically composed of seven sections.
Each one is meant to illustrate why you are the ideal candidate hiring managers are looking for, so make sure you pay attention to what goes into each one.
This section is always found at the top of the page, regardless of your chosen format. It is where important contact details are located for easy reference, and these include your:
- Full name
- Contact number
If you’re uncomfortable indicating your address, you may simply put the city you reside in—or do away with it completely. The sole purpose for this tidbit of information is for hiring managers to gage how close you live to their office, and this can be easily cleared up during your interview.
Consider this portion the elevator pitch for yourself. It is where you briefly introduce who you are and what makes you the best fit for the job.
There are four different ways to go about this, so you can take your pick on that, too. Aren’t options just great?
In 2-3 sentences, provide a quick overview of your skills and career goals. You should also indicate why you want a specific position in the company or organization you are applying for.
This is most commonly used by undergraduates applying for an internship or a fresh grad applying for their first job.
Beware, however, that some hiring managers don’t take a particular shine to seeing the words “career objective” on a job applicant’s resume. This is because it has a tendency to solely focus on what a job seeker wants, rather than what they may also provide the company.
In 4-6 bullet points, identify your defining career accomplishments.
This shows not just the extent but also the measure of your experiences, while also shedding light on your skillset.
This is most often used by job seekers hoping to move either laterally or into a new field.
This is a combination of the career objective and qualifications summary.
As such, you may opt for either a bullet list or a short paragraph to highlight your areas of expertise and your major achievements.
This is best suited for those who are seeking to move up the ladder or to get into a role in the same industry.
In 2-3 sentences, introduce yourself by stating your job title and years of experience. Follow it up by indicating your top qualifications.
This is most commonly favored by experienced job seekers who have the skillset to match.
To give hiring managers a better sense of who you are, indicate the following information about your educational background:
- Graduation date (month and year)
- Honors and awards
If you have yet to graduate, indicate the duration of your stay in school. For example, you are taking a four year course that began in 2018, simply indicate “2018-2022”.
On the flipside, if you hold multiple degrees, start with the highest one. Also, take note that college graduates need not include information about their high school and grade school.
Now, how about job seekers who began a degree but were unable to complete it? Good news: you can still include those years of study in your resume!
There are a couple ways to go about this, but the most common way is by indicating “Coursework in x”, with x being the degree you took up. For example, the degree you took was Business Administration, your resume should read: “Coursework in Business Administration”.
Another way you can address this is to state how many units you completed for a degree. For example, you took 110 units of Accountancy. Your resume should show: “Completed 110 credits towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Accountancy”.
The format for uncompleted degrees is as follows:
- Duration of stay in school
Since you’ve already done the work of selecting which experiences and achievements you’d like to include, you can just plug them here in reverse-chronological order, i.e. the most recent one goes first. Follow the format below:
- Job title
- Duration of employment (month and year)
- Responsibilities and achievements
If you are still employed with the company, indicate so. For example, you only started an internship in January of this year, and since you only have a few weeks left until it wraps up, you are applying for another one soon. You should put “January 2021–Present” as the duration.
Although you may list your responsibilities and achievements in any way you wish, it is recommended that you do so in order of decreasing importance. This prevents hiring managers from missing out on your key career moments in the event that they’re just breezing past your resume (and this happens—a lot).
Just like your work experience and achievements, simply plug in the prepared list of skills you wish to emphasize.
This is best achieved by using bullet points and an active tone and tense. Stick to words and phrases if you must, but no sentences.
Be mindful that your list is equal parts hard skills as it is soft. For those of you hearing about these classifications for the first time, hard skills are measurable abilities such as coding, writing, and project management. It also includes language skills and program knowledge, so be sure to include your proficiency level in your list as well.
On the other hand, soft skills are personality traits that inform the way you perform in a professional capacity, both as an individual worker and as a team member interacting with others. Examples for these include leadership, self-motivation, and critical thinking.
It’s best to strike a balance between these two skill categories in order for hiring managers to see that you’ve got manual skills, IQ, and EQ all in the bag.
Certifications and awards
Rounding up your resume are the certificates and awards that formally recognize either achievement or skill. These can also include professional qualifications such as licenses.
This is a completely optional section of course, so don’t sweat it if you don’t have any or simply don’t have the space.
This, too, is an optional section, but should you have any volunteer work up your arsenal, you might want to include it in your resume if space permits. This shows your connectedness to the community; implies your loyalty and commitment to a cause—and that you have a life outside of work; and generally presents you as a well-rounded, versatile individual.
Step 4: Design effectively
It’s crucial to remember that writing your resume comes with the burden of limited space.
While getting the content right by doing away with unnecessary information is a straightforward way to address this, on the technical side, how you present your content can also work some maximization magic.
There are three areas of concern here, the first being the style, the second layout, and the third the font of your content.
In terms of the style of your content, it’s a quick tossup between list versus paragraph.
In general, we recommend going with lists as they rank higher on the readability scale. But for job seekers who feel more comfortable writing in full sentences, then a short paragraph no longer than 4-5 lines should be no problem, too.
You can further increase readability by making use of bold, italicized, or underlined texts as well.
Now for layouting, one great tip we’ve picked up on over the years is to use a table with two columns and however many rows you need.
This ensures that your resume is neat and not all over the place, while also having the added benefit of acting as a guide of sorts. It automatically formats and sections off your resume into tidy pockets of information—no Photoshop required. Of course, you should take care to change the fill of the table lines into white once you’ve finished writing your resume so these lines don’t actually appear.
You should also keep in mind that your margins should not dip below 0.5 inches. We know that cramming information into a page or two can be challenging, but it’s not worth submitting a document with text crammed to the brimming on all four corners.
First of all, it’s visual overload, not to mention mental overload, too. Imagine all the information you’re forcing the hiring manager to intake in just a couple of minutes (or even seconds). Absolute migraine!
Second and consequently, it increases the chance of your resume being passed over in favor of another, more visually-pleasing one. The hiring manager’s most likely going to think, “Why bother?” Oof—you do not want to be that unlucky person.
And as for fonts—well, let’s take a quick crash course on the world of fonts first.
There are two main typefaces: serif and sans serif. The difference between them is all in the name.
Natalie Downey, a Senior Designer at branding agency Duckpin, elucidates: “a serif is a decorative line or taper (“tails”) added to the beginning and/or end of a letter’s stem, which creates small horizontal and vertical planes within a word… Without tails, sans-serif fonts are made up of simple, clean lines that are the same width throughout.”
To better visualize that, consider this: serifs are traditional, classic, and formal fonts, while sans serifs are modern, simple, and minimalist.
In the branding world, serifs come across as trustworthy, established, and reliable, while sans serifs are seen as youthful, accessible, and even playful. This is why the former is used in publications such as books, newspapers, and magazines, while the latter find their weight in creative branding designs and graphics on social platforms.
Examples of serif fonts include Times New Roman, Garamond, Courier New, Cambria, and Georgia. Examples of serif fonts include Arial, Helvetica, Calibri, Verdana, and Futura.
As a general rule of thumb, avoid using sans serifs for your resume.
Downey shares that “serifs are naturally easier for the eye to read quickly”, precisely because their tails are visual lead cues. But if you reckon that a sans serif would best represent you, then sure, go ahead. Just stay clear of script or decorative fonts—and definitely not Comic Sans (sorry not sorry)!
Step 5: Proofread with purpose
Last but not the least, make sure to comb through your completed resume with a keen eye. You want to make sure that you have all bases covered, and that you sound compelling rather than generic.
To determine this, here’s a short checklist of things to be on the lookout for:
- Concise but intentional wording
- Grammatical and typographical errors
- Format, tone, and tense consistency
- No use of personal pronouns (except in the resume introduction)
- No use of jargon or unnecessary words
You can never be too sure, so proofread twice if you have to! You’re better off safe than sorry.
The extra mile: more tips on resume-writing
We believe that part and parcel of crafting your resume is going the extra mile, so we’re going the extra mile, too, by dishing out additional tips on how to market yourself the best you can.
Writing your resume can be fun, but it doesn’t mean your resume itself should be careless or sloppy.
When writing your content, make sure to use a formal tone. That means no slang, no swearing, and no contracted words such as I’m, isn’t, and the like, if you can.
You should also make sure that you’re using a professional email. It may seem like such a small thing, but trust us when we say you don’t want to be using an email you made at the age of ten to set up your Facebook account or to play online video games with your pals.
For one, it saves you the embarrassment of having to explain it, and two, it prevents the risk of coming across as not taking your job application seriously.
Just trust us on this, beybladesR4evah2002.
Know the company
This may seem like common sense, but we’ve heard enough stories of job seekers applying for a position without doing research on the company.
So they get invited to an interview, only to flail around when they’re asked what they like best about the company’s initiatives. Yikes, right?
Take the time to read up on the company you’re hoping to join. Get to know their mission and vision, their values, and their initiatives. Your goal for applying for a particular position is to help the company achieve its goals. Will you be able to do so? And better yet, are those goals in line with yours?
Try to see how the learning curve and the happiness scale of their employees are like, too. You wouldn’t want to end up working for a company that’s all about the numbers and less about the employees.
Bottomline is, why apply for a company you know nothing about?
Before we move on, here’s a pro tip for you. In your work experience, indicate how you helped your previous employers meet their mission and vision. These help hiring managers better see what you’re capable of, all while showing that you care for and are invested in the companies you work for, too.
Position yourself well
The second half of packaging yourself is positioning yourself well. This means that more than knowing your stuff, you know how your stuff can help the company’s stuff.
Not only does this show that you understand the goals and expectations of the role, but it also demonstrates that you’re not just all bark and no bite. By positioning yourself well, you show that you have the experiences, the work history, and even the educational background to meet and possibly exceed those goals and expectations.
But beware the caveat: you must also be truthful.
Don’t oversell yourself just to land the job. There’s nothing worse than being caught in a lie when you fail to deliver! Be truthful about your capabilities and limitations. If the position is meant for you, you’ll get it—warts and all.
Simplify but streamline your timeline
When consolidating your work experiences, ensure that it stays relevant. Most hiring managers take no more than six seconds to skim through applicant resumes, so make sure yours counts!
One way to do this is to remove shorter-term positions and again, those irrelevant to the position you’re applying for. On one hand it helps to eliminate the appearance of job-hopping, and on the other, it helps build credibility where it matters.
But what about those gaps in employment that you can’t hide away forever? As much as possible, don’t include them. They will only raise uncomfortable questions, and you never know when hiring managers will come to unfair conclusions of their own accord.
If you really have no choice, then use either the functional or hybrid format to circumvent the negativity. The functional format will allow you to leave out dates and durations, while the hybrid format will allow you to list your dated experiences in reverse-chronological fashion and flip to functional use once you hit the unemployment gaps.
Include your LinkedIn link
What should you do if you have a list of experiences and achievements a mile long and have run out of space on your single-sheet resume? First of all, you go, girl. Second of all, LinkedIn.
Whether you are the person in this hypothetical situation or not, it’s good practice to include the link to your LinkedIn profile along with your contact information in the resume heading.
To be frank, LinkedIn has become the go-to place for hiring managers to conduct a background check on job applicants these days. And on your end, having and including a LinkedIn profile presents a three-fold benefit.
One, you establish an online presence in the working community. You can connect with peers and network on the platform. Grow those connections!
Two, it saves you the worry of running out of space. Your LinkedIn profile is essentially your online CV, so anything that’s not on your resume can be referred to there, instead.
Three, it humanizes you. Your resume is all about you as a professional, but your LinkedIn allows your non-career experiences, such as volunteer work and interests, to be given equal importance. If you opt out of putting your volunteer experience in your resume, or you simply ran out of space, having your LinkedIn reflect it is a great alternative instead.
All in all, it’s a three-for-three.
Quantify your experiences
Of the experiences that do make it on paper, it’s handy to remember that measurable achievements matter.
Describe the results of your contributions in line with achieving company goals, and use numbers and figures to get attention. These are substantial and quantifiable results that clearly state the measure of your contributions. Plus, they make you look cooler.
Kidding aside, think of these as your unique selling proposition: they hint at what you can do for the company you’re applying for.
For example, saying that you helped a company exceed target sales by 3% a month before the deadline can blow the brains out of a hiring manager—and they’d want you to do the same for their company.
Follow the “show, don’t tell” framework
This can be seen as a page taken out of the book of being truthful.
Hiring managers don’t want to just hear you claim to have so and so skills and abilities. They want you to explain how you demonstrated them in your previous work and what the result was.
To be honest, it’s quite similar to interview questions that take company values and slap them onto a situationer that sound like “Tell me about a time when…” If you ever come across a question like that during an interview, then this tip is hitting two birds with one stone.
The best way to apply the “show, don’t tell” framework is to use action verbs as leads in your work experience. They get things rolling from the get go, all while keeping it descriptive but concise. We suggest following this formula for best results:
Action Verb + Quantifiable Achievement + Specific Task
And below, find a list of twenty of the most impressionable action words:
- Accomplished / achieved
- Created / established
- Decreased / reduced
- Increased / grew
- Trained / mentored
Follow submission guidelines
Before you hit the send button on your submission email, make sure that you’ve followed submission guidelines.
First, send it to the correct email. Check for typos and double check if there’s a second email you need to CC or BCC.
Next, see to it that you’re using the correct format for the email subject line and attachments (PDF or DOCX only). If there are none, you can use the following:
Email subject line: [APPLICATION] Position – Name
e.g. [APPLICATION] Graphic Designer – Juan dela Cruz
Attachment: File Type – Name
e.g. Resume – Maria Clara
Moving on to the email body, it’s best to keep it short. If you’re required to send in a cover letter, this should be included in your attachments. You can either copy-paste the contents of your cover letter onto the email body, or come up with a summarized version of it instead.
If a cover letter isn’t required, then briefly introduce yourself and explain the position you’re applying for. Include where or how you found out about the job opportunity, and briefly touch on why you’re the best fit for the job.
Lastly, submit on or before the deadline. Not a second too late!
We’re the gift that keeps on giving. Thank us later when you’ve mastered how to write a resume.
Don’t include a photo of yourself
Although this is more of a Western approach to resume writing, we’ve found some merit in it as well. In the interest of full disclosure, take this tip with a grain of salt.
Unless explicitly stated otherwise, don’t attach a 2×2 photo onto the top corner of your resume. This is meant to prevent discrimination or unconscious bias on the hiring manager’s end from occurring. You want to be invited for an interview on the merits of your credentials rather than because you have a nice smile.
Don’t include a resume introduction
If you’ve included your LinkedIn profile already and you’re still running out of space, consider doing away with the resume introduction.
What you’ve prepared for that portion can easily serve as your cover letter or email body, so you save up on space and don’t repeat yourself. Effort saved and repurposed.
Don’t include interests and hobbies
Not only does a section on these take up space, they’re unnecessary.
Hiring managers won’t look at your resume wanting to know what you do in your spare time or about your Funko Pop collection. Leave it to the interview chitchat.
Include a link to your online portfolio
If you’re a writer, artist, or coder, including a link to your online portfolio on top of your LinkedIn profile is a plus.
This allows the hiring manager to browse through your past works and get an idea of what your style and skills are, as well as saves them the trouble of requesting for one.
Update your resume every six months
Make it a habit to update your resume, or that centralized document of all your experiences, at the very least, every six months or so.
This keeps you from scrambling to think up all the new information on yourself the next time you need to send an updated resume. Additionally, it serves as a motivation to see your career growth periodically. Cheers to you.