When you haven’t updated your resume in a while, it can be hard to know where to start. What experiences and accomplishments should you include for the jobs you’ve got your eye on? What new resume rules and trends should you be following? And seriously, one page or two?
Well, search no more: We’ve compiled all the resume tips you need into one place. Read on for advice and tricks that’ll help you craft a winning resume—and help you land a job.
Basic resume tips
1. Don’t try to cram every skill and work experience onto your resume.
Think of your resume not as a comprehensive list of your career history, but as a marketing document selling you as the perfect person for the job you’re applying to. For each resume you send out, you’ll want to highlight only the accomplishments and skills that are most relevant to the job at hand (even if that means you don’t include all of your experience). This is called tailoring your resume and it helps anyone who reads it see exactly why you’re a match for a specific position.
2. But keep a resume outline with a full list of your qualifications.
Since you’ll be swapping different information in and out depending on the job you’re applying to, save a resume outline—or maybe our resume worksheet—on your computer with old positions, bullet points tailored for different applications, special projects that only sometimes make sense to include. Then, when you’re crafting each resume, it’s just a matter of cutting and pasting relevant information together. Think of this as your brag file.
3. Ditch the objective statement.
Nowadays, the only occasion when an objective section makes sense is when you’re making a huge career change and need to explain from the get-go why your experience doesn’t match up with the position you’re applying to. In every other case? Resume objectives just make you look old-fashioned or out of touch.
4. Put the best, most relevant information first.
In journalism speak, “above the fold” refers to what you see on the front half of a folded newspaper (or, in the digital age, before you scroll down on a website), but basically it’s your first impression of a document. In resume speak, it means you should make sure your most relevant qualifications are visible on the top third of your resume. This top section is what the hiring manager is going to see first—and what will serve as a hook for someone to keep on reading. If your most recent position isn’t the most relevant piece of your candidacy, consider leading with a skills section (such as in a hybrid resume format) or writing a resume summary.
5.Choose the right resume format for you.
There are lots of different ways to organize the information on your resume—like the functional resume or combination resume. But the good old reverse chronological—where your most recent experience is listed first—is usually your best bet. Unless it’s absolutely necessary in your situation, skip the functional or skills-based resume—hiring managers might wonder what you’re hiding.
6. Keep it concise.
The two-page resume is a hotly debated topic, but the bottom line is this—you want the information here to be as short as possible, and keeping it to one page forces you to prioritize what really matters. If you truly have enough relevant and important experience, training, and credentials to showcase on more than one page of your resume, then go for two. But if you can tell the same story in less space? Do.
7. Include relevant links.
Can’t figure out how to tell your whole story on one page, or want to be able to include some visual examples of your work? Instead of trying to have your resume cover everything, cover the most important details on that document, and then include a link to your personal website, your online portfolio, examples of your work, or a relevant, professional social media profile, where you can dive more into what makes you the ideal candidate. Just avoid hyperlinking over words that are key to understanding your resume since it can throw off the tools employers use to store and parse resumes.
8. Be aware of the ATS.
You may have heard that employers are using computers to “read” your resume and decide who to hire and reject. That’s not exactly true. But most employers do use software called an applicant tracking system—or ATS—to parse resumes and organize them so that recruiters and hiring managers can search for the most relevant applications. You should assume your resume will pass through an ATS at some point during your job search, so understanding how it works will help make your hunt more efficient. (All of the tips in our list keep ATSs in mind as well!)
Read More: 8 Secrets to Making an ATS-Friendly Resume
Resume formatting tips
We’ll talk about getting creative in order to stand out in a minute. But the most basic principle of good resume formatting and design? Keep it simple. Make your resume easy on hiring managers’ eyes by using a reasonably sized default font like Helvetica or Arial and leaving a healthy amount of white space on the page.Your main focus here should be on readability for the hiring manager (and that pesky ATS). That being said, you should feel free to…
10. Stand out with ATS-friendly design elements.
Really want your resume to stand out from the sea of Times New Roman? Yes, creative resumes—like infographics, videos, or presentations can set you apart, but you have to make sure they actually get read. If you’re uploading your resume to a job application site or online portal, use ATS-friendly formatting elements like:
- Bold and italic text
- Underlining (in headings or over hyperlinks)
- Different text alignments
- Columns that can be read straight across
11. Avoid design elements that can’t be “read” by computers.
On the flip side, you should avoid design elements that ATSs are known to have trouble with such as:
- Text boxes
- Logos and icons
- Images and photos
- Graphics, graphs, or other visuals
- Headers and footers
- Less common fonts
- Columns that can only be read from top to bottom
12. Make your contact info prominent.
You don’t need to include your address on your resume anymore (really!), but you do need to make sure to include a phone number and professional email address (but not one affiliated with another job!) as well as other places the hiring manager can find you on the web, like your LinkedIn profile, and your pronouns if you’d like to.
13. Design your resume for skimmability.
You’ve probably heard before that hiring managers don’t spend a lot of time on each individual resume. So help them get as much information as possible, in as little time as possible by making your resume easy to skim.
Work experience resume tips
14. Keep your work experience recent and relevant.
As a rule, you should only show the most recent 10-15 years of your career and only include the experiences that are relevant to the positions you’re applying to. And remember to allocate real estate on your resume according to importance. If there’s a choice between including one more college internship or going into more detail about your current role, always choose the latter (unless the internship was more relevant to the one you’re applying to).
15. Don’t forget your transferable skills and experiences.
Don’t panic if you don’t have any professional experience that fits the bill. Focus your resume on your relevant and transferable skills along with any related side or academic projects, and then make sure to pair it with a strong cover letter telling the narrative of why you’re ideal for the job.
16. Write strong, achievement-focused bullet points.
The bullet points under each job entry are arguably the most important part of your resume. They tell whoever’s reading it what skills you have, how you’ve used them, and how you’ve helped your employers in the past. So start with a strong action verb, include relevant skills from the job description, and frame your bullets around your achievements—don’t just list your job duties. Tell them how your work benefitted your boss or company so they know what they stand to gain by hiring you.
Here’s a simple formula to follow:
- Compelling verb + job duty + key skills used = tangible result
17. Curate your bullet points and experiences.
No matter how long you’ve been in a job, or how much you’ve accomplished there, you shouldn’t have more than eight bullet points under it—and that’s only for your most recent and relevant job. Jobs further back should generally be limited to four to six bullets.
18. Use as many numbers as you can.
Use facts, figures, and numbers whenever possible in your bullet points. How many people were impacted by your work? By what percentage did you exceed your goals? Quantifying your accomplishments allows the hiring manager to picture the level of work or responsibility you needed to achieve them.
19. Don’t neglect non-traditional work.
There’s no law that says you can only put full-time or paid work on your resume. So, if you’ve volunteered, worked part-time or as a temporary or contract worker, freelanced, or interned? Absolutely list these things as their own “jobs” within your career chronology—as long as they’re relevant to the job you’re applying for. The same goes for career breaks. Yes, really.
20. Use important keywords from the job description.
Scan the job description, see what words are used most often, and make sure you’ve included them in your bullet points. For example, does the job description list “CRM” or “Salesforce”? Make sure your resume matches. Not only is this a self-check that you’re targeting your resume to the job, but it’ll also make it easier to search for your resume in an ATS.
Resume tips for including your education
21. Put experience first, education later.
Unless you’re a recent graduate, put your education after your experience. Chances are, your last couple of jobs are more important and relevant to you getting the job than where you went to college.
22. Also keep it in reverse chronological order.
Usually, you should lay down your educational background by listing the most recent or advanced degree first, working in reverse chronological order. But if older coursework is more specific to the job, list that first to grab the reviewer’s attention.
23. Remove the dates from your education section once you’re a few years into your career.
Unless you’re early in your career, don’t list your graduation dates. The reviewer cares more about whether or not you have the degree than when you earned it. And you don’t want to inadvertently open yourself up to age discrimination, which is an unfortunate reality in some job markets.
24. Highlight honors and achievements, not GPA.
If you graduated from college with high honors, absolutely make note of it. While you don’t need to list your GPA (but you can if it’s impressive), don’t be afraid to showcase that summa cum laude status, the fact that you were in the honors college at your university, a relevant project you completed, or an award you won. Nowadays, employers don’t care as much about GPA as they do what skills you gained in school.
25. Include continuing or online education.
Don’t be afraid to include continuing education, professional development coursework, or online courses in your education section, especially if your resume feels a little light on relevant experience.
Resume tips for showing off your skills
26. Don’t forget your skills section.
Be sure to add a section that lists out all the relevant skills you have for a position—especially those mentioned in the job description. Include technical skills like software and project management tools or specific knowledge of how to perform relevant tasks. Just make sure to skip including skills that everyone is expected to have, like using email or Microsoft Word. Doing so will actually make you seem less technologically savvy.
27. But don’t only put your skills in your skills section.
Your skills section is an easy way for anyone reading your resume to confirm that you have required skills, but that shouldn’t be the only place that your important skills appear. Any skill that’s vital to you being hired should also be in your bullet points—where you can show how you’ve used it in the past.
28. Divvy up your skills for readability.
If you have lots of skills that would help you with a job but aren’t necessarily in the same category—say, foreign language, software, and leadership skills—try breaking up your skills section. Below your “Skills” section, add a subsection titled “Language Skills” or “Software Skills,” for example. Again—we’re going for skimmability here, folks!
29. Show—don’t tell—your soft skills.
Describing soft skills on a resume often starts to sound like a list of meaningless buzzwords. But being a “strong leader” or an “effective communicator” are important characteristics you want to get across. Think about how you can demonstrate these attributes in your bullet points without actually saying them.
Other resume section tips
30. Include relevant certifications and licenses.
If you have a certification or license that proves you can do some aspect of the job you’re applying for, don’t forget to include it on your resume. This is especially important if that certification or license is legally required to do the job—for example, in nursing, teaching, or driving jobs.
31. Show some (relevant) personality.
Feel free to include an “Interests” section on your resume, but only add those that are relevant to the job. Are you a guitar player with your eye on a music company? Definitely include it. But including your scrapbooking hobby for a software developer job at a healthcare company? Probably not.
32. Beware of interests and activities that could be controversial.
Maybe you help raise money for your church on the reg. Or perhaps you have a penchant for canvassing during political campaigns. Yes, these experiences show a good amount of work ethic or possibly other relevant skills—but they could also open you up to be discriminated against by someone who disagrees with the cause. So weigh your decision to include them carefully.
33. Add awards and achievements—when they’re relevant.
Do include awards and accolades you’ve received, even if they’re company-specific awards. Just state what you earned them for, e.g., “Earned Golden Salesperson Award for having the company’s top sales record four quarters in a row.” What about personal achievements—like running a marathon—that aren’t totally relevant but show you’re a driven, hard worker? Consider the best way to include them (and if you should).
Resume tips for navigating employment gaps and other sticky resume situations
34. Cut the short-term jobs.
If you stayed at a (non-temporary) job for only a matter of months, consider eliminating it from your resume to avoid looking like a job hopper. Leaving a particularly short-lived job or two off your resume shouldn’t hurt, as long as you’re honest about your experience if asked in an interview. But if the short-term job is super relevant to this job, consider including it anyway.
35. If you have shorter gaps, be strategic about how you list dates.
If you have gaps of a few months in your work history, don’t list the usual start and end dates with months and years for each position. Use years only (2018–2020), or just the number of years or months you worked at each position. Just keep it consistent throughout your resume and don’t lie if asked about gaps during an interview.
36. Explain serial job hopping.
If you’ve job-hopped frequently, you can include a succinct reason for leaving next to each position like “company closed,” “layoff due to downsizing,” or “relocated to new city.” By addressing the gaps, you’ll proactively illustrate the reason for your frequent job movement and make it less of an issue.
37. Explain a long break in jobs.
Re-entering the workforce after a long hiatus? This is the perfect opportunity for a summary statement at the top, outlining your best skills and accomplishments. Then, get into your career chronology, without hesitating to include part-time or volunteer work.
38. Be intentional about career gaps.
While career gaps are becoming increasingly common, you should still frame them in a way that’s relevant to a future employer, by talking about skills you gained or any professional endeavors you took on.
If you didn’t focus on professional development, that’s fine too! But not every employer will appreciate it if you get too cutesy about that section of your resume. For example, if you took time out of the workforce to raise kids, you might not want to describe this parenting experience on your resume, à la “adeptly managed the growing pile of laundry.” Instead state what you did plainly and include any professional skills you may have grown or activities you may have done.
Tips on resume finishing touches
39. Ditch “References available upon request”
If a hiring manager is interested in you, they’ll ask you for references—and will assume that you have them. There’s no need to address the obvious (and doing so might even make you look a little out of touch!).
40. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
It should go without saying, but fully edit your resume and make sure it’s free and clear of typos. And don’t rely on spell check and grammar check alone—step away for a few hours and then review it closely again and ask family or friends to take a look at it for you.
41. Save it as a PDF or Word document.
Unless a job posting specifically requests that you do otherwise, your resume should always be submitted as either a PDF or Word document (.docx not .doc). These are the formats that can be most easily opened and most easily parsed by an ATS. The choice between the two is up to you though—again unless the company you’re applying to requests one format over the other. If you’re emailing your resume, however, PDFs are a bit more likely to maintain your formatting across different computers and programs.
42. Name your file clearly.
Ready to save your resume and send it off? Save it as “Jane Smith Resume” instead of “Resume.” The hiring manager is going to have plenty of “Resume”s on their computer, so make it super easy for them to find what they’re looking for. You can even go a bit further and put the position title in your file name (e.g., “Jane Smith Marketing Analyst Resume).
43. Keep your resume outline fresh.
Carve out some time every quarter or so to pull up your resume outline and make some updates. Have you taken on new responsibilities? Learned new skills? Add them in. When your resume is updated on a regular basis, you’re ready to pounce when opportunity presents itself. And, even if you’re not job searching, there are plenty of good reasons to keep this document in tip-top shape.
Bonus resume tips for specific situations:
Check out these articles for more specific resume advice on:
- Deciding whether to make a resume with Canva
- Finding and working with a resume writer
- Selecting an ATS-friendly resume template
- Showing more than one job at the same company
- Translating military experience to a civilian resume
- Using our free resume template
- Writing an accounting resume
- Writing an administrative assistant resume
- Writing a college resume
- Writing a customer service resume
- Writing an entry-level resume
- Writing a financial analyst resume
- Writing a graphic design resume
- Writing an HR resume
- Writing a marketing resume
- Writing an office manager resume
- Writing a product management resume
- Writing a project management resume
- Writing a resume for your first job
- Writing a sales resume
- Writing a software engineering resume
- Writing a teaching resume