The Definitive Guide to Resume Writing

2017-09-05 | BY Proven Recruiting's Editorial Team | IN Job Search Starter Kit, Job Seekers, Resume & Interviews

The Definitive Guide to Resume Writing

Updating your resume can be confusing: should you list all of your past experience? How do you determine what’s “relevant”? Is formatting really that important?

When you start researching online, the questions only multiply. One site tells you to include a short bio, another says to keep your resume as basic as possible. There exists whole forums dedicated to discussing the merits of different fonts and sizes. References are apparently a topic of fierce debate – how many should you include? What makes a reference-worthy person? Should you have them at all?

Close those ten thousand tabs and take a deep breath. With 30+ years of recruiting experience, we’re here to give you the basics on refreshing and updating your resume without the added stress. Follow these 10 simple tips – taken directly from our Resume Writing and Career Development Coaching Workshops – and start attracting the attention you’re looking for.

1. Quantify everything.

Working as an Accountant? List the number of audits you’ve completed, accounts you’ve worked on, or time you traditionally spend per account. Writer? Describe your experience in terms of how many articles you’ve published or the number of page views you’ve amassed. Get creative: the ways in which you can quantify your work are essentially endless. We suggest a combination of generally informative and slightly startling numbers – you want to grab your reader’s attention and keep it!

Even the most mundane jobs can appear interesting with the addition of numbers or statistics. Take for example a dish washer; a resume would generally read “washed dishes and cleaned tables.” Straightforward, to the point, and incredibly unimaginative. Try instead “worked over 150 shifts washing dishes in a two year span.” Washing dishes in itself isn’t note-worthy, but add some numbers and suddenly you’ve captured everyone’s attention.

2. Format appropriately.

Most resumes submitted online are processed through an ATS, which is a system that reads and sorts your information for future review. If you’re using fancy, complex formatting, your information may not be properly logged. To be safe, keep it simple. Avoid bold and italics unless completely necessary and don’t add your personal information (name, email) to the header or footer of your document – those sections are often mis-processed by an ATS.

When saving your resume, opt for PDF format to ensure maximum readability on different monitors and programs.

3. Responsibilities are not accomplishments.

A resume is a sales pitch, so frame your skills and experience in the best possible light. Remember: simply listing the requirements of your job doesn’t tell your future employer any actual information about your capabilities, achievements, or skills.

Being “responsible” for mass daily email updates is not the same as “accrued a following of over 1000 dedicated newsletter-readers and increased page views 10% through daily email-updates.” Erase the word – and thinking behind – “responsible” from your resume. Instead, structure your experience in terms of quantifiable developments and achievements.

4. Integrate with LinkedIn.

Interested employers will be immediately checking out your social media profiles and LinkedIn is going to be their first stop.

Make sure your Linkedin 1. Exists 2. Is updated.

The relationship between your resume and LinkedIn should be symbiotic. While they don’t need to be kept identical – and in fact LinkedIn is a good place to get slightly more personal – they should mirror each other closely.

In lieu of a full street address, try linking to your LinkedIn URL directly on your resume. It’s a digital world and your address is no longer at home – it’s on the web.

5. Don’t make it overly personal.

We’re strong proponents of simplicity; we urge our candidates to leave hobbies, interests, and politics off all professional documents. That is, unless you have a particular interest or hobby that is directly related to the job at hand, or you have information about your interviewer and their opinions on a certain topic.

In general, keep it streamlined and professional. Don’t include a photo of yourself – but do include a photo on LinkedIn, or risk your future employer jumping to unnecessary conclusions – and avoid, whenever possible, using “I.” LinkedIn, with its more robust social media presence, is the appropriate place to get somewhat more personal.

6. Keep it skimmable.

You want your reader to quickly and easily find the most relevant information. Make use of headers, titles, and sections in order to ensure readability and skimmability. Save the long prose for a cover letter. Instead, stick to succinct points and explanations, highlighting your most impressive achievements in terms of how they can help your future employer.

7. Tailor your experience.

Keeping it skimmable means nixing all irrelevant information. We know it can be hard, especially when you’ve put a lot of thought and time into what you’ve written, but don’t be afraid to make some major edits.

Sometimes big sections need to be cut because they offer no real benefit to your employer. Other times, elements which you’ve chosen not to mention – your work at a humanitarian cause – may need to be added if this work is relevant to the job at hand. Don’t get emotionally attached to your resume; it’s a living document, and it should change as you and your goals evolve.

8. Keep your audience in mind.

The first set of eyes to read through your experience probably won’t belong to an expert in your field. For this reason it’s critical to avoid abbreviations and complex jargon – you don’t want to confuse your reader. If you want to get in the door, make sure the person guarding it can understand you enough to recognize and appreciate your value.

9. Showcase your writing.

Use your writing to demonstrate how you think. Having a well-written resume is often equated with having a well-organized and reasoned mind. Take advantage of this.

A resume is an excellent opportunity to highlight your above average writing abilities and logical reasoning.

Framing your experience in terms of accomplishments rather than responsibilities (#3) forces you to trade traditional list-form descriptions for informative, thought-provoking sentences. You’ll have to explain how you accomplished your responsibilities and what impact these accomplishments had on your work as a whole. Content and form work together to get your point across; that you are an experienced, accomplished worker with a quick mind and sound reasoning.

10. Proofread ad nauseam.

If you’re looking to impress your future employer with excellent writing abilities, you’ll want to be using the correct form of “there.” Not only do typos and mistakes show a distinct lack of care, they also make hiring managers second guess your capacity as a worker.

Read your resume over every time you change a sentence. Adding a single word can sometimes cause a chain reaction of nonsense. When you think you’re finished, read it out loud. Passed that test? Send it to your mom. Make it a family event. Just make sure that it’s free of mistakes before you send it to an employer.


And that’s it, folks! Nothing overly complicated or unnecessarily flowery here. Just straightforward approaches to building a stronger resume that’ll elicit the results you’ve been looking for.

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