Write a resume

So you want to learn the truth about writing a great resume? Look no further! We’ve helped thousands of people get ahead, and we’re confident that you have what it takes. Let’s get started …

So you want to learn the truth about writing a great resume?
Look no further! We've helped thousands of people get ahead, and we're confident that you have what it takes.

Let's get started …

Write a Resume

Write a badass resume

Welcome, wayfaring stranger. Folks from all over the galaxy come here looking for a fresh start. Gypsies, warriors, wizards, and philosophers; we’ve seen it all. Everyone comes here in search of the same thing – to brighten their professional shine and polish their resumes in service of a greater vision. If you’re ready to start writing the next chapter, let’s get to it!

What is a resume?

First thing’s first… asking “what is a resume” isn’t nearly as important as knowing what a resume can do for you. Naturally, a better question is: “why do I need one?” And the answer is simple – a resume helps you clarify your professional journey and works on your behalf to grant access to valuable opportunities that would otherwise remain unattainable.

What’s more, a strong resume can make your parents proud, impress people you’ve never met, and establish you as a valuable member of society despite your proclivity for nihilism and the seemingly never ending identity-crisis you’ve wrestled with for most of your life.

Practically speaking, a resume is a professional document used to present your skills, training, and experience to a potential employer. As you can imagine, there are an infinite number of ways to do this, and although the formats will vary, both freelance and traditional careers are usually moved along with the help of a resume, CV, portfolio, or some variation therein.

Ultimately, the purpose of a resume is to bring you closer to a desirable outcome or opportunity. Unfortunately, the hardest part is getting someone to read the damn thing. Just imagine – you’re a hiring manager confronted daily by an overwhelming army of enthusiastic jerks brandishing pdfs in pursuit of status, money, and approval. This poor fella’ is the gatekeeper to countless dreams, and understanding his or her situation may be the single most important step you take towards securing your dream job.

The most effective resumes:

  • Are designed to be easily skimmed and won’t frustrate the reader even if they haven’t had their morning coffee yet.
  • Provide a clear and complete overview of your relevant skills and experience.
  • Highlight, call out, or otherwise emphasize your most impressive qualifications.
  • Prioritize measurable results and direct personal impact.
  • Are well-structured, edited, and grammatically correct.

Types of Resumes

Traditionally, resumes are divided into two categories: chronological and functional. We’re going to expand that definition to include any formal presentation of your skills, training, and experience. In truth, there are many different styles and strategies, and the right format depends on you, your industry, and your personal relationship to work.

Chronological Resumes

A chronological resume focuses on your consistency, career track, and linear growth within a particular field. Generally, a chronological resume will feature an extensive work history that follows your progress from one position to the next in sequential order. The purpose of this format is to give employers an idea of the types of jobs you’ve worked in the past, the responsibilities you’ve dealt with, and how long you normally stay with a particular company or position. This format is the most common, and is particularly well-suited for individuals following a traditional career path.

Functional Resumes

Functional resumes place more emphasis on skills, individual achievements, and measurable results. By prioritizing your ability rather than your work history, this format lends itself to being applicable across a wider range of industries and career types. Because of this, functional resumes are the go-to format for individuals who frequently change jobs or work primarily under short-term contractual agreements (e.g. freelancers, artists, entrepreneurs).

CV (Curriculum Vitae)

A CV is similar to a resume in many respects but tends to be more focused on academic or research experience. The key distinction between a CV and a resume is the length and depth of detail covering any particular subject. Unlike a resume, CVs can include information such as lists of grants, fellowships, publications, research studies, and other academic pursuits. Naturally, this format is geared towards very knowledge-intensive professions (e.g. science, medicine, research, history, and philosophy).

Portfolio/Demo Reel/Mix Tape/Audition/Etc.

Fields like music, writing, design, video, and dance will frequently ask for a portfolio in lieu of a traditional resume. Because of the subjective nature of the industry, creative professionals will often rely on demonstrations of their work almost exclusively, and the success of their application is often determined by their alignment with a client’s tastes and preferences.

How to Write a Resume

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The perfect resume

“You can have everything you want in life, if you will just help other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar

This basic axiom is the key to writing an effective resume. Think about it, everyone has problems and everyone has needs. People occupy their time almost exclusively with solving problems to meet those needs. You, like the rest of us, are driven by the same relentless pursuit of value. But unlike the average Joe, you’re armed with the understanding that by helping others solve their problems, you can accelerate your own progress exponentially.

It’s really quite simple – the extent to which you develop a philosophy that recognizes the needs of others is the extent to which life will shower you with wealth and validation. This doesn’t mean you abandon your own needs, only that you recognize how they are inextricably tied to the needs of others.

Demonstrate your ability to solve problems

Before writing your resume, it’s important to evaluate your experience and identify any details that are especially demonstrative of your ability to make meaningful contributions in a professional context. Your ultimate goal is to make the reader say “Wow, we could use someone like that, they’re incredibly useful.” Be forewarned, it can be one of the most difficult tasks to suspend your egoic pursuits, but just for a moment, forget about how much you need the job and focus on how much the job needs you.

Once you’ve identified your unique capacity to contribute, the next task is to communicate this in a way that allows the reader to see themselves benefiting from your skillset in a real-world context. Remember, it’s not about what you can do, but about how well you do it and to what extent your potential value aligns with the position. To this end, highlighting empirical data and mentioning specific examples of past contributions will go a long way towards earning respect, confidence, and trust in your abilities.

When all is said and done, the perfect resume is one that clearly defines your relevance, resourcefulness, and right attitude while indicating to the hiring manager that you’re ready and able to help them solve real problems that the company faces on a daily basis. Ask yourself: Who is my target audience? What are their needs? How can I meet those needs?

Resume Length, Formatting & Layout

As important as it is to include all the right details, it’s equally important to be mindful of what you can, and should, leave out. By narrowing your focus and being as concise as possible, you significantly increase your chances of being recognized as a viable candidate. In most non-academic professions, a 1-2 page resume is sufficient to cover everyone from recent college grads to executive-level professionals. To find the best fit for you, consider the following factors…

Employment type

Technical or hard-science professions such as engineering, research, medicine, and law will often call for a longer resume (or CV). Jobs in fields like communications, customer service, and marketing will typically benefit more from a concise, efficient presentation.

Career duration

The longer your career, the longer the resume, right? Not necessarily. People are incredibly busy these days and most of us just want to go home and snuggle our cats. Don’t make the hiring manager work any harder than they have to. It’s ok to leave out the coffee shop experience you had back in college if you’re applying for a C-Level position in your mid 40’s. Of course if you’re just getting started, it might be a good idea to make every detail count.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Chances are, Richard at HR has no idea what a binomial coefficient is or why you used it to calculate all the variable options that could save Company Y from going under. Technical, task-specific terminology may sound smart, but you’re not doing yourself any favors when Richard is running late for lunch and has one last resume to read – yours. If it’s adding unnecessary confusion without contributing much value, hit delete and don’t look back.

Applicant Tracking Systems

Online job-listing sites like Monster, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter utilize applicant tracking software to read and “grade” all incoming resumes. Although ATS software is getting more and more sophisticated, it’s still good practice to make sure your document is formatted in a logical manner that won’t confuse the system. Because of this, it may be a good idea to keep two versions of your resume – one with minimal formatting, designed to be read linearly, top-down, from start to finish, and a version that’s more human-friendly, which can feature multiple columns, fancy fonts, and all the bells and whistles you’d expect when conveying your individual style.

Tip: When it comes to ATS, keyword optimization is key. You can use the core competencies section to quickly target keywords for different applications. As a general rule of thumb, the vocabulary used in a job listing will be similar to the vocabulary hiring managers (and automated systems) will use to sort applicants. So if the description asks for someone who is “timely” with great “attention to detail”, be sure to include these terms in your resume. You’d be surprised how big of an impact something that small can have on your overall response rate!

How to choose the best fonts for your resume

There are no hard and fast rules for choosing the best resume fonts, but here are a few examples that are professional and easy to read:

  • Sans Serif Resume Fonts: Arial, Helvetica Neue, Gill Sans, Calibri
  • Serif Resume Fonts: Georgia, Playfair Display, Garamond, Caslon

How to Write a Resume

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How to start a resume

Just like with ordinary face-to-face interactions, there is a certain degree of exposition that comes before diving into a more detailed discussion. In resume terms, this prerequisite foundation takes the form of 3 introductory elements: a heading, a resume summary, and a list of skills. Sounds basic, I know, but we’re not leaving any stones unturned here.

Resume Heading

A resume heading includes all of the logistical information a hiring manager would need in order to get in touch and pursue the relationship further. Usually, this includes your name, email address, phone number, website (if you have one), and current location (city, state). No need to get too fancy here, just make sure your heading is easy to navigate.

Resume Summary

A resume summary is a short introductory paragraph that gives readers a quick overview of your professional experience. The most effective summaries are clear, concise, and present only the most important information, ideally within 3-5 sentences. Think of it as your elevator pitch. The goal is to establish relevance as quickly as possible and present yourself as a person of value with minimal effort on behalf of the reader.

Core Competencies (Skills)

A core competencies (or skills) section is meant to list the specific technical, interpersonal, or professional abilities you’ve acquired throughout your career. This section typically includes both hard skills (Adobe Illustrator, Salesforce, MS Office, CSS, HTML, machining, inventory management, etc) as well as soft skills (team development, leadership, time-management, organization, personable communication skills, etc).

How to list your work experience

As far as resumes go, your work experience is the star of the show. However you cut it, this is the single most important part of an application, and for good reason too! Where you’ve been in the past is one of the best indicators of where you’re going. Without knowing your employment history, it’s impossible for a hiring manager to understand your capabilities, so sooner or later you will be asked to step up and show them what you’re made of.

Don’t let this discourage you, you’re not locked into any particular path, you only need to understand the tools you have at your disposal. The past should not define your future. Your future should define the relevance and meaning of your past.

Depending on the context, your experience can be listed in either reverse chronological order (latest work first), or in order of relevance (your most applicable work first). Chronological listings are better suited for individuals following a traditional career path and relevance-based listings are more appropriate for artists, entrepreneurs, and other professionals working mostly with short-term contracts rather than long-term company positions. This section is usually the longest part of a resume and every item typically features a unique job description, including details such as:

  • The name of the company/client you worked for
  • Your position titles
  • Employment duration
  • Job requirements and responsibilities
  • Notable accomplishments

So what type of information should your work experience cover? Depends on what you do! As a scholar, your research and academic pursuits are your experience. As a DJ, your mixtape is what gets the job done. As a visual artist, your portfolio and body of work is your experience. Your work experience isn’t about everything you’ve done in the past, but just about those things that are specifically aligned with your current professional goals. These goals can change often, and as they change, so will the relevance of various parts of your employment history.

In any event, decide where you want to go, and identify any elements from your past that can help you move in that direction.

How to write a job description

Now that you’ve identified the building blocks that will help support the next leg of your journey, it’s time to elaborate on the details. Because of the subjective nature of experience, writing an engaging job description can be difficult. Many applicants struggle to distinguish between important and negligible details and spend too much time presenting information that is ultimately irrelevant to the person reading your resume. However you do it, it helps to step back and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Consider the following…

Value VS Responsibility

A job description should outline the most valuable aspects of your work, not the daily minutia. Sending out internal memos to keep everyone aligned may be important, but training a highly profitable sales team that dominated the market is far more impressive.

Take brushing your teeth as an example. It’s one of the most important things you do on a regular basis. Without it, you’re in for a world of hurt and everything from your health to your relationships will inevitably suffer. But you don’t brag about it to your friends and family, expecting them to be amazed by your pragmatic commitment to good oral hygiene. Unless you’re a dentist, you’ll look like a damn fool harping on the benefits of medium vs soft bristles.

Similarly, there are plenty of mission-critical tasks we all do every day and most of them are taken for granted. What can you do that gets others excited, even if it doesn’t save the world?

Every part serves a greater whole

People are hard-wired for storytelling and pattern recognition. You can capitalize on this by breaking up your job description into manageable bullet points and presenting them in an organized, easy-to-follow structure. Avoid jumping randomly from one topic to the next by grouping related points in close proximity. This will help you establish a coherent relationship between the various pieces of information and ensure that one thing leads to the next in an organic fashion.

Highlight measurable results

When seeking to understand value, we are conditioned to look for facts, statistics, and other numerically grounded information. You can use this to your advantage by bringing up specific figures to support your results. If you helped your company reduce operating costs, what was the overall impact on profits? If you improved efficiency, by how much? Maybe you cut a product’s time-to-launch by 30% or trained 30 new staff members in under 2 weeks.

However you present them, numbers are a quick attention-grabbing tool you can use to add impact and credibility to your resume.

Utilize powerful adjectives to strengthen your cause

Human beings place tremendous emphasis on language and imagination. To effectively process the complexities of modern life, our minds gradually evolved to interpret incoming data on multiple levels of awareness. The first level is the realm of facts and concrete information – this helps us understand “what” we’re seeing. Beneath that is a layer of emotional understanding that determines how those things make us feel.

Nouns and verbs are designed to help us understand the “what”, while adjectives help guide the emotional factor. It’s this layer of emotional interpretation that is responsible for most of the day-to-day decision making. What this means is that what you say is as important as how you say it. For example, “managing clients” is great, but “managing a diverse portfolio of multi-million dollar clients” is better. Think about how those two phrases make you feel and carry that understanding into your resume.

Nothing captures our attention as strongly as a well-crafted description, ripe with juicy details full of promise and potential.

Create memorable bookends

People are more likely to remember the first and last items on a list, so try to start and end on a good note. So many of us spend a disproportionate amount of time mucking around with insignificant details. To better understand incoming data streams, our minds evolved to pay special attention to the first and last moments of an interaction. When writing a job description, you can leverage this tendency by making the first and last bullet points especially meaningful, interesting, or relevant.

How to list your education

In most cases, your degrees, training, and certification should be listed at the end of a resume. If you attended a prestigious big-name university, you can capitalize on its reputation by leading with the school’s name. Otherwise, we recommend leading with your field of study and degree title. In academic professions, your education will play a more significant role and is usually accompanied by a great deal of context and specific information.

What to do with volunteer & philanthropy experience

Applicants with established careers will often find little to no value in listing their volunteer experience. There’s usually more relevant information to fill that space with. However, recent college grads or newcomers to the employment market can use volunteer experience to add depth and breadth to their resume while demonstrating their commitment to a greater cause.

How to list references on a resume

Unless the application specifically asks for it, there’s no need to include references. Employers will normally start the individual screening process after you’ve won them over with your resume, in which case they may or may not ask for further clarification. Focus on making a strong impression and assume the hiring manager will ask for additional details if they’re interested in working with you.