We revamped our resume tips for 2020 and added the latest insider strategies and techniques from real hiring managers — all with the goal of helping job seekers write the best resumes possible.
This list contains everything you need to know about writing your own, so you can consistently land more interviews.
Resume Tips: The Fundamentals
An effective resume has several key sections. Use this resume checklist to ensure you know exactly what to put on a resume.
1. Update Your Contact Details
Make sure the following information at the top of your resume is correct and up to date:
- Full name
- Phone number
- Personal email address
If you work in a creative field, this is the place to add a link to your website or online portfolio.
2. Choose the Best Resume Introduction
How you begin your resume will depend on several factors. These include:
- What industry you’re part of (e.g., you might need to write a customer service resume objective)
- What stage your career is in
- Whether you’re an entry-level candidate or an established professional
- If you’re in the midst of a career change
- The appropriate level of formality (for example, a resume “About Me” may be too informal for some jobs)
Follow this flowchart to find out how to start a resume based on your skills and experience.
Your introduction acts as your elevator pitch to employers. It’s crucial to get it right and make a positive first impression.
3. Make Your Experience Achievement Oriented
Your work experience is the heart and soul of your resume. This section needs to be in top shape.
The most important thing to remember about this section is that it needs to be accomplishments oriented. Plus, it should prove to the hiring manager that you’re more than just a drone who can complete tasks. You have the motivation to do and accomplish more — make them understand that.
4. Present Your Education Properly
The placement, size, and content of this section will vary depending on how recently you’ve been in school.
Read this comprehensive guide to find out how to correctly write the resume education section and make the most of your qualifications.
5. Tailor Your Skills Section
This section should be targeted at the position you’re applying for, and include the best skills for that industry.
However, it’s also valuable to think about transferable skills that can be appreciated across industries.
6. Include Industry-relevant Details/Certifications
Including relevant achievements and certifications on your resume helps make your application more convincing. Just remember to make sure they’re applicable to the position you’re applying for. Here are a few examples:
- Licenses and certifications
- Professional affiliations
- Professional memberships
- Awards and recognition
Creating a separate section would also be suitable for putting volunteer work on your resume.
7. Don’t Write “References Available Upon Request”
It goes without saying that you will provide them if asked, so it’s a waste of space to include references on a resume or actually write “references available upon request.”
Hiring managers view this as a beginner’s mistake, so feel free to remove this section entirely.
Resume Formatting Tips
There are several key resume formats out there for job seekers. However, there are certain formatting conventions to follow across all industries and resume styles.
The following resume building tips will help you lay a strong foundation for your application.
8. Keep Your Resume to One or Two Pages
While some people find it difficult to find enough positive things about themselves to fill one page, others have the opposite problem.
For entry- and mid-level professionals, one page is the most common resume length. Two pages is fine if you have extensive experience or skills and really can’t cut things down further.
Three or four pages is almost exclusively for senior executives or academics with publications.
9. Order Resume Sections by Strength
If you have plenty of professional experience and it’s your best selling point, place that above your education. On the other hand, if you’re a recent graduate with only an internship under you belt, put your education at the top.
Additionally, using a resume template with two columns can help you arrange your skills and education sections to best catch the hiring manager’s eye.
10. Use the Reverse Chronological Format
Most HR departments favor the reverse chronological resume format, which lists your experience from most recent to oldest.
Simply put, your newest work experience is (likely) the most relevant, and will leave the greatest impression on the hiring manager.
In exceptional cases, however, the functional resume format is best for writing a skills-based resume.
11. Don’t Rely Too Heavily On Resume Examples
A simple Google search of “resume sample” will return tens of thousands of results, and some are actually quite professional resume examples. Others, not so much.
While these can be a great resource for gathering inspiration, writing a resume that captivates hiring managers requires more than simply copying and pasting the information of other applicants.
12. Never Use a “One Size Fits All” Resume
This is one of the 10 commandments of resume writing and among the most invaluable pieces of resume advice that career advisors give.
Many people use a single version of their resume and submit it it everywhere. This isn’t ideal, because job roles are often too varied for one resume to work for them all.
You can increase your chances of landing an interview by building a customized resume tailored to your target role.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean starting from scratch every time. Instead, all you need to do is slightly tweak your introduction, experience section, and additional skills to match the job description, as well as the specific position you’re applying for.
13. Choose a Template That Reflects Your Industry
If you’re applying for a creative job, consider using a more creative resume template or make your own using your marketable skills. Be cautious about adding too much flair though — your resume is still a professional document, and too many fancy touches can make it tacky and difficult to read.
Slightly more basic resume templates are still preferred in many executive roles, so don’t be afraid of going the classic route if you work in law, finance, or an upper management position.
14. Use Appropriate Fonts
Even the most qualified resume will fail to land an interview if the resume font is unprofessional or too small to read.
If in doubt:
- Size 12 font is standard
- Use Calibri or Garamond
- Never, ever use Comic Sans
Read this article on resume margins to make the most attractive resume possible.
15. Go Easy on the CAPS
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL THE RESUME TIPS.
You probably had the same reaction to that sentence as a hiring manager would.
Used sparingly in headings, typing things out in full capital letters can add emphasis. Used poorly, and it can look like you’re arguing with someone on an internet forum.
16. Changing Industries? Switch the Format
If you’re changing careers at any stage in your life, it’s wise to use a combination resume format. This structure allows you to focus on the transferable skills you bring to the new role, rather than irrelevant work experience.
Switching the format is also wise if you’ve jumped between companies frequently and is therefore one of the most useful resume tips for job hoppers.
17. A Resume is Not a CV
CV stands for curriculum vitae, which means “course of life” in Latin. It is typically the preferred application document in English-speaking Europe and the academic world.
CVs are more in-depth documents — made of multiple pages and written in a more general voice. Resumes are shorter, more concise documents, and are usually limited to one page.
18. Don’t Include a Photo
You won’t find any resume picture tips on this list for one reason: hiring managers will instantly trash a resume that includes a photo, unless you’re writing a modeling or an acting resume.
Professional resume templates rarely include space for a picture because it indicates a failure to understand formal employment processes.
19. Save Your Resume as a PDF
If you’re making your resume in Word, you’re probably saving it in .doc format. However, it’s worth saving it as a PDF file as well. PDFs retain their formatting regardless of how they are viewed, so they’re your best bet when sending your application out electronically.
In terms of IT resume tips, this is a handy one to file away and use regularly.
Resume Content Tips
Strong formatting and using the perfect resume template can make a great first impression, but it’s the content that will keep the hiring manager reading. These resume writing tips will reinforce the core of your application and make you a more viable candidate.
20. Power Up With Action Verbs
Action verbs enhance your resume bullet points because they sell your abilities and help you avoid sounding like a robot.
- Followed customer service protocol
- Enforced all formal customer service protocol
Our ultimate list of action verbs is a good starting point if you’d like to reboot your resume with powerful vocabulary. There’s a reason this is one of our favorite resume tips — it works wonders.
21. Avoid the Overused Resume Objective
If you have a few years of professional experience, consider using a summary of qualifications to showcase your expertise rather than a typical career objective.
Qualifications summaries allow you to place all of your achievements and strengths right at the top of the page where the hiring manager will see them immediately.
A resume objective is often more suitable for new graduates, or those targeting a specific position.
Or if you’d like some other options, you can’t go wrong with a concise resume profile or a resume summary statement. Career objectives should be used primarily if you have minimal (or no) work experience — mix things up if you can.
22. Quantify Your Achievements
One of the best resume tips we cover across our entire website is to use quantification.
Saying you increased revenue or raised efficiency at a former company is meaningless on its own. Instead, make your accomplishments jump off the page by using numbers, percentages, time frames, and dollars to measure your big wins.
23. Don’t List Unnecessary Information
Many tips for a good resume suggest including your hobbies to add a personal touch. When doing this, focus on ones that are applicable to the position.
For example, if you’re applying to work in a recording studio, say that you play guitar. However, mentioning your musical prowess probably won’t help you work in a law firm.
We have a comprehensive guide for how to add extra curricular activities in a resume and paint a complete picture of yourself for the hiring manager if you’re curious how this is done.
24. Don’t Travel Too Far Back in Time
Hiring managers want to know your recent career trajectory, and see how you’ve developed as a professional. That’s why the reverse chronological format is so standard today.
A general rule of thumb is to only include work experience as far back as 15 years. Anything that occurred before that isn’t useful anymore, unless it included a notable achievement or is incredibly relevant to the position
Keep your resume updated and current. Nobody cares that you graduated from high school in 1972, they care about what you’ve been doing recently as a professional.
25. Conquer Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
Many large corporations now use ATS software to sort through the thousands of applications they receive on a regular basis. These systems search for keywords and key phrases relevant to the position they’re hiring for and filter out applicants who did not use the correct vocabulary.
If you need some proven ways to build an ATS friendly resume, we have a variety of tactics most candidates aren’t familiar with.
26. Show Internal Promotions
Some people believe they only are supposed to list the highest position they achieved at each company they worked for. This isn’t necessarily true.
Listing the titles acquired as you advanced in a company is how to correctly show a promotion on your resume. It illustrates your career progression and how you succeeded with a growing number of responsibilities.
Other candidates are using resume tips and tricks like this, so you should too.
27. Downplay Gaps in Your Work History
Gaps in your work history send the wrong signals to employers. It’s in your best interest to de-emphasize these gaps, and explain them in person after landing the interview.
You can also hash out your reasons further in your cover letter, but one effective way to disguise work experience gaps is to use a functional resume format. Such a format can help turn your non-traditional work history into a strength, rather than a weakness.
Resume Advice: Language & Grammar Tips
The devil is in the details. Instead of falling foul to grammar errors and typos, demonstrate your attention to detail by avoiding the most common language and grammatical mistakes made by job seekers.
28. Don’t Use Too Many Personal Pronouns
You generally want to use as few personal pronouns (“I”, “Me”, “Myself” etc) as possible when describing your work experience. A resume is already a personal professional document, so including personal pronouns is redundant.
If you can eliminate them altogether, you’ll look like a true pro.
29. Write Numbers Correctly
Our editors agree: numbers from 1 to 9 should be spelled out (one, two, three, etc). Numbers 10+ should be written numerically (11, 12, 13, etc.).
30. Be Consistent With Periods
It’s up to you whether you finish each experience bullet with a period, but it’s important to be consistent with your resume margins and formatting.
31. Don’t Use Adverbs
Adverbs are a useful element of daily conversation, but they don’t resonate well on a job application. Not to mention, they don’t actually provide any real information about what you did at your job.
If you want to convey that you were quick and efficient at a certain job duty, don’t say you performed a task quickly and efficiently, simply use numbers and figures from your accomplishments to prove the point for you.
32. Proofread. And Then Proofread Again.
Even the most confident writer is not immune to typos. Once you’ve finished writing, double-check, and then triple-check your resume for small errors.
Ideally, ask a friend to proofread it too in order to provide a second set of eyes. Or your mom, that’s cool too.
33. Spell Your Name Correctly
We’re 100% serious — misspelled names are actually one of the top five mistakes hiring managers see. If your name isn’t common, spell check won’t pick it up.
Don’t spend hours meticulously crafting the perfect document and then squander your hard work by accidentally misspelling your own name:
- Stephen — Steven
- Mark — Marc
- Sarah — Sara
- Geoffrey — Jeffrey
- Robin — Robyn
- Anne — Ann
- Brian — Bryan
- Jesse — Jessie
- Shawn — Sean
This is Resume 101, folks.
Resume Advice: Education, Skills, & Extras
Your expertise and qualifications are the most powerful weapons in your job application arsenal. Deploy them effectively by following these resume writing tips.
34. Avoid a Generic Skills Section
Most applicants include a skills section in their resume, but how can you prove that you really possess the tools necessary for the job?
One of the best tips to make your resume stand out from the crowd is to balance your hard and soft skills so that you display a mix of interpersonal abilities with technical know-how.
35. Your Personality is Your Skillset
Dealing with customers or the public requires people skills that many candidates take for granted and frequently neglect to mention.
Don’t be afraid to add interpersonal skills, such as friendliness, positivity, patience, and reliability if they are mentioned in the job advert.
36. Add Key Hard Skills
- User Interface (UI) design
- Hand and power tools
- Drop packers and palletizers
- Encryption algorithms
These skills can only be learned through training and education, so you may wish to create a separate hard skills section to list your specialties and areas of expertise.
37. Lose the Expired licenses
Although it’s tempting to include expired licenses and certificates, the fact that they are expired makes them irrelevant to hiring managers.
Worried your application might come up short without those certifications? Check out this huge list of websites where you can enhance your job-hunting outlook and learn new skills and abilities, including:
- Foreign languages
- Software development
- Cloud computing
- Public speaking
Professional Resume Tips
Creating the perfect job application isn’t just about what you write, but how you write it. The following professional resume tips will make yours seem like a breath of fresh air to hiring managers.
38. Choose Your Social Media Links Wisely
It’s unnecessary for most jobseekers to include social media links other than LinkedIn. However, in certain circumstances, linking to your profiles can enhance your application. Here’s the lowdown:
- LinkedIn – gives hiring managers a deeper impression of who you are in a professional context
- Facebook – usually a step too far. Save the status updates and baby pictures for your friends and family
- Twitter – can be a useful addition if you’re applying for a web-based role where you need to be social media savvy
- Instagram – only if you’ve cultivated a large following directly applicable to the industry
39. Ditch the Teenage Email Address
You’d think the person behind email@example.com would understand the concept of professionalism, but frequently, they do not (!)
If you’re sending your resume by email, stick with some variation of your name, or something that seems official for your email address (this resume advice has saved many an application).
40. Tell The Truth
Just look at Yahoo’s ex-CEO Scott Thompson to see how even the most successful lies can eventually bring your career crashing down.
41. Defend Against Ageism
If you are over the age of 50 and worried about age discrimination, then take steps to better disguise or obscure your true age. For example, you don’t always have to include graduation dates of your educational experience.
Candidates who are younger are also at risk of experiencing age discrimination, as the employer may assume that you are immature, unreliable, or too inexperienced, even if those things are simply not true.
42. Don’t Use Your College Email
Regarding resume tips for college students:
It’s best to avoid using your university email account, especially if you’re about to graduate. Some schools will mercilessly delete your account when you leave — leaving any job related communications you had there gone with the wind.
Also, remember to request letters of recommendation before you graduate and keep them on file. Then you don’t have to wait for your tutors to reply when you start applying for jobs.
43. Marital Status is Unnecessary
In the United States, any interviewer who asks questions about a person’s “protected classes” can be sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These include:
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
44. Only Use Certified Resume Writers
If you decided to hire a professional resume writer to do the hard work for you, find a writer who is NRWA and/or CPRW certified. This is the only way to ensure their knowledge is up to industry standards.
It’s also worthwhile to do a search on the person to make sure they are trustworthy and dependable. Here is a list of NRWA certified writers by industry.
Job Search Advice
Crafting an impeccable resume is only half the battle. Next, it’s time to release it into the world and take the next step in your career. These job search advice tips will help you check all the right boxes as you complete your applications.
45. Put Your Resume Online
In the 21st century, it can help your job hunt if you’re searchable online. When uploading to LinkedIn or job search sites such as Indeed or Monster, consider beginning your resume with a professional profile. This introduction showcases your abilities but doesn’t target a specific job.
46. Write a Kick-ass Cover Letter
Cover letters are an essential accompaniment to your resume because they provide hiring managers with insight into how your experience matches their requirements. For consistency, try writing a cover letter template that aesthetically complements your resume.
47. Remember to Attach All Documents
Most email clients won’t remind you to click “attach” and there is nothing more embarrassing than sending two emails because you forgot to include everything with the first (well, almost nothing).
Double check the whole message, the recipients, subject line, text body and attachments before sending off any professional email.
48. Take Care of Your Paper Copies
If you’re wondering “Do you staple a resume?”, then we have a clear answer for you:
No, you don’t.
Your future career may hinge on this one document, so once you’ve printed it, take care of it. Never staple a resume, or worse yet, tape something to it.
Treat it like the piece of professional art it is. Keep it safe in a manilla folder and if you must group pages, do so with a non-destructive paperclip.
49. Last But not Least… Follow Up!
These days it’s expected that you’ll follow up your application with an email or phone call, not just to confirm whether the employer received your paperwork, but also to ask if they had any questions and express your desire to discuss the job in person.
By calling or emailing after sending your resume you are indicating persistence, diligence, and a strong desire to be their number one candidate.
And if you progress to the interview stage, it’s polite to send a thank you letter and reiterate your enthusiasm for the position if you felt the interview went particularly well.