The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Stand-Out Resume

Taking the time to craft an effective resume is incredibly important when looking for a new job.

That’s because a good resume will set you apart from other job seekers. It should catch the eye of a hiring manager and get them to pause on your application. It’s the first impression you’ll leave with a hiring manager. And the truth is, you don’t have a lot of time to attract their attention. 

How much time do you think a prospective employer devotes to reading a resume?

According to Glassdoor, approximately six seconds.

In other words, you have six seconds to convey who you are, what you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished, impress the hiring manager, demonstrate that you are qualified for the job, and set yourself apart from other applicants

But don’t panic.

We’ve put together a comprehensive list of resume tips and recommendations in order to help make the writing process simpler – and to increase your odds of impressing a hiring manager and getting that interview. 

How to craft an outstanding resume:

Before You Get Started
  1. Choose the right resume format. 
  2. Make sure your email address is professional and appropriate. 
  3. Consider not adding a mailing address.
Writing Your Resume: 
  1. Select relevant work experience to include in your resume.
  2. Highlight promotions and achievements.
  3. Keep job duties clear and succinct.
  4. Make sure your resume is optimized with relevant keywords.
  5. Don’t fear gaps in employment.
  6. Stick to what matters.
Adding the Finishing Touches to Your Resume
  1. Review the formatting and layout of your resume.
  2. Proofread, proofread and proofread some more.

You can jump to any specific tip that catches your eye, or keep reading to get a comprehensive guide to writing your resume. 

Before You Get Started

You have a recruiter or hiring manager’s attention for a small amount of time. It’s important that your resume quickly conveys the story you want to tell: My experience and skills make me the right person for the role.

Want to get set up successfully? Follow these steps:

1. Choose the right resume format.

Resumes are not one-size-fits-all. Take some time to think about what job, or jobs, you are interested in. The type of job and the industry will determine what skills or experience you should highlight in your resume.

If you’re applying to multiple jobs, customize accordingly. The style of resume you use will depend on where you are in your career – and where you want to go next.

So what resume format is best for you? Here’s a quick snapshot of the three most popular:

    • Chronological – This is usually the go-to style for resumes. It starts off with your contact information then jumps into your work experience, with your most recent, or current, position listed first. It goes in reverse chronological order from there. Then, you can add education or any additional information, such as certificates or volunteer work.
      When to use: Great if you have a strong work history and are interested in continuing in the same line of work. Employers like this style because it’s really easy to see what someone’s experience is.
    • Functional – This type focuses more on skills than it does experience. Instead of jumping into your work history, functional resumes lead with a “Qualifications” or “Professional Summary” or “Accomplishments” section at the top. There, you will break down the skills or experience you have gained over your career. At the bottom of the resume, you can include a concise list of your work experience.
      When to use: Have gaps in your resume or looking to get into a new field? A functional resume might be a good choice.
    • Combination/Hybrid – This style of resume is a cross between chronological and functional and focuses equally on skills and work experience. The top of the resume will showcase your skills and accomplishments. Below that you will list your work history in reverse chronological order.
      When to use: This resume format is great if you’ve recently graduated or are early in your career. It’s ideal in that you can show an employer what you bring to the table, but you’re sharing your employment history in an easy-to-read way.

2. Make sure your email address is professional and appropriate.

Having an email address on your resume is extremely important. Just as important is making sure it’s professional. It’s something that often gets overlooked by job seekers, but something that potential employers do notice. 

A typical professional email address should be easy to remember. Ideally, it should include your first name and last name. You will also be taken more seriously if it’s associated with one of the more common servers such as gmail, outlook or yahoo. 

A professional email address should not include: 

    • Anything suggestive, flirtatious or silly
    • Hobbies or interests (unless you’re open to them being a discussion item)
    • Your birth year or any long string of numbers
    • Underscores or any symbols that might make it confusing 
    • Someone else’s name 

Unsure if your email is professional or not? Have someone else read it aloud to you. Or simply imagine how you would feel having a hiring manager read it back to you. If you feel comfortable with that, you’re probably good to go. If you’re still unsure, try to imagine that anything other than your name as your email is a potential conversation starter. Is it a conversation you want to have? Not the case? An email with just your first and last name or initials is always a safe bet.

3. Consider not adding a mailing address.

Mailing addresses were included on resumes, once upon a time, because people used to have to physically mail their resumes to potential employers. Nowadays, mailing addresses are virtually unnecessary to include, as most communication is done online. And especially since you are providing other ways to get in touch with you, such as email and phone number. Not to mention, with more and more jobs being remote, where you live might not matter at all to a hiring manager. 

That being said, there are situations in which having a physical address on your resume is not only unnecessary, it might actually hurt your chances of getting the job. 

For example, if you live what some would consider a far commute away from a job, some employers may not consider you for it. But how far you’re willing to commute should be entirely up to you. Similarly, if you are currently living in a different city and planning to relocate, employers might not realize it and dismiss your application without looking into it further. 

If you plan to relocate and do want to include your mailing address on your resume, you could include the city and zip code of the place you’re moving to and write “Relocating to ‘X location” in the address section. 

Another reason you may not want to include your home address on a resume is simply because it’s sensitive information. You might have valid security concerns about sharing it easily online. If that’s the case, you may just want to include your city, state, and zip code. 

Writing Your Resume

Person writing resume at home on a laptop

Next, we’ll walk through what information you should include in the body of the resume, in order to really showcase your experience and expertise.

Here are the top six things to consider when you begin writing.

1. Select relevant work experience to include in your resume.

This is an area that can be a little challenging. How far back should you go in your work history?

If you’re looking for a job in the same field, you’re probably safe leaving off any work history older than 10 years. If you’re looking to switch careers, highlight any previous roles that would showcase that you have the skills necessary for the job you’re applying to.

Keep in mind how long your resume will be if you include all of your experience. Will it be one page? Two pages? More?

A good rule of thumb is to try to keep your resume fairly concise. if you have one to 10 years of experience, you probably can keep it to one page. If you have extensive experience, a two page resume is acceptable. And if you’re applying to a senior leadership, research, scientific, or government role, then you might use three or more pages. 

Remember, you have only six seconds to showcase your skills and capture the employer’s interest. You want them to absorb as much useful information as possible. The longer the resume is, the more difficult that becomes. When in doubt, keep it to no more than two pages.

2. Highlight promotions and achievements.

Employers are interested in hiring individuals who can add value to the organization.

Rather than focus on including a long bulleted-list of job duties you performed in a specific role, highlight what you accomplished in that role.

Whenever possible, include any quantifiable achievement in the form of percentages, dollars or other numeric values. It’s easy to say you’ve been the “top performer” or the “highest earner,” but having these numbers on your resume prove that.

Here’s a suggestion from the American Staffing Association:

Instead of just listing names, dates, and job skills, describe the benefits and results of your performance. For each entry, list your major accomplishments, emphasizing recent achievements. What problems or challenges have you faced? What actions did you take to overcome them? How did your actions benefit the company?

New to the workforce? It’s OK to include school-related accomplishments, such as Honor Roll, Dean’s List, Perfect Attendance, or any noteworthy extracurricular activities/volunteer work.

Show employers what you bring to the table.

3. Keep job duties clear and succinct.

Instead of writing a paragraph about your responsibilities in a previous role, create a bulleted list outlining your key duties and accomplishments in the job.

If there is a specific job you are interested in, find ways to align your job duties with what is expected in the role you’re after. For example, if the job is a manager position that requires you to have leadership skills, make sure your resume includes instances where you have displayed those skills. 

When writing about your current or most recent position, it’s okay to provide more in depth information. But for older roles, consider limiting yourself to five main points.

This makes it easier for the employer to quickly get an idea of the skills you gained in your last role, and how it fits with the job you’re applying to.

Always keep in mind that the purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. You’ll be able to provide more detail once you are sitting down with the employer.

4. Make sure your resume is optimized with relevant keywords.

A common mistake people make when writing a resume is to assume that a human is going to read it. In truth, companies rely on Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to screen resumes. These tools store, scan and filter resumes based on keyword relevance to a particular job.

Due to this, up to 75% of resumes submitted to a job are never seen by an actual recruiter. So If you want to make sure that a person actually ends up seeing your resume, you need to include keywords relevant to the job and industry you are applying for. 

When writing your resume, start by looking at jobs you want to apply to and align yourself to them by including relevant keywords. Take a look at the skills required for the roles. Do they match what is listed on your resume? If not, do you see ways you could incorporate skills you possess from the job postings into your resume? 

Keep in mind that different job postings will have different keywords, so when possible, do try to customize your resume for each job you’re applying for. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should lie and include skills you don’t have into your resume. But make sure to set yourself up for success by making yourself as obvious of a fit as possible and matching your skills to the job. 

The idea is to make sure a recruiter or hiring manager doesn’t have to work hard to find you in a database. Because the truth is, they probably won’t.

5. Don’t fear gaps in employment.

Life happens. Continuing education, family obligations and illnesses are just some reasons why someone may have been out of the workforce for a long period of time.

But these employment gaps can make putting a resume together a little tricky.

If you have gaps in employment, there are a few ways you could go about constructing your resume. 

First, one easy thing is to simply include what you did during your employment gap into your resume.. If you had a child, traveled the world, or maybe cared for a sick relative, you can mention it. Often, that’ll be enough to ease an employer’s worries. 

If you don’t want to explain your gap on your resume, or if you have several gaps, consider using a functional resume format. This will give you the opportunity to highlight your skills and qualifications, with the work experience listed at the bottom.

6. Stick to what matters.

You have limited space on your resume so you want to make the most of it by only including information that is going to help you land a job. So when you write your resume, stick with relevant experience and skills.

What’s more, you should also avoid adding information about hobbies or travel experiences. Everyone has activities they enjoy outside of the workplace. But when trying to sell yourself to an employer, what you do for fun has no bearing on the skills you’ll bring to the company. (Once you land the job and build relationships, you can talk about how you spend your weekends.)

However, while leaving hobbies out of your resume is usually a good rule of thumb, there are a few exceptions. You may want to include hobbies in your resume if they are specifically related to the job or industry you are trying to enter. Similarly, consider adding a hobby if it highlights specific skills that are relevant to the job you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying to a leadership position and are a high-school basketball coach. 

All in all, remember, every inch of space on your resume is precious. When considering what to add on your resume, use your judgement and ask yourself “Will this make me look good to an employer?” If not, you don’t want to waste space on something that doesn’t help you land a job.

Adding the Finishing Touches to Your Resume

1. Review the formatting and layout of your resume.

Having a professional appearance doesn’t only apply to what you wear to your interview. It applies to how the resume looks as well.

Make sure the template you selected is simple, and that it’s not too busy and distracting. Flashy, creative resume templates make sense if you are applying for a design job, but not if you are applying for a warehouse or administrative position.

When in doubt, Arial, Calibri, Cambria, and Times New Roman are ideal fonts to choose from, and 10-12 is a comfortable size to read.

Look over your resume. Is it clear and easy to read? Are your skills and experience noticeable at a glance?

Wondering if you should include a photo in your resume? Don’t. Photos in resumes are completely unnecessary and take up precious space. What you look like shouldn’t matter. The skills and experience you bring to the table, however, do.

Remember, you want your resume to stand out from all the other resumes a potential employer is looking at – but it should stand out in the right way.

2. Proofread, proofread and proofread some more.

Grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes are a big no-no.

Any small mistake can be misinterpreted as a lack of care or effort towards landing a position. Hiring managers want to see that you’ve put some work into your resume and cared enough to proofread it. If they believe that you didn’t care enough to proofread, that could cost you the job. 

Of course, when you’re writing it gets a little harder to notice small issues or typos. That’s why, once you’ve finished putting your resume together, a good practice is to step away from it for a moment, then come back and edit it.

After you’ve reviewed it, have someone you trust put a fresh set of eyes on it. They’ll be more likely to catch small mistakes and can let you know if there is anything you may have overlooked.

Remember, your resume is a representation of you on paper. It’s the first impression a hiring manager or recruiter gets of you. So make sure it’s a good one by putting some care into it.

Utilize All of Your Resources

Having a strong resume definitely increases your chance of landing an interview, but you may be looking for more support in your job search.

That’s why we’d like to share one more resource to help you: staffing agencies.

Recruiters are knowledgeable, resourceful and can connect you to employers hiring in your area.

Not only that, recruiters often offer resume edit suggestions and many agencies also offer skills assessments. These tests measure your proficiency in a variety of areas – computer programs, typing, industrial skills – which you can include on your resume.

Partnering with a staffing agency is also a great way to gain experience in, or transition to, a new field. Recruiters can also help you navigate any employment gap issues.

Still unsure of whether a staffing agency is right for you? Check out this article, 5 Great Reasons to Work with a Staffing Agency.

Let TERRA Help You with Your Job Search

We’ve given you a lot of tips and suggestions on how to write or improve your resume, but if you are looking for more resume-related tips, check out some of our other blog posts:

If you are in need of a new job fast, consider partnering with us. Every year we help thousands of people find fulfilling employment

Our recruiters are experts in understanding what hiring companies are looking for and can set you up for success. Not only that, we can help you double your resume reach, and can connect you with some great companies currently hiring near you.

We believe in the power of people, and we believe in the power of jobs. That’s why our mission is simple: Success Stories Created Daily. To get started, check out our current job openings. We have offices in the Seattle-Puget Sound, Portland, Phoenix, and Denver metro areas.

Contact us if you want to hear about job openings. We look forward to working with you!

(Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.)

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