Writing the Perfect Resume

Educate > Career

Job hunting can be a real challenge. From the increasing competition to the ever-changing economy, it's more important than ever to make your resume stand out from the stack.

According to Glassdoor, a corporate job receives an average of 250 resumes. Only 4-6 move on to the interview stage from those applicants. And one person gets the job. In a tough economy, you need every single advantage you can get to make it in today's market. A killer resume is an excellent place to start.

Your resume is the first chance to make a great impression on your potential employer. It's not about creating an exhaustive list of every job you've ever held, but it is an opportunity to highlight your talents and experience. It should be clear and concise and include the best information from your work history, education, and personal skills.

But how do you make it effective? How do you target a resume towards a specific job?

Fortunately for you, this article will walk you through the process of writing a resume. In it, we'll discuss the essential components of a resume and strategies to help you land the job that you want.

Basic Components of a Resume

There are five standard sections a hiring manager or recruiter will expect to see on your resume, including your personal information, professional summary, list of skills, work experience, and education.


Personal Information

Not surprisingly, the personal information section is standard across 99.85% of resumes. This part is crucial as it includes your contact information so an employer knows how they can reach you.

In the header or at the top of your resume, you should include the following details:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone Number
  • Email Address
  • A URL to your LinkedIn profile, website, or portfolio (optional)

This is the easiest step to skip, but definitely not an option. Without contact information, employers have no way of getting in touch with you should they want to offer you an interview.

Objective Statement: to Include or Not to Include?

Some job seekers might want to include an objective statement immediately following their personal information. A solid objective statement briefly describes your career goals and motivations. Many career experts have argued over the purpose of an objective statement and whether or not it should be included at all.

While they are not necessary, objective statements could be helpful to job seekers looking to break into a new field to briefly explain their motivations. If you are, say, a doctor looking to make a career switch into teaching, you may want to consider adding an objective statement because it will help provide context for applying for a job in a new field. You can also elaborate on the reasons for your career change in your cover letter.

Professional Summary

A professional summary introduces you to the hiring manager or recruiter. This is an opportunity for you to market yourself in a few sentences. Craft these words carefully, and be sure to include the specific skills and qualifications you have based on your industry and job in mind. Include the following details:

  • Work experience: How many years have you been working? What have you been doing for work?
  • General experience: What skills do you possess? What is your work focus?
  • Notable achievements: What are your career highlights? What quantifiable data do you have to demonstrate your achievements?

You should also include keywords in your professional summary that match the job description (See “Customizing the Basic Resume Components: Use Keywords” to learn how to do this).

Skills Summary

If you are applying for a job that requires specific skill sets, it is crucial that you include them on your resume. This section of the resume is a great place to list the skills you have acquired over the course of your career.

These skills can include a mix of both hard and soft skills.

What are hard skills? A hard skill is a measurable talent or ability acquired through work experience, school, or other training. For example, if you are applying for a job that requires financial acumen, you may want to consider including cost accounting as a hard skill.

What are soft skills? A soft skill is a more subjective ability that you have developed over time. For instance, if you are applying for a job that requires client-facing skills, you might include communication as an example of a soft skill.

Take a look at the job listing to better understand the kinds of skills that are relevant to the position. There might be a skill that you possess that you forgot to add.

Work Experience

This section makes up the bulk of your resume, so be sure to include the most relevant information for the open position. Organize this section in reverse chronological order by listing your most recent job first. This is where you will list out the companies you have worked for, followed by your specific job titles and brief descriptions of what your roles entailed.

Include the following information for each position:

  • Company name
  • City, state or province
  • Dates of employment (month and year)
  • Job title
  • A brief description of your responsibilities

You will need to think about what skills and accomplishments you have acquired at each job, as well as how they contribute to your overall career goals. If possible, use numbers to quantify your skills, such as a percent increase in sales growth you achieved at a previous job.

Ensure to include a detailed description of your responsibilities for each job you have held. You should include at least three bulleted points on what you did on the job.


You should place the education section at the bottom, after your work experience section.

Include the following information:

  • Name and location of school or institution
  • Dates attended (month and year)
  • Type of degree you received (Bachelor's, Master's, etc.)

If you have several years of work experience, it’s not necessary to add bulleted points describing your education. The exceptions are if you are an entry-level job seeker with little or no experience. In that case, you should highlight relevant coursework to show employers that you have developed the skills needed to excel in the position in your education.

Additional Sections

Other sections may be appropriate for your resume, depending on the industry and the open position. For example, if you want to highlight your research background, you might include a publications section that lists the journals or magazines where your work has been featured. If you've received any awards, you may want to include a section dedicated to those accolades.

Here are some additional sections that you might want to include:

  • Awards and Honors
  • Volunteer Work
  • Projects
  • Publications
  • Hobbies and Interests
  • Extracurricular Activities


Customizing the Basic Resume Components

Instead of sending off a generic resume to multiple employers, you should customize each application according to the position. Over 50% of job applicants make the mistake of not tailoring their resume to the position, which might signal to employers that the applicant is not serious about the specific position.

Read the position description carefully and make sure your resume clearly reflects how you meet each qualification. Here are a few ways to customize your resume each time you submit it to increase the chances of your resume getting noticed.

Use Keywords

According to a study completed by Cultivated Culture, only 51% of applicants include relevant keywords in the job description. Many companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) that searches for specific keywords in your resume. A candidate who does not include the correct keywords significantly decreases their chances of getting an interview.

Sprinkle keywords into your resume that relate to the position you're applying for, such as terms and phrases found in the job listing. You should aim to include these in the first bullet point in each section of your resume, so the hiring manager can see right away how you meet the qualifications. You can also find more keywords from similar job postings related to the industry to make your resume stand out.

Tailor Your Education

Sometimes, you might not have the required experience for a job, but you still want to get your foot in the door. In this case, you can play up your academic background instead of focusing on your work experience. If you are still in school or recently finished, be sure to include relevant coursework that will showcase your skills and abilities. For instance, if the job requires a degree in accounting but you have a degree in finance, you can highlight that you took accounting courses during school.

Formatting Tips

Make sure your information makes an impact—resumes should be easy to read and simple to follow. According to an eye-tracking study completed by Ladders Inc., recruiters spend an average of seven seconds looking at a resume. This means you need to make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to skim your resume for the most important details that make you a suitable candidate for the job. While the quality of content matters, resume formatting is equally as crucial for two reasons.

First, 75% of recruiters and hiring managers use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to process job applications. This system searches for keywords in your resume, so you want to make it easy for the ATS to find them. An ATS might not recognize certain types of layouts or fonts, shaded areas, odd-shaped bullet points, or other design elements. While these systems are fairly advanced, you don't want to risk losing an opportunity because your resume wasn't formatted properly.

Second, recruiters expect a standard format and layout for resumes. That's because they see and process many resumes, and it helps them—and hiring managers—to quickly scan through those resumes. If you deviate from the standard, it might make your information more difficult to digest and organize.

Here are some more quick tips for effective resume formatting:

  • Use in a simple, clean font such as Arial or Helvetica (10-14 pt)
  • Keep your resume between 1-2 pages
  • An ideal resume needs 475 to 600 words
  • Avoid using personal pronouns or contractions
  • Add headers and borders organize information while keeping the majority of your content in bulleted form
  • Use action verbs and the active voice whenever possible


How To Handle Common Obstacles

Sometimes life gets in the way, and we have to take some time off or change the direction of our career path. There are several reasons you might not have a linear work history, but that doesn't mean you can't write a good resume. When you have an employment gap or a sporadic work history, there are several methods you can use to demonstrate your value on paper.

Large Gap

If you've taken a significant amount of time off from work, it might seem difficult to explain. If this is your situation, be prepared for questions from your interviewer. You don't want to lie, but it's important to demonstrate that you made an intentional career choice. Include a resume objective statement that helps explain your decision and further elaborate on your reasoning in your cover letter.

Early Career

If you're a recent grad, you might want to address the lack of work experience by showing that you took advantage of opportunities to gain knowledge and skills, such as taking online courses or shadowing a professional. You can also include relevant volunteer experience to demonstrate your growth over the years.

Career Change

If you're changing careers or industries, it's okay to remove unrelated information to your new desired career. For example, if you're looking to move from the healthcare industry into IT, you won't need to include all the details from your previous experience in healthcare. In this case, you'll want to emphasize the skills and expertise that transfer over into your new line of work.

Highlight transferable skills you gained from your previous field, such as leadership, time management, and teamwork. Omitting pieces of information is not the same as lying on your resume. You don't need to disclose everything, but you do want to uphold the truth in all of your statements.

Job Hopper

If you have many short-term jobs, a functional resume might be a good option for you. This type of resume focuses on your skills and accomplishments rather than on the details of your work history. This format can be a good choice if you want to highlight what you bring to the table and move away from the traditional chronological format.


How to Use Your Resume to Get the Job You Want

The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all perfect resume. Every individual has a unique background and experiences that shape their own professional story. It will depend on your background, industry, and the specific job you’re applying for to write a resume highlighting your strengths.

Showcase the Required Skills

Look out for job descriptions that include the terms “must,” “minimum,” “strong preference,” or “strongly preferred.” These words indicate the mandatory qualifications for the job, so you will want to include them in your resume.

If you do not have these must-have skills listed in the job description, the position might not be the right fit for you. You should only apply to jobs that you are qualified for based on the core skills and qualifications listed in the job listing.

Review Job Descriptions of Competitors

Instead of including keywords for the specific job posting, you can also include keywords from their competitors. This shows that you have a little extra to offer and that you went beyond simply parroting the keywords in their job description. Of course, the added information needs to be relevant to the open position.

Strategies for Listing Unfinished Education

If you started an educational path but did not complete it, you can still use a tactic to list your education relevant to the position. For example, you might indicate that you completed 50% of the courses required for an accounting major. Make sure to include your reasoning for leaving the program. A cover letter can provide a more detailed explanation to your potential employers.

Incorporating Volunteer Work

Does your volunteer position often feel like a second job? If you regularly dedicate a significant amount of time to a volunteer organization, consider including it in your resume. It shows that you're a flexible and committed worker. Include the organization's name, your role, and your years of service. This can be information that can help distinguish you from other candidates.

Don't Forget to Always Proofread and Tweak

Finally, your resume is a living document, so make sure you always review and update your resume before sending it off. Over 75% of employers toss a resume in the reject pile if they find typos or grammatical mistakes. Proofreading is a must before you submit your resume. Make sure that there are no spelling or grammatical errors because even one little mistake can make you seem careless. Have someone else read through your resume to ensure that everything is clear and concise.


While job hunting can feel daunting at times, having a strong resume helps immensely when it comes to getting that first interview. Plus, reflecting on your career while writing your resume can help prepare you for the interview process.

Now that you know how to create an ideal resume, tweak each application you send out according to the job description. It can take several tries before you land your desired job, so stay positive and work hard at each stage.