Top 10 Resume Writing Tips for 2018
Writing a resume can be really tough. You know you need to convince an employer that you’re the best person for the job – but how exactly do you do that?
It can be especially hard if you’ve been out of the job market for a while, and you feel that you’re not sure what’s required from your resume – or if this is the first resume you’ve ever written.
Don’t worry! We’re going to quickly recap the basics, before digging into some crucial tips for writing a winning resume.
What Is a Resume Anyway?
A resume is a document that lets employers know about your work history, your educational achievements, and your key skills. If you’re in the UK, a resume is commonly called a “CV” (curriculum vitae). (Note that in the US, you may hear “CV” used to refer to a long, academic resume.)
What Should a Resume Look Like?
While there’s no absolute rule on how your resume should be formatted, a quick Google Images search for “resume” will give you an idea of how most resumes look.
It’s normally unwise to do anything clever or cute with the format of your resume: employers want to get information clearly and easily from it, and you don’t want to risk standing out in a bad way.
Your resume should include the following information, in this order:
- Personal Details (name, address, phone number, email address) – this goes right at the top of the first page. Normally, you should put your name in a large font as the title for your resume.
- Personal Profile (optional) – a high-level summary of who you are and what you’re looking for from a job. This has become popular in recent years, though it’s not absolutely essential.
- Core Skills (optional) – immediately beneath your personal profile, you can opt to include a bullet-pointed list of your core skills, so your prospective employer can quickly see what you’re good at.
- Career History – list your past jobs, in reverse chronological order (the most recent job should come first on the page). It’ll usually be appropriate for your most recent job to have the most details.
- Education and Qualifications – this should come after your career history, unless you’re fresh out of school / college – in which case it might make sense to give it greater prominence.
You can also include information about volunteering on your resume, especially if you have few or no previous jobs to write about.
Of course, you probably already know that you shouldn’t use coloured backgrounds, lots of unusual fonts, or anything else that makes your CV look odd and hard to read.
So how do you write a winning resume in 2018?
Tip #1: Tailor Your Resume to Each Position You’re Applying For
If you only follow one tip from this list, make it this one: your resume should be carefully tailored to the position you’re applying for.
Don’t view your resume as a document that you write once then forget about. Of course, you won’t be restarting from scratch every time – but you should make appropriate tweaks to highlight how exactly your past experience matches up the role you want to be considered for.
You’ll almost certainly find it helpful to …
Tip #2: Use the Job Advert to Guide You
Whatever job you’re applying for, there’ll be an advert detailing what the company is looking for. Use this to help you make it very clear that you have exactly what they need.
For instance, if the advert says they need someone “who’s adept with Microsoft Word”, you might include Microsoft Word in your core skills, or mention it in the description for one of the jobs you’ve had in the past. If they ask for someone with “experience managing a team”, you’ll want to make sure you emphasise this in your career history … even if it was only a relatively small part of one of your roles.
Tip #3: Present Information Chronologically
Although some people think that a “functional” CV can help show you in your best light, if you have an unconventional work history, this will lead employers to wonder what you’re hiding! As Allison Green puts it in “here’s the right way to format your resume” on Ask a Manager:
Functional resumes – which are focused on one long list of skills and accomplishments rather than connecting them to a chronological work listing – are widely disliked by employers, since they make it difficult to understand what the candidate’s work progression has been.
Stick with the standard reverse-chronological order instead.
Tip #4: Give Appropriate Weight to the Various Sections
Normally, it makes sense for your most recent roles and achievements to take up the most space on your resume. You don’t need to go into lots of detail about a job that you had for six months ten years ago … it’s not likely to be very relevant to your employer.
The same goes for your educational qualifications: if you’ve graduated college, your high school classes and GPA are no longer very significant. You can include them briefly, but don’t spend half a page of your resume on them.
Tip #5: Include Examples to Back Up What You’re Claiming
It’s not enough to say that you have “excellent time management skills” – it doesn’t mean anything, and it’s the sort of phrase that almost any candidate can use. Back up your claims with concrete examples. For instance, you could write:
Excellent time management skills: managed heavy workload in a busy department, prioritising and dealing with customer emails (frequently over 50/day).
Where possible, give figures: for instance, if you took on the task of writing newsletters to your company’s client base and this resulted in 10% more sales to customers on the newsletter list – say so!
Tip #6: Don’t Be Cutesy About Your Stay-at-Home Parenting
One rather cringe-worthy trend with resumes is for stay-at-home parents (both moms and dads) to describe their time parenting in terms of a job. For instance, James Wilkinson from Advice from Super Dad writes that:
If I was to include my stay at home dad role on a resume it would probably look something like this:
STAY AT HOME DAD
July 2011 – Present
- Primary child care duties.
- Design and implementation of household operational procedures.
- Supervising, training and managing children and their needs.
- Complaint resolution,
- Household bookkeeping and finance management
Additionally you may have had to learn to meal plan and cook, to do cleaning and washing duties or a myriad of other assorted essential household and child rearing skills.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that being a stay at home parent is hard work – it’s a whole job and a half, at least. I’ve every respect for parents. But this sort of entry does not belong in your work history.
It looks silly, it makes you seem a little desperate for something to put on your resume … and it could also come across as quite insulting to a potential boss who may well have children of their own (and all of these duties to handle in addition to their job).
So what should you do?
The safest professional approach is to simply leave those years out of your work history: you can write a sentence in your cover letter to explain “from July 2011, I’ve been a stay at home parent”.
Tip #6: Keep it to Two Pages Maximum (Unless You’re an Academic)
In today’s digital age, you might think that it really shouldn’t matter if your resume doesn’t fit onto two sides of a sheet of paper. But it does! If your resume goes on for three or four pages, no-one’s going to want to read the whole thing … plus it makes you look like someone who’ll ignore professional norms.
If you absolutely need to fit in an extra paragraph or two, it’s better to go onto a third side than to squeeze all your text so that it’s tiny.
The main exception here is if you’re applying for an academic role, where you might well be listing your publication history, presentation experience, and so on in a longer CV. In this case, it’s often expected that your CV will run to three or four pages.
Tip #7: Use Bullet Points Where Appropriate
If you’re fresh out of school, you might think that bullet points look informal and odd. But in a business context, it’s completely normal to use bullet points to summarise information and to make it easy to take in.
You can find plenty of examples of resumes here on Live Career – this should give you an idea of how often bullet points are used!
Some key areas to include bullet points on your resume are:
- Your core skills (probably in a list with two or three columns, rather than a single long list that leaves a lot of white space on the right hand side of the page).
- Your duties for each of the previous job roles you’ve held
- Your educational history and qualifications
Tip #8: Don’t Include a Photo of Yourself
This might seem like a strange tip, but it’s something that employers have increasingly mentioned as an issue – perhaps with the ease of taking and inserting digital photos.
You do not need to include your photo on your resume … however fantastic you look! Employers don’t (or shouldn’t) care what you look like, and it looks weird and unprofessional to put a photo of yourself on your resume.
(The main exception here is if you’re applying for a modelling or acting role, when of course it is appropriate to include a photo.)
You should avoid including any other images in your resume, too: for instance, don’t put in company logos from the places you’ve previously worked. You might think it looks slick, but it can cause problems with formatting, and it’s frankly a waste of your time. Stick to text alone.
Tip #9: Use a Professional-Looking Email Address
This might seem like a tiny thing … but your email address matters. If you’re using firstname.lastname@example.org, it’s not going to create the best impression.
A free email address is fine, but make sure it’s something sensible (probably involving your name, and perhaps a number if no version of your name is available).
Some people – and I’ll admit I’m one of them – feel that a Gmail address looks better than Hotmail or Yahoo, because Gmail users tend to be a little more tech-savvy. The name of your email provider, though, really isn’t likely to make a lot of difference.
Tip #10: Triple-Check Your Spelling and Grammar
There aren’t many situations in life when a typo can be ruinous … but sending out a resume is one of them.
While most people would forgive you a tiny typo, a resume with several typos, or significant typos (like a misspelled company name) will inevitably make you look bad.
Proofread your resume as carefully as you can – there are some great tips here on Daily Writing Tips that should help.
If possible, get a second pair of eyes on it too: ask a friend to look over it and make sure you’ve not made any mistakes.
This is also a good opportunity to make sure that you’ve been consistent with formatting (e.g. that all your headers are the same size, font and style), and that everything looks polished (e.g. that you don’t have a single paragraph running over the page break – if you do, insert a manual page break to neaten it up).
Bonus tip: Make sure to check our previous article 44 Resume Writing Tips for additional points you can use..
I know there’s quite a bit to take in here, and you might feel overwhelmed before you’ve even begun on your resume.
One of the best ways to tackle any daunting writing project – resumes included – is to start with a small step. You might open up a fresh document and type in your contact details, for instance … then you’ve made a start.
I wish you the very best of luck with your job search, and I hope you find and land the perfect role for you.