How To
15 min read

How to Write a Job-Winning Resume: A Step-by-step Guide

Soniya Jain

June 24, 2022

If you're looking for a new job, you won’t get far without a well-written resume.

This is what keeps your application from getting lost in the shuffle and helps you stand out from other applicants. But what makes a resume good? In short: everything.

A resume is the first thing an employer sees about you, so it has to communicate what kind of person you are and why you’re the best person for the job. Your resume should be well-written and easy to read, organized to highlight the most important things about your experience, and targeted to the job description to speak directly to the hiring manager's requirements.

This guide will walk you through all the steps you need to take to write an impressive resume that will grab recruiters' attention and get you an interview.

Let's get started!

Types of resume formats and layouts

When you're applying for jobs, the first thing an employer will notice is your resume. Before anything else, it's essential to make sure your resume looks professional and clean so it doesn't feel rushed or give the wrong impression.

When it comes to choosing the correct format, there are three types:

  • Reverse Chronological
  • Functional
  • Hybrid

Let's talk about each format in detail.

1. Reverse Chronological Resume Format

Example of reverse chronological resume format
Novoresume

In most cases, you will want your resume to follow this format. Reverse chronology lists all your relevant work experience, with your most recent job first.

A typical summary at the top of the page summarizes your skills, education history, and accomplishments in about three sentences.  Below, there is a section for each job where you list your title, company name, city, date range of employment, job duties, and responsibilities. The last section is a list of references.

Who should use this format? 

People who have been working for several years or have had multiple jobs in different industries can use this format to highlight their work history in detail. If this is your first job or you’re looking to change careers, consider using another form — this one may not highlight everything you want employers to know about you.

Pros of using the reverse chronological resume format:

  • Easy to read: Your reader can see at a glance how long you've been working and what kind of work experience you have.

  • Easy for a hiring manager to find what they're looking for: If there's a specific reason you’re leaving your current job (such as moving to another state), you can easily highlight this on your resume using bullet points or bold text.

  • Shows progression over time: If you've been working steadily in the same field with increasing responsibility over time, this format will outline that progression clearly.

Cons of using the reverse chronological resume format:

  • Too detailed: If you've only held one job for several years, this format might not offer enough detail about your role and responsibilities.

  • Can be repetitive: If you've held several jobs with similar duties, this format can make your resume look repetitive. It might not emphasize your strengths or the variety in your skillset as much as you want.

  • Might raise questions: If you've had several jobs in a short period, this format might make it look like you job-hop often. This can make recruiters question your ability to stick with one company for the long run.

2. Functional or skills-based resume format

Example of functional resume format
Myperfectresume

If you're looking to make a career change, a functional resume format may be the right choice.

This format emphasizes your skills and abilities instead of listing your work history chronologically, making it a good choice if you have gaps in employment or are changing careers. Because this format allows you to focus on what you can do rather than where you have worked, it’s also an excellent way to draw attention away from job-hopping or other career inconsistencies that could raise red flags for employers.

Who can use a functional or skills-based resume format?

  • Eligible candidates who are changing careers or industries and want to highlight relevant transferable skills

  • Recent college graduates with limited work experience looking to showcase their coursework and extracurricular activities related to the job they're applying for

  • People with small gaps in their employment history

  • Candidates with diverse work histories that include freelance, contract, or temporary positions

  • Applicants with little or no formal education who want to focus on skills instead of academic history

Pros of functional or skills-based resume format:

  • Easy to highlight specific skills and achievements.

  • Helpful in illustrating transferable skills, especially if your work history is limited or doesn't directly relate to the field you're pursuing.

  • Effective if you tend to switch jobs frequently.

  • Highlights what you bring to the table rather than just focusing on where you've worked previously. This may make it easier for recruiters to see how well you'll fit into their company culture and requirements.

  • It can help draw attention to critical skills that aren't obvious from other parts of your application package (like leadership abilities).

Cons of functional or skills-based resume format:

While a functional resume can come in handy under certain circumstances, it also has its fair share of disadvantages. Here are some potential drawbacks of using this type of resume:

  • It can make it difficult for employers to understand your work history and career progression.

  • It may cause you to appear overqualified for entry-level jobs or positions that require little previous experience.

3. Hybrid resume format: a combination of chronological and functional resume formats

Example of hybrid resume format
Jobscan

The hybrid resume format is the best of both worlds — it combines the chronological format, which outlines your work history and experiences, with the functional design that highlights your skills and qualifications. This makes it an excellent option for job seekers with relevant work experience and transferable skills.

Who should use a hybrid resume format?

The hybrid resume format is ideal for job seekers who have experience in the private and public sectors and have worked in multiple industries or different roles at the same company. It can also be helpful for candidates who are just starting after graduating from school, as it highlights their skills and abilities without having to list every job they've ever had.

This type of resume is also beneficial if you're changing careers or industries. It allows you to focus on the most relevant skills to the new field while still providing an overview of your professional background.

Pros of hybrid resume format:

  • Suitable for candidates of any experience level.

  • It highlights both skills and work history.

  • Ideal for career changers or those looking to switch industries.

Cons of hybrid resume format:

  • It requires more effort to put together than other types of resumes.

  • You may not be as familiar with potential employers, so it could take longer for them to understand your qualifications.

Overall, the hybrid resume format is a great option to emphasize your skills and work history in your job search materials. It can help you stand out from other candidates while still providing all the information potential employers need about your professional background.

Best practices for formatting a resume

Employers have certain expectations and standards when it comes to resumes, and it is essential to format your resume in a way that meets these standards. This can help you appear more professional and competent, giving you a better chance of getting an interview or job offer.

Here are the best practices for formatting a resume:

  • One page in length

Keep your resume short and sweet. If you cram too much information into one page, essential details will likely get lost in the shuffle. Plus, longer resumes tend to look overwhelming and cause hiring managers to skim over them rather than pay attention to what's important about the applicant's background and experience.

  • Clear section headings

Ensure that all resume sections have clear headings so employers can quickly scan through and find what they're looking for. You may want to include bullet points or other visual cues — whatever works best for your needs!

  • Ample white space

Make sure there is ample white space between each section of your resume. This keeps your resume looking clean so hiring managers can easily read through your qualifications without getting distracted by other things on the page.

  • Easy-to-read font

Use easy-to-read fonts throughout your resume so employers don't have to strain their eyes when they're looking at it. Arial, Calibri, and Times New Roman are all great choices and you should use a font size that's around 12 points. This is big enough for employers to read but not so big that it takes up too much valuable space on the page.

  • Save your resume as a PDF

When you're sending your resume to employers, you want to make sure it looks the same no matter where they open it. To do this, save your resume as a PDF instead of a Microsoft Word document. This way, all your formatting will stay the same, and there won't be any glitches when an employer opens up your resume on their computer.

It's essential to have a clean and easy-to-read resume because hiring managers screen dozens or even hundreds of resumes for each job opening. If yours is difficult to read or includes errors, they may simply move on to the next one without giving you much consideration. By taking care with your layout and using simple fonts & font sizes, you can ensure that your resume will stand out.

Now that you’ve got the layout down, here are some tips for writing a great resume.

Add a resume header

Your resume header is the first thing a hiring manager will see when they open your file, so it's essential to make an excellent first impression. The following are some best practices for writing a resume header:

The first thing you'll want to do when writing a resume header is make sure you include all the necessary information. The typical resume header should include your name, email address, telephone number, location, and any additional details you want to add,

such as an online portfolio or website, a LinkedIn profile, a mailing address, and even a resume headline (a subtitle describing your experience).

Here are some things you should avoid in your resume header:

  • Date of birth: If you're under 25 years old, this might be fine, but otherwise it's better to leave it out. Your experience will speak for itself!

  • An unprofessional email address: Make sure your email address is simple and appropriate. Avoid using too many numbers, and try to keep your email address as close as possible to your preferred name in professional settings. 

Here is an example of a good resume header -

Example of how to write a resume header
Standardresume

Start with a summary or objective statement

With so many ways to start your resume, it can be difficult to know which one will yield the best results. But here's the thing: you should always begin with a summary or objective.

A summary uses 2-3 sentences to describe your job, years of experience, notable accomplishments and desired goal. HR managers spend around 7 seconds scanning each resume, so don't waste time on details like education or past work experience — focus on what matters most.

On the other hand, an objective is the goal of your resume. It conveys your motivation to transition into a new career, which can be especially helpful if you're changing careers or have no experience! This is a go-to for anyone with no work experience or who is considering changing jobs.

For example, if you're applying for an entry-level marketing position with no relevant experience, you might write something like:

  1. "I am a recent graduate looking for an opportunity to apply my skills in marketing. My top accomplishments as an intern included driving 20% growth in ad revenue through improved targeting and increasing website traffic by 20% with enhanced SEO."

  1. Entry-level marketing professional with 2 years of experience managing social media accounts for small businesses. Reached over 500k people per month through effective content strategy and regular engagement with followers.

  1. I am an energetic and passionate recent graduate looking to start my career in marketing and sales. I have developed excellent written and verbal communication skills and interpersonal skills after working closely with customers daily during my internship at ABC Company. My top accomplishments include successfully executing email campaigns that resulted in a 10% increase in click-through rates and increasing website traffic by 15%.

Tailor your experience to the specific job you are applying for

When you're looking for a job, it's wise to target your experience to each specific job ad. The more closely you can match your skills and knowledge to what they're looking for, the better your chances of landing an interview.

Here are some best practices to follow when targeting your work experience:

1. Look carefully at the skills mentioned in the job description and showcase any of those skills you have with clear examples.

For example, if the job ad mentions that they are looking for someone with specific programming experience, highlight any programming projects you've worked on and include details about how your project solved a problem or improved efficiency.

2. If there aren't any specific skills mentioned in the job description but you think you could show how your experience demonstrates them, include them in your resume or cover letter as something you're interested in learning about or doing more of if given the opportunity.

For example, if there's no mention of working with Excel or VBA but you have experience doing so, include this in your cover letter or resume.

3. Another great practice is to use specific words from the job description in your cover letter or resume.

For example, if one of the requirements listed is "strong communication skills," then you could say something like, "I am an excellent communicator and am confident that my work would reflect this quality." This will show them that you know what they are looking for and already have some examples ready to go!

4. Don't go overboard with the above points — it's not necessary to list every single skill from every single job on your resume just because they’re relevant to this particular position. Keep it focused and make sure there's a clear connection between each bullet point you list and what this specific company is looking for (this is part of what makes targeted resumes so effective).

If you're struggling to find the best way to add your work experience to your resume, Copy.ai's "Resume Bullet Points" tool can help. Just enter information about your past positions, and the tool will generate tailored bullet points for you to use on your resume.

Here is a demo - resume bullet points tool demo video

Listing your work experience on a resume

Your work experience is one of the key things employers look at when considering you for a job. If you don't list your work experience in a way that highlights your skills and accomplishments, you may not get called in for an interview. This means it's essential to take the time to carefully outline your work history in a way that will impress potential employers.

1. Begin with your most recent or current job and work backward chronologically through your employment history.

2. Include the following information for each job in your work experience section:

  • The title of your position: This is the job title you held at the company. If you were an intern, it's best to use "intern" instead of "internship."

  • The name and location of the company you worked for: If there is no location associated with your position (e.g., it was located remotely), just put "remote."

  • Your dates of employment ( just the month and year are usually sufficient).

3. For each entry, include a few bullet points describing what you did in that role, focusing on responsibilities relevant to the job you're applying for now and any key accomplishments or successes from those roles (e.g., "Increased sales by 25% over two years").

Here is an example of how I highlighted my work experience in my resume:

Example of how to highlight work experience in a resume

List achievements in your resume when possible

An effective way to demonstrate your accomplishments in your resume is to list them under every relevant position. Under each job, you can add a section titled "Accomplishments" and list 2-3 items that showcase what you achieved while in that role. This will give employers an overview of what you can accomplish and help them understand the value you could bring to their team.

Action words catch the hiring manager's eye — words like "increased," "developed," or "designed" are great because they illustrate what you did at your old job without requiring dense paragraphs of text about every single project you completed over the years. Concrete numbers provide context for exactly how you added value to your team or the company as a whole. 

Some accomplishments you could list on your resume include:

  • Achieving a specific sales target

  • Improving efficiency by implementing new processes

  • Leading a team to success on a project

Here are some examples:

  • We developed a new tool that increased sales by 20% by optimizing our website for mobile traffic. This resulted in an increase of $1 million per quarter over the next year.

  • Within three months of starting my role as Director of Customer Service, I increased customer satisfaction from 65% to 95% after implementing a new customer support system.

  • Led a team of five developers to create a new software application that generated $200,000 in revenue within the first month after launch.

Showcase your skills in your resume

You should always prominently display your skills in a resume skills section. You can do this by listing a combination of hard and soft skills to demonstrate your technical expertise as well as your leadership experience and ability to work well with others.

List of hard and soft skills to add in a resume
Valamis

1. For each skill listed, you should specify your proficiency level. For instance, you can divide your skills into the categories below:

  • Beginner - You're new to this skill but have done it once or twice before.
  • Intermediate - You have some experience with this skill, but not much.
  • Advanced - You've worked with this skill for many years and are very proficient in it.
  • Expert - This is something that makes up a large part of your profession (like coding) or something you've been doing for years on end (like accounting).

2. Don't limit your skills to a list at the bottom of your resume. You can also let them shine through in other places by detailing how they apply to previous positions or describing ways you apply these skills in your work.

3. Make sure to include skills that are relevant to the job being advertised. If you're unsure how to match up your skills with the position you want, try looking at similar jobs online or asking friends who work in similar industries what they would include on their resumes.

Include your education history in your resume

Employers often use educational details to judge whether or not a candidate is qualified for the position. If you do not include your education in your resume, employers may assume that you are unqualified and will not even consider you for the job. Therefore, it’s essential to always include a section on your education to increase your chances of getting hired.

This section should follow your work experience, but it can be moved to the front of the resume if you've never held a full-time position.

  • Start with the most recent degree or program you've completed and work your way backward.

  • If you have not yet completed your education, you can still include details about what you are currently studying and when you expect to graduate.

  • Be sure to include the institution's name where you obtained (or are currently pursuing) your degree and any relevant coursework or areas of concentration.

  • Your GPA is also important, but use discretion when deciding if you want to include it or not. If you have a high GPA, go ahead and show it off! If it’s average or below average, it’s perfectly fine to leave it out.

  • Latin honors: If you received any Latin honors like cum laude or magna cum laude, add those in, too — they show that you're intelligent and motivated!

  • Include relevant coursework on your resume if it’s related to the job ad and the company's expectations.

Other important sections you should add to your resume

When crafting your resume, a few other sections are just as important as the resume itself. 

Here's a list of things you may want to include:

Languages

If you are proficient in multiple languages, add them to your resume. List the language and your proficiency level (basic, intermediate, fluent, or native). Your skills will be more valuable to employers who need someone who can work with people from other countries or cultures.

Hobbies and interests

This section is another way to demonstrate that you're a well-rounded person who has interests beyond work. It also makes it easy for recruiters or potential employers to see your interests so they can ask any follow-up questions during an interview, particularly if they’re trying to determine whether you are a cultural fit for the company. 

Volunteer experience

Feel free to mention any community service or volunteer work you’re involved in, whether through school or otherwise. This shows an employer that you're dedicated to giving back to the community, and it can also be helpful if the volunteer work is relevant to the position you're applying for.

This information helps paint a picture of who you are as a person beyond just your professional experience. This can make you more attractive to potential employers since they can see that you would be a well-rounded addition to their team.

Certifications and awards

If you have any certifications or awards that are impressive and relevant to the job, include them in your resume. You don't need to list something like a high school diploma, but certifications for Microsoft Office or another software program is worth including. If you’ve received industry awards or been named Employee of the Month at work, those should also go on your resume.

Publications

Whether online or in print, a publication on your resume can be a great asset. Be sure to list where the publication is and when it was released so potential employers can check it out for themselves.

Projects

If you've worked on any projects that showcase specific skills relevant to the job you're applying for, definitely include those on your resume! It might be helpful to put this information in a separate section called "Projects" so it doesn't get lost in between everything else.

Tips for proofreading your resume

When you have drafted your resume, it’s very important to proofread it thoroughly. Whether you’re filling out a form or writing a cover letter, it's easy to make mistakes in a rush! Here are some tips that will help you proofread your resume like a pro:

  1. Read your words out loud. This will help you catch any misspellings or awkward sentences that might slip by when reading silently.

  1. Copy and paste the document into another document, and then change everything but the font to white or black so it's easier to spot typos and other mistakes.

  1. Ask someone else to check your resume for typos and grammar errors!

  1. Try reading the document backward (or just skipping around randomly). This will help ensure that all of your sentences flow together seamlessly so their meaning won't be lost when read in order from beginning to end (which can happen if they're not formatted correctly).

  1. Try setting a timer to see how long it takes you to go over your resume, focusing on improving any mistakes or confusing areas.

  1. Use bullet points instead of paragraphs. This will make your resume easier to read and understand.

  1. Spellcheck! Be sure to spell everything correctly before sending out your resume!

  1. Make sure your resume includes all the must-have sections: objective, summary, work experience, education, skills/accomplishments (don't list responsibilities for these), and references.

  1. Make sure you list only the most relevant work experience, tailor your resume to fit each job ad and make sure it's suitable for the position you're applying for!

  1. List achievements instead of responsibilities. It's important to highlight what you've accomplished at previous jobs so hiring managers know what sort of results to expect if they hire you!

Wrapping up

In conclusion, writing a resume isn't as daunting as it seems. With a little bit of effort, you can create a resume that will showcase your skills and achievements to help you get your dream job. Remember to keep it simple, clear, and concise, and tailor it to the specific job you're applying for. You already know you’re a great candidate for the job — a strong resume will help you make sure recruiters, hiring managers, and interviewers know it too. Good luck!

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