If you’ve never written a resume or been out of the job market for a while, writing a resume can be intimidating.
What do employers expect?
How do you best sell your past experience?
How long should your resume be?
What tone should you strike?
With the rise of digital job applications, resumes have also begun to take on new forms. The use of services to produce resumes, graphic design templates and the use of portfolio sites as portions of resumes are all common.
For those looking for their first job, or who haven’t written a resume in a while this can be troubling. That’s why DegreeQuery has written a guide on how to write the perfect resume.
Table of Contents:
- How to Write Your First Resume
- The Basics: What Every Resume Must Have
- Added Value: How to Focus Your Resume for the Intended Audience
- Spice it Up: How to Add Just The Right Amount of Flavor to Get Noticed
- How to Find and Use Great Resume Templates
- The Best Free Resume Tools Online
How to Write Your First Resume
We’ve all got to start somewhere. And at some point in all of our careers, we’ve written (or been about to write) our first resume.
Writing your first resume is a good bit of work. As people advance in their career, they often have old resumes they can gather information from. If you’re writing your first resume, you’re starting from scratch.
One of the best pieces of advice for first-time resume writers is to assemble everything you could potentially include in your resume. Then, once you’ve assembled the most compelling lists of past experiences, references, and so forth, you can begin to exclude the pieces of information that don’t fit.
For those recently graduating from school (or still in school), entry-level job descriptions can be daunting. Job listings often include a range of requirements that are actually more of a “wish list” of what a candidate will be able to provide.
If you’re applying for an entry-level job, employers know that you may not have much ‘traditional’ experience for that job. That doesn’t mean that you can’t present a compelling case for why you can grow into the job.
Particularly on your first resume, you don’t have to limit your experiences listed to traditional jobs. Some ideas on what can be included on a first resume include the following:
- Volunteer Experience
- Outreach Trips
- Summer or After School Jobs
- Creating Student Organizations
- Holding Leadership Positions in Student Organizations
- Performing Research
- Athletic, Musical, Church Experiences
- Other Extracuriccular Experience
For your references, it’s also acceptable not to include “bosses” from traditional employment settings. Try to find individuals that can speak to your best qualities as well as those that may pertain to your job.
Seek out references that can provide the following types of information about you:
- How you overcame a challenge
- How you perform over long periods of time
- How you took a leadership role in an organization
- How well you worked with team members
- How quickly you acquired skills
- What skills you may already have that the job opening requires
Once you’ve gathered a list of all the experience and references that may be applicable to the jobs you’re applying to, you can begin to organize them.
Similarly to a college application essay, think about how you can weave your experiences and references together to tell a story to a future employer. Perhaps you want to highlight your ability to learn new skills quickly, or your leadership qualities, or how well you work with others, or your flexibility. Depending on what you think may make you a better candidate for the job you’re applying, select experiences and references that help you to tell a story that backs these claims up.
One final note for first time resume writers is not to fret if you don’t have much to include on your resume. Nearly every high school, college, and community has plenty of ways to get involved. If your first attempt at a resume isn’t working because you don’t have enough to include, volunteer, get involved with organizations, remix your resume, and keep on trying!
The Basics: What Every Resume Must Have
As we’ll get into in later sections, there are many ways to organize your resume. And as we saw in the past section, you have a lot of control over what you include in your resume.
At its heart your resume should tell a story using your past experiences and references. And that is generally achieved by including a standard list of elements.
The list of elements recruiters or hiring managers generally like to see include the following:
- Details on how to contact you
- An opening summary or statement
- A list of general skills you possess that relate to the job
- A list of technical skills, machines you know how to operate, software, and so forth
- An overview of your career and personal attributes (may be included in the opening statement)
- Your educational experience
- Your employment, volunteering, or extracurricular experience
- Additional accolades and awards
While not all of these elements will apply to every job seeker or application type, resume writers should default to the above as most hiring managers will expect some combination of what we’ve listed.
As we’ll look at further in the next section, many hiring managers are busy, and you should do your best while compiling the above information to present the most crucial pieces of information about yourself quickly and up front.
While the above information may seem like a lot, you should attempt to distill each point to something that is quickly digestible. Furthermore — as many veteran resume writers can attest to — space is at a premium in resumes. Only include the information most pertinent to the job at hand. While this may not be a challenge with resumes early in your career, after a few roles you can quickly run out of space when composing a resume.
Added Value: How to Focus Your Resume for the Intended Audience
First and foremost, resumes should be tailored to the audience you’re presenting yourself to. This means organizing or writing a new resume for each job to which you are going to apply. Or, at the very least sending out a resume tailored to a job type, and revising when you apply for slightly different jobs.
While the following will vary depending on your experience level, the industry you are in, and job requirements, below are some elements that you should seek to prove to whoever is reading your resume.
- Prove that you are employable
- Prove that you meed the job requirements or can compensate in some other way
- Prove that your skills and educational background align with the job
- Prove that your experience relates to what is expected in the job and will help you excel
- Prove that you have soft skills including attention to detail, the ability to present yourself well, and the right level of professionalism
Many job descriptions are quite detailed regarding what they are seeking in a candidate. Keep in mind that job descriptions with a wide range of desired skills are just the employer’s “best case scenario.” And that they will likely be looking at a range of candidates that have some, but not all of the skills they are looking for.
For this reason, you’ll want to spend extra time linking the skills and experience you do have to what the employer is looking for. Some general tactics for linking your past experience and skills to a job opening include:
- Using your opening statement to explain how your skills and experience intersect with the job opening
- Select achievements in past work or extracurriculars that show you meet job requirements
- Pay attention to what keywords the recruiter or hiring manager may be looking for
- Tell a coherent story that displays a continual progression towards the job you are seeking
Finally, you’ll want to follow up with the advice in the last section. Hiring managers and recruiters often see large numbers of resumes for each job. Extra information isn’t necessarily helpful to whoever is reading your resume. And if your resume is too long or wordy the recipient may just skip to the next applicant before reading all that you’ve written.
For this reason, you want to take the total amount of information you’ve gathered about past employment, education, and in the form of references, and discard everything that doesn’t completely apply to the job at hand. If everything in your resume does apply, choose the elements that apply the most.
It’s better to ‘get in the door’ because a recruiter was able to quickly establish you may be a good candidate than it is to have a recruiter not finish your resume due to too much information.
Spice it Up: How to Add Just The Right Amount of Flavor to Get Noticed
Even if you have the ‘perfect’ resume for the position you’re applying for, there’s no guarantee that a recruiter or hiring manager will read it. In competitive job applications (or any job openings with many candidates), you’ve got to immediately catch the attention of whoever is reading your resume.
There are a variety of tactics through which to do this. Some rely heavily on design of your resume and cover letter, some rely on reaching out and starting a conversation with a hiring party, and some rely on sharing details about your personality that may be appealing to the hiring party.
Standing out with resume design has become easier and easier with sites and services online, graphic design templates for resumes, and the internet providing plenty of ideas. We’ll provide some of our favorite tools for designing a great resume in the following two sections.
For now, just note that a resume that literally catches the eye of a recruiter is likelier to be read. Simply showing the level of attention to detail required to dress up a resume visually is a good first clue to applicant quality.
When designing a resume, you’ll want to pay attention to a variety of elements.
- Typography involves choosing the fonts, font colors, and font spacing for your design. You should choose fonts that are visually appealing, easy to read, and that exude the attitude you think your potential employer is looking for. Typography can be used to express the following in a resume:
- For positions dealing with serious issues, non-profits, legal jobs, and jobs for cause-based organizations you will likely want to exude restraint and professionalism with your font.
- For positions seeking personality and an outgoing nature such as those in sales, you may want to choose a font that makes you appear outgoing and that grabs attention.
- For positions seeking applicants who are ‘in touch with the times’ such as design positions, creative positions, and marketing, you likely want to choose a creative and fashionable font (like many web fonts).
- Color in a resume can say a lot. A hot pink resume likely isn’t the right choice for a position that should exude seriousness. With that said, black and white printed resumes are largely a thing of the past. And most resumes today are actually viewed online. Utilize this to your advantage by pulling out eye-catching and appropriate color schemes.
- Make resumes visual by pulling in charts or otherwise visualizing data. Instead of just listing skills, place your skills as elements in a bar chart showing how your levels of expertise compare. Instead of listing off personal traits or what you’re looking for in a position, place these elements in a pie chart to show they’re all part of your whole package.
Starting a Conversation With A Hiring Party can come in many forms. You’ll want to consider whether reaching out to the hiring party is professional or welcome. And will definitely want to tailor how you reach out to each individual.
Examples of this tactic that may help you to stand out from the crowd include reading blog posts or a book written by a hiring party, becoming active on a forum board on which the hiring company is active, or scheduling a time to stop by and inquire about the corporation.
While there are definitely times, settings, and hiring parties for which these tactics are not the right choice. Many job seekers do find that adding a personal touch can help them to land a position.
Additionally, reaching out to recruiters in a professional manner is a well regarded tactic for expanding your job seeking options. Recruiters may not be looking for someone with your qualifications at the moment. But most keep files on their contacts and may reach out to you in the future if you’re a good fit for being placed.
Letting Your Personality Shine Through can take many forms. From simply sharing your career and personal goals in your cover letter, to dedicating part of your resume to your passions and interests.
Though sharing personal information won’t help in all positions, more workplaces than ever see the value in ensuring you fit with their company culture. This may mean they like to hire outdoor buffs, or someone who is passionate about art in the community, or they play a number of games as an office.
If you think sharing your personality or interests may be a leg up in the application process some techniques you can use include writing original cover letters, providing a particularly engaging graphic design for your resume, or even including a section on your personal interests and goals.
Getting another opinion can take the form of utilizing a range of services (some listed in the final section of this guide), utilizing career services at a university, or simply asking a friend to take a look over your resume.
No matter how much time you’ve spent on your resume and how impressive you think it is, it will — end the end — be read by other parties with different goals, values, and attitudes. Ensuring your resume is read by several friends, family, or colleagues is often a great idea to ensure your resume represents you well to a diverse set of audiences.
How to Find and Use Great Resume Templates
As with most forms of media creation, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Countless high-quality resumes have already been written. And the chances are that some of those resumes have a proven track record of success for the types of jobs you’re applying for.
While you want your resume to be unique, there’s no harm in utilizing good ideas you’ve seen in the resumes of others.
Generally speaking, reading resumes of others in the field you’re applying in can give you a glimpse of what a typical successful resume looks like.
Pay attention to details like what the tone is, how much time the resume writer spends talking about education versus experience, whether the successful resumes utilize graphic design, and if personal details are included.
If you’re looking for full templates to utilize (or input your information in), there are a wide range of sites that can help you to create a template-aided resume.
Some of the most popular databases include:
The Best Free Resume Tools Online
While resume templates can be a good place to start and for obtaining some ideas about the text of your resume, many other tools can help to make your resume even better.
If you’re looking for a particularly visual resume, consider some of the following options:
- Canva.com offers a drag and drop design interface with prebuilt visual resumes
- Microsoft Office offers a range of resume templates of varying degrees of complexity and uniqueness
- Vizualize.me offers six themes to create data visualization heavy resumes
- INeedAResu.me is a site that goes beyond a visual editor. Input your cover letter and data and minutes later a professional looking resume is returned
- Resume Up helps users to create infographic-style resumes
- Envato Elements has hundreds (if not thousands) of graphic resume templates for those who know how to use Adobe Illustrator of Photoshop to customize them
- Visual CV lets you import your word or pdf resume and converts it into digital format
Many resume writers — particularly if it is their first resume or they haven’t written a resume in a while — find it helpful to get a second opinion on their resume.
Many universities, libraries, and talent scouting agencies offer this service. But for those not affiliated with any of the previously mentioned entities, a growing number of online services will provide guidance and coaching on resumes. Some of the top rated services that will review your resume and coach you to creating a better one include:
- Career coaching services from the Muse
- Evolution Coaching’s offerings including mentorship, counseling, and resume building
- ResumePlanet’s resume writing service
- ResumeTo Referral.com’s resume writing service that has provided resume aid for over a decade
- Facebook has a wide range of job-seeker groups centered around the location people are seeking jobs as well as the job sought after.
- LinkedIn Premium provides access to a wide range of job seeking groups. Premium also gives you competitive intelligence about jobs you are seeking including the number of applicants, the expected salary range, and how you rate compared to other applicants.
- Reddit’s /r collection of threads has a wide range of job seekers. As one of the most active social networks, it’s a great place to consider going for career and resume-building advice.