As the foundation of any job search, a resume is the one document everyone needs, and the one document everyone dreads compiling. Why? Because trying to capture what makes you a better hire than the next person in just one or two pages is a truly daunting feat.
The good news is, if you dissect the task and focus on ticking off the key must-haves within each core section of your resume, things get a lot easier. And you can always make use of industry-categorized resume templates if you’re concerned about getting it right.
Below you’ll find a checklist that you can work your way through to make sure you’ve covered all the basics in the five fundamental parts of the perfect resume. While certain job types might necessitate the inclusion of another section – say, an Awards component – these are the five that you absolutely must polish before submitting.
1) The Header
This section always comes first and includes the key details a recruiter would need to get in touch. Remember the following:
- Always include your full name, phone number, email address, and LinkedIn profile URL.
- If relevant, also include a link to your personal website, online portfolio, or blog.
- Make sure your name is searchable (i.e., the same name you use on social media) and easy to pick out on the page.
- Only include your city and state, not your full street address (unless necessary). If you’re willing to relocate, say so here.
- Don’t include an inappropriate personal email address (for example: kanyewestfreak4ever@…)
2) The Summary Statement
If the hiring manager reads nothing else, this brief summary of who you are should be enough to pique their interest.
- Use no more than five succinct sentences to give a sense of what you do, what you’ve achieved to date, and what value you can bring to the role.
- Use full sentences rather than fragments.
- Don’t just include dry facts and generic descriptive words. Tell a captivating story that highlights your enthusiasm for this particular role.
- Don’t be afraid to use the first-person “I.”
- Tailor your summary to the specific job you’re applying for and include only relevant details.
- Ask yourself, “Will this summary stand out from all the others?”
3) Key Skills and Technologies
This part of your resume outlines your key competencies and highlights pertinent software that you’re proficient in.
- Remember to include both hard skills (acquired through training or studying) and soft skills (non-technical personal attributes, like good leadership or communication skills).
- Be as specific as possible. Don’t just say, “strong web development skills” – list the coding programs you’re familiar with.
- Where possible, include examples of how you’ve applied your skills in the past as proof that you possess them.
- Group skills by ‘theme,’ keeping related attributes together.
- Make sure the skills you list are 100% relevant to the job you’re applying for.
- Pay attention to the language used in the job ad and use identical terminology when describing your skills. This will help your resume to survive the keyword-reliant applicant tracking systems (ATSs) that most companies use today.
4) Work Experience
Detail your work history, with a focus on what you contributed to each role.
- List your current and past positions in reverse chronological order (working bbackwardfrom your most recent job).
- For each position, include the company name, your job title, and the dates you worked in this role.
- Don’t include that irrelevant part-time job you had 35 years ago. Only go back 10 to 15 years.
- Frame each previous employer with some contextual information about what they do.
- Under each role, include a brief bulleted “story” that outlines your achievements in that position. Focus on quantifiable accomplishments over dry duties.
- Use five-to-eight bullet points to describe each role.
- If there are any gaps in your work history that need explaining, make a note to address these in your cover letter.
Use this section to inform hiring managers about schooling relevant to the job.
- List your education in reverse chronological order.
- Outline the degree/qualification you obtained, the name of the university/college where you obtained it, and the institution’s city and state.
- Don’t include your high school education unless it’s the highest form of education you completed.
- If you have other certifications, list these under their own subsection.
- Don’t include your GPA unless you recently graduated and it’s above 3.5.
- If applicable, include your cum laude status and any academic honors you received.
- If you’re still studying at the time of applying, note your expected graduation date.
Final Checks: Formatting and Spelling
Including all the right content is one thing, but the design and structure of your resume also goes a long way towards getting you noticed. Remember to:
- Triple-check spelling and grammar with every tool you have at your disposal – spell check, Grammarly, and/or a friend’s sharp eye.
- Use tense correctly: write about current positions in the present tense and past roles in the past tense.
- Choose your resume font carefully. It should be easy on the eye – Arial, Cambria, Helvetica, and Calibri, at size 11 or 12, are all safe options.
- Stay away from using color and fancy graphic elements.
- Use just the right amount of white space – your resume shouldn’t look incomplete or cluttered.
- Maintain a consistent formatting style throughout.
- Leave periods off the end of bulleted items.
- Keep ATSs in mind – they don’t like abbreviations, tables, symbols, or shading, for example.
- Submit your resume as a Microsoft Word document rather than a PDF to make it easier for an ATS to scan.
Finally, remember, the “perfect” resume differs depending on the type of job you’re applying for, but if you follow the checklist above, you’re sure to cover the critical basics that employers value.
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