resume writing guide

The Rules of the Resumé

This past year has left many looking for a new career—some because of a layoff due to Covid-19, others because they are just ready for a change. Either way, if you’re looking for a new career, your professional resumé is likely top-of-mind, and that might also bring a lot of questions.

  • How do I articulate my skills and experience?
  • How long should my resumé be?
  • How can I condense all of my experience into just a few pages?

Trying to make your resumé stand out from those of other candidates can be stressful and exhausting, not to mention time-consuming. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Resumé Basics

Pages, font, layout . . . so many options!

The truth is, the simpler the better. Many companies and recruitment firms use an applicant tracking system (ATS) or some other form of software that filters resumés based on certain criteria. If your resumé uses an incompatible font, unrecognized images, or many columns, the software may not “parse” your resumé correctly, which means it will not show up when someone searches for certain words or criteria.

Length

The general rule is to keep your resumé to one or two pages.

You might ask, “How can I fit years of experience into two pages?” Your early career experiences certainly helped you get to where you are today, but hiring managers are typically only interested in what you’ve done in the last 10 to 15 years. You don’t need to include every role you’ve ever had. If you feel there’s something important about a position you held more than 15 years ago, you can add a “career note” section at the bottom of your experience with a short blurb about the company, position and/or an accomplishment.

Design

While custom fonts, graphs, columns, etc. can be visually appealing, they typically don’t get picked up well by an applicant tracking system.

I recommend using a common font (such as Calibri, Times New Roman, or Ariel) and a font size of about 10 or 12 points for body text and 14 to 16 points for headings. Use bold to make important details stand out, like the headings of each section and the positions and names of the companies you’ve worked for.

Your resumé might be the one document where you don’t need to write in full complete sentences. Avoid using first-person pronouns like “I” or “my”—recruiters and hiring managers already know you’re talking about yourself! (At least I hope they do.)

What to include

Professional Summary

Begin your resumé with a summary section where you list your top skills, experiences, or achievements in either 3-6 lines or 4-5 specific bullet points.

This is also the section where you want to capture the keywords that are in the job description for the position you’re applying for. Keep your top qualities in mind and overlap them with the position requirements.

Work Experience

This is the bread and butter of the resumé.

While it’s important to briefly summarize your responsibilities, it’s even more important to focus on your value. Ask yourself what made you valuable in your past roles? What did you do to make yourself stand out from others in similar roles?

Show your value using a results-by-action format—outline what the result was (the value) then explain what you did to get there. Where possible, use numerical metrics to demonstrate your results. This can be tricky for some positions so if you don’t have metrics to show, highlight accomplishments instead. For example, include if you were selected as the top member of the team to train others or the employee of the month, or maybe you implemented a new filing system to better organize the office.

Other Sections

It goes without saying that you should include your education and training.

Additional sections you may want to include are volunteer experience, professional affiliations, technical skills, or publications and presentations.

Got questions?

I hope these tips were helpful, but feel free to reach out if you still have unanswered questions!

We’d also love to get your feedback on this topic. Do you agree/disagree with our suggestions? Do you have some ideas of your own that you would like to share? Send us an email.

Published: February 22, 2021
Updated: August 25, 2021
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