by Alex Mahadevan (Data Journalist)

Updated January 15, 2021

Hiring practices may have changed a bit in the past few years, but one thing has stayed the same: Resumes are a must during a job hunt, and a quality one is a very big deal for job seekers. 

These sacred documents represent the whole of your working life. They’re your first introduction to prospective employers and can make or break your chances of getting a job. 

If you’re wondering how to write a resume, there are some important details to keep in mind. Use this blueprint to create a great resume that gets you noticed.

Choose Your Format

First off, decide whether you are applying for a job that requires a CV (curriculum vitae) versus a resume. Don’t know the difference? Here’s a quick rundown.

Resume or CV?

We’ll spend a lot of time talking about resumes, but what about CVs — and what’s the difference? In short, quite a bit.

Your Curriculum Vitae

You can throw out many of the do’s, don’ts and tips we’ve mentioned when it comes to crafting a CV. This is a static document — as in you won’t be changing it up across industries as you would with a resume — that should cover your work and educational history in excruciating detail.

“Your CV only changes as your accomplishments grow,” said Loren Margolis, CEO of Training & Leadership Success. “Whereas, your resume should be modified often and tailored for each company and job to which you apply.”

You might associate CVs with academics — not very flashy, but chock-full of information. They can include everything from research and teaching experience, references to book chapters, memberships in professional organizations and conference-speaking engagements. 

They can generally be as long as necessary to cover your professional career. But really, if you’re reading this, there’s a 99% chance you’ll write a resume for your job rather than a CV.

Start Formatting

Free online resume templates that let you fill in the blanks are an option, but you get what you pay for — which is to say, not much.

Artists, graphic designers and other visually creative professionals may want to use their resume to highlight their creative talents. In that vein, there are services, such as VisualCV, that create a custom template for you to work from — and recruiters won’t find it among Microsoft Word’s.

Otherwise, keep things simple.

Hiring managers are interested in your skills and experience, not fancy fonts or formatting. Use a standard font like Arial or Tahoma, and keep the layout simple with lots of white space and margins no larger than one inch. 

In one of the most popular posts of all time on the jobs subreddit, Colin McIntosh, a former recruiter and current CEO at bedding company Sheets & Giggles, provided a simple template that should help you get started.

“I knew people were hungry for good free formats, so I expected it to be maybe the top post of the day, but I never expected this type of reception,” said McIntosh. “A year later, I still get emails and PMs every single day about that post, and it really recreated my favorite feeling from when I was a recruiter  — helping other people land dream jobs.”

Create Your Content

Staring at a blank Word document can be daunting. Getting started is sometimes the hardest part, but we’ve got you covered.

Start With a Brainstorming Session

The best way to get those creative juices flowing is by asking yourself a series of questions about your accomplishments, said Jessica Hernandez, founder of Great Resumes Fast.These include: 

Take notes on each of these questions for each of those positions you previously held. This will give you a starting point once you’re ready to put pen to paper (er, fingertips to keyboard.)

“If you can answer those questions under each job you’ve held, you’re going to get a lot of meat on your resume,” Hernandez said.

“You can also ask others what they think about you,” she said.

And make sure you can explain in plain English what you actually did at each previous job; clarity is king for recruiters. Try to shy away from wishy-washy, jargon-laden phrases like “added synergy.”

As you’re taking notes, keep each description and accomplishment short, roughly a line. Margolis said recruiters will spend as little as six seconds reading your resume.

Reach Out

Don’t be shy. Make a connection at the company where you plan to apply to get a general idea about what the firm is looking for in that particular job. The best way to do this is through LinkedIn, said Margolis.

This will help you customize your resume as you apply for jobs across industries. Plus, you can get an idea of what keywords to include throughout your resume. (We’ll get to those later.)

Get Started

Once you have all your notes handy, a nifty template to work from and a 48-ounce cup of coffee, you’re ready to get started.

Your resume should contain several important components. But keep in mind there is disagreement in the HR and recruiting world about what to include and exclude. We’ll give you a rundown of all the components, and you can decide for yourself.

One very important thing to remember: You should keep this document to one page, McIntosh said. Remember, recruiters are going to give you less than 10 seconds to make an impression with your resume.

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