The essential guide to creating a fantastic resume

As a senior, the job search, “adulting,” and “real life” are coming faster than ever. Even if you’re still a ways away from graduating and finding a “real job,” you might be looking for an internship, a part-time job, or just trying to get ahead. Whatever your job search situation, this week’s post is for you! I’m going to run down all the tips I can think of about how to make an amazing resume to really put your best foot forward.

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Let’s take it from the top! I’m going to run through my resume top to bottom and give you my best advice every step of the way. If you want a peek at one version of my resume, you can find that here.

Contact info

Your name and contact information should be the first thing on your resume. Make sure you provide the most current and practical contact info you’ve got. Don’t list your house phone if your parents are the only people who would ever pick it up. List the email address you check most often. (Unless it’s your embarrassing email you’ve had since 2006. You should probably stop using that one.) You don’t want a hiring manager to pass you up because they can’t find a way to contact you!

Pro tip: If you don’t want to take up too much space on your precious one page, try putting your name and contact info in a header on Microsoft Word. This really helps you maximize the space on the page.

Education

If you’re still in school, this should definitely go at the top of your resume, right underneath your name and contact info. Include your school, your major, your expected graduation date, and any academic awards you might have won (like being on the Dean’s List). Depending on the field you’re trying to get into, you might want to include a “relevant coursework” subheader here and list classes you’ve taken your employer might be interested in.

If you’ve graduated already, first of all congrats! Second, you can decide where you want to list your education on your resume. If you’re a recent grad without much work experience under your belt, you should probably keep it up top. If you’ve got tons of amazing experience you want to showcase, you can put your education section more toward the bottom. However, I’d also encourage you to do some research on who might be reading your resume. If they’re an alumnus of your alma mater, you might want to keep that at the top.

Pro tip: Only list your GPA if it’s above a 3.5 or if the job listing specifies that you must have a certain GPA. You want to put your best foot forward and only showcase your very best!

Experience

This should be the meat of your resume. Include your work experience from most to least current. You’ll want to include the name of the organization you worked for, the title you held, the date range you worked there, the city you worked in, and a few bullet points describing what you did while you were there.

If you’ve worked a lot of jobs, make sure you’re only including the most relevant ones. If you did a lot of babysitting your freshman year of college but including that doesn’t give you enough room to talk about your PR internship and you’re trying to get a job in communications, cut the babysitting. You don’t want to take up valuable space on the page with unnecessary or unhelpful info.

Make sure everything included in your experience is recent! You shouldn’t have that one high school summer job if you’re a senior in college (unless it’s a super rare exception that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience super relevant to your career field). A good rule of thumb is that by your sophomore year of college, you shouldn’t have any more high school info on your resume.

Pro tip: Not everything in the experience section has to be paid work experience. If you do volunteer work in your field, have had an internship, or participate in an extracurricular that is particularly relevant, you can include it here too. My work on our campus newspaper is essentially an unpaid job and it’s some of my best and most relevant experience in the media field, so I list in under experience even though some people might think of it as an extracurricular. Just make sure that, if someone asked about it in an interview, you could explain why you chose to list the activity alongside your job experience.

Verbs

Each bullet point under each job should begin with a verb, and not just any verb, a strong verb. This means that instead of saying “responsible for stockroom,” you’d want to say something more like “oversaw stockroom activities, managing up to four employees.” My school’s career center has a really awesome list of strong verbs if you need ideas.

Another place to get ideas is the job listing itself. If they want you to be able to “Manage a team and make crucial decisions in a timely manner” and you did exactly that in a past job, find a way to incorporate that into the bullet points of your resume! Be careful not to completely plagiarize the job listing — not only is plagiarizing wrong, it will also just look super awkward. But don’t be afraid to phrase the things you’ve accomplished in a way that makes it clear to the hiring manager that you have the skills needed to do the job.

Pro tip: Make sure your verb tenses match the timeline you have listed for your job. This means that if you have the end date of your job listed as “present,” all of your bullet points beneath that job should begin with present tense verbs like “organize,” “manage,” or “collaborate.” If the job is over and you have an end date listed, all of the verbs should be past tense, like “organized,” “managed,” or “collaborated.”

Make it measurable

Whenever possible, make the bullet points beneath each job title into concrete, numerical, measurable examples. This, combined with the strong verbs you’ve already got in place, will help the hiring manager get a really vivid picture of exactly how much you can benefit their company.

If you’re still a little confused about what measurable examples + strong verbs looks like, here’s a couple of examples from my own resume from when I was working as a sales associate:

Instead of just “Oversaw both the sales floor and the cash register,” my resume says “Oversaw both the sales floor and the cash register, increasing sales and conversion rates by up to 30%.”

Instead of just “Provided excellent customer service and sales,” my resume says “Maintained the highest sales per associate hour of any sales associate for three weeks.”

Pro tip: My sales job was very transparent with all of the employees’ stats and other numbers. Not every job is like that and not every job even has obvious numbers. If you’re trying to think of some measurable examples think about these questions: How many people did you work on a team with?  How many people did you manage? Did the customer base grow while you worked there? By how much? How many people were on the email list you sent newsletters out to? Did the company’s Twitter account gain more followers by the time you were done managing their account?

Skills

Your resume might look different from mine, but mine has three sections: “Education,” “Experience,” and “Skills.” There’s different advice about the skills section out there, but I’m in the camp that says this section should be dedicated to showing off your hard skills. Hard skills are things like program and software proficiencies, languages you speak, coding languages you can work in, etc.

You probably have some really amazing soft skills (like written and oral communication skills, adaptability, and ability to work on a team), but in my opinion, those should come through in your cover letter and your interview. Save the space on your resume page to highlight those hard skills that are relevant for the position you’re applying to.

Pro tip: Wondering about how to highlight all your fabulous soft skills in your interview? You’re in luck, I wrote a post all about how to have a great job interview and you can read it here.

Formatting

Even though it might seem like this is the least important part of your resume, formatting is actually one of the most crucial things to think about. The hiring manager will only glance at your resume for a couple of seconds and you want to make the best first impression possible.

Make sure everything flows clearly and it’s easy to see the divisions between sections. You don’t want your font size or margins to be too small and you want the hiring manager to be able to easily find the info they’re looking for. Set one-inch margins, choose a font size between 10 and 14 points (bigger for headings, smaller for bullet point text), and carefully utilize bold, italics, and underlining to make things easy to read quickly.

Pro tip: My choice font for resumes is Helvetica. It’s a classy sans serif font that’s so classic there’s a whole documentary about it! Personally I think sans serif fonts are easier to read, but the serif versus sans serif debate is really more personal preference. My pro tip here is to avoid letting your resume look like you just opened up a Word document and started typing. Try to stay away from Times New Roman or Calibri because they tend to be default fonts on a lot of folks’ computers. Instead try Georgia or Bodoni for a serif font or Helvetica or Tahoma if you’re looking for a sans serif.

Proofreading

You only get one chance to make a first impression, so you want your resume to be perfect. The only way you can ensure that is to proofread it like crazy. Print it out and take a red pen to it. Have a couple of friends look at it both in print and online format. If possible, take it to the career center at your school and get their feedback. The more eyes on your resume the better.

The best possible course of action would be to find someone who works in HR in the field you’re trying to go into and have them look over your resume. They would know exactly what hiring managers in your field are looking to see and they could help you tailor your resume to fit your own specific goals.

Pro tip: This is the same tip I give people for writing papers, but I think it really works for writing anything. Read it out loud! This is hands down the best way I’ve found to catch typos. You might think it’s silly, but trust me, readability issues are sooo much easier to identify when you’re reading aloud.

Finishing up your fantastic resume

The last step is to save your resume! The most important thing is to save as a PDF. If you save it as a Word doc, you never know how it will turn out on someone else’s computer. If you export and save as a PDF, all that effort you put into formatting will definitely come through.

Pro tip: I keep a “master resume” Word doc on my computer with all the info about every job I’ve ever had. When it comes to applying for a job, I tailor my resume to fit that particular job listing. I decide what experience to include based on what kind of job I’m applying for (for example, I might cut out some of my childcare experience if I’m applying for a communications job but emphasize it if I’m applying to be a camp counselor). This allows me to have easy access to all the info I might need, but also lets me be flexible and adjust what PDF I submit depending on what the job listing is asking for.

 

{I hope you found these tips helpful! Do you have any awesome resume tips? Leave them in the comments below! How else can I help you on your way to scoring that dream job? Let me know!}

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  • Brie

    These are amazing tips! When I graduated college I worked as a recruiter and looked at tons of resumes every day. Making sure everything is clear, not too wordy, experience appropriate for the job you’re applying to (you can taylor it for each job), and making sure it’s not too long are all things to pay attention to!

    Xoxo Brie
    http://Www.unBRIElievable.com

    • Thanks so much for those tips! I bet that experience as a recruiter really helped you in future job searches because you got the inside scoop on what hiring is like!

  • making it measurable is so important! my professors always drill that into my head!

    • It’s surprising how many people still don’t do this though, so it can really help set you apart!

  • Amy

    SO helpful! I’m in the process of redoing my resume and will def use all of these tips!

    • I’m so glad I could be helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂

  • LEWAL

    I just started a new job and while the stats are super transparent, we have to send our daily numbers (everyone can see) so I intend to list my new job on my resume using at least 2 measurable points.

    • Such a good idea!! It’s nice when your company makes using measurable stats easy.

  • I remember when I first heard the “strong verb” tip and it TOTALLY transformed my resume. It also helped that my boyfriend was a business major and he learned some great tips from his classes!

    Kayla | kaylablogs.com

    • When I was first told to always start with a strong verb, I had to COMPLETELY rewrite my resume, but it made such an important difference.

  • These tips are absolutely excellent! I totally agree with every single one. I hate to see people who include their dorm address on their resume and other impractical contact info – do you think I’m going to write a letter to your dorm asking you to interview for this job? That’s valuable space! I also can’t say enough about powerful verbs!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed these tips! When I first started applying for internships a few years ago, one of the things my advisors stressed the most was making it easy for employers to contact you! You’ve got to have current (and sensical) contact info in your resume and cover letter, and you’ve got to have your voicemail set up!

  • Tori Dunlap

    Love these resume tips! I always tell my clients to focus on utilizing the space — you’ve only got one page to make an impact!
    Tori || Victori Media
    https://www.victorimedia.com

    • Exactly! Making the most of what little space you have is really the goal with creating an amazing resume.