What makes a great resume

A resume is one of the most important tools in your job searching arsenal. Without it, hiring professionals and managers have no way to tell whether you’re qualified for the job you’re applying for. Every industry has their own best practices for resume format and language, but at its heart, your resume should be easy to read, with your experience and skills clearly featured so they stand out.

Each job advert in US attracts an average of 250 resumes. Multiply that by the number of open positions at a big corporation, and you’ll begin to understand why hiring managers and recruiters have begun using Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to filter resumes and make it easier to find the right candidates.

Today, we’ll delve into the basics of what makes a great resume, and how you can leverage every aspect of your resume from the language, font, format, and layout.

Back to basics: what’s a resume?

At its most basic level, a resume is a document that lays out your work experience, education, and skills for the purposes of securing employment.

A resume can also be called a CV, which is short for curriculum vitae (Latin for ‘course of life’), but technically these are two different things. A resume summarizes the candidate’s skills and past work experience, while a CV is most often used in academia, and focuses on credentials such as education, certifications, and published works.

In North America, a resume is an essential part of a job application, which most frequently asks for both a resume and cover letter.

While a cover letter allows you to expound on details of your work accomplishments and why you’re a good fit for the job you’re applying for, resumes should be simple, clear, and to the point.

Changing job trends affect your resume

With the advent of job sites like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and CareerBuilder, it’s never been easier to apply for jobs. Unfortunately, one of the down sides of this trend is that these online job sites pile hundreds or even thousands of resumes into the overloaded inboxes of managers and recruiters. With so many resumes to look through, many companies are using applicant tracking systems to screen incoming job applications.

What’s an Applicant Tracking System?

Applicant tracking systems are a type of software that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to sort through resumes and compare them to the job description.

There are many applicant tracking systems out there and each processes resumes differently. One popular way that recruiters and hiring managers can filter resumes is by doing a search for related terms (like ‘Warehouse Manager’, ‘MS Excel’, or ‘database entry’), and excluding resumes that do not contain those terms.

What makes a great resume?

Whether you’re applying to jobs on a job site or giving your resume to a local business in person, it all boils down to having a simple, easy-to-read resume. Whether your resume is being processed by an applicant tracking system or a person, the basic principles of a great resume remain the same.

Pick the right type of resume

There are two overarching types of resumes- chronological, and functional. A chronological resume lays out all of your job experience chronologically, giving the hiring manager a clear understanding of your career trajectory. This format is most common, and is ideal for people who have a stable work history within their chosen industry. If the job you’re applying for emphasizes an applicant’s experience over skills, this format is a great way to show off how well you match their requirements.

A functional resume may be preferable if you’re just getting started in a new field, or don’t have much work experience yet. It highlights your skills and abilities, rather than detailing your work experience.

It’s customized to your industry

Once you’ve determined which resume type is best for your needs, you should spend time looking at sample resumes from people in your particular industry. This is a good way to check out what formats are ideal, and how certain sections are arranged.

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all resume. If you’re applying for a job as an auto mechanic, your resume will look a lot different than a person working as a reporter, marketing manager, or chemical engineer. Take note of which sections your industry requires, and make sure your resume is customized to match.

Clear & simple resume format

Regardless of which sections you include on your resume, it should be formatted neatly, with lots of white space to ensure that people reading it aren’t overwhelmed by dense blocks of text. Pick a standard font, like Arial (Resume Press's favorite), Garamond, Helvetica, Times New Roman, or Calibri. Use bullet points with short, clear sentences, rather than paragraphs.

Many applicant tracking systems cannot parse through tables, columns, or graphics with embedded text, so it’s wise to skip these elements.

Keep your resume basic by including generic section headers like work experience, skills, and education, rather than being cute or clever with your titles. These gimmicks might bring a quick smile to the recruiter’s face, but they won’t be helpful if your resume never reaches their desk.

Don’t exaggerate

It’s been estimated that more than 55% of applicants have lied on a their resume. This includes anything from embellishing their skill set to exaggerating a job title, or even including false accolades and awards. For a resume to be truly great, it needs to be entirely true.

To ensure that you come across as reliable and trustworthy, you may want to include a link to your LinkedIn profile on your resume. This allows hiring managers to easily double-check your claims.

Back up your claims with data

In addition to being truthful, the best resumes back up their claims with solid evidence. Sure, being able to claim that you increased productivity is fantastic, but a piece of data like ‘increased departmental productivity by 15% during a hiring and budget freeze’ gets the point across much more effectively.

Whenever possible, use numbers and other quantifiable data to illustrate your accomplishments. It’s a great way to show your impact, without resorting to clichés or flowery language.

Ensure active language

To support the data-driven evidence in your resume, you should be using active language whenever possible. A resume that’s written in active voice is much more dynamic, and effective.

Cut out all superfluous words, and ensure that sentences start with action verbs. This allows the person reading the resume to visualize you in action, making you a much more desirable candidate. It also cuts down on visual clutter, ensuring your accomplishments stand out.

With these useful resume tips, hopefully you’ve gotten a good understanding of what a good resume looks like and can begin formatting yours accordingly. The best resumes are thoughtfully composed, and tailored for each individual job.

Creating a tailored resume won’t just help you through the applicant tracking system. A resume customized to each application will also ensure a clear and easy reading experience for HR professionals and recruiters, allowing them to zero in on your experience and accomplishments.

Looking for more resume tips?

If you’re still worried about your resume falling to the wayside in a sea of online applications, get in touch with Resume Press. We specialize in resume writing services, LinkedIn profile optimization, helping individuals identify & secure their next career opportunity, and have a wealth of experience in every aspect of the job hunt.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can offer individually tailored career resources to suit your needs.


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