For busy hiring managers, your resume provides a snapshot of your career and is often the determining factor in whether you land an interview. If job search is a journey, a stellar resume is your passport.
Here are the six universal rules for writing a resume:
- Cover all the basics.
- Explore other resumes for inspiration.
- Use as few words as possible.
- Quantify your accomplishments whenever possible.
- Use keywords that employers are using in their job descriptions.
- Proofread several times to catch typos and misspellings.
What is a resume?
A resume is a short document summarising your professional background, skills and education.
The basic principles of resume writing have remained constant for a long time but changing technologies mean more aspects of the application and hiring processes take place online than ever before. By staying up to date with current best practices, you will be better able to put your resume to work for you.
If you’re getting ready for your next career move, keep these six universal rules in mind as you create or update your resume. Note that you can apply these rules to any resume format but since several websites use software to read your resume, a simple, one-column format with a professional font would be best.
1. Cover all the basics.
The goal of a resume is to best represent your relevant skills and accomplishments and there are several ways to do that successfully. Having said that, every resume requires these basic elements.
Relevant educational degrees or certifications and/or licenses. The importance of your educational background will vary based on the job or industry you’re interested in. If you have many educational credentials, you only need to include the ones that are most relevant to the job description.
Relevant work and volunteer experience. Most people choose to list their experience beginning with their most recent job. Don’t include everything you did in your past jobs. Instead, focus on achievements over responsibilities.
Contact information. You must include your full name, the city where you live, your email address and phone number. Because this personal information is sensitive, you should be cautious about who you share your resume with. Read these guidelines for a safe job search to protect yourself.
Relevant skills and your level of mastery (for example, conversational Hindi; or familiar with Microsoft Excel vs. fluent in Hindi or expert at Microsoft Excel).
It’s important to note that the basics of a resume often do not include references. It’s a good practice to leave these off your resume. This helps you save space and also preserves the privacy of your professional contacts.
2. Explore other resumes for inspiration.
It can be useful to see how other people have written about their skills and experiences. Choose the job category and title that’s relevant to you and see samples from people with different amounts of experience. This is a great method to uncover stronger ways to describe your credentials and to avoid overused words.
You can also get a sense of the internal language used within a particular industry or company. You might have experience that isn’t directly related but is still highly relevant to the position you’re applying for and you want to include it in your resume. Someone else’s resume might feature a similar history and offer an example of how to frame this experience in a compelling way.
3. Use as few words as possible.
Employers need to quickly understand your work experience. Format your experience as a list of short and skimmable statements rather than writing dense paragraphs. Here is an example.
Too wordy: Applied expert budget management skills to achieve 20 percent reduction in departmental expenses through diligent research, identifying significant inefficiencies.
_More concise:_Achieved 20 percent departmental cost savings by eliminating inefficiencies.
The typical resume is two pages (maximum) so make sure all the information you’ve included is essential. If you can’t decide what is essential, ask yourself if what you’re including is relevant to what the employer is asking for in the job description.
It’s also important to consider the kind of work you truly want to be hired to do. In other words, don’t include past experience for tasks you strongly dislike doing. Keep the experiences that you want to keep building on and match them with what the employer is looking for. This meets the definition of essential information to include on your resume.
4. Quantify your accomplishments whenever possible.
Numbers and data bring your work experience to life and help hiring managers envision the potential impact you could have in their organisation. When you can, back your achievements with real data to boost your credibility and add informative detail to your resume. Here is an example.
Unquantified: Improved lead generation through strategic content marketing initiatives.
Quantified: Achieved 180 percent year-over-year lead growth through strategic content marketing initiatives.
5. Use keywords that employers are using in their job descriptions.
Hiring managers want to see that you can speak their language and know the language that’s commonly used in their industry. When they see their own keywords mirrored back to them in your resume, it reinforces the idea that you’re a strong candidate for the role. And if your resume is posted to an online database like Indeed Resume, the right keywords are critical to being found by employers.
One way to become familiar with the different keywords is to experiment with different search terms on Indeed.co.in or on the Indeed app. Carefully read the job postings that interest you and take note of the terms and phrases that employers are including there. You may begin to notice commonalities and can include some of these words or concepts in your resume if they are applicable to your background.
6. Proofread several times to catch typos and misspellings.
Unfortunately, a single typographical or spelling error is sometimes enough to get your resume discarded early in the game. Proofread your resume multiple times by doing a thorough line-by-line, word-by-word edit. Reading content backwards—awkward and time-consuming though it may be—is a great way to catch minor mistakes that you might otherwise miss. And an outside perspective is always a good idea. Ask a friend, mentor or family member to review your resume for you before you begin submitting it to employers.
A strong resume can streamline your job search process, helping you showcase your strengths and get one step closer to your dream job. With some diligent work upfront—and by adhering to these six rules—you can turn this fundamental job search document into one of your strongest professional assets.