Whether you are a professional or a student looking for his first job, a professional resume is the tool with which companies will first judge you. It presents your professional identity in a straightforward document that employers can, and will, consider quickly.
In fact, according to studies published, recruiters might devote as little as 6 seconds looking at your resume.
You want it to be good.
So, how do you write a great professional resume and how do you make your resume stand out? Let me show you.
7 sections to Include in Your Resume
When I first started, my resume was a wreck. Luckily, I had many experts who corrected my mistakes and helped me get a killer resume.
I later got into positions where I considered and ran interviews on candidates myself. Needless to say, I got my hands on a lot of resumes. Some were great, others were terrible. So I know what works and what does not.
Obviously there are differences in individual resumes. The content will vary and the layout will be slightly different, but every good and professional resume should include these 7 basic items:
1- CONTACT INFORMATION
Your contact information is arguably the most important section of your resume. Employers will want to identify and contact you as quickly as possible. You should include the following information at the top of page:
- Full name—for obvious reasons
- Your title, if appropriate. (e.g., Dr., PhD., M.A., etc.) and the appropriate field (PhD is psychology for example)
- Current home address
- Phone number
- Email address
- LinkedIn profile—if you have created one. Including this makes networking with companies easier.
- (optional) Your professional social media links or links to your websites. I don’t recommend including your personal social media accounts.
Writing a sentence or two about your professional self can give recruiters an idea of who you are. It isn’t required, but an example could be:
I am a trained psychologist, certified by the OPQ, specializing in adolescent development. I’ve been in private clinical practice for 10 years where I work with troubled youth using a variation of cognitive-behaviour therapy.
Below, I’ve included an example of how you could go about formatting your contact information without a professional blurb about yourself.
You want to have a list of your most relevant educational background. Start with your degree name and include any special mentions associated with it (e.g., honours, Magna cum laude, etc.), the university or institution where you were accredited, and the start-finish dates.
Sometimes adding a GPA can give recruiters a sense of your academic achievement. You can see an example below:
I would suggest dropping all educational backgrounds that are no longer relevant. Keep only the degrees which speak to who you are as a professional. If you have multiple degrees, include them only if they benefit you or show the skills you have learned. Leave out any unfinished degrees you may have; these add nothing of value.
You can include a small section of the languages in which you are fluent or capable. Try to quantify your level of expertise in each language with descriptive adjectives. You can also combine this section with your skills, see below.
Note: if the only language you are proficient in is the one your resume is written in, you should not include a language section.
4- WORK HISTORY
As the bread and butter of a resume, your work history is the first-place employers will look. Your current or most recent position should appear first. The most important thing to remember here is the importance of what you are presenting. Employers care more for recent work than older experiences.
If you have lots of experience, it is safe to remove some of those earlier experiences and leave room for the more pertinent and recent ones – your resume should be able to fit on one page, as discussed in the layout section.
Be careful not to leave any gaps in your work history- something I call the gap-rule. Sometimes when removing information to make your resume shorter, you leave gaps. I don’t recommended doing this, because you are not accounting for the lost time. If you have an excellent reason for the gap (e.g., family obligations, sickness, travel etc.), discuss it with the employer.
When including your work history, detail the tasks you accomplished or what you were responsible for. If you worked on a project for example, briefly discuss the project and your role within it (i.e., what were you responsible for within the team, what was the project, what software you used, etc.).
Fairly straight forward, but if you won any awards or special nominations, put them in this section. Your awards should be accredited. Meaning that they have some weight behind them (i.e., winning 2nd grade spelling bee should not go here, if you were wondering). You should include any of the following items:
- medals, including from sporting or extracurricular activities
- honours or special nominations
Adding your awards is a simple way to stand out and gain some points in the employer’s eye. If you have relevant awards in your field, that is even better!
Although it seems straightforward, people often misunderstand what a skill represents. I’ve seen many resumes with skill sections that included things like: hard worker, punctual, respectable, etc. These are not the type of skills we want on our resume.
In fact, we break skills down into two categories: soft skills and hard skills.
Soft skills are akin to life skills. They represent those skills which most every worker should strive to have, regardless of their field or industry. Examples include:
- Communication skills
- Public speaking
- Organizational skills
- Critical thinking, etc.
Although important, don’t list soft skills on your resume. They are not causally related to your actual capabilities and are difficult for an employer to asses directly.
Hard skills are akin to what you are proficient in and can teach others. They are quantifiable. Examples include:
- Software knowledge
- Technology knowledge
- Accredited certificates, such as CPR training,.
- Language Proficiency
The list goes on, but now you know the difference between soft and hard skills. Although both are good to have, only include hard skills on your resume.
As an example, say you were applying to be a hotel receptionist. The employer is more interested to read about the electronic reservation platforms you master (hard skill) than your punctuality or communication skills. Soft skills can be demonstrated during the interview and discussed, but hard skills are more appropriate to your resume.
You should quantify your level of experience in a skill. It is okay to mention basic knowledge of certain things, but it needs to be mentioned. If you have some knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, for example, describe how comfortable you are with the program. Are you an amateur or do you know the software’s ins and outs?
7- VOLUNTEERING AND EXTRACURRICULAR
If you have done any volunteering or extracurricular activities, include them in your resume. These experiences will depict who you are outside of school or work. Volunteering and extracurriculars are especially important for students who may have less work experience to show and are looking to stand out. I discuss this section in more detail for students in my writing a resume with little to no work experience guide.
What to Exclude From Your Resume
Say no to Keywords
You may have heard that keywords will make or break your resume. That to get recognized by the recruiters your resume needs to have some focused group of keywords.
This can be true for certain automated engines. They scan the resumes for keywords before sending them off to an actual person for professional review; however, focusing too much on adding the correct keywords can make your resume feel awkward an unpersonal.
Keep in mind that it will be a real person reviewing your resume and making the final decision. My advice would be to write it the way you need too and worry less about pleasing some robot.
Don’t List Your Hobbies
This is the number one resume mistake. Those with less information to present tend to include their hobbies to distinguish themselves from others. This is wrong.
Your hobbies are just that, hobbies. When looking over your resume, your future employer will not much care that you are learning the piano or that you like swimming in your free time. There is no logical reason to include a list of your hobbies or general interests, other than to take up space on the page. Discuss your hobbies during an interview so that your interviewer sees your personality, but do not list them on a resume.
Leave the Profile Pictures Online
A growing trend within resume templates and examples online is to include your profile picture with your contact information—I suggest against doing this. A profile picture is suitable for an online resume to identify you quickly. LinkedIn and other platforms do this well, but your profile picture does not translate well to a printed page.
Even if resumes are often being read electronically today, it still doesn’t make much sense to include a picture of yourself, unless you are applying for a position is which your physique is a requirement (acting job, modelling agency, television etc.).
No Useless Information
It would surprise you how much useless information ends up on a resume. Clear your resume of clutter and keep only what should be there.
The most common examples of useless information include descriptive paragraphs of yourself. I have seen many resumes try to combine the cover letter and resume into one document. They include a brief paragraph about themselves and why they would be good for the job. This information is more suitable for a cover letter and should not be included in your resume. If you’re interested, I discuss how to write a cover letter here.
Keep your resume short and to the point. If it is not part of the information listed above, or if you are questioning its relevance, don’t include it on your resume.
Designing Your Resume
When designing of your resume, keep it simple! Available resume templates have fancy designs and well-formatted sections that are eye-catching at first, but there are many reasons to stay away from them. They are clunky and difficult to manoeuvre, they can cost you most time than they save while you try to figure them out, and they have prefixed sections which make removing or adding elements difficult.
Keep it Simple
My tips would be to start with a blank page, and just manually enter your information with a clear font, and make sure it is well presented. Having a nicely designed resume can seem like a brilliant idea, but unless you are a designer or applying to an artistic field, it just is not worth it. In my experience, a simple resume which is both clear and informative works better than a resume which is trying to do too much with a fancy design.
This is variable and will change from resume to resume, unless everyone randomly started using the same template, but every resume should minimally have the elements listed above properly presented.
The key is consistency. Once you have chosen the way you wish to present your information, use the same formatting throughout the entire resume.
For example, if you used a bold font for one of your titles, make sure all subsequent titles are bold. Your formatting should be readable and attractive. That means leaving ample white space and breathing room in your document. Here a resume excerpt with nice font management, but with poor spacing around its elements:
There is nothing immediately wrong with the presentation above, however if the document were presented entirely as a block of text, it would quickly become overwhelming. A simple fix would be to space the elements and leave more white space between the text.
This is the more attractive option. It offers that extra breathing room and white space which adds clarity. And the elements are seperated more efficiently making it easier to scan your resume quickly. Win-win.
The rule of thumb is clarity and readability. Your layout is good if the information is well presented, and you can read it swiftly without confusion.
How Long Should my Resume be?
I recommend making your resume a one-pager. This might seem like a daunting task, but it is very do-able. The idea is to narrow down your experiences to the most relevant ones. This makes it easier for the employer to scan the document quickly and easily.
When applying for a position, think about what experiences you have which are the most relevant to the job itself – keeping in mind the “gap-rule” I mentioned earlier.
If you can’t distil you resume down to one page, then two-pages is acceptable. Sometime it can be very difficult to use just one page.
Over two pages and reviewers will have less focus and lose interest on the other pages.
Note: There are more elaborate resumes and professional documents which can have multiple pages. If you are an academic, for example, and you publish a lot, your resume might have many pages of citations. But this guide is just for simple resumes. Quick and easy.
Make sure you have someone else go over the layout and content of your resume. They will be able to point out details you may have missed. Sometimes things look great until we show it around and realize it sucks.
Avoid the stress and embarrassment of accidentally sending out a resume that is riddled with mistakes or layout problems. Have someone look it over. It could be a friend, a parent, or a colleague. Everyone you show it too will have something to point out.
Once you passed the review phase and your resume looks good to a third party, you are done! Feel free to send it out, and wait for the replies.
Review and TLDR
You want to have a great and professional resume. It is the first impression an employer will get of you. You should include the following sections which describe your background information:
- Work experience
- Volunteering and Extracurricular
You should make your resume fit on one page, but it is acceptable to have up to two pages. Keep the layout clean and simple, and make sure you have enough breathing room around your blocks of texts.
The most important thing about writing a resume is to get it proof-read and reviewed by someone. Avoid sending out a poorly formatted resume, or one that is riddled with mistakes. Getting it checked is an easy way to assure that it is top of the line.
If you have questions about writing a resume, reach out and contact me, I will be glad to help.
As always, stay happy!