Just the thought of writing a resume can lead to a huge headache.
But it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Try to think of your resume as an award-winning short memoir about your professional experience.
Certainly, they aren’t exactly the same (resumes shouldn’t be written in a narrative style), but both share a few similarities: They tell the truth, differentiate you from others, highlight your most unique qualities and capture readers’ attention.
Here’s what a strong resume looks like, according to Harvard career experts:
Don’t know where to start? The career experts suggest considering the essential tips below:
1. Tailor your resume
I’ve seen a shockingly large number of candidates send out a dozen resumes — that all look exactly the same — to a dozen different job openings.
A great resume should be tailored to the job and type of position that you’re applying for. You don’t have to change every little detail, but the resume itself should reflect the skills and experience that your potential employer would value.
2. Include your contact information
This is one of the top five resume mistakes people make, according to Harvard career experts.
Always be sure to include your email address and phone number. You can go the extra mile by adding your LinkedIn (just make sure it’s up to date) or website that showcases examples of your work.
What not to include:
- A list of references: You don’t even need to put “references available upon request” — hiring managers will ask for this if you advance in the hiring process
- A picture: It doesn’t matter how strong your selfie game is — including your a photo of yourself makes you look unprofessional and could introduce unconscious bias
- Age or sex: Again, keep it professional. It’s a resume, not a Tinder profile...
3. Use action verbs
Your resume is a marketing tool, so stick with action verbs. Avoid flowery and high-level claims like “results-oriented,” “team player,” “excellent communication skills” or “hard worker.”
The goal is to deliver specific information about what you’ve done in your previous positions that led to measurable results.
Here are a few examples of action verbs that demonstrate certain qualities and skills:
- ORGANIZED guest lecture series featuring over 40 prominent researchers in the field of sleep medicine
- COORDINATED media campaigns for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat
- LED over 20 design projects for nonprofits and social enterprises in the U.S., Mexico, India, Zambia and Australia
- PRESENTED monthly, quarterly and annual spending reports to CEO
- COLLABORATED with business teams to streamline production release strategy plans
- DIRECTED implementation of a $50 million tech project for 10 major U.S. airports (scaled to support over 15,000 employees); increased productivity by 12% and reduced lost baggage expenses by 8%
- LAUNCHED first paging network across India; managed operations and customer support with a team of 70 customer care agents
- BUILT new checked baggage fees model and projected revenue stream of $12 million by forecasting changes in passenger baggage check-in behavior
- INSTALLED Macintosh systems for over 30 new hires; trained employees on usage and company computer policies
- REDUCED application testing time by 30% by automating shorter testing phases for off-cycle projects
- MONITORED a $1 billion annual IT budget for 2012 and 2013
- PREPARED sales activity and performance reports; reduced report response time by 50%
4. Make it presentable and easy to follow
Your hiring manager’s time is valuable, and a resume that’s all over the place isn’t worth reading all the way through.
- Be consistent in format and content
- Balance white space
- Use consistent spacing, underlining, italics, bold and capitalization for emphasis
- List headings in order of importance
- Within headings, list information in reverse chronological order (most recent first)
- Make sure your formatting will translate properly if you converted to a PDF
- Keep it to just one page (if you’re a mid- or late-career professional, it’s fine to make it two pages)
- Forget to proofread
- Use a narrative style
- Use personal pronouns (such as “I”)
- Start each line with a date
- Use an elaborate template with too many colors