How to write a good résumé
A good résumé is a nice well-written recap of your work history and accomplishments. A great résumé is an enticing brochure that helps recruiters get you and get excited to chat with you.
A good résumé
A great résumé
Clearly states your skills and experience in a concise, easy-to-read manner.
Clearly states all you can bring to the role and company and is compelling.
Puts you in a great light.
Makes you look like the rock star they’ve always wanted.
Is well-organized, so employers can see your strong points at a glance.
Beautifully laid out so that the format draws the reader’s attention and compels them to read the entire document.
Shows what you know.
Shows what you can do because you’ve done it.
Gets you noticed.
Gets you a call from a recruiter.
Is a human resources document.
Is a marketing document.
So many people think a résumé is a human resources document that describes their knowledge, skills and abilities in a comprehensive and professional way. But a great résumé is a marketing document—one that compels a company to reach out to you.
Step 1: A Great Résumé starts with an ideal job
Look at your current experience. What is the gap? Write down how you’ve done your past roles through the lens of the ideal job. And be honest about skill and experience gaps—but do demonstrate experiences that can be compared to the target role. Maybe you’ve never held your precise target role before, but you’ve had an equivalent or similar experience in other roles, volunteer efforts or elsewhere. Point it out!
Step 2: A Great Résumé uses the right format
Your chosen format will depend on many factors: the region you’re targeting, the type and level of the role, and the industry or sector where you’re hoping to work. For example, academia and the public sector tend to have different norms than consumer packaged goods entities. More conservative regions and industries will prefer black and white to flamboyant color—but that splashy look might be exactly right for an edgy ad agency.
There are three different ways you can list your experience. As a former executive recruiter, I nearly always use the reverse chronological order format.
Reverse chronological resume format. This is the most popular résumé format among recruiters and, as such, the right format for most job-seekers.
Functional resume format. This format focuses more on skills rather than work experience and is useful if you’re just getting started with your career and have little to no experience in the field.
Combination resume format. The combination résumé is a great choice for experienced job-seekers with a very diverse skill set. Say, for example, you’re applying for a senior management role, and the requirements are expertise in Management, Sales, and Software Development. For roles that require expertise in 3-4 different fields, you want to be able to demonstrate that you meet the specifications.
Step 3: A Great Résumé writes to the space of the format
If you were ever fortunate enough to have a résumé writing class in high school or post-secondary, you might have heard that you must keep everything to one page. Of course, as you gain experience, that well-intentioned advice quickly loses its relevance. It’s important not to cram everything in. Rather, keep to the integrity of the spacing of the format. Here are the most common lengths and formats:
1 page for new grads
2 pages for most other professionals
3 or more pages for a Curriculum Vitae (CV), if you’re in a field that requires citations of work, such as scientific research or higher education.
Step 4: A Great Résumé smartly uses paragraphs and bullet-point lists
Smart use of the paragraph and bullet-point list on a résumé helps readers stay engaged. Take the below paragraph as an example. It can be written as either a paragraph or a bullet-point list. But which catches your attention?
OPTION Paragraph only:
Delivered strategic leadership for new business development and marketing, resulting in $2.8M in revenue growth for agencies and corporations. Drove 6-figure contracts with C-suite executives and align leadership vision with market needs. Developed GTM plans and brand strategies. As outsourced chief growth officer, oversaw expansion and built out of business development processes, new market identification, and product development for clients. Increased XYZ Brand’s revenue by 200% over 18 months by adding 8 new clients. Facilitated sale of King Collaborative by repositioning firm—purchased by Queensborough Science. Launched and rebranded Prince Precision’s artificial intelligence app Science Brain for entry into COVID-19 market. Established West Coast presence for Barcelona-based consulting firm Centry Consulting—landed 5 clients by creating GTM strategy targeting US-based medical device companies.
OPTION Smart Use of Paragraph and Bullet-point List:
Delivered strategic leadership for new business development and marketing, resulting in $2.8M in revenue growth for agencies and corporations. Drove 6-figure contracts with C-suite executives and aligned leadership vision with market needs. Developed GTM plans and brand strategies. As outsourced chief growth officer oversaw expansion and built out of business development processes, new market identification, and product development for clients.
Increased XYZ Brand’s revenue by 200% over 18 months by adding 8 new clients.
Facilitated sale of King Collaborative by repositioning firm—purchased by Queensborough Science.
Launched and rebranded Prince Precision’s artificial intelligence app Science Brain for entry into the COVID-19 market.
Established West Coast presence for Barcelona-based consulting firm Century Consulting—landed 5 clients by creating a GTM strategy targeting US-based medical device companies.
When writing achievements in bullet-point lists, find a way to use numerals versus spelling out the number. For example, write 4 versus four. Numerals draw the eye and highlight achievements.
Start each bullet-list sentence with a past-tense active verb. Writing in an active voice highlights that you took clear action. A passive voice often makes an impression of vagueness or, well—passivity. And writing in the past tense means that the accomplishment was done. Completed. Achieved.
Exceeded sales team KPIs by 30%+ for 3 months straight.
Generated over $24,000 in sales in 1 month.
Generated leads through cold-calling
Managed existing company clients
Step 5: A Great Résumé has clean formatting
Use this checklist to ensure your résumé won’t make you look careless.
Triple check contact information to avoid embarrassing typos.
Verify that all pages (if more than one page) are filled perfectly—in other words, if it’s two pages, it fills both completely and equally.
Eliminate all “orphans and widows.” An orphan is one word on a line. A widow is a sentence that is left on the first line of a page that could land on the page before it.
Verify that paragraphs are descriptions of the role, and not achievements.
Verify that bullet lists are achievements, not descriptions of the role.
Verify that the first word in a bullet list (achievement) is an active past-tense verb.
(Achievements only) Ensure no more than five (5) bullets in a bullet list.
Verify use of numerals vs. spelling out the number for all numbers. For example, 4 vs. four. (
Eliminate unnecessary words, like “responsible for” from the résumé.
Smart use of space is key. Elimination of words that take up space will help your résumé become more punchy, pithy, direct. And thus keep the reader engaged. Eliminating certain words will keep the reader interested and reading. “Responsible for” are two words that can be eliminated. Another word is “the.” Try it and see how punchy sentences become.
Step 6: A Great Résumé has been proofread.
The fastest way to lose credibility is a typo. Even people who make their living as proofreaders hire people to proofread their own writing! It’s just a human reality that we quickly develop blindness to our own writing. While you can ask a friend to proofread, this is one of the most important documents you’ll create all year, so we highly recommend that you hire someone to proof it for you.
Step 7: A Great Résumé is tailored to the role before you send it
Now that you’ve created your first final draft, tailor it to the opportunity. It takes only a few minutes to do so, and the easiest way to do that is to take the job posting and highlight the areas that seem to be important to them but aren’t pulled forward in your résumé.
Look to the specific verbiage used in the posting. If the company calls customers “clients” consider changing your vocabulary accordingly. If they’re asking for experience that you haven’t called out specifically in the main version of your résumé, find a way to integrate it.
Now that you’ve created an amazing résumé, consider pairing it with a fantastic cover letter! For that, see our blog post on how to write a good cover letter.
Interested in what becoming a top résumé writer could look like for you? Learn more about our Senior Professional Résumé Writer certification program.