Today's professional world is more competitive than ever — and that means your resume, dear job seeker, has to stand out. Having worked with dozens of New York City-area employers over the past five years, across industries and professional levels, this is what I’ve seen works best from employers’ perspectives:
1. Have one resume per field.
If you’ve got a general theme or thread running through your experiences, such as customer service, then one resume is fine. But if you’re actively looking for jobs in totally different fields, make one resume per field. Don’t leave off the jobs you worked in other fields, but tailor your work history as much as possible to the active field for that resume, and give more space to the most relevant stuff.
2. Stick to one page — just the front!
I’ve met few exceptions in my over five years in workforce development and coaching. And those were truly exceptional individuals. They’d be been published, had a ton of work experience, lots of degrees and certifications, and they were given a resume format of two pages: a front and a back. Stick to a one-page resume, however, if you’re new to the workforce or if you don’t possess a ton of unique accomplishments and qualifications.
3. Don’t get too wild with your font.
Stick to the tried-and-true basics, like Times New Roman or Arial. My personal favorite right now is Cambria, which feels like a more thrilling take on Times New Roman.
4. Use bullet points and columns instead of full sentences.
Cut out the fluff and get straight to your skills — buddy up with a bullet point format.
5. Extend your margins.
Use that negative space, baby!
6. Lose the fancy resume paper.
It’s just not something employers care about.
7. Highlight the past 10 years.
Anything more than that should only be included if it truly adds something unique and amazing. You also want to be careful about dating yourself, but some moms returning to the workforce may want to highlight past accomplishments that are still relevant. Just make sure your last accomplishment wasn’t a very, very long time ago — it’ll raise some questions. Make sure use past tense in your resume for prior jobs, and present tense for your current position.
8. Customize the order of your sections.
Keep the essentials (contact info, experience, education, skills). Change up what your sections are named and the order of them if you need to. Whatever serves you best!
9. ...And use the top half of your resume to highlight your fit!
This is the place to have all of the skills you can bring to the prospective employer. Use keywords to make a compelling case for your fit!
10. Think of your resume as a narrative, and make sure that story makes sense.
If you have to zigzag back and forth between different sections to explain what you’ve been doing, you may want to consider reformatting.
11. Mirror the language used in the job description.
This is key to getting noticed by Applicant Tracking Systems and getting that job interview, especially if you’re trying to make any kind of shift. Focus on overarching themes as well as specific hard and soft skill sets — whatever seems most desired by your target employer.
12. Keywords are king!
Sprinkle them in wherever you can — summary, work descriptions, skill section, etc.! Hint: The best place to learn the keywords your prospective employer is looking for is in your job description.
13. Quantify, quantify, quantify.
One of the best things you can do that makes for a great resume is adding numbers. This helps the employer visualize the scope of your work. How many employees did you supervise? How much money did you save the company? How many new clients did you bring on-board, or what’s your customer satisfaction rating? Numbers work wonders!
14. Prioritize achievements.
In addition to quantifying, make sure you highlight achievements, either in a “Selected Achievements” section (popular for higher-level tech, finance, and management roles), or within employment experience descriptions. Don’t just list your duties at each job; describe what you brought to the role that others who have worked there didn’t. A track record of achievement is one of the biggest indicators of future employee success!
15. Consider a fresh design.
If you’re working in any type of creative role, consider a fresh resume design. There are tons of templates and ideas online, and canva.com is a free site to design your own if you’ve got a good eye.
16. Keep formatting clean and consistent.
Ditch the excess lines and irrelevant symbols (unless you have a legit company with a logo). Make sure different sections are aligned, visually pleasing, there’s not too much or too little space/text, and that you either choose to put periods at the end of each line, or you don’t.
17. Watch for spelling and grammar errors.
These errors are the worst because they’re so easy to catch — and they show the potential employer that you’re careless. Also, be sure your voice doesn’t sound too passive — action verbs are your friend here!
18. Avoid a functional resume.
The feedback I’ve gotten from many recruiters is that they feel as though a functional resume is trying to hide something. While I personally love how much the format saves space, you’ll want to do your best to showcase things in reverse chronological order, so the employer can easily count backwards 10 years or so from your current job and see what you’ve been up to and how you’ve grown.
19. Avoid the first-person.
It just sounds less professional. Plus, if you use the third-person, it sounds like someone other than you is talking you up.
20. Be a little fancy — or at least polished and professional-sounding.
You don’t want to get too wrapped up in jargon, but making things sound a little more professional goes a long way. Again, research can help you make your wording more official-sounding.
21. Include months.
Your gaps can’t hide here. Sorry. Own it and practice talking about your work history and why your past positions have ended. It’ll help you develop your skills for in the long-run, anyway.
22. Ask people close to the role/company to pass it on.
You should have already let your networks know you’re job searching (at least the people you trust!), so check in with them as well as with LinkedIn to see if you know anyone who’s in with, or close to, the company who could take a look at your resume and/or pass it on.
23. Ask people to look at it.
Hint: HR professionals, hiring managers, career coaches, and writers are great people to ask to proofread!
24. Get creative.
Now’s the time to call on the thesaurus, do market research, and flex your creative writing skills! A smartly written resume can go a long way, especially for a creative or administrative role.
25. No personal social media.
Your personal social media that includes party and vacation pics has no place being linked on your resume. If your social media, blogs, or websites are related to your field, give them a thorough check and delete or hide anything that’s inappropriate before beginning your job search.
26. LinkedIn must be updated.
27. Please make sure your email address is professional.
Some combination of your name or terms related to your work is fine. Anything else is really not.
28. Institutions still want your full address.
Places like unions, colleges, and hospitals still mail correspondence occasionally, so if you’re applying to those types of places, make sure you put your full address, and not just your borough.
29. Check out your phone # before listing.
Ditch the ringback tones, joke voicemail greetings, and other shenanigans, and make sure your voicemail box is set up and not full! How can recruiters get in touch with job interviews otherwise?
30. Tailor your summary/profile.
It should be targeted to the field and position you’re applying for, and effectively answer the question “Tell Me About Yourself” for the job you’ll use it to apply to.
31. Ditch the objective.
Today’s resume should summarize what you can bring to the potential employer, not what you want from them. Leave your objective for the cover letter and interview.
32. Ditch the generic, cliched soft skills.
Get creative and illustrate with examples.
33. You don't have to cram all your skills in, either!
And if you’ve got too many skills to make it brief, add another section. It can be named Areas of Expertise, Core Competencies, Key Skills, Key Strengths, etc.
34. Frame yourself.
Have a strong opener/profile statement quantifying your experience so a recruiter can see off the bat who you are and what you’ll bring. And this needs to match up to what they’re looking for.
35. Pack a punch with your work experience descriptions.
This space is NOT for “duties!” It’s to highlight achievements, show off your skills, use numbers, and show that your actions led to results!
36. Filling gaps will get you an interview. You can explain them later.
(And if you really can’t fill them because what you were doing was SO irrelevant to your field, then explain it in your cover letter!)
37. Try not to repeat.
It’s a waste of space and looks like you didn’t proof. If you did the exact same thing at several jobs, try leaving some of it out in older jobs, and/or consider a semi-functional format where you group a few companies together and write the job title/description once.
38. Use functional job titles to make decoding your resume easier and more effective.
Functional titles are not what the company called you, but they capture the essence of what you did in a way that’s recognizable to people outside of the organization.
39. Some school is better than none.
Include if you began taking coursework at a college, and at what level. Unless you took many courses at many schools, then maybe pick and choose the few places you completed the most relevant coursework. If you’re not currently enrolled, put the dates if it was recent; if you’re currently enrolled, you can say when the degree is expected.
40. Don’t include high school info once you’ve gotten your Associate’s degree.
41. Don’t include minute college info, especially if it was more than 5 years ago.
42. Recent college grads, don’t let me know if your GPA was less than 3.5. Less recent grads, no GPA at all, please!
43. Foreign degree? Let me know if it’s been evaluated in the US (it should be!).
44. Graduated more than 10 years ago? It’s fine to lose the dates.
45. Volunteer work never hurts-- But think about how much space you give it.
Is it adding something specific and unique to your resume, or are you just trying to show off your heart of gold? Only the former is a reason to dedicate much-needed space on the resume.
46. Don’t include your interests, unless they demonstrate some relevant skills.
I love poetry. But from a recruiter’s standpoint, who cares? But what if, due to my love of poetry, I created, manage, and host a reading series where people can come together to discuss community concerns, network, and be heard? Now a ton of skills are coming out, coordination and facilitation and community-building, and now this interest is worthy of putting on my resume!
47. Don’t forget about relevant technical and language skills.
Some people forget to put their foreign languages or licenses because it’s so basic to them, but it could be very attractive to an employer!
48. Columns will support you… Literally.
Use them and you’ll save a TON of space.
49. No more “References Available Upon Request.”
This is outdated and takes up precious space on your resume. If an employer wants your references, they’ll ask.
And Last But Not Least..
50. Be you.
Above all else, you should feel comfortable with your resume, the way it looks, the skills it showcases, and the story it conveys. Make sure you understand the wording and can explain your experience to others, and that’s what truly counts. Add a smile, and you’re good to go!
Now that you’ve got the full gist of what makes for a really stellar resume, let’s take a look at some sample resume template examples you can consider using. They’re all free, and you probably already have them on your computer!
Sometimes, simplicity just rules. If you already own or use Microsoft Office, you already have access to at least two free Microsoft Word resume templates (depending on how up-to-date your software is) that comes included with their software package.
While it certainly isn’t fancy, it definitely is a fast option for any job seeker looking for a free and basic resume template.
Similarly, if you are an Apple aficionado who uses Pages, there are six free resume templates that come with the software package. Here's an example of a good sample resume using Pages’ template:
Google Docs (which is free for anyone who has a Google account), offers four free good resume templates. By definition, since these resume templates live in the cloud, they will always be readily accessible to you in your Google Drive. And let’s face it — don’t we all want to know what it’s really like to work at Google? The people who created these resume templates for Google Docs all got their resumes through the hiring process there.
While basic, starting your resume from scratch using one of Google's resume templates will definitely save you a lot of time — and there's the added benefit of working within a familiar and free environment.
A new tool we think you’ll like is called NovoResume. They have a modern interface and greet jobseekers with questions about their level of seniority. Based on your selection, NovoResume will recommend various templates to you.
In fact, they offer five free resume templates for those in the “junior” category (which they describe as student or graduate) and six free single page resume templates for those in the “intermediate” category (which they describe as best for those with one to five years of experience). To access these resume templates for download you need to create an email account. The only resume templates that NovoResume charges for are multi-page resumes which they describe as suitable for those with more than five years of work experience.
Resumizer.com has been a resume resource since 2006. They offer bare-bones resume templates that may not be as flashy as others we’re featuring. However their resume templates do come with the benefit of not requiring an account or jumping through any hoops in order to use. Here’s an example of what one of their free resume templates looks like:
While this Australian firm offers only three basic resume templates, they are worth paying attention to. Unlike other resume templates we feature here, theirs are functionally organized. They offer a resume template that is a straightforward reverse chronological order resume. They also offer a “functional” resume template that emphasizes skills and domain areas. Finally, they offer a one page career summary template for the experienced candidate. We think these templates are worth considering especially as they come from a recruiting firm — the kind of people that probably see more resumes than you can imagine.
A word of general caution about free resume templates. In our experience, if you search online for “free resume templates”, you’ll likely encounter a lot of search results that ask you first to provide an email and to create an account and even begin filling out your basic information to be imported into one of their resume template. Unfortunately, by the end of this process and spending several minutes filling out your profile, you will typically be prompted to pay (albeit a small amount) towards the end of that process. In other words, these “free” resume templates aren’t really actually free, after all.
Using the bounty of above resume tips and advice, you now have the toolset to write a resume that gets noticed. Happy hunting, job seeker!
Chelsea Fonden is a career coach and resume writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Over the past 5 years, she has worked with countless jobseekers across industries and professional levels, and holds a passion for women's advancement in the workplace. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Maryland and has worked for several NYC non-profits, as well as in freelance roles.
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