How to Write a Professional Resume: A Guide


Looking to make a career change in the near future? Want to stand out on paper? Check out this guide on how to write a professional resume!

80% of jobs never reach the public eye because employers fill them through personal referrals. If you’re new to the workforce and lack a powerful network, that means you and everyone else are in competition for only 20% of all available positions.

How do you come out on top? With a professional resume so immaculate, the company would have to be crazy not to hire you on the spot. That may sound impossible, but making a resume is a science — and it’s one you can master.

Don’t waste time applying to your dream job with a weak resume. You deserve better. Put yourself in your best light and learn how to write a resume with this helpful guide.

Professional Resume Formats

If you’ve ever seen resumes before, you’ve probably noticed they share many similarities. A traditional resume comes in three different formats, which you’ll have to choose depending on your personal work experience.

The majority of resumes take advantage of something known as the reverse-chronological format. In this system, your list your previous work experience in reverse-chronological order. That means your current or latest job will be at the top of the document.

But what if you lack job experience? This is common for high school graduates and even many college grads. How do you get your first job if employers expect your resume to be bursting with years of experience?

If this sounds familiar, the functional resume format is for you. Rather than including nonexistent jobs, you’ll create a comprehensive list of your skills and abilities. It’s a decent option for those starting out and applying to basic service jobs.

Keep in mind that you can list non-traditional work experience, like time spent volunteering at an animal shelter. It’s preferable to choose the functional format, but not everyone will have work experience in advance.

The third and final option is the combination format. Your work experience and skillset will both receive an equal amount of attention. It’s a favorite of freelancers and those applying to positions that require a wide array of work experience, such as an engineering manager.

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Take some time to consider any past experience that could fit in a work section. During this time, it’s also a good idea to contemplate some of your most valuable personal skills. Write these down.

If you have enough work experience, go with the reverse-chronological format. Otherwise, choose from the other two options.

What to Include on a Resume

Once you’ve decided on a format, you’ll need to start thinking about content. Most professional resumes, regardless of format, will contain some of the same supplemental information employers are seeking.

We’re talking about your contact information for starters. You want the hiring managers to have an easy way to reach out to you if they want an interview. While many job boards give personal information to employers, such as Indeed, it’s still a standard practice to include it on the resume itself.

Include your legal name, phone number, and email address. It’s not unusual for job seekers to include their home addresses too, but you don’t need to include the full details if you have privacy concerns.

In addition to your work experience and skills — which you’ll emphasize depending on format — be sure to add an education section. Whether you hold a GED or a master’s degree, your employer will want to know of any formal education. There’s no need to include anything more than your highest education unless you had prestigious schooling elsewhere.

We’ve covered the essentials. But if you need to fill more space, it’s uncommon but acceptable to include a summary or objective at the top of your professional resume.

This is a short description that acts as an overview of yourself and the information provided on this document. With an objective, you also inform the prospective employer of your future plans in the coming years. After all, it’s your objective.

The Extra Mile

If you want to truly find success in the digital age, you need to look beyond making a resume. Your online presence can be a boon or detriment to the hiring process. Let the hiring manager find that irresponsible picture on your Facebook page, and it could cost you the job.

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Think it sounds unlikely? Not so. Even for entry-level positions, hiring managers routinely search through social media profiles to get a genuine look at you.

Beat them to the punch by sprucing up any unsavory online content. Hide pictures, delete old posts, and give yourself a professional appearance.

On the topic of social media, now is the time to consider creating a LinkedIn page. It’s the social media for business-savvy job seekers.

In many ways, you can think of it as your digital resume. Some people even include a link to their LinkedIn page by their contact information. Make sure you write a professional bio and treat your LinkedIn account seriously if you plan on sharing it with potential employers.

Tips for Writing a Resume

So far, we’ve covered the very basics of writing a professional resume. But the basics alone won’t land you your dream job. It’s the little things that put the odds in your favor.

Once you have a draft prepared, you’re ready to turn a mediocre resume into a fantastic one. Let’s look at some easy ways to impress the hiring manager.

  1. Repeat Keywords From the Job Posting

Employers receive so many applications for a single position that they don’t have time to look through them all. To slim things down, they use something known as an applicant tracking system. It’s a type of software that scans resumes, looking for those that best fit the position.

An applicant tracking system will never choose an ideal candidate, but it will remove anyone who isn’t. 75% of professional resumes never make the cut.

Tell the machine you’re qualified by repeating some keywords found in the job listing. Every job listing will have a collection of qualifications. Use some of these same terms in both your resume and cover letter for the best results.

Don’t lie just to throw keywords on there, though. You may get through the tracking system, but you won’t be as lucky with the hiring manager.

  1. Keep Design in Mind

A professional resume is a readable resume. Using comic sans and 8 point font is a recipe for disaster. If the hiring manager can’t read it easily, they won’t read it at all.

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Stick to a professional, familiar font like Times New Roman, Arial, or Verdana. The bulk of your text should fall between a font size of 10 or 12. Anything less is too small, and anything more will make you look like you’re trying to compensate for a lack of resume content.

  1. Be Active

Employers commonly find a ubiquitous mistake in most resumes: they don’t contain active language. Every bullet in your work experience section should start with a powerful verb. It may appear irrelevant, but there’s a subconscious difference between active and passive phrasing — and one definitely seems more impressive than the other.

Here’s another rule for resume verbiage: the tense counts. If you’re describing the tasks of an old job, you’ll use the preterite or past tense in the description. It’s something you “managed”… because you don’t manage anymore.

For current jobs, this holds true, too. Use the present tense to indicate it’s something you’re doing right now.

  1. Quantify Everything

Even the best writer can’t describe the true breadth of work responsibilities. At least, not without the aid of numbers and percentages. You should always quantify everything across your resume.

Did you perform basic data entry tasks as an intern? Great! How many forms did you create, and did your work have a measurable impact on the company?

Let’s look at an example to see how powerful numbers are in a professional resume.

“Assisted customers every day” or “assisted 50 customers a day with a 97% satisfaction rate”?

There is a clear winner.

A Professional Needs a Professional Resume

As you’ve no doubt experienced, the competition is cutthroat for anyone seeking a new job. Your resume is the first and oftentimes only chance you’ll have to impress a hiring manager and score a coveted interview. With the modern-day economy as it is, a professional resume isn’t optional.

It’s mandatory. And you’ll need a great one to get the job you deserve. But now that you’ve read this article, you’re well on your way to making a resume that turns heads.

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