I used to hire and fire a LOT when I was a high-level manager, and it was a hilarious venture in reading ill-formed resumes fraught with mistakes, inaccuracies, and inconsistencies every damn time. Nobody seems to know how to write a resume. Effectively.
Resume-writing is not easy.
In fact, it’s one of the hardest things that prospective job candidates can possibly do. Why?
Because recruiters see a TON of resumes. One after the other, they are forced to ruthlessly sift through the same jargon, the same format and even the same errors over and over again.
Most of the time, they just throw these resumes out.
But, even a perfect resume might not even be correlated with job performance once you start a new job.
Even though everyone agrees on the limitations of a resume in evaluating job applicants, a funny thing still happens.
Virtually all professional companies rely on them to hire new employees.
A recent survey said that the number 1 most important factor in deciding who would be invited for a job interview was the resume.
But the fact that most people spend less than 10 seconds reviewing a resume means that you need to make sure you stand out. QUICKLY.
You do this by using perfect formatting, having no typos, and writing engaging bullets. I will show you how it’s done.
Whether you are applying to your first job, switching careers, or simply seeing what other jobs are available, the fact is that if you don’t have a great resume, you aren’t getting the job. Especially in a tough job market.
In this guide, I will explain what a resume is, how to make a resume, what a cover letter is, how to make a cover letter, and how to stand out from the pack when applying to jobs.
I will even share my resume template with you (sign up toward the bottom of the post). This is the template I used to get highly coveted jobs and I am sharing it with you!
Wait, before you read on: I’m giving away Grant Sabatier’s new book, Financial Freedom, along with a $50 Amazon gift card. If you haven’t already entered, do it! It’s a free book. And basically free money.
I was taught how to write a resume – a world-class resume, from Harvard
As a graduate of Harvard’s MBA program (one of the top MBA programs in the world) and Wharton’s undergrad business program at the University of Pennsylvania (the #1 undergraduate business school in the world), I have gotten access to resume coaching and tips from the world’s best institutions.
Throughout my career I have applied to and gotten / been accepted to some of the most competitive jobs, scholarships, and universities in the world.
That’s right, I have received over half a million dollars worth of schooling at Ivy League universities where I was shown how to create world-class resumes.
And I am going to share that information with you for free, so that you can also get the job you deserve!
Let’s start at the very beginning so that you understand exactly what a resume is. I will then cover how to make a resume before showing you a couple of examples.
Finally, you can download the resume template I created by combining the best features of resumes from Harvard and Wharton, so you can have the best resume in the world. It’s the same template I have used to get highly competitive jobs and I also used it when I applied to Harvard Business School.
What is a resume?
A resume is a 1-page document which summarizes your academic and professional experience for prospective employers.
A resume is nothing more than a personal marketing tool! It’s NOT a biography.
It’s the paper version of your best self, which is tailored to a job you’re applying for.
The purpose of a resume is to quickly show the reader (typically the person responsible for hiring new employees) your strengths as a potential candidate.
A CV (curriculum vitae) is NOT the same thing as a resume. In general, a resume should be limited to a single page(unless you are a senior executive with many years of experience), while a CV may stretch several pages.
Another distinction is that a resume will be tailored for the specific position you are applying for, while a CV is more of static document that will not change regardless of who it is going to.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t lie or exaggerate on your resume. Everything on it should be true and verifiable. The last thing you want is to write that you are fluent in Spanish and then have the interviewer decide to conduct the entire interview in that language.
How to write a resume
Writing a resume is an extremely important step in applying for a job, so you need to invest the time to create a resume that will make you stand out from the other applicants.
The most important aspects of any great resume are the easiest to get wrong.
To start, you want to make sure you resume is easy to read. This means using a standard font like Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri and making sure it’s big enough to read when printed out.
Secondly, you want to make sure there are absolutely no typos, no misplaced commas, or any other errors.
You need to show that you are a serious applicant who put their best foot forward.
I mean, if you can’t even ace the resume part of the job application, who’s to say you’ll be able to handle the job you’re applying for?
How to format your resume
A resume is split into different sections to make it easier to read.
Your resume will include the following sections: Heading, Summary, Experience, Additional Experience, Education, and Additional.
At the very top you’ll want to list your basic contact information so you can be contacted easily!
This includes your first name, last name, home address, email address and phone number.
Government jobs require you to include your home address, but it could make sense to include it for non-government jobs as well since including your address shows that you are a local candidate.
If you don’t want to include your full home address, at least include the city and state in which you live.
This is an amazing opportunity to tell the reader EXACTLY what you want them to know about you. This could include what makes you unique and relevant for your target role. Limit this to 3-4 sentences.
Communicates and highlights your work experience.
Start with your most recent role and list them in reverse chronological order (newest to oldest jobs).
If your company is well known, no company description is necessary. If your company is not well known, include a line describing the size, industry and type of company.
For each role, include your title and dates of service on the same line. Below that line, you’ll want to provide 1-2 sentences describing your responsibilities. If applicable, include the number of people managed and the revenue or budget managed.
Below each role, include 2-4 bullet points with specific accomplishments. Focus on personal results and measurable accomplishments and be as quantitative as possible.
For example, let’s assume you work at a call center and you were responsible for reducing the customer wait time from 2 minutes to 1 minute. Which of the 2 bullets below sounds more convincing and impressive?
- Customer wait time dropped from 2 minutes to 1 minute while I was there.
- Created program to cut customer wait time by 50%, improving customer satisfaction greatly.
While both statements are true, bullet #2 is MUCH better for two reasons: It is more quantitative and uses strong action verbs.
You should start all of your accomplishment bullets with action verbs (words that express action). Some awesome action verbs include:
- Solved, etc.
You can and should include action verbs throughout your resume (not only at the beginning of bullet points). They convey confidence and show that you are action and results-oriented.
How Far Back Should Your Resume Go?
In general, try to include your 3 most recent jobs. If you have had less than three jobs, then just list all of them.
If your most relevant job wasn’t your most recent one, use your judgement to decide what to include. You only have a single page to convey why you are the best candidate for the job, so you need to be flexible and thoughtful about what to include.
This section will include any relevant volunteer, extra-curricular, public service or other professional experience that highlights your unique abilities.
If you have work experience older than 10 years old or have worked many different jobs, you can list some of those jobs here as well.
You’ll use this section to highlight your formal education.
For recent graduates or current students, this section should be listed below the Summary section.
If you are still in college, include your high school. If you are a college graduate, you should remove your high school to save space for more important aspects (your professional experience).
Spell out your degree and use the formal name of your school / college / university. For example, if you earned a B.A. in Psychology from Duke, you should write:
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in History – Duke University
Make sure to include your graduation date unless it was over 30 years ago (your graduation date is less relevant as you progress through your career).
Use this section to highlight languages spoken, hobbies, relevant skills and other interests.
For some people this may be a single simple sentence.
Example: “Basic German language skills with a passion for running (half marathon finisher).”
For years my resume included that I loved to make pottery (it was a hobby I started thanks to a high school pottery class), and there were countless interviews in which this came up and gave us something fun to talk about.
This is your chance to show what makes you different on a more human and less professional level. However, make sure you only include interests that cast you in a positive light. Recruiters won’t be impressed if you list your penchant for being a party animal.
Resume format summary
- No more than 2 pages (95% of people should stick to 1)
- Make all bullets and text left hand justified
- All fonts should be size 10 or larger
- Margins should be no smaller than 0.7
- Easy to read fonts like Calibri, Arial, Times New Roman
- Only ever submit or send your resume in PDF format (unless asked for a different format)
Which program should you use to write your resume
This goes without saying, but resumes should always be typed up and printed out.
Most are created using Microsoft Word or Google Docs, but feel free to use other word processing programs.
A few resume examples
As you will see in the resume samples below, no two resumes look exactly the same.
Use my template to get started and craft the perfect resume now!
General Resume Tips
Keep your sentences and bullets concise. A concise resume is more visually appealing and shows that you can focus on the most important things.
A visually appealing resume will make a much stronger impression than a dense document that is packed full of words and is hard to read.
In many ways, less is more.
Proofread, proofread, proofread. Did I mention that you should proofread? After you are positive that your resume is perfect you need to have your friends edit your resume for mistakes. It’s almost certain that they’ll find something you overlooked, even if you read it 100x.
You need to make sure everything is formatted consistently. For example, all bullets need to either end with a period or no period and it needs to be consistent throughout.
This is the amount of detail that separates the amazing resumes from the ones that get lost in the pile.
What about cover letters?
What Is A Cover Letter
Cover letters are 1 page letters that are submitted with your resume.
They convey why you are interested in a job at the company, why you are a good fit, how you’ll fill a need they have, and your enthusiasm for the position.
Do You Need A Cover Letter?
Cover letters are not required for all jobs.
Some jobs specifically ask for a cover letter, while others give you the option to submit one.
In general, my rule of thumb regarding cover letters is as follows:
Always submit a cover letter if:
- The job posting asks for one
- The application has space for one (might as well impress them!)
- A letter isn’t required but it’s a job you are extremely excited about
How to make a cover letter
A cover letter is easy to make and I typically followed a pretty standard format.
You’ll want this letter to enhance your resume, but it can also be the perfect place to address potential concerns like gaps in employment history. It can also be the place to highlight strengths (like existing relationships with employees at the company).
Cover Letter Format
A cover letter should include the date, your name and contact information, the title and name of the person you are writing it to (yes you should always address it to an individual), the body of the letter, and a closing.
A cover letter should be short and sweet, and I like to keep it to 4 short paragraphs.
Paragraph 1 (intro) specifies the specific job you are applying for and how you found it. It also includes your current position and company.
Paragraph 2 (why me) highlights your experience and why you are the great fit for the specific role. Highlight a relevant accomplishment and personal touch. This might include information that builds on one of the bullets on your resume.
Paragraph 3 (why you) should convey why you want to work at the company itself. Include facts you love about the company and any connections you have to the company. Make sure to tie this to paragraph 2 so that it doesn’t seem disjointed.
Paragraph 4 (closing) is where you’ll list specific follow up items and leave your phone number or email so you can be contacted easily.
Example cover letter
Other resume and cover letter questions
Where to go for resume help?
This page should serve as a comprehensive guide to everything you need to make a resume. If you are still looking for more guidance, your first stop should be the career office at the school you graduated from.
You can also seek out public resources in your area by going to Google and typing “free resume review [your city name]” as there are often public organization which conduct free resume reviews for community members.
Where to buy resume paper?
In general, you don’t want to print your resume on regular printer paper unless you have no other choice.
Heavier paper will make your resume stand out and show that you mean business.
You’ll want to use a 24lb sheet of paper to print your resume. Some people prefer the heaver 32lb paper, but that is overkill in my opinion.
How to make resume pdf?
If you aren’t sure how to save your resume as a pdf, it’s actually super easy. On Microsoft Word you can simply go to Save As and choose the pdf file type. Another common trick is to go to Print and then Print to PDF.
The reason you want to always send your resume or submit it as a PDF is that you want to preserve the formatting you worked so hard to perfect.
By sending as a word doc, you run the risk of having the file change and not print properly. I’ve seen this happen countless times and it’s a shame when you get a resume with a janky font you can’t read.
How to start a resume?
Starting a resume is super easy and should take you no more than a few hours to complete and polish up. Most of the other people applying will only spend 30 minutes on theirs, so by creating a killer resume you’ll be sure to stand out.
How to make a resume with no experience?
Even if you have no professional experience you can start by highlighting your education and volunteer or other life experiences.
The example below is a great example of a resume for someone who hasn’t started their career yet. You’ll see that education is listed first.
Best Resume Templates
I am biased, but I think the template I created is pretty awesome.
Does It Make Sense To Use A Resume Builder?
In general, resume builders will save you time, but the quality is not as good as if you were to go and create an awesome resume yourself. My template is so easy to use, that you really won’t even want to use a builder!
You are now equipped to build the perfect resume and cover letter. But if you are still looking for inspiration to achieve your wildest dreams, here are some habits from wildly successful people that you should emulate! After all, while it’s true that money can’t buy happiness, at least not always, a better paying job is a wonderful way to built true wealth.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.