How to write a resume: Tips & template main region
How to write a resume: template and tips
On this page:
Resume writing can be a daunting prospect when starting your job search, particularly if it has been a long time since you last entered the job market or if you are looking for your first professional role. Your resume, along with your cover letter, is what a potential employer uses to make their first judgement about you.
Knowing how to write a resume will help you stand out from all the other applicants and reach the interview shortlist. Your resume must demonstrate that you possess most or all the criteria required in the job. Tailor your resume for each position you apply for by expanding on your experience relevant to the job and cutting back the less relevant parts.
Your resume must also get past any initial screening algorithms, or applicant tracking systems (ATS), which identify suitable candidates based on the use of relevant keywords.
Follow our tips for updating your resume
CV versus resume – what’s the difference?
Today, a lot of employers and job candidates use the terms ‘CV’ and ‘resume’ interchangeably. Indeed, you may see just as many references to ‘resume templates’ as you do ‘CV templates’.
Traditionally, a CV referred to a comprehensive (up to six pages) account of your entire professional life, while a resume was a summary (up to two pages) of your education, skills and work experience. However, in more modern times, the need for a lengthy overview of your career history has become redundant, with a hiring company instead expecting a two-page summary. At the same time, people began to use the two terms reciprocally. Now, whether you call your career overview a ‘CV’ or ‘resume’, it has no bearing on your chance of reaching an interview shortlist.
Importance of a good CV
Think of your CV as your own living, breathing personal pitch – a pitch that succinctly answers all the questions a recruiter or hiring manager has about you. The degree to which you present the reader with the information they require to make an informed decision can determine whether you are invited to interview.
This includes why you are applying for this job, with this organisation and in this industry, what value you can bring to the organisation and whether you have what is required to be successful in the role.
To leave the reader with no doubt about your suitability, you must present a strong CV that clearly conveys this information.
To do this, below you’ll find our tips on how to write a resume. Alternatively, you can download our resume template.
The purpose of a resume
Your resume serves to introduce the relevancy of your skills, experience, qualifications and achievements to a recruiter and potential employer. A recruiter or employer may not spend longer than a few minutes reviewing your resume, so it should succinctly convey your most relevant achievements. If the reader thinks you are a suitable candidate for the role, your resume will have achieved its purpose – an offer to attend an interview.
How long should my resume be?
Your resume should be approximately two pages long. If it is substantially longer, eliminate information that isn’t relevant to the role or industry. For instance, look back at the key skills and attributes required for the job in question and then review your resume – are you using valuable space to describe skills, attributes and responsibilities from roles that don’t match up to the job in question? If so, remove this content or, at the least, simplify your language. On your resume, you must get to the point, so don’t use ten words to say something you could say in five.
On the other hand, one page may suffice in certain circumstances. The main thing to keep in mind when you’re writing your resume is that you must be able to demonstrate and articulate your skills, experience, and future potential to the reader. If you can do that well in one page, that’s great. However, the average length of a resume is usually around two pages.
What NOT to include in a resume
Use your common sense when writing your resume. If you have been employed for many years and your career has evolved over time, knowing how to write a resume well means you will not include every role you’ve ever held, such as the casual retail position you had in high school or the captaincy of your social sporting team. Rather, use the limited space on your resume strategically by ensuring every line shows how you are relevant to the particular job you’re applying for.
Similarly, if you have an advanced degree, few people are going to be concerned about the exams you took when you were 16 years old. Instead, only include training that is relevant to the position you are applying for.
Unless otherwise stated, you don’t need to attach copies of certificates, qualifications or references. You should instead bring these to a job interview.
We also advise candidates to avoid listing their hobbies or interests. Focus instead on the experience and skills that make you suitable for the job you’re applying for. The exceptions occur when you have limited relevant experience or if the employer specifically asks applicants to list hobbies. In these cases, keep it brief. Avoid anything that could be contentious, such as political affiliations, and instead show how your personality is suited to that of the organisation. For example, consider listing a hobby that requires expertise relevant to the role, such as organisational or communication skills.
You also do not need to design a creative resume, unless you work in a creative field. Some candidates attempt to produce a more creative resume to stand out, however it really is the relevancy of your skills and experience that will ensure you make a shortlist, not how you present your resume.
What is the best way to layout my resume?
Your resume must look clean, clear and well structured, with enough white space to enhance readability. Use a simple font like Arial 10 or 12 point, and keep formatting, such as italics and underlining, to a minimum. Bullet points are extremely useful as they allow you to highlight key points succinctly and keep the document tidy. Start each one with an action verb if you can (‘created’, ‘managed’, ‘increased’, ‘improved’ etc.), rather than ‘I’.
Spelling and punctuation must be perfect, so after you proofread and spell check your resume, give it to a friend to do the same. Hiring organisations are inundated with so many applications that unnecessary mistakes can see yours rejected.
As for the document layout, most organisations will upload your resume into their database so make sure it is in a commonly accepted format that follows the below structure. We recommend a cleanly formatted Microsoft Word document or PDF with no graphics, images, no fancy formatting or fonts. While a creative CV may look good, graphics and special fonts can be difficult for an ATS to process.
Step by step guide to writing a great resume
Follow the below standard resume structure when looking to write your resume. Don’t forget to ensure you use clean and clear formatting.
1. Contact information
Start with the basics such as your name, phone number, email address (make sure the email address you use sounds professional) and LinkedIn profile link (link to new ‘LinkedIn profile checklist’ article, once live). Use the phone number and email address that you use most often. You don’t want to disappoint an employer by failing to respond to their invitation to an interview in a timely fashion.
2. Professional summary
In 50 to 150 words, describe your applicable experience and skills. This summary should prove your value and help to differentiate you. Avoid describing what you’d like from your next job and instead focus on what you can offer. This is the place for your USP, or unique selling proposition. Tailor this section to each position that you’re applying to.
Use keywords from the job description so that an ATS can find a match.
3. Skills summary
The reader of your resume may not have more than a minute to spend scanning each application, particularly if the volume of applications is very high, so including a skills section can capture their attention by making it immediately clear what you can offer. Compile a brief bulleted list of the systems, skills and competencies that are most relevant to the job you are applying for. Use keywords from the job description here too.
For instance, if the ad specifies someone who has ‘effective administrative abilities and excellent interpersonal skills’, these should be addressed here with brief evidence as to where you gained those skills. Make sure to tailor your expertise to the individual position you are applying for, always.
A future employer will be interested in where you went above and beyond the job that you were paid to do and achieved something great. So, next list your key career achievements, supported by facts, statistics or links. For example, if you over-achieved on your sales targets, you need to say by what percentage and over what period.
Keep in mind, this is a summary to grab interest by demonstrating you can successfully add value to an organisation in the type of job you’re applying for, so proof is essential.
5. Work experience
Your work history should be the most detailed section of your resume, with positions listed in reverse order, beginning with the most recent. Include employer names, positions and primary responsibilities.
If your job title is unconventional, it is perfectly acceptable to replace it with a recognisable equivalent.
It is important to quantify your accomplishments – the reader wants to see facts not fluff. Focus on the value you added in each role, rather than simply listing what your duties were. This section shouldn’t read like a job description. Rather, it should tell the story of your unique strengths and accomplishments. Think of your biggest achievements for each role and provide concrete, quantifiable evidence of each. One way to help you do this is to use action verbs such as “managed” or “oversaw”. Such verbs force you to focus on what you achieved and your results in each role, which proves the value of your experience.
Avoid overused clichés in you CV that can waste valuable space. Instead, include examples of your work to demonstrate your strengths. Remember that proof is in your results.
We also advise you not to leave gaps in your work history. If you took a year out, carried out an interim assignment, or travelled for six months, say so. Just make sure you illustrate whatever the experience was in a positive way, focusing on the fact that it gave you some great experience and knowledge.
Stating just the years you started or finished a role can also send off alarm bells. Writing "2019 - 2021" could be interpreted as employment from December 2019 to January 2021 unless you say otherwise.
6. Education & qualifications
Keep it concise by listing the academic qualification obtained, year of completion, the institution’s name and a one-sentence summary.
The details of references are rarely included on resumes. It’s common for candidates to simply write, “References are available upon request” in this section of your resume. Your recruiter will then reach out for the details of your referees at the appropriate point in the recruitment process.
Remember though, the referees recruiters and employers value the most are those people you reported to directly who can speak about how you used your skills and experience to add value to their organisation. If you are unsure who to provide as a referee, our guide to references may help.
How often should I update my CV?
Even if you aren’t actively looking for a new role, it’s important to get into the habit of regularly updating your CV. So, for example, if you’ve learnt a new skill or successfully completed a big project in your current role, update your resume to reflect that. It’s also a good idea to update your LinkedIn profile at the same time.
If you keep your resume up-to-date, when you do come to the point when you want to find a new position, there’s no risk that you’ll forget key points.
Regularly updating your resume can also make you more aware of any skills or experience gaps that you need to fill to take the next step in your career.
Final tips to remember when writing your resume
By the time the recruiter or hiring manager reaches the end of your resume, they will have more than likely made their decision about whether to add your resume to the interview pile or not. Here are three final tips to help your resume reach the shortlist:
Firstly, tailor your resume for each application. To make the interview shortlist, your resume must demonstrate that you possess most or all the criteria required in the job. Tailor your application for each position you apply for by expanding on your experience relevant to the job and cutting back the less relevant parts. You should also show that you are genuinely interested in this job. Failing to tailor your CV by submitting a blanket application will not impress. So, weave into your professional summary the reasons that make you a good fit for this particular position and what specifically resonates with you about the organisation or role.
Secondly, make sure you add quantifiable results. As mentioned above, providing evidence to support the claims you make on your CV brings it to life and establishes for the reader the value you could bring. However, not every role allows for the sort of measurement by which you can prove your expertise. If you find yourself unsure how to add quantitative evidence this blog provides some tips. Adding links to your LinkedIn profile and online portfolios of work can also help the reader build a better picture of your competencies.
Now you know how to create your resume and the best layout to use. Don't forget to download our resume template. We also have a cover letter template that you can download, too, or check out our other templates and pdf guides for up-to-date job search advice and insights.