How to write a résumé

A résumé is usually the initial contact a potential employer will have with a job seeker. For the résumé to have any success it must make a good impression instantly. It’s common practice for the office personnel to only give each résumé a quick read (10-30 seconds), so they can distinguish and remove any disorganised and badly written résumés.

On average only a very small percentage of résumés will result in an interview. However, it’s still vital to focus on a good résumé to provide job seekers with a competitive advantage when applying for most administrative, managerial, and professional occupations.

Q: What does a résumé achieve?

In essence, a résumé is designed to show a potential employer your qualifications, previous work experience and skills, along with what you are able to do for their company going forward.

Overall the résumé must showcase your skills and talents to the employer, making it quick and easy for them to read and digest. A résumé is a way of selling yourself and advertising your skills and experience with the intention of gaining an interview.

Q: When can a résumé be used?

Large mailing campaigns

Posting your resumeJob seekers sometimes send their résumé to lots of companies in a particular industry or sector. It doesn’t matter whether the company has a job opening or not, and the résumé is sent out to notify the company of the job seekers availability.

Not only can this be an expensive approach, the chances of gaining an interview are very small. One way of increasing your chances with this method is to tailor the résumé to the specific company or group of companies you are applying to. By highlighting the relevant skills, experience and qualifications that are closely related to the company, you stand a much better chance of generating an interview.

Replying to a job advertisement

The most effective way of using your résumé is to design it specifically for a particular job advertisement and employer. If however the job description is unclear, don’t hesitate to contact the employer to enquire for further details. You need to find out the duties to be carried out, along with the education and experience required to be a successful applicant.

List your questions in advance so you don’t miss anything. Find out from the start whom you’re speaking to, and if it happens to be a manager, consider trying to schedule an interview directly. If not, try to find out the name and title of the person who will review your résumé.

During the interview

The résumé essentially acts as a script for both you and the interviewer. When you initially create your résumé, bear in mind that you will be discussing certain parts during the interview, so it’s important to highlight the relevant sections. For a successful interview make sure you’re also prepared to expand on any particular topic. Before the interview, consider a rehearsal with your friends or with anyone who is willing to be honest and provide constructive criticism.

Q: What must be included on the résumé?

Don’t underestimate the time and effort required to create a great résumé. In order to create a successful résumé you will need two types of information:

Information about yourself

You need to clearly highlight your skills/talents, work history/experience, education/qualifications and your career goals. For more information on how to prepare this, click here.

Information for the job

You need to obtain as much information as possible about the role you are applying for, so you can highlight any areas that relate to the skills, qualifications, and work experience that’s required. It’s essential that you tailor the résumé to the role so it has a much higher chance of being selected.

Q: Where can I get additional help?

Books are a great source of help when it comes to creating a résumé. There are many different types of books to choose from, and are all generally considered a great way of guiding you through the process. It’s important however to choose the right one for you and the role you are applying for, as some books are specifically written for certain industries and careers.

A great source of information on preparing a résumé can be found here.

The Internet is by far the easiest and cheapest way to gain information.

Workshops are a great way to learn and interact with other professionals who can assist you with the preparation of your résumé. One-Stop Centers and NYSDOL Division of Employment Services (DoES) offices provide résumé preparation help and assistance.

The different types of résumés

Two of the most common types of résumés are designed around two formats – functional and reverse chronological.

The important factor when considering a format for your résumé is selecting the right style for you, which highlights your strengths and places your weaknesses in the background. No matter which style you choose it’s important to include any great examples of your results or achievements from your previous employment. Potential employers like to see facts and statistics of your achievements so they can see they are hiring someone who can contribute effectively to the success of their company.

Functional résumé

This format highlights your skills and qualifications in relation to the job you’re applying for. Like all résumé styles and formats, you should always advertise transferable skills. The functional résumé format presents a view of your experience based upon your professional strengths. Your previous employment history would then follow, but in much less detail than a chronological format.

Job seekerWhen should I use this format?

  • You don’t have a lot of employment history but are able to list a wide variety of tasks you performed.
  • You are applying for a role that is different to your current or previous role.
  • You have recently finished and graduated from school and you have little or no job experience. Don’t be afraid to highlight activities that demonstrate qualities required for the role, like leadership or organisational skills gained from being a member of a club or fraternity.
  • You have been out of work for a number of years, or have been free lancing or consulting and have gaps in your employment history.

When shouldn’t I use this format?

You should not use this format if you have a continuous and stable history of employment.

Reverse chronological résumé

This type of format requires you to list the previous jobs you’ve had by dates of employment, beginning with your most recent position. The standard format is: date you were employed, job title, name and address of the company, a description of the duties performed in that role, skills required and used, and any additional benefits you provided to the company at the time. You must also include any transferable skills. This format focuses on what was achieved in each of the previous positions.

Job seekerWhen should I use this format?

  • You have a clearly defined career progression which shows how you’ve moved up the ladder.
  • You have recent work experience or education in the particular sector or field you are applying for.
  • You have a clearly defined career progression in the same or a similar consistent field or sector.

When shouldn’t I use this format?

  • You’ve had lots of different types of jobs.
  • You have changed jobs frequently and haven’t worked there for very long.
  • You are looking to change direction and the role you are applying for is very different to your previous experience.
  • You have little or no previous work experience.

Top tips for an effective résumé

Here is a suggested format for an effective résumé:

Heading: Name, address, telephone number and e-mail should be displayed boldly at the top of the page.

Objectives or summary: When writing a summary, try to make reference to your previous experience and achievements in only two to three sentences if possible. Clearly state the type of job you are looking for and what you can offer to a prospective employer.

If you decide to write an objective, make it broad so it will embrace closely related roles. But try not to be too broad and appear that you could be lacking in focus. This can be done in only one to two sentences at the most.

No matter whether you choose to write an objective or a summary, ensure that you indicate the level, position and industry you are looking for. You can use your cover letter to make your objective or summary more specific to the role.

Previous experience: It’s important to highlight your major responsibilities, achievements, and measurable benefits to previous employers. This could be any systems you’ve helped improve, any savings you’ve made, or new processes that have been adopted. Your achievements should mirror your career direction, with a focus on any recent success. Short on previous work experience? We have a guide here that may help.

Skills: This should contain a list of your skills, for example – IT skills, machine operation, or operation of specialist equipment, and so on. This list of hard skills may help.

Qualifications/education: Start with your highest degree and state the name and location of the school. Try to also include any extra-curricular activities, certificates or qualifications that relate to your career.

Licenses, Certifications, Publications: Again, only include anything that’s career related. There is no need to elaborate any further for this section.

Additional information: Include any career related memberships, affiliations or associations.

Click here to download a free résumé template in the above format or see all of our résumé templates.


The dos

Make your résumé sound positive, passionate and enthusiastic.

Highlight your most relevant achievements and accomplishments, and how they benefited your previous employers.

Contact a friend or professional and ask them to read over your résumé and offer constructive criticism.

Get to the point and be specific. Employers don’t like waffle, so try to remove an unnecessary wording.

Use short and concise sentences along with bullet points where necessary to make it easier to read.

Use action verbs.

The don’ts

Try not to use up too much space with anything unrelated to the job you are applying for. For example, hobbies and interests, personal information, or any previous job descriptions.

Try not to use more than just a few lines for your achievements. Keep everything short and straight to the point. You are aiming for a one-two page résumé at most, unless you have a very long list of previous jobs.

Don’t go into any detail about employment gaps or give any explanation.

Consider removing any references and have a separate list to hand in case they’re requested. State that they are available on request on the résumé. The individuals or companies should be made aware that they may be contacted on your behalf.

Don’t include any salary requirements (but make sure you include these in your covering letter if the job advertisement specifies that this is required).

Appearance and presentation

Create a typed word-processed résumé, and ensure it’s professionally printed. If you use your own printer at home, make sure it’s of good quality. If possible, use 8 1/2″ x 11″ quality white paper or 100% cotton bond paper.

Use a simple template like this one: free résumé template unless you are a graphic designer or applying for a similar arts-based role – in which case you may want to choose a more eye-catching design. Click here to view all the free CV templates.

Use fairly wide margins, single space type for each paragraph and a double space to divide each section.

Centre or left-justify and capitalise each of your headings.

Take a step back and look at your résumé. Does it look good, presentable, neat and tidy, and are all the sections in line and readable? Overall is it visually balanced and appealing?

Ensure you proofread your résumé numerous times, and also ask someone to proofread it as well. You cannot have any spelling or grammatical errors; otherwise your résumé may be discarded immediately.

Finally, check to make sure nothing has smudged and the paper and print are clear and clean.

Try not to use any unnecessary abbreviations, with the exception of US states.

The covering letter

Every time you apply for a job ensure you attach a cover letter which states your interest in the company. It’s important to remember however that this covering letter should not use and duplicate words from your résumé.

This cover letter should highlight your skills and previous employment history that are relevant to the role you are seeking. You can also use the cover letter to take the opportunity to add any additional information you feel is appropriate.

Overall your cover letter should explain how your current skills and abilities would benefit their company. It should entice the employer to read your résumé and in-turn, hopefully gain you an interview.

The contents of a cover letter

Introduction: Explain why you are writing to the company, then state the position you are applying for and the original source of the job advertisement (e.g., newspaper, internet colleague).

Main body: This part gives you the chance to highlight your qualifications and link them to the companies requirements. Also explain how you know the company and take an interest in the firms products or services. Finally, explain why you chose this company and what made you want to apply. For example, it could be that you’ve used their products or services in the past and you’ve heard they also have a good reputation.

Finale: Ask for an interview, and also consider including a possible date and time you are going to contact them to follow your application up. Don’t be afraid to take bold steps in ensuring an interview, as you need to stand out from the crowd and do something different to get noticed.

The specifics of a cover letter

Create a unique cover letter for each application and employer.

Ensure the letter is addressed to the right person you wish to contact, which is preferably going to the one doing the hiring. Do your research in advance so it goes to this person.

Type your letter on the same quality paper as described before, as this letter is just as important as your résumé.

Again, the letter must be proofread numerous times by you and a friend or colleague.

Keep your letter short and straight to the point, but also make it sound positive and that you’re passionate about the role. Have a look at these great examples of covering letters for more ideas.


Keep a record of all the résumés you send out, so that you can follow them up within a few days if you don’t hear anything. A recent survey showed that on average less than 5% of résumés sent to an employer resulted in an interview. However, applications that are followed up with a telephone call push the success rate up to almost 20%.

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