Resumes get a bad rap.
We write them begrudgingly, usually during periods of transition, or tumult. We fiddle with phrasing and format, agonizing over how to craft our qualifications into the best resume possible.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
For smart job seekers, resumes are an opportunity — to make a case for their candidacy, to get the salary they've earned and to convince any hiring manager she would be crazy not to hire them.
Money teamed up with Dana Leavy-Detrick, founder of Brooklyn Resume Studio, to help you become one of those job seekers. Here’s how to write the perfect resume — and a free resume template that you can download and use for your next job interview.
(Resume design courtesy of Dana Leavy-Detrick; click here for a free downloadable template)
1. The best resume format
When it comes to resume format and design, opt for a clean layout. A recent study from the job site Ladders found that resumes with so-called F-pattern and E-pattern layouts, which mimic how our eyes tend to scan web pages, hold a recruiter’s attention for longer than those aligned down the center, or from right to left.
There is no one specific "best" font for resumes. You should use the same font style throughout, Leavy-Detrick says, but play with different weights and sizes to draw a recruiter’s eye to key parts of your resume. Sans serif fonts usually work best — Franklin Gothic, Calibri, and Avenir (the last of which we used for the attached template) are three of Leavy-Detrick’s favorites.
2. Make your resume stand out
If you’re applying for an investment banking job, a hot-pink resume probably won’t do you any favors. But subtle pops of color, like the orange used here, will work for just about everyone.
“It’s very minimal, and gives a bit of a design element,” Leavy-Detrick says.
If you do use color, “Use it sparingly,” she warns. “Stick to one color, and one color that’s going to print well.”
3. Add a skills section in your resume
Lead with the good stuff. The top of your resume should include "critical keywords and a quick snapshot of your core strengths,” Leavy-Detrick says.
Hard skills, tangible attributes that can easily be measured, take precedence here, so highlight them accordingly. If you’re in a tech-driven field, software and programming expertise is what employers want to see on your resume. If you’re in a creative industry, design and communication skills might be your best bet.
4. Make a resume that shows impact
To prove you’re worth a hiring manager’s time, highlight recent examples of what you bring to the table. Statistics that build upon your skills section are most impactful — bonus points if they show a track record of growth, revenue, and profitability, Leavy-Detrick says.
If you’re drawing a blank, she suggests adding resume skills that can help solve a “problem area” for the company you’re applying to.
“Impact doesn’t always have to be measured by metrics,” she says. “Cultural improvements, special projects, customer growth … anything that showed success can work.”
5. What to leave off a resume
Be discerning with the content—don’t list salary requirements, use tables or columns, or tick off every job you’ve ever had. The same goes for social media profiles. Unless your Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook feeds are relevant to the job you’re applying for, it’s probably best to leave those off your resume.
“Only include them if they add value in some way,” Leavy-Detrick says. “If you have zero followers, you may not want to advertise that.”
6. Tweak keywords to build the best resume for each job
Don’t make the mistake of answering each job posting with the same generic resume. Instead, take a few extra minutes to mirror it to the keywords and phrases within the job ad. You’ll be much more likely to make it to the next round of hiring, especially if an applicant tracking system (a computer program designed to weed out candidates out) has anything to do with it.
“Get as close as you can to the language of the job description, or at least look for common denominators,” Leavy-Detrick advises.
If you’re planning to cast a wide net by uploading a general resume to your LinkedIn or Indeed profile, make sure it’s tailored to the primary job you want — then update your keywords when applying to positions that deviate from the norm.
7. What recruiters are looking for on a resume
Workers need to be pliable these days, and so do their resumes.
It’s nearly impossible to avoid change — whether it be updates to technology, staffing, or workflow. Proving that you can adapt to constantly shifting situations is key to finding gainful employment.
This is especially important for older job seekers, who “aren’t perceived to be as versatile as their younger counterparts when it comes to technology,” Leavy-Detrick says.
If you fall into that category, she adds, emphasize the digital skills you have experience in, like email marketing, cybersecurity, or otherwise.
8. Striking the right balance on your resume
Omitting information can make recruiters suspicious, especially if there are large gaps in your employment history. So make sure your resume doesn’t have too much white space, or gaps in time, without including relevant information. If you worked outside of your current industry while in-between positions, for instance, you can account for it by including it in an “additional experience” section.
Still, refrain from including every little detail about your personal life — if you took some time off to raise a family, or self-publish a novel, you’re probably better off leaving that for the cover letter.
“The resume is a high-level snapshot of your skills, experience, and accomplishments,” Leavy-Detrick says. If a hiring manager has to scan through a really bulky one, “they’re more likely to miss key responsibilities.”