Resume Writing 101: A Beginner’s Guide

A good resume can help you stand out from other applicants and increase your chances of getting an interview. Although there are many ways to compose a resume, most fall into one of three main types of resumes. In this article, we will explore three standard resume formats, then provide a step-by-step guide on how to create a professional resume for yourself.

The three resume types

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“Resume Format” is the title of this infographic that shows an image of an example resume.
On the left side of the infographic, a numbered list points to each section of the resume.
1. Name and contact information
2. Summary or objective
3. Professional history
a. Company name
b. Dates of tenure
c. Description of role and achievement
4. Education
5. Skills
6. Optional (Awards & Achievements, Hobbies & Interests)
On the right side of the image is a sample resume with the name Janet Chobot and lines representing text underneath. Then the headlines Summary, Professional History, Educational History, Skills, and Awards & Achievements. Under each section are lines representing text.

While your resume should be a personalized reflection of your relevant skills, qualifications and experience, you might find it helpful to apply one of the following resume format types to organize your information:

1. Chronological

Chronological resumes are the most common format type. This format prioritizes your professional experience, starting with your most recent position. Chronological resumes can be very effective if you have consistent work experience in positions related to the one you are applying for. 

Because chronological resumes organize your information by time, they can draw attention to things like frequent job changes or gaps in employment. However, they can also highlight any experience you have in the same industry.

2. Functional

Functional resumes prioritize your skills and qualifications as they relate to the jobs you’re applying for. This format type is good for candidates with little or no relevant work experience, such as people who have recently graduated from college. It might also be a good option for people with gaps in their resumes.

3. Combination

Combination or hybrid resumes use attributes from both functional resumes and chronological resumes. This type of resume focuses on transferable skills instead of job titles. Combination resumes are not a traditional form of resume, and they rely on well-organized formatting to make it understandable at a glance. This could be a good option if you have an established work history and are making a career change to a different role or field. You may also benefit from this format if you have gaps in employment or have changed jobs frequently.

How to start making a professional resume

Once you decide on the best resume type for your needs, the next step is creating it. Prewriting, or outlining, is a helpful method of getting your materials in order and makes the resume-building process easier. When prewriting, you can focus on generating content and save the tone and formatting for later. 

When drafting a resume, follow these steps to ensure you include key information:

1. Start with your name and contact information.

Place your first and last name along with your email address and phone number at the top. Including your physical address

is usually not necessary. Including a link to your digital portfolio or professional networking profile can provide potential employers with additional relevant information about you as a candidate. If the position is related to web content or social media, consider including those profiles as well.

2. Add your education.

In your education section, include the name of the institution along with your degree type and any honors or specializations. It is optional to include your GPA, and it should only be added if above a 3.5. You should typically include just your most recent educational experience, which might be high school, college, graduate school or trade school. You can also include any specialized certifications you’ve received. Include the highest level of degree, diploma or certification you have received at each institution. If you’ve graduated within the last year, place your education section near the top of your resume. If not, place this section near the bottom of your resume.

3. List your professional experience.

Include your job titles, dates of tenure and names of the organizations in reverse-chronological order. This means you should place your current or most recent job first, your second most recent job next, and so on. Only include the past 10 years of professional experiences. If you haven’t held a relevant job yet, feel free to include leadership roles you’ve held in clubs or organizations, volunteer jobs, or other positions you’ve held in the past such as retail or food industry jobs.

4. Include skills gained and impact made.

Beneath each job title, make a bulleted list of the skills you used and acquired in your role as well as key achievements employers would find interesting. You should measure your impact with numbers wherever possible. For example, instead of writing, “Responsible for organizing the supply closet,” you might say, “Implemented a new organization system, reducing inventory check time by 20%.” To help describe a job, you could search your previous title online and look for a job posting. The description you find may reflect what your job duties entail and give you material for your resume.

5. Write down achievements or personal attributes that you are proud of.

Write a comprehensive list of times in which you put extra effort into something and found success. Be as specific as possible.

6. List your skills and personal attributes.

Write out any special abilities or qualities that will aid you in the position. If you’re in the tech field, for example, skills could include computer networking, search engine optimization or familiarity with software like Microsoft Office. You should also include soft skills like team leadership, time management or public speaking. 

Once you have compiled information relating to these topics, consider what items you are most proud of, and reflect on which combination provides the greatest insight into your experience and capabilities. It’s wise to think about the hiring company’s needs and how you can demonstrate your ability to meet them. However, be sure to save these lists in their entirety so that you can reference them in the future and easily change your resume as needed.

Strengthening your resume draft

When making a professional resume, it is important to consider things from an employer’s perspective. In a competitive job market, a potential employer is likely to see many resumes. For a resume to be successful, it should capture an employer’s interest within a few seconds. Follow these steps to help ensure your resume is well-crafted and engaging:

Optimize your resume layout

To maximize a resume’s visibility, some visual standards should always be met: 

  • Choose a clean, professional font. Most sans-serif fonts such as Ariel, Times New Roman, Georgia, Calibri and Garamond are appropriate for professional resumes. The size of your descriptive text should be between 10-12.

  • Make your resume grayscale friendly. Having a tasteful color accent can make your electronic resume stand out digitally, but consider what it would look like once it is printed out. It may help to print out your resume without color to make sure it’s legible in black, white and gray.  

  • Set your margins. Standard page margins are one inch wide, and resume margins should not be smaller than four-fifths of an inch.

Since there are so many ways to structure and format a resume, you may prefer to simplify your process by using already-existing resume samples and templates as guides.

Use power words

To write a compelling resume, it is important to start sentences describing yourself or your job duties with powerful words that describe direct action. Beginning sentences with strong verbs make your previous experience more vivid and engaging. For example, you can write, “I hold frequent meetings to ensure that sales quotas are being met and brainstorm how to increase productivity” more actively as “Facilitate biweekly meetings to maximize team productivity.”

Finalizing your resume

Once you have optimized the wording and structure of your resume, review what you have by looking for small errors that you might have missed earlier, including: 

  • Spelling

  • Grammar

  • Your contact information

  • Dates of employment

  • Punctuation

  • Consistent font formatting across all sections

Once you have checked everything and are confident in your resume’s accuracy, you will have your finalized resume. Save this as its own unique document, and give it a title that indicates it is the finished product. Having this base draft will make adapting your resume easier in the future.

Tailoring your resume to specific jobs

Editing your resume to focus on specific jobs can show employers that you have researched the organization and are eager to meet its expectations. Having a solid resume base can make this process much easier and save you a lot of time. Here are some tips for tailoring your existing professional resume to individual jobs:

Mirror job posting language

Look at the primary duties listed for the job you are applying for and adjust your resume to fit them. For example, if a job description asks for experience in web branding optimization, and one of your job descriptions reads “Facilitated marketing drives to increase website traffic”, rewording it to “Facilitated the rebranding and optimization of [company] to increase web traffic” would make it more position-specific.

Reflect the employer’s desired skills or certifications, if applicable

If a job description emphasizes a skill or certification that you possess but do not have currently listed on your resume, add it to the skills section in your resume. For example, if you are proficient in Microsoft Word and the job requires someone with expertise in that software, make sure that you highlight this qualification in your tailored resume.

Change your objective to reflect the job

If your resume includes an objective section, make sure that you describe this job in your objective summary. For example, if a job posting for a marketing manager asks for a team-oriented person who thrives in a social environment, it would be effective to write your objective to read, “Work in a social, team-oriented environment where I can utilize my skills as a marketing manager.”

After you tailor your resume for a specific job, save the document as a new file so you can identify it easily among the others. Additionally, you might be able to reuse content from other tailored resumes to make the process more efficient. Customizing your resume to fit the job will show determination, which could make you stand out as a candidate.