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How to write a resume? Easy, just Google it, read a few expert-curated articles on the subject, and you’re good to go.
“Resume objectives are so 1990s.”
“You must have a resume objective, or no one will read your resume.”
“Your resume must fit on one page.”
“One-page resumes are for people with no work experience.”
Well… resume writing would be much simpler if all those online articles didn’t contradict each other!
Here’s our tip: don’t trust opinions. Create a job-winning resume according to hard data. The data we collected.
To find out the best practices for resume writing, we surveyed over 500 American recruiters, HR professionals, or team managers responsible for hiring.
We asked them about the ideal resume layout, what to write in each section, and how to make a resume ATS-friendly. And we’ve translated their answers into actionable tips.
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How to Format a Resume in 2023, According to Recruiters
Even though 51% of our experts believe that resume content matters more than resume design, 38% still believe they’re equally important (and 11% even pick design over content). So you can’t just type your resume into a bland unformatted document and submit it.
Fortunately, you don’t have to craft the design of your resume from scratch (unless you’re a professional designer and you really want to show off your skills). There are dozens of great resume templates available on the web—and, unfortunately, hundreds of mediocre ones.
How do you decide which resume template to pick?
First of all, it’s safer to go for a black-and-white resume rather than use fancy colors: 72% of recruiters think monochromatic resumes are best.
If you do go for a dash of color, don’t pick anything too bold. Grey, beige, or blue can work fine. Red, yellow, or other types of bright colors might do you more harm than good.
Also, you might be tempted to try and stand out from the crowd by picking a non-standard, creative resume format (such as an infographic-based one or a highly visual template). It’s not too good an idea: 71% of recruiters like formal, standardized resumes best, and only 7% prefer creative designs. Though, of course, it depends on the kind of job you’re applying for.
Speaking of fonts, in another survey we ran, we asked Certified Professional Resume Writers about their favorite resume fonts. Here are the most popular choices:
- Calibri: 44%
- Times New Roman: 13%
- Arial: 11%
- Helvetica: 8%
- Garamond: 6%
To sum it all up, here’s what a good resume template looks like:
- Either black and white or with a dash of blue or grey.
- A classic, standardized layout, preferably with two columns.
- One or two fonts used consistently throughout the entire resume.
Now let’s go through all the resume sections and look at what the experts had to say about them.
What to Put on a Resume?
Let’s move on to one of the most important questions: what goes on a resume, actually? This question might look simple, but you can find so many conflicting answers online that we’ve decided to ask our experts. Here’s what they said.
The Must-Have Resume Sections
These are the “must-have” resume sections according to experts:
- Contact information
- Resume profile (summary or objective)
- Work experience
- Soft skills
- Hard skills
Note that there are two skills lists, one for soft skills and one for hard skills. 76% of recruiters prefer the two types of skills separated from one another on a resume, so just go ahead and please them.
And these are the sections that should stay out of your resume:
This might come as a surprise. Many of us have been putting hobbies on resumes for years and even landed jobs with those resumes. And some of us can’t imagine a resume without a list of references attached to it.
But resume writing standards change over time, so it might be time to rethink your habits. Here’s what our experts think about hobbies and references on resumes:
- 90% of professional resume writers say you shouldn’t include a list of hobbies and interests if you have more than five years of experience. Even if you have less experience than that, 77% of resume writing pros advise against a hobbies section.
- According to 89% of resume writers, you shouldn't list your references.
- Similarly, 88% don’t think the phrase “references available upon request” is necessary.
Of course, every rule has its exceptions. Some job ads clearly ask for a list of references on your resume. And sometimes you’ve got a hobby that makes you a more valuable candidate—let’s say you’re applying for a job as the editor of a knitting magazine, and you just happen to be a knitter yourself.
How do you arrange all those sections?
So opt for a two-column resume template if you’re using a resume builder, or create your resume inside a two-column table if you’re building it from scratch using Microsoft Word or Google Docs.
How Long Should a Resume Be?
Now that we’re at two-column resume templates: many people see them as a chance to squeeze their resume into a single page. Is this the right thing to do in 2023?
Well, not really.
A study by Zety revealed that, most recruiters prefer two-page resumes. For senior roles, a two-page resume is 2.9x more likely to score an interview than a single-pager. But that also holds true for entry-level jobs (a two-page resume is 1.4x more likely to be selected for the next stage).
Plus, 77% of recruiters think candidates with 5+ years of experience should never submit a one-page resume.
How to Make a Resume: The Header
There’s not much info in the resume header, but you must get it right.
Your contact information (which goes in the resume header) should be correct, up-to-date, and professional. Omit your personal social media profiles and add your LinkedIn handle instead—according to 96% of our experts, not mentioning your LinkedIn profile on your resume is a grave resume mistake.
Don’t have a LinkedIn profile yet? Well, just go and set one up—it’s free.
Another thing to remember: if you’re in the US, UK, or Canada, don’t add a photo to your resume. Don’t worry: the recruiter will still find out what you look like because they’ll check out your LinkedIn profile. You’ve got a LinkedIn profile, haven’t you?
How to Make a Resume: The Summary and Objective
If you’ve got a few years of experience under your belt, write a resume summary. It goes like this:
Adjective + Job title + Years of experience + Key achievements/skills + What you want to do for your new employer
Here’s an example:
A resume objective is something you write if you don’t have much work experience in a given field, either because you’re applying for your first job or because you’re switching careers.
Resume objectives follow the same basic formula as resume summaries. But since you don’t have great achievements to brag about (yet), focus on skills and motivation instead, like this:
Writing a resume objective or a resume summary looks like a bit of work. So you might be tempted to steal a generic paragraph from the internet and paste it into your resume.
70% of recruiters think skipping the resume profile part is better than writing a generic one.
Expert Hint: To make writing the resume profile easier, write other resume sections first.
How to Put Work Experience on a Resume, According to Recruiters
Some years ago, Ladders published a notorious study about how an average resume only gets 7 seconds of recruiters’ eye time. Almost every career website would mindlessly share that piece of data ever since. Well—
The reality turns out to be slightly less horrific.
Only 2% said they take less than a minute to scan a resume. To you, that means that, first of all, yes, they will read your job application, not just skim it, but you still don’t have too much time to impress them. So—
Make every word count. What I mean here is that not all words are equal, and, most certainly, not all resume sections are either.
What part of your resume should you mostly focus on?
Work experience is the most important section of your resume, no matter if it’s your second or twelfth job. At least, here’s what our experts think.
When asked which resume section is the most important when evaluating mid- to senior-level candidates:
- 46% of respondents chose work experience
- 15% education
- 13% skills
- 3% resume profile
- 22% other resume sections.
What about candidates with little job experience or fresh graduates? Turns out, it’s still their experience that matters most. These are sections picked as the most critical in entry-level resumes:
- 30%: work experience
- 21%: skills
- 19%: education
- 5%: resume profile
- 25%: other sections
Even if you don’t have much experience, make this part of your resume the main selling point. Mention any gigs you’ve had, including non-paid jobs, internships, or part-time positions.
So give your work experience section some love:
- Focus on professional accomplishments rather than day-to-day duties.
- Use powerful action words.
- Describe your most recent five years of experience in detail (up to 8 bullet points).
- Use numbers and metrics to prove your achievements (83% of our experts think it’s a good idea).
But what if you don’t work with hard numbers on a regular basis? Here are two simple strategies to help you quantify your achievements:
- Frequency: for instance, “resolved 50+ customer tickets daily,” instead of “responsible for handling tickets,” or “published 3 to 5 Facebook ad campaigns every week” instead of “responsible for social media marketing.”
- Scale: think about “spearheaded sales enablement across 8 national markets” or “worked with annual budgets of $300,000.”
Adding numbers to your resume does two things: firstly, it immediately grabs readers’ attention, and secondly, it provides the much-needed context for your achievements—it lets people see how well you did what you did.
All that said don’t overdo it. 38% of hiring pros said that if you put too much emphasis on quantified accomplishments, you might come off as bragging.
How Far Back Should Your Work History Go?
It should be super clear to you by now: your work experience should be the chief focus of your resume. But is the whole of your work history important? Perhaps not.
Our recent study of resume best practices suggests that 33% of resume writers think candidates should only cover their past ten years of experience on a resume, while 35% lean towards including the 15 most recent years.
In this survey, we asked hiring managers about when candidates’ experience becomes irrelevant to them:
- 33% said they didn’t care about jobs held 4+ years ago by candidates.
- 28% were uninterested in positions from 6+ years back.
- Only 5% said the experience of more than 8 years ago was of any consequence.
The bottom line: do elaborate on, roughly, your most recent five years of experience. Include 5–8 bullet points below entries within that time frame. For jobs older than that, you can limit yourself to 3 bullet points outlining your key achievements. The hiring manager won’t care that much about what you did in the dim and distant past.
How to Write a Resume Like a Pro: The Education Section
How much you write in your resume's education section depends on your work experience. If you’re a seasoned pro, just list your highest level of education and don’t go into great detail.
But if you’re a newbie, go ahead and add info on relevant coursework, student projects, or anything else you find relevant, including your GPA. In our survey of certified resume writers, 88% of respondents said it’s best practice for candidates with little experience.
How to Add Value to Your Resume: The Extra Sections
Zety’s study of 133,000 US resumes revealed that 66% of candidates include additional resume sections. These are the most popular:
- Languages: 31% of resumes
- Certificates: 27%
- Additional Activities: 21%
- Interests: 19%
- Software: 18%
- Courses: 11%
Some job seekers tend to “bury” their certifications or foreign languages within a skills section. That’s a practice acceptable to 37% of recruiters; 44% prefer to see languages and certificates as separate sections.
Also, note that most recruiters don’t really care about your hobbies and interests, so don’t include them in your resume unless they’re highly relevant to the job.
How to Make Sure Your Resume Gets Read
Now that you’re done writing (or at least drafting) your resume, you need to make sure it gets read by an actual human being. There are two things to keep in mind here:
- Your resume must be ATS-friendly to pass automatic scans.
- If possible, address your resume to the right person.
Tips to Pass ATS Scans
When applying via a job board or an internal careers site, you can be certain that your resume will undergo an initial screening done by AI-based software.
According to Jobscan, 98% of Fortune500 companies use ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) to review resumes.
Sadly (or thankfully?), the robots aren’t perfect yet, and hiring managers know it, too. When asked whether they trusted the recruitment bots to find good candidates, only 65% of respondents said they fully did.
What’s more, 98% of recruitment pros believe qualified candidates are filtered out in the initial, automatic resume scan by mistake. 55% think it happens “always” or “often.”
Yes, it does sound rather harsh. The thing is, there’s a lot you can do to help robots do their job well (pick YOU, that is):
- Use an ATS resume template.
- Make sure to use the right keywords. How to identify those? Look at the job ad! If you see specific skills and requirements mentioned there, make sure they appear on your resume, too. Use the same wording as in the job ad.
- Make smart use of the job titles on your resume. If necessary, you can tweak the wording to better match the job on offer: for instance, say “SEO Site Owner” as opposed to “Site Owner.” 56% of hiring managers think it’s perfectly fine to do so. As for the rest? Well, they won’t find out.
Tips on Addressing Your Resume to the Right Person
That’s the awkward part of writing a resume—you don’t really know who gets to lay their eyes on it. An external recruiter? A member of an in-house HR team? Or, perhaps, your prospective boss?
At some point, it will likely be all (or most) of the above-mentioned. But the person you should address your resume to is the hiring manager—72% of our respondents advise doing so.
Why? Firstly, it’s the most important decision-maker in the process. Secondly, this person is most likely to understand your career progression, the scope of responsibilities, or the nature of your day-to-day tasks. Finally, external recruiters or HR teams run the recruitment at the actual hiring manager’s request—if they like your resume, they will show it to the top stakeholder anyway.
One bonus tip? Avoid the uncertainty of who might get to review your resume and apply directly to the hiring manager. See, according to Jobvite, less than 1% of candidates who apply via job boards or internal career sites end up getting the job. Of those who apply directly to the hiring manager, 19% are offered the position.
At the same time, wait for it, only 0.14% of candidates use this strategy! You connect the dots. Deciding to apply directly to the manager of the team you’re hoping to join is the single best thing you can do to boost your chances of getting hired.
A Few Cautionary Tales
At the end of our survey, we asked hiring decision-makers about the worst thing they ever saw on resumes. Here, we present to you some of the most ridiculous stories. Just… don’t be that guy.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen on a resume?
- One candidate demanded a wristwatch as a benefit.
- A resume with two different full names in the contact section.
- A candidate was fired for stealing money from his previous employer.
- Losing one’s virginity is, without a doubt, an important moment in one's life. Only... we're not sure if it's appropriate to discuss it on a resume.
- Nobody told this lady that a resume shouldn't be a showcase of one's favorite colors. Or fonts. Or clip arts.
- Someone included cat training as relevant experience for a customer happiness officer job.
- We had one applicant with six pages of nonsense about his home and family and the town he lived in.
- High school grades (No. One. Cares).
- “Sexual skills.” No, not important for that particular job.
And that’s a wrap! I hope you’re well-equipped to write a data-informed resume, hack the job application process, and beat recruiters at their own game. Not so sure you are? Make sure to drop me a line in the comments, and I’ll happily get back to you ASAP.
Methodology and Limitations
This survey was run by OnePoll on behalf of ResumeLab. In it, 506 recruiters, HR specialists, and hiring managers were surveyed.
The data rely on online self-reports after eligibility screening. Each participant responded without any researcher administration or interference. Potential issues with self-reported data include but are not limited to exaggeration, selective memory, and attribution errors. Some questions and responses have been rephrased for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent: this is either due to rounding or due to responses of “neither/other/don’t know” not being presented.
Fair Use Statement
Feel free to share our study! The graphics and content found here are available for noncommercial reuse. Just make sure to link back to this page to give the author proper credit.