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How to Write an Effective Resume for Your Dream Job

You have big dreams for your career. Whether you’re continuing on your current path, pivoting to a new job or industry, or just beginning your journey, searching for your dream job means putting in the time and effort to make yourself stand out from the rest! Because, though your dream is uniquely yours, you might be contending with dozens — or even hundreds — of other candidates vying for the same job. That's where a great resume can make all the difference!

Check out these resume writing tips to get a leg up on the competition and land your dream job in today’s market.


A print out of a job resume with reading glasses and a pen on top of it.

1. Choose the right format and layout

There are three types of resume formats: reverse chronological, functional/skills-based and a combination of the two. Which one you choose will depend on the type of job you’re applying for and how much experience you have. Let’s take a closer look at your options!

Reverse chronological resume

This style is the most common resume format. It’s ideal for people with work experience that’s relevant to the position they’re applying for.

Pros: Familiar to potential employers; easy to skim.

Cons: Hard to complete with no relevant work experience; highlights career gaps.

Functional/skills-based

This style emphasizes skills over experience. If you lack relevant work experience because you’re a student or recent graduate or you’re looking to make a career change, this format is a great choice.

Pros: Highlights skills and competencies over experience; great for switching careers or new graduates.

Cons: Most recruiters and hiring managers aren’t familiar with this style; applicant tracking systems (ATS) have difficulty reading these resumes.

Combination/hybrid

This style is great for experienced pros with a diverse skillset and career changers, as it highlights transferrable skills. It’s also useful if you’re applying for a role that requires expertise in multiple fields.

Pros: Highlights skills and experience using less space; useful for experienced professionals or executives.

Cons: Not appropriate for recent grads or entry-level positions; ATS have difficulty reading these resumes.

Which format is right for you?

Most job seekers should choose the tried-and-true reverse-chronological resume format. This is the most common one, and most HR managers are used to seeing this style.

Don’t forget about length!

No matter which style you choose, most experts recommend that resumes should be one page long, especially for students, new graduates and professionals with one to 10 years of experience. However, if you’re a seasoned professional or have a lengthy list of achievements, you might consider bumping the page count to two — but only if it adds significant value to your credentials.

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2. Include personal details and contact information

This section is more important than you may think — you won’t get far if the hiring manager can’t get in touch with you! Make sure to double check that your contact information is correct and up to date.

Information to include:

  • Name: First name and last name are required. Middle name is optional and often unnecessary.
  • Phone Number: Include your personal cell phone so they can reach you any time.
  • Email Address: Make sure your address is professional and from a current email provider, which makes you look more polished and up to date than an email address from decades ago.
  • LinkedIn URL: Include your LinkedIn profile — and make sure it’s ready to go!
  • Location: You don’t need to include your address, but indicate whether or not you’re located in the area of the employer.
  • Social Media, Website or Blog: Include these only if they’re relevant to the job you’re applying for. This could include a Twitter handle for a digital specialist, a portfolio for a graphic artist, or a personal blog for a writer.

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3. Add a resume summary

Studies show that hiring managers spend about seven seconds scanning resumes, so yours needs to leave an amazing first impression right away.

One way to get noticed is to include a resume summary, a two- to three-sentence review of your career. This can include years of experience, your top one or two achievements and your desired goal for working at the company where you’re applying.

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4. List your work experience and achievements

The most important part of your resume is your work experience — get ready to sell yourself! Here’s where you’ll highlight your accomplishments and responsibilities.

The standard format for work experience includes:

Job Title/Position: Your current (or most recent) job title goes on top of each work experience entry.

Company Name/Location/Description: Mention the name of the employer, as well as the location of the office you worked in. If the company isn’t well-known (or the industry isn’t obvious from the company name), consider briefly describing the company in a few words.

Achievements and Responsibilities: Depending on your field and the job you’re applying for, you should list either your achievements (highlights of your performance) or responsibilities (your day-to-day duties).

Dates Employed: Include the timeframe of your employment in each company. The standard format is mm/yyyy, which is especially important if your resume is run through an ATS.

How much work experience to include?

If you’re a senior-level professional, including all of your experience could be pages long! That’s why most resumes should go back only 10-15 years.

How to list achievements on a resume

The best way to stand out in the crowd is to highlight your achievements in past roles. Mention how you helped the company grow, reached quarterly quotas or implemented internal programs. Whenever possible, include hard numbers, such as sales figures and percentages, to quantify these achievements.

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5. List your education (if relevant or required)

Your education can signal to employers that you’re qualified for the position they’re advertising. Start with your latest educational endeavor, then work backwards.

The standard way to list your education includes, for example:

Program name: B.A. in Business Administration

University name: New York State University

Years attended: 08/2008 - 06/2012

You can also include optional details such as honors, academic achievements or your minor if it makes your education section stronger.

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6. Mention your top soft and hard skills

This section allows you to showcase all your know-how that makes you the perfect candidate for the job.

There are 2 types of skills you can include when writing your resume:

Hard skills. These are measurable abilities that indicate your performance abilities. They can include programs you work in, techniques you’ve mastered or software you regularly use. List hard skills with experience levels, from beginner to expert.

Soft skills. These personal aptitudes are a mix of social skills, communication abilities and personal traits. They can include leadership, critical thinking, management, communication and more.

A good resume should start with (and focus on) hard skills, as that’s what the employer is looking for.

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7. Carefully consider additional sections

If you have other skills or experience that don’t fit into the traditional sections of a resume, you could consider adding a section. However, be very careful when adding this information! Include it only if it bolsters your work experience or expertise.

Here are a variety of sections you may consider adding:

  • Languages: It can give you a leg up to indicate if you’re bilingual or multilingual, especially if you’re applying for a job that might include travel or the company is a large, multinational corporation. To list languages in your resume, write down which ones you speak, along with your proficiency level (native, fluent, proficient, intermediate or basic). Learn more about how being bilingual can be a career strength.
  • Volunteer Experience: If you dedicate your free time to meaningful volunteer work, consider adding your experience — especially if it relates to your career path.
  • Certifications & Awards: Listing any relevant professional awards or certifications can help you stand out in your field.
  • Publications: Include any published works if you’re in an industry where this indicates job performance, such as journalism or academia.
  • Hobbies & Interests: Most experts advise to skip this section altogether. However, if you have an area of interest that pertains to the position you’re applying for, consider adding it.

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8. Tailor your information to the job

A company’s ATS (Applicant Tracking System) filters through hundreds of resumes before being reviewed by a hiring manager. To get through this filtering system, make sure you tailor your resume to each job you apply for. Simply mention the right keywords from the job ad in your resume. Review the job requirements, then mention each of those in your resume, along with any relevant achievements and qualifications.

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9. Craft a convincing cover letter

A man a print out of a cover letter

Every good job application includes two parts: A resume and a cover letter. A cover letter is a direct message to the hiring manager that briefly explains why you’re a great fit for the position. It’s only a few paragraphs long and should include these elements:

Who you are. Introduce yourself and offer a brief rundown of your work experience. You can also mention one or two of your top professional achievements. And don’t forget to mention why you’re interested in working for the company you’re applying for!

Why you’re the perfect candidate. Identify several of the top requirements for the job, then write a paragraph explaining how you meet each requirement.

Wrap it up. Thank them for their time and indicate that you’re looking forward to speaking with them about next steps.

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10. Proofread your resume and cover letter

Small imperfections can make a big impact on your chances of getting hired. Chances are, you’ve been starting at your resume and cover letter for so long that you can’t see those little mistakes anymore. That’s why it’s a good idea to recruit a friend or trusted colleague to proofread your resume and cover letter for any errors.

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11. Send it on its way

Save your resume as a Word document or a PDF with your name, the position you're applying for, and the word “resume” or “cover letter” (whichever is appropriate) in the document name.

Then send it off however the ad requested, whether that’s by email, online or through a recruiter. When using email, check the job ad to see if they require you to include specific information in the subject line. If not, include the job title, your name and the word “resume.” If possible, find the name of the person who will be reading your resume and personalize the body of your email with that information.

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Now, Prepare to Nail the Job Interview!

Now that your resume is complete, it’s time to prepare for the next step: the job interview! After all, your resume is only the first step in your job search. To really land your dream job, you also need to ace that upcoming interview.

Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered! Check out our expert tips in these helpful guides: 7 Tips for Nailing a Job Interview and Your Guide to the Modern Day Job Hunt.

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Visit our Careers page for more information.

This article is for informational purposes only and includes information widely available through different sources.


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