Want to know how to build the perfect resume? First, remember: a resume doesn’t land you a job straight away, or even convince people you’re “the right person” for it; it simply gets you through the door for that (first) interview. Still, it’s an important step, and so we’ve put together our best resume tips to help you out.
Here’s our first piece of advice for your resume: the point isn’t to brag, it’s to pique another person’s interest. It should make them curious, offering clues that draw them in further like a movie trailer. So try to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. And here’s a secret from Pulcinella: you don’t have to say everything all at once.
What you do need is a lot of patience: you could say looking for a job these days is a full-time job in itself. But don’t let that discourage you. The rule of “less is more” still applies. If in doubt, cut it out.
Resume Tips: Tailoring It To The Job You Want
1. Figure out what you want to do.
Not all jobs and roles are clearly defined: some resumes can write themselves depending on your qualifications and past experience. Things are often more complicated in the humanities: not everyone with a literature or philosophy degree necessarily wants to work in journalism or academia.
So, above all, make sure to highlight your own skills, particularly if these are specified in the job description: being able to identify your strengths and to adapt and communicate the skills acquired in college or your previous work experience is already a great starting point.
If you can answer “What do I want to do?” you should also know “What am I really good at?” That’s definitely an answer worth highlighting.
2. Always keep your resume up to date.
Not all resumes are the same, nor should they be. Buckle down and get into the habit of going back through your file every time, not just to keep it up to date, but also to review and revise it according to the specific job description you’ve found and, if possible, to the person who’ll read it.
There’s no point in sending everyone the same boilerplate resume — that’s why the so-called “European format” rarely works unless explicitly requested in the job offer. You’re better off taking the time to revise and rework it effectively, rather than submitting poorly targeted applications.
And when it comes to the job description, always read it thoroughly; if it specifies a certain type of technical or linguistic knowledge, make sure you can actually demonstrate it.
There is room for risk and initiative, but don’t overdo it. Try to be objective and honest (which doesn’t mean naive): you can’t claim to be fluent in español just because of that one time you spent in Ibiza last summer with your friends.
Resume Tips: Work On The Structure
3. Layout and style matter.
Here too, your layout and design will need some work: we already warned against the bland, anonymous “European format.” What can you do to make your resume smoother and easier to read?
Last name and first name should be clearly visible alongside your degree, contacts and references. You can add links to projects or socials, as long as these are relevant or serve a purpose — but only if you use them professionally. If not, look out, because they can be a double-edged sword. As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t show the content to your grandma or your parents, leave it out. Just be aware that recruiters will always run a background search…and they will find you. The internet never forgets.
Overall, a resume should never exceed two A4 pages, unless you have a lot of experience (20 to 30 years) and it’s all relevant. Just always keep in mind that your resume should be clean and tidy.
Limit yourself to one font, and keep it black or (at a push) blue: if you want to highlight different sections, just increase the type size by a point or use bold. Keep the spacing as even as possible. Densely packed text becomes unreadable and conjures up an awkward horror vacui (fear of the void), but too much blank space and wide margins will immediately give a sense of emptiness. Convert your file to PDF format and give it a clear, unambiguous name (e.g., “LastNameFirstName_resume.pdf”).
4. Reread it several times to avoid mistakes.
Words matter. You know it, too. So choose them wisely and use them right: you obviously don’t want to look sloppy. No spelling or grammar errors, and no ambiguous phrasing.
Punctuation isn’t optional; use it with care. Typos, even the tiniest ones, are the enemy and need to be rooted out at all costs through constant proofreading (however boring). Get someone else to help you, especially if your eyes have got used to reading the same words over and over.
Another option is rereading the text backward from the last word to the top. You should apply the same consideration to your cover letter.
5. Keep your sections well-organized and on point.
Our first tip is to strip out as much as possible that isn’t relevant to the role in question: if you’re applying for a “front office” job but your only experience is waiting tables at a family restaurant, try to be targeted (and smart) about how you present the information.
What did you learn from this (perhaps unrelated) experience that could be useful in this particular role? For example: Were you building customer relations? Organizing work shifts? Running private events? If so, mention it.
Always start with your work experience, in chronological order from most recent to oldest, and try to highlight the most relevant roles. For each experience, mention the dates, position and, if possible, set out your main responsibilities and achievements in a clear and concise way. Give examples, data and numbers (if you have any) and show how your approach made the difference.
Next, lay out your education section. If you have any additional training that demonstrates potentially useful or relevant skills to the job in question, don’t forget to include it. If you’re looking for a job, say, in communication, then theater or elocution classes will probably be more interesting than a gardening course.
Similarly, pay special attention to your languages section: official diplomas aren’t always a guarantee of ability; but it would be unwise to leave out any qualifications you might have.
When it comes to computer skills, only mention those that have professional relevance in digital (social media, SEO/SEM, web design, graphic design software, etc.) or IT areas (programming, networks, security, etc.); as well as your knowledge of any key professional software specified (e.g., accounting or database management).
Finally, space and context permitting, try to tell your story through any non work-related activities: sports, meditation, volunteering and whatever else you may do. As long as you don’t exaggerate, these extra details can help round out your profile, while also demonstrating added value: when forced to choose between similarly qualified candidates, ultimately passion is what stands out.
That’s why, if you can, you should apply for jobs you’d truly enjoy. Because, at the end of they day, although it won’t be forever, it will be a long-term commitment.
Resume Tips: In Summary
- Read the job description thoroughly and highlight your particular skills for the role.
- Don’t be lazy: take the time to tailor it to the specific job description.
- Pick a clean, clear layout that makes your resume easy to read and understand. Your style should depend on various factors; the main thing to remember is that the reader needs to understand quickly what makes you the right person for the job.
- Read it, reread it and read it again: just one typo could be seen as a sign of carelessness and cost you dearly.
- Carefully select the most relevant information about you and present it neatly.
A version of this article was originally published on the Italian edition of Babbel Magazine.