Career Development

12 Steps to Writing a Great Resume

Having a hard time finding work? Are you filling out application after application and never landing interviews? Maybe it is time to re-think your resume! Whether you are creating your first resume or looking for a few quick tips to give you an edge over the competition, this guide will provide you with some insight on writing a great resume.

Preparation Phase           

1. Open your Word Processing Software

Writing resumes can be frustrating, especially if you do not know where to begin. Just stay positive and keep at it! Microsoft Word or WordPad are the most commonly used word processors. If your computer does not have any word processing software installed, then consider downloading some online freeware.

2. Brainstorm and List Your Skills

Create an outline of your past job experience and detail some of your duties and accomplishments. If you do not have previous work experience, or your experience is limited, think about some other skills that you have. Take time to assess your interests and strengths as well. In interviews, you will need to demonstrate some self-awareness and talk about your strengths and weaknesses. Consider taking the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Clifton StrengthsFinder test (top 5) to give you a better idea of who you are and what you bring to the table.

3. Research Successful People in Your Field

Another way to identify your skills and experience is to look at others who are in your field. Use LinkedIn to quickly search for job titles and find people who have, or had, your past, current, and/or desired jobs. Click their profile and check out their experience and the description of their jobs. Look at their skills section as well to give you an idea of what competencies you might want to consider adding to your resume. Use your preferred search engine to search for “skills of a (Job Title) on a resume”

Formatting Phase

4. Avoid the Online Template

Do yourself, and your employer, a huge favor and avoid the temptation to use a fill-in-the-blank template or online template service. While templates are a quick and easy way to create a resume, they come with a number of disadvantages. The space on your resume is finite; templates often include strange spacing and formatting that makes it difficult for users to make changes when they need to, so you can easily waste a lot of space. Where you could have a sentence or two about your previous experience, you’re instead stuck with unnecessary blank space that won’t go away no matter how many times you hit the delete key. It is a good idea to take some ideas from existing resumes, including templates, but find a way to make it your own. Your resume is a representation of your professional self; don’t misrepresent yourself with a lackluster resume copied from a website claiming to have the best resume templates ever.

5. Use a Conventional Font

Every now and then, I see someone using some crazy font because they think it looks cool and sets them apart from the rest. I am a big fan of creativity, but if you are using a Chiller or Comic Sans font, rethink your approach. How you use fonts matters. Stick to one font throughout your entire resume and make sure that is easy to read. Some typical fonts found on resumes are Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond, Arial and Helvetica. Keep your font size between 10pt – 12pt; any smaller and it will be hard to read, any larger and it will take up too much space.

6. Optimal Margins and Spacing

Set your margins to Top/Bot: 0.5” and Left/Right: 0.9”
Find the layout tab in your word processor and you should be able to find your margins. Spacing should also be accessible from the layout tab. Make sure that you use single spacing and set the before/after spacing to 0pt to provide plenty of room for detailing your experience.

7. Pages

Your resume is a reflection of your experience. If you recently obtained your Bachelor’s Degree, then your resume should be at least one full page. If you have several years of experience or a Master’s Degree, then your resume should be two pages in length. It is best to fill the page, so avoid any huge gaps on your resume. If your experience does not fill two full pages, then modify your formatting to fill the pages (keep it visually pleasing) or condense the document to fit one page. If you have two or more pages, include a header on each page. Include your name and the page number (so they see your name again, and do not mistake the second page as the first). If you have a wealth of experience, publications and involvements, then consider having three or more pages on your resume. Just be mindful of how you present your experience and try to keep it interesting enough so none of your experience is overlooked.

Writing Phase

8. Use Your Cheat Sheet

When you are applying to positions you are usually provided with a detailed list of expectations and duties – the job description. This is your cheat sheet! By studying the job description, you can gain a better understanding of what is expected of you and how your skills and experience relate to the position. Tailor your resume (see #11) based on the information posted in the job description, use key words and industry competencies to increase your SEO,  and you are bound to see some positive results!

9. Be CRASS (Concise, Relevant, Authentic, Specific, and Strategic)

When writing your resume, it is important  to keep the resume reviewer interested. Wordiness or overuse of the same action verbs can be off-putting and cause employers to lose interest. Craft a good summary statement and be mindful of grammar and spelling errors. Keep each description of your accomplishments and duties concise and try to structure your sentences to fill one or two lines completely.

Include experience related to the job. If you have a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and you are applying to Tesla, then it is best to leave off those two years you were a Starbucks barista. Your hiring manager probably is not interested in your ability to provide customers with information on popular coffee blends; they want to hear about the skills, accomplishments and experience relevant to the position.

A study in 2015 from CareerBuilder found that out of the 2,500+ hiring mangers that participated, approximately 56% reported that they have caught applicants lying on their resumes. While one can assume that many get away with embellishing their resumes, it is important to include authentic information and experience on your resume. Lying on your resume can easily result in loss of job opportunities and it may even negatively affect your career in the future.

A resume should describe your experience clearly and thoroughly. Specify your role in achieving individual/departmental goals and use keywords, action verbs and quantitative data to detail your accomplishments effectively. Utilize quantitative data to show employers how you specifically improved something. Including data that shows that you increased profits by $x or x% highlights how much of a difference your work can make.

Developing a great resume takes thought and strategy. Think about the order in which you present your duties and accomplishments. Try to make the most important sentences stand out and consider putting the more mundane duties/accomplishments somewhere in the middle of your description for each position (or leave them out altogether).

Post-Writing Phase

10. Proofread and Revise

Read your resume a few times and verify that there are no errors. While reading it silently may help, consider reading it aloud to better identify grammatical errors. After you have proofread it, ask a colleague, friend, or family member to do so as well. Additional perspectives can provide you with some ideas that you may not have considered. After thoroughly proofreading your document, make revisions and then proofread it again!

11. Print It, Then Print It Again

Buy resume paper, print several copies of your resume and store them in a quality folder or padfolio. Avoid folding or creasing your resumes. Always have copies of your resume at an interview. If you go to an interview with five interviewers and only one person has your resume, then you can demonstrate your professionalism and preparedness by providing them with additional copies.

12. Know Your Resume

Knowing your resume is important so you can build upon what you have written when you are interviewing for the position. Simply repeating everything that is on your resume will not woo employers. Mention the experience on your resume, but be sure to provide a detailed and interesting explanation. Consider expanding upon your experience in an interview by using the STAR method. Knowing your resume well also makes it easier to apply your experience to the questions interviewers ask.


Article written by Jake Burns, Alumni Career Development. Jake recently secured a full time position at FIU, and it started with his excellent resume. Congrats, Jake!


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