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10 Resume “Must-Haves”

by THEA kelley | April 28, 2020

10 Resume Must-HavesFor a great resume it’s important to include these 10 factors:

1. A clear focus on a specific role or type of job and how you are well qualified for it.

2. Emphasis on what you most want employers to remember about you – the top reason(s) that make you stand out as the best person for the job. Think of these as your key selling points.

3. Accomplishments/results/impact. How did you make a difference for your past employers? It’s not enough just to list your duties – that’s just a job description, and it won’t sell you.

4.  Skimmability. If a busy recruiter looks at your resume for just 10 seconds, what will they notice? Make sure your key selling points and other essential qualifications pop off the page. Formatting such as bullets and boldface type should be used judiciously to call attention to your most important messages.

5. Keywords. Find them by analyzing job postings. The most important keyword is your desired job title. Other important keywords are the most crucial qualifications for the job, such an MBA, channel marketing or JavaScript. Verbs are also important (see #8 below).

6. The right sections in the right order for your unique situation. Strategically choose to include the sections that work for you, in the order that works best for you. For example, if you’re a recent graduate or seeking a role in the higher education field, then your Education section should probably be near the top. Formatting is especially important – and tricky – when you’re revising your resume for a career change.

The only required sections are Name, Contact Information and Experience. Additional sections to consider are: Summary, Core Competencies (or Expertise), Education, Skills (or Technical Skills), Awards, Affiliations, Volunteer Experience, Additional Experience, and Interests (if relevant and/or brand-enhancing).

7. Formatting that works well in Applicant Tracking Systems. An ATS is a system that “reads” resumes and uses the information to fill in a standardized candidate profile. It then scores the resume according to how well it matches the job opening. The profiles that score highest–maybe the top 10-15%–may be read by human resources personnel to identify potential candidates. Make sure your resume is ATS-friendly.

ATS’s are easily confused and may jumble or reject your resume if you include unusual fonts or symbols, nonstandard section headings (like “Relevant Roles” instead of “Experience”), or place crucial information in headers, footers, text boxes or graphics, none of which will be read by an ATS. Don’t use this kind of formatting.

8. Strong, relevant verbs, especially at the beginning of each bullet item in your Experience section. Look at maybe a dozen job postings that are typical of your goal, list the most often repeated words that signify actions–such as “monitor,” “design,” “manage” and so on–and build your own customized verb list.

9. Clear, concise, correct writing. With so many other resumes in the running, a confusing or wordy one may end up being discarded to save time.

As for the mechanics of English – correct spelling, grammar, word usage, capitalization, punctuation, etc. – you might be surprised by how many errors you’re making. Even professional writers see a mess of red ink when an editor has gone over their work. At the very least, hire a professional proofreader. You’d be surprised how affordable it is. I can introduce you to a very capable pro who charges less than $15 to proofread a two-page resume.

Even tiny errors like bad punctuation can subtly detract from the intelligent, well educated impression you want to convey.

10. Smart management of your career timeline. Be strategic in your choices about how far back to go, whether to include months or just years, and what jobs to include or leave out. For example, you may want to consider leaving out jobs that ended too soon or follow my tips to avoid age discrimination.

Notice that I haven’t emphasized the resume’s appearance. Making it look eye-catching and attractive with tasteful use of color, shading, fonts and graphics (while following the advice in #7 above!) is a good idea too, but the 10 factors above are often more important.

Follow every one of these resume writing tips if you want a strong resume that gives you the best shot at getting the interview! If you’ve done all of this and still haven’t landed the job you want, you may want to read my post, “How to Diagnose What’s Wrong with Your Job Search.”

This article was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated for accuracy.


Young female entrepreneur enjoying business and job success against city and sunset background. Successful businesswoman smiling outdoors

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