Updated: Sep 12
Looking to learn how to make a resume? Here, you’ll see a resume example, tips for writing a cover letter, and answers on how to create a resume.
The job you’re applying to may require one, and it’s how you stand out among other applicants.
The one position you are applying to may have hundreds or even thousands of other people applying to it, so a resume that grabs the attention of the company is extremely important.
I interviewed a resume expert, Katie Pelton, on the subject of how to make a resume. You may remember her from when I first interviewed her back in 2013 – Extra Income Series: I Run a Resume Business.
As the founder of Resumes By Katie, Katie Pelton is a career development aficionado, both for herself and others.
She loves helping people realize their accomplishments and she has helped hundreds of people across the country improve their resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, and interview skills. When she’s not enjoying the challenge of a job hunt, you can find her eating pizza with her fiance and rescue pup in Minneapolis.
This isn’t sponsored or an affiliate post (I am not getting paid whatsoever!). I simply thought this would be a great way to help more people improve their resumes so that they can get the job they desire.
I asked you, my readers, for your questions on how to make a resume. Some of the questions you had include:
How long should a resume be?
Can you list out the steps to making a good resume?
How do you make your resume stand out?
Is a cover letter really necessary? If so, how do I make a cover letter for a resume?
How should a person make a resume if they have no job experience?
What if I have employment gaps?
What should I not put on a resume? What are the worst resume mistakes that you’ve seen?
Would you say resume expectations differ when it comes to applying in different parts of the country?
How should I list volunteer work on my resume?
You’ll find the answers below. Enjoy these resume tips!
Here’s how to make a resume.
1. Can you share some background on yourself and why you’re the expert on how to create a resume?
As someone who graduated from college in 2010, in the prime of the Great Recession, I have had my fair share of navigating sparse and competitive job markets. Yet my resume shined through crowded job sites and online applications, landing me coveted interviews and job offers.
Due to the economy, relocation, and career growth, etc. I’ve changed jobs several times and each time, my resume, cover letters, and LinkedIn profile have made a big difference.
My degree is in print journalism, so I have a passion for asking questions and concise, impactful writing. My career began in marketing, so I know how to make something stand out and to tailor content for a specific audience.
Early on in my career, I landed a part-time job helping students with their resume for corporate internships. I learned so much about effective formatting and the importance of strategic, tailored content. I turned it into a business of my own in 2012 and since then I’ve helped hundreds of people at all professional levels across a wide variety of industries.
I regularly read career development and resume writing books and articles. I also became a member of Career Directors International to keep current on making an effective application and to partner on eradicating bias in the workplace and hiring practices.
2. How long should a resume be?
With today’s attention spans getting shorter and HR/hiring manager’s increasing workload, it is recommended to keep your resume to 1 page unless you’re applying to executive roles.
In that case, 2 pages is sufficient.
3. Can you list out the steps to making a good resume?
Writing a good resume starts well before you start applying to a job. No matter where you’re at in your career, keep a running document or folder of accomplishments, metrics of improvements that resulted from your efforts, feedback from leadership, copies of your performance reviews, etc.
It’s hard enough for us to remember what we had for lunch on a specific day last week, let alone what you contributed to a role several years ago.
Make it easier on yourself and keep track as you go.
If you haven’t been doing that, you’re not alone but you’re not too late! Set aside some time to research to see what you can preserve from current and previous roles and what metrics you can roughly remember. It’s always better to keep track of more information and edit it down for each job application than to have to think back later.
The more quantitative results and accomplishments you can record, the better. For example, if you sold computers, how many did you sell? How often did you hit or exceed your quotas? How many new accounts did you generate for the company?
When you’re ready to make your next career move, decide on a format that will be most effective for showcasing your skills and experience. Select a professional font and make sure the font size doesn’t exceed 10-14pt, except for headers if necessary. Check your margins – set them between .5” and 1” all around.
Your name will go at the top with your contact information – I recommend making your name a 16pt font – the bigger it is, the less room you have to showcase your value. You no longer need your full mailing address on your resume, but it is important to have your phone number, email address, the city and state you live in, and your LinkedIn profile or portfolio URL if possible.
Reverse chronological order of employment is the most common format, including your job title, the company name, the dates you worked there (ideally month and year), and the location. If you’ve had employment gaps or employment outside of your career path, you might focus on highlighting relevant skills and accomplishments first. No matter what, the most relevant information goes at the top and you work your way down the page.
Now get out that document or folder with your accomplishments and use bullet points to highlight them under each role. Start each bullet point with a strong verb and try to avoid using the same verb repetitively. Be concise and keep bullet points to one or two lines. Your current or most recent relevant role gets the most bullet points and you can use fewer bullet points the further you go back – it all depends on how much space you have available on the page.
Look at the job descriptions of job titles in the industry you’re interested in. Make sure the keywords in the description are incorporated into how you describe your accomplishments, skills, and experience. Do they want you to have proficiency in a specific computer program or skill? Make sure that’s on there – assuming it’s truthful of course.
Review, review, review! Make sure there are no spelling errors, incorrect punctuation, and the format is consistent all the way through. Have a trusted person or two review it for you – a fresh set of eyes can usually catch errors you missed.
Save it as a PDF to keep the format consistent and universally compatible with computer programs. Label your file with your first name last name resume. Or if you have different versions, first name last name industry name resume. Example: Katie Pelton Marketing Resume so the hiring manager can keep track of all the documents they’re reviewing.
4. How do you make your resume stand out?
Find the balance between making your resume clean, visually appealing, and as many relevant accomplishments as possible. You can always expand in an interview but if your resume is cluttered and hard to read, you won’t get that opportunity.
If you want to pull an Elle Woods and use a colorful resume to stand out, a subtle dark blue (like the one in the Microsoft Word logo) is about as flashy I would recommend. The more creative your field, the more your resume should be visual. Leverage graphic design and icons to display your accomplishments and value.
And here’s the real secret, research how to get it in the hands of a hiring manager when you find a job that you’re interested in applying to. It’s much easier to stand out in an email inbox than an online mass application system. This means using LinkedIn or even calling the company to learn the name of the hiring manager for this role and their email address. Not only will your resume be more likely to be seen but it will automatically show your initiative and effort, which speaks volumes for an employee in any industry.
5. Is a cover letter really necessary? If so, how do I make a cover letter for a resume?
This has been on ongoing debate for years.
Some companies, like Google, publicly say they never read them, while others say a cover letter shows the applicant is willing to put in the extra effort. Especially in a competitive job market, I recommend being better safe than sorry. However, if the point of a cover letter is to show your level of effort and commitment, do your homework. A generic cover letter is worse than not including one.
Doing your homework means finding the name of the hiring manager and addressing it to them. Research what that company does, what impact it has on the community, and what challenges you can help them solve.
If you’re able to go the extra mile and find the name and email address of the hiring manager, use the content of the email you send them to serve as your cover letter with your resume attached.
Oftentimes, people simply repeat information from their resume on their cover letter. I recommend a different approach with a conversational writing tone that shows more of your personality. Explain to them why you’re passionate about that job/industry/company and a quick story or example of how your skills and experience have and will continue to add value. Basically, what’s in it for them to hire you.
6. How should a person make a resume if they have no job experience?
When someone is just starting their career, they can leverage their education, extracurriculars, learned skills, volunteer work, and/or certifications.
Everyone has to start somewhere!
7. What if I have employment gaps?
That is a very timely question, as this pandemic will force more people than ever to have at least some employment gap. While some hiring managers see gaps as a red flag, that is a mistake on their part.
We are humans, not work horses.
There are many completely valid reasons for not working full-time and it doesn’t automatically make you a less valuable employee. In fact, it can show well-roundedness and soft skills that a job doesn’t always cultivate, like empathy.
If the gap comes up in an interview, be honest and explain the value that the gap provided you – time to learn a new skill, time to raise a family, time to care for yourself or a loved one through an illness, etc. and why you’re ready and excited to return to work.
8. What should I not put on a resume? What are the worst resume mistakes that you’ve seen?
Not all experience is relevant – specifically your high school education or part-time jobs you worked while you were in school – unless, of course, that is currently your highest level of education and/or employment.
Speaking of education, if you’re already into your career, you do not need to include your GPA or any extracurricular activities you were involved in, unless you won a prestigious award or scholarship.
You only get one piece of paper to make an impression – don’t waste it.
You can potentially show parts of your personal life through volunteer experience or community involvement/awards. However, the worst mistakes I’ve seen are including fun facts like you have a cute dog named Rodger or you enjoy watching TV in your spare time.
9. Would you say resume expectations differ when it comes to applying in different parts of the country? If so, how do you recommend individuals determine those differences and tailor their resume to fit?
I have worked with people across the country from major cities to small towns. The differences in hiring practices and resume expectations are on a much more specific level than geography.
Some companies use ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) to filter applications based on keywords. There’s no way to know if that’s the case for each company so it’s important to look at the job description and incorporate keywords from the job description into your resume as genuinely as possible.
The size of the company matters more than the location. If it’s a mom & pop shop, emphasize that you’re a well-rounded self-starter that can wear a lot of hats and help the company grow. If it’s a major corporation, you’ll need to focus on collaboration, team efforts, and potentially international experience.
Currently, job applications are entirely and unfairly subjective. Every hiring manager or HR manager has their own preferences and what catches someone’s eye might be completely ignored by someone else. While ideally this only applies to formatting, skills, and experience, this can also include known or unknown gender and race biases.
Geography matters most when you’re applying to a job at a physical location that is different from where you live and will require relocation. If you’re planning on moving to that location regardless of your employment, you do not have to emphasize that you currently live elsewhere. However, if you are looking to move somewhere for a job and require relocation, you need to be upfront about that. Your full address isn’t required on a resume but a city and state helps to provide that context.
10. How should I list volunteer work on my resume? I have been a volunteer radio DJ at a radio station for fourteen years. It’s a lot of work. On my resume, I list my volunteer work at the end under the headline ‘other experience’ however, it goes unnoticed by everyone who reads it. My last paid job was in 2015 and it is listed first. Due to a health crisis, I have not had a job since but am now ready to work.
Great question! There are many ways to format a resume and it should be tailored to each candidate individually.
Of course, you can always list volunteer experience in its own section toward the bottom of your resume.
However, in this case, if it is a significant amount of time and commitment to a position, where valuable experience and skills were undoubtedly gained, regardless of paid or unpaid, you can include it higher up under your professional experience.
Be sure to translate those skills to be relevant to the role you’re applying to but don’t burry it!
11. Can you share the best resume tips you have that we may have not discussed above?
Avoid the word “help” to describe what you do, there’s always a more specific word to describe your accomplishment and contribution. Help can mean doing a coffee run or it can mean suggesting a solution that solves a critical project challenge.
If you’re looking for the email address of the hiring manager, Mailscoop is a really helpful and free resource.
Curious if your resume can be read with ATS? Upload it for free at Resume Worded to get feedback.
Here is a resume example as well:
Do you have any other questions on how to make a resume?