Resume Writing 101

The perfect resume takes good writing, creative thinking, and sharp attention to detail. Is your resume ready?

Want an interview every time you apply for a job? You need a killer resume. Follow these simple steps to improve your resume today.

Keep it Short

The perfect resume conveys your education, experience as clearly and as quickly as possible. Hiring managers scan hundreds of resumes a day, so the faster they can glean the information they need, the better you will fare. If you have less than ten years of work experience, there is no need for a multi-page resume. Keep entries to two to three sentences.

Keep it Simple

Avoid over-formatting your resume. If applying for jobs online, your resume should be text only and included in the body of an email, not as an attachment. (To those managers reading hundreds of resumes, attachments take 10 seconds too long to open). If you must attach your resume, convert the file into an Adobe .pdf to ensure the formatting remains intact wherever the file is viewed. Adobe has a trial offer where you can create five free .pdfs online.

Sell Yourself

Great resumes don’t just list experience and accomplishments, they sell your abilities to prospective employers. Think of your resume as an advertisement for yourself. Advertisers don’t write dryly, nor should you. Always use expressive verbs and vivid details to describe your work experience. For example, instead of “Worked as office manager for a twenty-partner law firm,” try “Managed daily operations of a twenty-partner law firm”.

Focus on Performance

It’s not enough just to list what job you did, you need to convince prospect employers you did that job well. (But don’t lie, that’s what references are for!) Include snippets describing how you contributed to the success of your former employers. In sales, this could sound be “consistently exceeded quarterly contact and revenue quotas,” or in retail “received ongoing positive feedback from management and customers for creating a welcoming and satisfying shopping experience.”

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

There is no excuse for an error on your resume. Even if you’re an ideal candidate for a job, a single misspelling could cost you an interview. Don’t rely on spell check. Have somebody else read your resume if you can, and print a hard copy to proof even if you are sending the resume. Our eyes catch mistakes on paper we miss on the screen.

Tell a Story

Your resume is an outline of your life story-at least your professional life. It should read like a story. There should be no gaps. If you took three months off to do some soul-searching, think of the most interesting thing you did for those three months, even if it was for just one day, and create an entry. Add brief entries for non-work achievements like volunteering or completing a marathon. Be as descriptive as possible.

Create Questions

The best resumes are like good novels, they leave the reader needing to know more about you. When describing your work and achievements, be suspenseful. Lead readers to ask questions so that they will have to pick up the phone and get to know you. (Hint: prepare answers to the questions you think your resume will lead managers to ask).


Contrary to what most think, there is no right or wrong way to organize a resume. Typically, if you are recently out of school and have little work experience, you will list your education first, followed by work experience and miscellaneous entries.


In a page or less, your resume should convey your professional life story as clearly and concisely as possible, but in a way that conveys your passions, goals, past successes, and in a way that leaves readers curious. Within just a week or two of applying for a handful of jobs, you will know if your resume is a winner. Get a call back on more than one job, your job is done. If not, head back to the drawing board.

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The Elements of Resume Style is the perfect reference for the dedicated resume artist.

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.