The Basics of a Resume

Gabby Ianniello

What's a Resume?

A resume (sometimes called a 'CV' in other countries like the UK), is a document created and used by a person to present their background, skills, and accomplishments. They are commonly used when seeking employment.

Within the past decade or so, the format of what a resume should look like has changed drastically. Some industries, like graphic design, don't even use resumes anymore but instead prefer portfolios to showcase their work instead. You'll want to do research ahead of time to be sure you're creating what you need to for whatever job you're seeking.

Overall, a resume is comprised of 3 sections: Resume Introduction, Experience Section, and Skills Section. You'll find more about building each below!

Resume Checklist

When working on your resume, some key things to mention are:

  • make your contact info clear (full name, email address, phone number)
  • use keywords from a job description (you don't always need to reinvent the wheel!)
  • list experiences and accomplishments that are relevant to the job you are applying for
  • both soft and hard skills are important and should be included
  • prepare your references (these can be people you've worked with OR not)

See more on each of the above sections below!

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Resume Templates

In today's work world, there are two types of styles of resumes floating around: a standard resume template and a 'modern' resume template.

The standard template is exactly what it sounds like: it's basics, kind of boring, but gets to the point. A 'modern' template is a bit edgier, visually appealing, and looks almost like an infographic.

In my experience as a job seeker AND candidate screener, I usually default to the standard resume template. The visual in me LOVES the modern template and it will help you stand out from others, but I found that sometimes it actually takes away from highlighting my accomplishments OR I'm not taken as seriously.

Another thing to mention is that larger companies sometimes use programs to scan over resume's as a pre-screening. If your resume is 'modern' and is somewhat difficult to read, your resume could get rejected even if you're a perfect candidate.

Also, if someone manually downloads your resume and you used unique fonts, colors, or document settings in it, your resume could actually become messy or illegible for the reader. Since recruiters are usually on a time crunch and have SO many resumes to review, your resume could end up in the trash because that's easier than trying to reformat it.

Harvard's Standard Resume, CVs & Cover Letter Templates

Examples of Modern Resumes

Pro Tip: Axe "the objective"

When I first started working, most resumes had an 'objective' section. If you still have this on your resume, lose it. It's outdated and you're wasting valuable space on the page!

Using Power Words

In the experience section, where you list out each of your jobs with the responsibilities and accomplishments that came with it, you'll want to swap out some 'basic' words for action or 'power words.'

Some examples include:

  • Instead of Did // Took care of, you can use Performed, Achieved, Handled, Completed, or Accomplished
  • Instead of Checked // Checked over, you can use Reviewed, Verified, Monitored, or Examined
  • Instead of Made Better, you can use Improved, Strengthened, Streamlined, Upgraded, Revitalized, or Reorganized

If you need additional help or want more examples, Pinterest is a great resource to use. I've also provided some Pins below.

Action Words for Resume Building

Plain Verbs vs. Resume Action Words

Action Verbs List for Resumes & Cover Letters

Pro Tip: For each job mentioned, make sure the number of tasks or responsibilities listed are relevant to the time you spent at that job

If you worked at ABC Company for 5 months, you should have a much smaller list of responsibilities and accomplsihments in comparison with when you worked at XYZ Company for 2 years. The longer you spend somewhere, the more tasks, responsibilities, and accomplishments you should have (even if they seem small!).

Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills

After the section where you list out your jobs and experiences, you'll want to list out your skills. This can be comprised of Soft Skills and Hard Skills.

Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, mindsets, career attributes, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence.

For 2020, the top 10 soft skills are:

  • Communication
  • Self-Motivation
  • Leadership
  • Responsibility
  • Teamwork
  • Problem Solving
  • Decisiveness
  • Ability to work under pressure // Time Management
  • Flexibility
  • Conflict Resolution

Hard skills are learned abilities that are acquired and enhanced through practice, repetition, and education. Hard skill requirements will vary from job to job and industry to industry.

For example, an Accountant may be required to have knowledge about bookkeeping software, just like a Graphic Designer may be required to know Adobe Illustrator. Regardless of your job, it's always great to continue building on your knowledge - you never know where it may take you!

Examples of some hard skills are:

  • Microsoft Suite (Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, Excel, etc.)
  • A Foreign Language
  • Photoshop
  • Copywriting
  • HTML // CSS
  • Salesforce
  • Wordpress

Resume Soft Skills Examples

Softs & Hard Skills You Should List on Your Resume

Pro Tip: Reference soft and hard skills that are listed on the job description

If you've found a job you want to apply for, you'll want to use those SAME words in your resume. For example, if they're looking for someone who's detail-oriented, and you're detail-oriented, then list it.

If you don't possess the technical skills they're looking for, don't lie and say you're an expert in something you're not. BUT, you could potentially try out whatever product it is in a free trial and call yourself a beginner.

What About References?

Before you even send out your resume, be sure to have a list of references handy. You'll want to ask your references ahead of time if you can list them as a contact person to vouch for you. You telling them ahead of time is not only courteous but allows for them to prepare better, thus being a better reference.

For example, if you let your reference know that you're trying to get X job, they could share an experience that showcases a skill that you have that would complement the job you're trying to obtain. You definitely don't want your reference to be caught off guard!

For those of you looking to get your first job and don't have a 'work' reference, you can use some of the following people:

  • A favorite teacher
  • Family or friend you did work for (try to stay away from family)
  • Someone you volunteered for or with
  • A leader from your past
  • A mentor

Pro Tip: Try to use a reference who has knowledge about the field you're entering

If you're trying to get a job as a teacher, do you personally know a teacher who could speak to YOUR skills in a way that would complement that job? If you're trying to get a job or gig as a graphic designer, have you collaborated with someone who does something similar to what you did who can vouch for you (this includes group projects too)?

What About Recruiters?

If your new to the job market or are looking to make a career switch, using a recruiter can REALLY help you get your foot in the door or get you some much-needed feedback on your resume. I used recruiters for almost my entire corporate career and they were AWESOME (and they're at no cost to you, the job seeker!).

You can find recruiters via LinkedIn or Google. Some search firms I've used include MichaelPage, Atrium Staffing, Career Group, Green Key Resources, Arrow Search Partners, Beacon Staffing (the list goes on and on).

Congrats! You've started your journey on becoming a master resume writer!

I myself am still trying to navigate when to go full speed and when to check myself and say "hold up," but being aware of the difference between hustle and habit has helped greatly. Reach out if you have any questions!

About the Author

Gabrielle Ianniello is the founder of The Adulting Manual and the host of the Corporate Quitter Podcast. When she's not adulting, she enjoys reading, making art, hiking, and Mario Kart.