How to Craft a Killer Resume

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

If you’re looking to take advantage of a hot job market, applying for your first job or wanting to change careers, creating a resume is the first step. Once you start looking on job boards or sites like LinkedIn, you’ll get lots of offers from people wanting to write your resume for you. But save your money and use these tips to craft a resume that gets attention.

Tips to help you write a killer resume

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The following information needs to be included in a good resume, whether it’s a digital file or any other format. We’ve listed essential (meaning what you must include at a bare minimum) and optional information, along with the elements that will give your resume killer status.

Contact information

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Always place your name and contact information at the top of the resume, in the body of the document (not in a header, which tracking systems may overlook).

  • Essential: Include your name, cellphone number, and email address. Cellphone numbers are preferable to a home phone number.
  • Optional: You may include your city and state, but don’t include a physical mailing address.
  • Killer: Insert a QR code to an online resume. The online resume can be your (professional) website, a LinkedIn profile, or one created using an online resume builder (see below for our suggestions for free digital resume tools).

An objective or value proposition?

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You probably do not need one of these. The trend for the past several years, even with traditional resumes, is to not include them. Generic, misdirected or poorly written statements can do more harm than good. If you are working with a recruiter, ask whether you should include an objective or a value statement. If you’re unsure, leave it out and place this information in a cover letter.

  • Optional: The objective is a short statement (one sentence) that states the type of work the candidate is seeking.
  • Optional: The value proposition is a longer statement (one paragraph) that states why the candidate is the best person for the job. The objective can be used as the first or opening sentence of a value proposition.

Skills or qualifications

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The skills section is a simple list of a job applicant’s core competencies, boiled down to single words or short phrases of three words at most. Recruiters scan the skills section for only a few seconds to determine whether or not your resume should be set aside for further consideration. Include every skill you have based on your education and experience.

  • Essential: Include all skills relevant to the position for which you are applying.
  • Optional: Include soft skills or unrelated skills that are not part of the job description.
  • Killer: Craft skills carefully, using words and phrases copied directly from the employer’s job description.

Real-world examples

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For an online resume, include hyperlinks to applicable content, such as work-related photo, video or audio files; a social media profile; or work samples (such as documents, reports, presentations, etc.). Use a resume builder to create a killer online resume (see below for our suggestions for free digital resume tools)

  • Essential: Work samples are optional for many jobs, but essential for creative and content-driven fields such as writers, editors, musicians, and designers.
  • Optional: Social media profile from a professional site like LinkedIn (not your personal Facebook page).
  • Killer: Each included multimedia element needs to directly relate to the job for which you are applying and demonstrate competency in the skills and work experiences you list on your resume.

Work experience

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Recruiters and employers still like to see work experience in reverse chronological order. However, you can tailor the information by listing the work and accomplishments that relate directly to the position for which you are applying.

  • Essential: Accurately list all relevant work experience. Unless you are applying for your first real job, you don’t need to include the summer jobs you had in high school 10 or more years ago. Include details such as company name, years you worked there, your title and the type of work done (“Managed staff of five sales associates”).
  • Optional: If you have a gap in your work history, you may want to provide a brief explanation.
  • Killer: Lead with your accomplishments and provide interesting detail when talking about the work you did (“Increased morale by 30% by implementing an incentive program to manage a staff of five sales associates covering a 10-state region”).

Education

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Like work experience, list education in chronological order.

  • Essential: For college degrees, list the degree (Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, etc.), major (as stated on your diploma) and name of the college or university. For other schooling or certifications, generally include the name of the course or certificate title and the name of the school or issuing organization.
  • Optional: Graduation year, especially if you graduated 10 or more years ago.
  • Killer: Be sure you can produce documentation of your claims, if asked to do so. Some employers will ask for copies of diplomas and even transcripts if you progress through the hiring process.

References

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As with traditional resumes, the general recommendation is to not include references.

  • Essential: Whether or not you include references in the resume, do contact three or four colleagues and ask if they would be available to provide a reference for you. Do not include friends. Consider references who were good supervisors or peers who would not be qualified or are unlikely to be interested in the job for which you are applying.
  • Optional: Add references only if you are specifically asked to do so.
  • Killer: Only use references who respond promptly and enthusiastically to your request.

More essential and killer resume tips

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Here are a few more very important techniques for ensuring your resume will stand out in today’s job market.

  • Essential: Ensure it is error-free. Check and double-check your resume for correct spelling and grammar.
  • Essential: Be consistent. Make sure the information in different versions of your resume (digital file, online or any other format) is consistent (names, dates, etc.). Online tracking systems archive resumes for as long as 10 years and discrepancies can get you blacklisted.
  • Essential: Make it easy for a prospective employer to scan quickly. Organize and format the content to make the information easy to read and make the important skills and experience stand out.
  • Killer: Make it visually attractive. Use ample white space and other formatting to make your resume appealing, without resorting to gimmicks like unusual fonts.
  • Killer: Use keywords from the employer’s job description. The employer’s tracking system may scan the resume for keywords before any human reads it, to find relevant candidates. Use each keyword two to three times throughout the resume, in the objective or value proposition (if used), skills section and work experience section. If you have links to other content in an online resume (such as video files, audio files and sample files) be sure to also use keywords in both the file names and hyperlinks.
  • Killer: Write for your audience. The visual and organizational details of a resume should vary according to the industry. For example, an applicant in the finance industry would have a resume that looks very different than someone in the design industry. If your field requires an advanced degree, then the education section might be better placed early in the resume, rather than near the end of the resume as it is for most jobs.

Free digital resume tools

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There are many resume-building software applications and tools. Here are a few popular options that won’t cost you anything to build a killer digital resume.

  • Microsoft Office Resume Templates and Google Docs Resume & Cover Letter Templates each offer a gallery of templates in a variety of formats and styles that help you include all the necessary information in a format that is easy to “killerize.”
  • LinkedIn Resume Builder quickly and easily turns your LinkedIn Profile into a printable and sharable digital resume, along with your LinkedIn profile to serve as an online resume. The bonus is these different formats of your resume use the same content. Changes to your profile are updated in your resume. Different versions of your resume (when needed to apply for different jobs), may be created, stored and managed in the LinkedIn Resume Builder.
  • Monster.com lets you write or upload a digital file, store your resume online, and make it searchable by employers. Monster also provides sample resumes and tips for creating your first resume or updating an existing one.
  • CVmaker lets you create, maintain, publish and share your “curriculum vitae” (CV), a type of resume usually used in academic and medical fields. There are options for adding color and other visual content for a “killer” look.
  • Wix makes it simple for you create an online resume using its customizable templates that let you easily change the color, layout and design to meet your needs.