The Ultimate Resume Cheat Sheet: A Detailed Guide to Writing a Great Resume

A resume is a crucial document for any job seeker. It's the first thing an employer sees that can make or break your chances of landing an interview.

This article will guide you through everything you need to know about resumes - from deciding on the best resume format, and writing your contact details and resume headline, to polishing your resume design. We'll also explore common resume mistakes and provide tips on what to do when applying for jobs with online application systems (ATS).

Supported with detailed resume writing guides and best resume writing practices, this is the only resume cheat sheet you'll ever need! This resume cheat sheet covers:

  1. Choosing the Best Resume Format

  2. Writing a Perfect Resume Content

3. Polishing Resume Design

4. Optimizing a Resume for ATS

5. Avoiding Common Resume Mistakes


Alright, let's get into it!

 

Choose the Best Resume Format


Before you start working on your resume, it's important to choose the most appropriate resume format.

The resume format determines how the information is displayed.

Since having logically displayed information is vital for a resume's success, choosing the right resume format is an important decision that can significantly impact the success of your job search.

There are three standard resume formats to choose from:

  • chronological (or reverse-chronological) format

  • functional (or skills-based) format

  • combination (or hybrid) format

The chronological resume format is the most common format that lists information in reverse-chronological order.

The functional resume format emphasizes skills putting them at the top of the page and highlights skills acquired rather than jobs held.

The combination format, as its name says, combines the previous two formats. It starts with a skills overview and then lists the work history.

Considering the unique career paths job seekers may have, the resume format that can help an individual succeed in a job search may vary. Your particular circumstances will dictate the optimal resume format for you.

Choose the best format for your needs with the help of the complete guide on resume formats.

 

Write a Perfect Resume Content

Content of a resume determines its - and your - success in a job search.

With professional, relevant, specific and tailored content, you'll easily win over any hiring manager. To do so, your resume should include all mandatory information such as contact details, resume headline, resume summary, work history and education.

1. Contact Details

Contact information is the first thing a recruiter or hiring manager will see on your resume.

This section is a mandatory part of each resume, as it gives employers information on how they connect with you if they are interested in your job application.

Even though it may seem like an easy and simple part of a resume, the stakes are high since this is the first thing they'll see.

The most important thing to note is that they need to be professional, concise, straightforward, and up-to-date.

To make it right, follow these tips:

  • Include your name, surname, location (city and country/state), phone number and an appropriate email address.

  • Make sure your email address sounds professional. An inappropriate email address can cost you the job.

  • Optionally, include Skype or Zoom details and a link to your LinkedIn profile or other social media if you find them relevant to the job.

  • Ensure that all social media profiles are as polished as your resume, updated and provide consistent information.

  • Make it concise. Put all the information in one to two lines to save space for the rest of the content.

To make sure you're starting your resume on the right foot, read additional resume tips for contact details.

2. Resume Headline

Coming right after the contact information, a resume headline is the first opportunity to present your value as a job candidate.

A resume headline is a short snapshot of your professional background. It covers and combines a few keywords which you want to bring to the reader's attention immediately and be associated with yourself when employers review your application.

Despite being the shortest element of a resume, many job seekers struggle with and fail to write a compelling headline that grabs the hiring manager's attention.

To write an effective headline and get the readers hooked right from the start:

  • Compare a job posting with your skills and experience and list the overlapping areas.

  • Carefully select two to three items from the list focusing on your strongest assets in the context of a specific application.

  • Combine your key selling points in a concise and compelling tagline to grab the reader's attention.

Do you need help with writing your resume headline? Read the complete guide on writing a perfect resume headline and get inspired with dozens of word-for-word examples.

3. Resume Summary

After a resume headline, continue building your personal brand and providing value to recruiters and hiring managers by writing a tailored resume summary (i.e. personal statement, professional profile, career summary).

The resume summary is essentially a summary of your career.

This short intro paragraph at the top of your resume displays who you are and what you can bring to the table in a concise, engaging and effective way.

In 30 to 75 words, this section should answer the following questions:

  • What are your relevant areas of expertise?

  • What job-related and transferable skills can you bring to the job?

  • What have you achieved in your previous jobs?

In other words, it should explain to readers why you are a great fit for the job.

When done correctly, this section skyrockets the effectiveness of a resume and success in a job search.

Write a perfect resume summary with the complete guide to a perfect personal statement (a template and specific examples included!).

4. Work Experience

When reviewing job applications, recruiters and hiring managers spend most of their time looking for relevant skills and experiences in the resume work experience section.

So, to create a successful resume that impresses employers and leads to interviews, this section of your resume needs to be nothing short of perfect.

Essentially, this section should include:

  • previous companies

  • current and previous job titles

  • dates of employment

  • brief descriptions of each job

It's best to start the list of your professional experience with the current or most recent job. Then list previous positions following the reverse-chronological order.

Keep this section concise, informative and engaging. The best way to do it is to focus on achievements rather than daily tasks and duties. Also, cut out empty phrases and instead start each bullet point with an action verb.

For more resume writing tips on how to write about work experience in a way that impresses employers, read the full guide on describing work experience.

5. Education

Education on a resume is the second most important part of it, right behind the professional experience.

As evident from its title, this section contains information about your schooling background, such as the schools you attended and the degrees you obtained.

Qualifications are always specified in job descriptions among the main requirements, signaling that this information is essential for employers when screening candidates. It gives them insight into how skilled job applicants may be for the open job position.

To provide employers with the crucial information, make sure to include:

  • Name of the school and location

  • Degrees, diplomas or certifications obtained

  • Major and minor

  • Graduation date

If needed, extend this section with your GPA, relevant coursework, honors and awards, extracurricular activities, and other pieces of information related to the job posting.

Go to the full guide on listing education on a resume to learn where to place the education section and find examples for various educational backgrounds.

 

Polish Resume Design

While resume content is essential in proving you have the skills and experience needed to succeed in the job, resume design is vital in attracting an employer's attention in the first place.

In other words...

A good resume design increases the chances of your resume being read.

It also highlights the most important information on your resume and emphasizes the content.

To ensure your resume looks polished and professional, make sure it has a suitable resume layout, professional fonts, appropriate colors and a healthy amount of white space.

1. Resume Layout

Simply put, the resume layout indicates the structure and organization of the content.

Even though there are many opinions on the best way to present information, they all boil down to two main options: one- and two-column resumes.

A one-column resume is the standard resume layout that lists all information in a page-wide or full-width column. This layout emphasizes content and is compatible with most ATS.

Two-column resumes separate information in two smaller columns on a page, allowing more flexibility with the document's structure and organizing the information in a modern and visually attractive way.

Both resume layouts have their pros and cons. To choose the best one for your needs, read the full guide on the best resume layout.

2. Fonts

When reviewing job application documents, fonts are one of the first things recruiters and hiring managers will notice. They have a significant impact on the overall impression of your resume and will instantly attract or turn away employers.

That being said, the only safe way is to opt for simple but professional looking fonts that can also be processed by ATS. For example, using sans serif fonts, such as Calibri, Arial or Helvetica, ensures that resume text looks neat and professional.

To make sure your fonts are carefully selected, use a resume template designed by hiring professionals.

3. Colors

A resume's color can significantly impact its success.

Yet, it all depends on how you use colors to get the desired effect.

To make sure you're presenting yourself in the best light, choose wisely when selecting the colors for your professional documents. There are many factors that go into selecting the color for your resume, but the main one is your target industry.

If you're applying for a job in a conservative industry, such as finance, banking, or law, creative use of colors is generally frowned upon. In this case, use color sparingly and stick to neutral or standard resume colors, such as black, grey and blue.

On the contrary, in creative fields such as marketing, social media or design, colors on resumes are more than welcome and can even give you a competitive advantage.

To help you choose the right colors for your resume, we've put together a list of some of the best and worst resume color choices.

  • Best colors: Blue, Gray, Green, Purple

  • Worst colors: Red, Pink, Yellow, Neon

Learn how to use colors to your advantage with the detailed guide on resume colors.

4. White Space

White space is the blank area between design elements. It's an often overlooked yet highly important aspect of a resume.

White space improves the resumes' readability, helps readers navigate the content, accentuates the content, and affects the visual appeal - but only if used effectively.

Having too much white space can make a resume look bare and incomplete, while not enough white space results in a cluttered, messy and hard-to-read resume.

Do this to optimize white space on your documents in minutes:

  • Adjust line spacing to at least 1 inch between lines.

  • Increase spacing after each paragraph consistently throughout the document.

  • Use easy-to-read font size, preferably from 10 to 12.

  • Set margins between 0.5 to 1 inch.

For more practical tips, read the complete guide on the effective use of white space on a resume.

 

Optimize Your Resume for ATS

If you've been actively looking for a job, you've probably stumbled upon the term 'ATS' or Applicant Tracking System - software used by employers to receive, organize and sort job applications.

To pass the ATS filter, you need to fill your resume with specific keywords from the job description.

Additionally, format your resume properly so ATS can read it. Make sure to:

  • Avoid graphics, including icons, photos, tables and text boxes. ATS cannot read them, so some information from your resume might get skipped.

  • Use a clean resume design. Clean and minimalist resumes work best in most applicant tracking systems and increase your chances of getting past this first screening filter.

  • Proofread your resume multiple times. ATS compares the content of your resume with a job description, looking for matching keywords. Since they cannot recognize typos, a spelling mistake on a resume can hinder your job application.

Jump to the complete ATS resume guide to learn more or choose a professionally designed ATS resume and cover letter template.

 

Avoid Common Resume Mistakes

The best way to make yourself more competitive in a job search is by making sure your resume is spotless.

Since your resume needs to showcase your best professional traits, it can make you look careless and unqualified if it's written or formatted poorly.

Many candidates unknowingly miss their chance with an employer due to simple yet easily avoidable mistakes, such as incorrect spelling, unprofessional email addresses, vague career summaries or generic applications.

To help you put your best foot forward, we covered 20 common mistakes made on resumes and ways to fix them. Read the full list of resume mistakes to avoid and learn how you can avoid traps other applicants frequently fall in!

 

Conclusion

Great resumes don't get created by chance. They require significant time and effort.

But once it’s written, a professional resume can have a transformative impact on your job search - and your career.

However, if you are creating your resume for the first time, if you don't have enough time at your disposal or if you don't feel confident in your resume writing skills, you may need a helping hand along the way.

Follow this cheat sheet, apply the tips and create a winning resume that will transform your job search!