How to Write a Resume

Learn how to get your resume past an ATS and into the hands of a human recruiter.

How to Write a Resume

With so many employers using applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes, today’s jobseekers know that the first set of “eyes” on their resume may not be human. When considering how to write a resume for today’s job market, you’ll need to think about all the potential gatekeepers that will be evaluating it, including the automated ones.

Automated scanning tools are typically programmed to match keywords
from job descriptions to words in an applicant’s resume. At the same time,
a ho-hum resume that merely repeats the phrasing of the job description is not likely to impress a hiring manager once you clear the first automated hurdle.

If you are trying to determine how to write a resume that will advance you through all the steps of the hiring process, focus on clarity of design, and use vivid, detailed narratives that highlight how you’ve benefited your past employers and how you are positioned to help your next one.

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How to Write a Resume:
10 Facts You Need to Know

As you consider how to write a resume you’ll want to keep all of its possible audiences, as well as the following facts, in mind:


  • Recruiters spend an average of only about 6 seconds on each resume
    before deciding whether to interview a candidate.
  • 2.

  • The first 15-20 words of your resume are the most important; that’s
    how many words the average person can read in those 6 seconds.
  • 3.

  • The top one-third of your resume often determines whether a hiring
    manager chooses to keep reading.
  • 4.

  • Your personal summary is the section of your resume a recruiter is
    most likely to read.
  • 5.

  • Many employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes
    for specific terms
  • 6.

  • ATS search terms are usually correlated to job descriptions.
  • 7.

  • A recent survey found that 54 percent of jobseekers do not
    customize their resumes for each job, so tailoring yours could
    put you ahead of more than half your competition.
  • 8.

  • Changing the wording of a keyword from the job description even
    slightly – for example, from “project management” to “project
    manager” – could cause the ATS to eliminate you.
  • 9.

  • Many ATS cannot recognize abbreviations as common as “CPA.”
  • 10.

  • Unusual fonts, spacing, and images can all throw off an ATS.

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The Perfect Resume Starts with the Perfect Format

Since ATSs often fail to recognize unusual resume designs or headings, it is best to stick with time-tested formats that use standard categories like “Summary,” “Experience,” and “Education.” As you begin to think about how
to write your resume in a way that will enable you to surpass the ATS barrier, consider employing one of three basic formats: chronological, functional
or combined.

A chronological resume lists your work history in descending order beginning with your most recent position. Skills and achievements are grouped under each job title. A functional resume emphasizes accomplishments and skills specific to the position at hand. A combination, or hybrid, resume divides the focus more equally between achievements and work chronology.

Whatever format you choose, as you learn how to write a resume, begin with a brief summary that starts with a title, preferably one that is tailored to the
job description. Follow your title with two to three concise sentences or bullet items that describe the skills and experiences that will make you an asset to your next employer.

Functional Resume

When considering how to write a resume, candidates new to the job market, as well as those who have gaps in their work history, may want to opt for a functional resume.

Recent graduates who use functional resumes can emphasize all the skills and technical know-how they’ve attained without broadcasting that their work experience is limited. For workers with gaps in their resume, a functional approach can highlight valuable experience while obscuring the time that elapsed between jobs.

These resumes should begin with a summary section that highlights the most important and relevant aspects of your work history and skill set. The bulk of the resume can be divided into areas of experience or expertise. If you are writing a resume for a Senior Financial Analyst role, for example, you might consider creating a budgeting section and a separate management section. Another approach would be to organize your resume into categories such as “Skills” and “Accomplishments.”



  • This format allows professionals with diverse career paths to highlight
    transferrable skills they’ve developed across fields.
  • 2.

  • A functional resume allows younger and older workers to emphasize
    their skill sets and potential rather than the length of time they’ve been in
    the workforce.
  • 3.

  • Using a functional resume format can obscure a potentially problematic
    work history issues, such as gaps in employment.



  • Many hiring managers find this format frustrating because they cannot see
    what you did in each job and how your career has progressed.
  • 2.

  • Some recruiters assume that candidates who use these resumes are trying
    to hide something.
  • 3.

  • Some ATSs cannot scan these resumes correctly.

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Chronological Resume

This traditional resume format lists a candidate’s work experience in reverse order, from most recent job title to earliest position.

A brief Education section should be included just before or after the Work Experience heading. Modern chronological resumes should begin with a professional summary.
These resumes are ideal for candidates who want to write a resume that demonstrates that they have worked several jobs in the same field and gained responsibility at each new step.



  • This is the preferred format of hiring managers.
  • 2.

  • A chronological resume is the most likely to be accurately scanned by
    an ATS.
  • 3.

  • Using this format emphasizes where you have worked, making it a solid
    choice for candidates who have worked for prestige employers.



  • The emphasis on chronology will make employment gaps stand out.
  • 2.

  • This format may not be a good choice for new jobseekers or for highly
    experienced workers who are trying to obscure their age.
  • 3.

  • A chronological resume can make shifts in career paths seem abrupt.

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Combination Resume

The combination, or hybrid, resume uses attributes of the chronological and functional formats. For example, you might begin with Skills and Achievements on the first page, with an equally detailed Work History section on the second page.

If you are opting for this format to obscure gaps in your work history, you might create a resume that is mostly in a functional resume format but that includes a very brief Work Experience section at the end.



  • The combination format is ideal for younger workers who have attained
    a wide range of skills in a short period, but who have a relatively short
    work history.
  • 2.

  • This format highlights the accomplishments of workers who have held the
    same title or worked for the same employer for a long time.
  • 3.

  • For those looking to enter a new field, this format emphasizes achievements
    and transferrable skills.



  • The combinaton resume format might make employment gaps or abrupt
    career shifts more obvious than the chronological format.
  • 2.

  • This is not the preferred format of most hiring managers.
  • 3.

  • Some ATSs may fail to properly scan information such as “Work History”
    if it does not appear in the expected order.

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Diagram of a Perfect Resume

As you contemplate how to write your resume and which format to use, some best practices are universal. See the points below for ideas on how to shape your perfect resume!

1. Consider dressing up your heading, particularly the presentation of your name. A rule line or slight change of font size or style can make the heading information stand out from the rest of the resume and create a branding effect that makes an impression, but that won’t interfere with ATS scanning.

2. Include hyperlinks to your email address, LinkedIn profile and digital work samples. Make sure these links are live and customized so that your resume is not cluttered with overly long, complicated URLs.

3. Begin by selecting a simple, classic, legible font such as Helvetica, Times New Roman, or Georgia. These are fonts that are designed for optimum readability on the screen. Choose leading – the space between lines – that is 120 percent of your font size to increase legibility.

4. Use strong verbs, direct sentence structure, and clear, concise language. This is key to keep in mind when you are learning how to write a resume.

5. Condense information wherever possible so there are no more than 4-6 bullet items under each job title. Aim for short, varied lines of copy with plenty of white space. Avoid crafting uniform paragraphs and long blocks of type.

6. Use data and numbers, such as sales revenue or website traffic, to add tangible proof to your claims and to break up the type.

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Find Your Perfect Resume Template

Your resume is your calling card and the template you choose as you decide how to write a resume can help or hurt your chances of getting the job you want. In addition to selecting a functional, chronological, or combination format, you’ll need to consider the conventions and expectations of your field, as well as your experience level.

We offer a resume template to address nearly any scenario. Finding the one that’s right for your needs can increase your chances of landing the job.

Recent graduates and those shifting from one field to another will want to consider an entry-level template that can highlight skills, education, and achievements, while devoting less space to Work History.

If you are trying to convey to a potential employer that you are a tech-savvy worker with up-to-date skills, a contemporary resume template with modern design flair will help to convey these qualities. Sleek and modern, these eye-catching templates will help you stand out from the competition.

If you are sending your resume to a hiring manager or employer with a reputation for preferring time-tested documentation and processes, opt for a traditional resume template.

As you think about how to write your resume, sticking to a chronological format with standard headings and conservative font choices will reassure employers with more formal corporate cultures that you are serious, well qualified, and ready to contribute. It will also clearly show your career trajectory at-a-glance.

Beat the ATS Bots: 8 Tips for Personalizing Your Resume

When considering how to write a resume that will get you past an ATS and onto the desk of a recruiter, simplicity is the key. Make sure you repeat the keywords that most closely align with your own skills. However, don’t go overboard, repeat yourself to the point of monotony, or mirror the job description too closely. Use keywords and phrases to describe your skills and experience without regurgitating the job post word for word.

Instead, describe your experience and skills accurately in a way that allows your writing to flow logically while still employing as many of the keywords as possible. “Stuffing” your resume might get you past the ATS, only to have it be quickly eliminated from consideration when it finally gets into human hands.



  • Study the job description to determine what problem the employer is trying
    to solve with this hire and make sure that your resume demonstrates that
    you can solve their problem.
  • 2.

  • Do not use an “objective” section. Instead, customize a professional
    summary for the each job.
  • 3.

  • Highlight as many of your skills that match the job description as possible
    in a separate skills section.
  • 4.

  • Throughout the resume, echo the job ad’s keywords and phrasing.
  • 5.

  • Write out all acronyms and abbreviations as some ATS can’t recognize
    even common acronyms.
  • 6.

  • Don’t use overly fancy fonts or complex formatting, which can throw off
    the ATS.
  • 7.

  • For best results, use traditional headings, such as Summary, Skills,
    and Work Experience.
  • 8.

  • Don’t send a PDF of your resume as scanners can misread them.
    Instead, use Word or rich text format.

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Need More Help? Write a Resume
Using Our Resume Builder

If the thought of transforming a blank page into a standout resume still makes you nervous, try using our resume builder. The easy-to-use, self-service software makes it super simple to build your own unique, perfect resume.

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