16 Resume Tips to Help You Apply with Confidence

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Your resume is a place to showcase your talents and experience. Here are some tips to make sure your application stands out.

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A resume is your opportunity to showcase your work experience, qualifications, and skill set to potential employers. But, at only one page long,  it’s important to make sure that you’ve prepared the most impactful resume possible when you hit submit.  

In this article, you will find 16 resume tips for your next job application. From formatting to work experience to the often underused skills section, this article will lay out suggestions for crafting a stand-out resume. 

Formatting your resume

A resume’s format is one of its most important and overlooked features. In this section, you will learn some top tips for ensuring your resume’s formatting stays impactful. 

1. Keep the design simple and scannable. 

Although it might be tempting to personalize your resume with eye-catching graphics and unusual formatting, the reality is that simpler designs are almost always better. 

The reason for this is simple: hiring managers only scan a resume for a handful of seconds before moving on to another one and a simpler design makes it easier for them to find the most important information. One study from 2018 found that recruiters spend an average of only 7.4 seconds looking at a resume, during which they look mostly at job titles and subheads [1]. 

To make a resume more impactful, the researchers suggest that job seekers format resumes in a simple manner, with clearly marked sections and job titles in bold. They also recommend using clear fonts and easily read bullet point lists below job titles, leaving some white space around it [1]. 

2. Make it ATS ready.  

Similar to the above tip, you should also make sure that automated applicant tracking systems (ATS) can easily read your resume. These automated systems scan resumes by converting them into plain text, which can lead to problems if you have a resume that relies heavily on graphic elements.

To make your resume ATS ready, do the following: 

  • Keep a simple design with clearly marked sections.

  • Submit your resume as a word document. Some ATS can read PDF files but many cannot. To be safe, send a word document instead. 

  • Include relevant keywords from the job description in your work experience, skills, and professional summary section. Make sure to only use the keywords in a context that makes sense. Keyword stuffing can sometimes lead to your resume being thrown out. 

Read more: Resume Keywords: How to Find the Right Words to Beat the ATS

3. Consider a professional summary. 

A professional summary gives you the space to briefly outline your prior work experience, key qualifications, and skills to hiring managers. This section can be a good way to give recruiters, who are skimming your resume, an easy-to-read overview of your career and job preparedness. 

4. Use a professional email address. 

Your email is your digital calling card, inviting potential employers to reach out to you online. As a result, it’s important to have an email that is both professional and easy to remember.

To create a professional email address, use a commonly accepted email provider, such as Gmail, and create an address using your name. 

If your full name is already taken as an email address, then use a variation of it that isn’t. For instance, you might put your last name before your first name or separate your first and last name with a period, such as “abraham.lincoln@coursera.org.”

5. Omit a references section.

In the past, it was common to include a references section on your resume, but today that isn’t required. The same goes for the phrase “references available upon request” – it’s not necessary for your resume. 

The reality is that most hiring managers in this step of the process don’t have the time to call any references, so a references section just takes up too much space. Instead, you should use the extra space to flesh out more relevant information, such as your work experience.

If a hiring manager wants you to send over references, then they will likely ask you before or after your interview.

Listing work experience

The work experience section of your resume is where you’ll highlight your relevant work experience. Follow the guidelines below for creating an impactful overview of your work experience.

6. Put it in reverse chronological order.

The most relevant work to many employers is your most recent work experience. To highlight your most recent work, list your jobs in reverse chronological order on your resume. This helps recruiters notice the positions you held most recently and see how those positions prepared you for the job.

7. Tailor bullet points to jobs you are applying for.

The bullet points in your work experience section are meant to elaborate on the duties you performed for each position you previously held. Rather than including every past responsibility, it’s wiser to simply tailor the duties you include in your work experience to match the skills and experience with those of the job description. 

This way, you’ll highlight the key responsibilities that overlap with the advertised position, effectively highlighting your suitability for the position. 

8. Translate technical language into plain language. 

If you are in a specialized industry, then chances are that you have a wealth of technical knowledge that the general population doesn’t know. While this will undoubtedly improve your capacity to do specific tasks, it can also obscure your abilities to hiring managers that don’t have the same expertise.

As a result, it’s important that you translate your technical expertise into plain language so that recruiters and hiring managers can more clearly understand your prior experience. You can keep things comprehensible by focusing on the outcomes of your work that are easily understandable.

For example, if you created a digital project management system that required technical knowledge of databases that most don’t understand, then you might instead highlight the fact that the system was used by hundreds of employees at your former workplace.

That said, if a job description explicitly asks for a specific technical skill, then make sure to highlight that skill in both your resume and cover letter. This is the kind of knowledge that a hiring manager is specifically looking for, even if they don’t always understand what it is in practice. 

9. Focus on concrete achievements.

At its core, work is about getting the job done. Our daily actions at work accumulate into concrete outcomes further down the road, hopefully creating the desired impact for employers. 

To help recruiters understand how you contributed to your previous places of employment, you should make sure to emphasize the concrete goals you achieved. For example, while noting that they made daily calls to potential clients, a salesperson might also note that their efforts led to a 150% increase in total revenue for the company. 

10. Use action words.

Action words are verbs that describe your duties and responsibilities with impactful language. As you are writing your resume, make sure to use such action-oriented verbs to help readers connect with the descriptions of your previous duties. 

For example, rather than simply saying that you “managed” a team of four, you might instead say that you “led” them. Active language such as this allows the recruiters to see your work more clearly and imagine you in the advertised role. 

Read: Key Action Words to Enhance Your Resume

Listing education

Your educational experience can prove your dedication to a particular field of study and underscore your academic achievements. In this section, you will learn how to use the education section of your resume to emphasize your skill set and qualifications. 

11. Put education before experience (if you’re a student). 

While those with prior work experience should put their education at the bottom of their resume, recent graduates and current students should put their education above their work experience section. Putting their educational background near the top of their resumes allows graduates and students to highlight their ongoing training when work experience is lacking. 

If you’re a student, consider emphasizing your skill set by adding a “relevant courses” section to your education section, where you can put a handful of courses you’ve taken that prepared you for the position.

12. Highlight awards or achievements. 

If you received any unique academic awards or reached significant achievements during your time in school, then you might consider including them in the education section of your resume. These could include Latin honors, scholarships, awards, or any other notable honors you received during your time in school. 

Such achievements demonstrate not only your own hard work and dedication to your field of study but also recognition from others in the field. 

13. Don’t put your GPA (usually).

Unless your employer specifically asks for it, you don’t need to include your GPA on your resume. Most employers are more interested in the fact that you meet the educational requirements for the position than in what your grades were.

That said, if you did do particularly well, then including your GPA could be a good way to catch an employer’s attention. For example, a 3.9 or 4.0 GPA on your resume can demonstrate your hard work and dedication.  

In effect, feel free to omit or include your GPA on your resume, but know that it isn’t usually expected. 

Highlighting skills

The skills section of your resume is where you’ll put all the relevant skills you possess that make you a great candidate for the job. In this section, you’ll learn three tips to help you confidently craft this important section. 

14. Include both technical skills and people skills.

The skills section of your resume should include both the technical (“hard”) skills and the people (“soft”) skills that you possess.

Technical skills are all the skills that  you use for accomplishing technical tasks, such as computer programming or bookkeeping. People skills, meanwhile, are all the skills that you use to do your job well, such as teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking.

Placeholder

While many people mistakenly believe that only their technical skills are valuable to employers, the reality is that people skills are also incredibly important. Make sure to include both on your resume. 

Read: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What’s the Difference?

15. Tailor skills to the job description.

You likely possess a wide range of skills that are not immediately relevant to the jobs you’re applying to. Rather than including all of those skills, it’s wiser to include only those that are relevant to the position. 

You can find these skills by going through the job description and identifying both the technical and people skills that the hiring manager has emphasized. Afterward, go through the list of skills and identify which ones you possess. Include those in the skill section of your resume. This will help hiring managers (and the ATS) see that you’re a suitable match for the job. 

16. Highlight unique (but relevant) skills.

In some cases, you may possess unique skills that would be helpful to the position but are not cited in the job description. If you possess any such unique skills, then it can be a good idea to include them in the skills section of your resume.

Examples of unique skills include fluency in a foreign language and variants of skills relevant to the position, such as being competent in Java and C# when a position only asks for an ability to code in Python. 

Next steps

As you prepare for the next chapter of your career, you might consider taking a flexible online course through Coursera. SUNY Online’s How to Write a Resume course uses a project-centered approach to help learners understand the ins and outs of resume writing in just five hours. Big Interview’s The Art of the Job Interview teaches proven techniques to help you turn your interviews into job offers.

Applying for a job can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, but with the proper preparation, you can be confident that you put your best foot forward. 

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Article sources

1. Ladders. “Eye-Tracking Study (2018), https://www.theladders.com/static/images/basicSite/pdfs/TheLadders-EyeTracking-StudyC2.pdf.” Accessed March 7, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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