16 Resume Tips to Help You Apply with Confidence

Written by Coursera • Updated on

You’re applying for a job or promotion. Or you’re being proactive and updating your resume. These resume tips can help you make the best impression.

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A resume is your opportunity to showcase your work experience, qualifications, and skill set to potential employers. But, when you typically have only one page to work with, ensuring your resume makes an impact is essential.

In this article, you will find 16 resume tips that should prove useful for your next job application, request for a promotion, or when you’re simply being proactive and updating your resume. While considering formatting, work experience, the often underused skills section, and more, this article can help you craft a stand-out resume. 

Formatting your resume

Resume format is an important and often overlooked feature. In this section, you will learn some top tips for ensuring your resume’s formatting makes an impact. 

1. Keep the design simple and scannable. 

Although it might be tempting to personalize your resume with eye-catching graphics and creative 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—a simpler design makes it easier for them to find the most critical information. One study from 2018 found that recruiters spend an average of only 7.4 seconds looking at a resume, during which they look primarily 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 bolded job titles. They also recommend using clear fonts, easy-to-read bullet lists below job titles, and white space [1].  

2. Make it ATS ready.  

Make sure that automated applicant tracking systems (ATS) can easily read your resume. These systems scan resumes by converting them into plain text, which means that your resume should not include too many 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. 

3. Consider including a professional summary. 

A professional summary is a brief outline of your prior work experience, essential qualifications, and skills. This section is a good way to give recruiters and hiring managers 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 address 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 an available variation. 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. The same goes for the phrase “references available upon request.” Neither is necessary for your resume in this digital age. 

Instead, use the extra space to flesh out more relevant information, such as your work experience.

If a hiring manager wants you to provide references, 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 professional experience. Follow the guidelines below to create an impactful overview of your job background.

6. Put it in reverse chronological order.

The most relevant experience to many employers is your most recent work. Make this easy to find by listing your jobs in reverse chronological order on your resume. Not only will you help recruiters notice the positions you held most recently, but this approach also lets them see your growth throughout your career. 

7. Customize bullet points for jobs you are applying for.

Use the bullet points in your work experience section to elaborate on the duties you performed for each position you previously held. Limit these to the duties that best match the skills and experience in the job description. 

This makes it easier for a potential employer to see key responsibilities that correspond to their advertised position. This effectively highlights your suitability for the role. 

8. Translate technical language into plain language. 

If you are in a specialized industry, chances are you have a wealth of specialized and technical knowledge unknown to many others. While this will undoubtedly improve your capacity to do specific tasks, it can also hinder your chances if hiring managers don’t have the same expertise.

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

For example, if you created a digital project management system that required detailed technical knowledge of databases, then you might consider highlighting the fact that the system was used by hundreds of employees.

That said, if a job description explicitly asks for a specific technical skill, such as  front-end versus back-end development, highlight that skill in 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 outcomes for employers. 

To help recruiters understand how you contribute in your current role and at previous places of employment, emphasize concrete goals achieved. For example, while noting daily calls made to potential clients, a salesperson might also note that these efforts led to a 150 per cent 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, use 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. Dynamic language allows the recruiters to see your work more clearly and imagine you in the advertised role. 

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 educational backgrounds near the top of resumes highlights a candidate’s ongoing training when work experience is lacking. 

If you’re a student, consider highlighting your skill set by adding “relevant courses” to your education section; then, you can include relevant courses you’ve taken that prepared you for the position.

12. Highlight awards and achievements. 

If you received any academic awards or accomplished significant achievements during your time in school, consider including them in the education section of your resume. These could include Latin honours, scholarships, awards, or any other notable accolades you received while in school. 

Such achievements demonstrate not only your 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 your grades.

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.  

Highlighting skills

The skills section of your resume is where you’ll include all the relevant skills you possess that make you a great candidate for the job. Read on for helpful tips to confidently craft this important section. 

14. Include both technical and people skills.

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

Technical skills are used for specialized tasks, such as computer programming or bookkeeping. People skills are used to do your job well, such as teamwork, problem-solving, and critical thinking.

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

15. Tailor skills to the job description.

You likely possess a wide range of skills. Rather than list them, include only those relevant to the position. 

Determine which skills to list by going through the job description and identifying the technical and people skills emphasized in the job description. Include them in the skills section of your resume. This will help hiring managers determine your suitability for the job and allow the company’s ATS to find and flag your resume. 

16. Highlight unique (but relevant) skills.

In some cases, you may possess unique skills that are helpful to the position but are not cited in the job description as prerequisites. If you have any such skills, include them in the skills section of your resume.

Examples of unique skills include fluency in a foreign language or variations of required skills relevant to the position, such as knowledge of other coding languages like Java and C# when a job only asks for the ability to code in Python. 

Next steps

As you prepare for the next (or first) chapter of your career, consider taking a flexible online course through Coursera. The How to Write a Resume course uses a project-centred 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 new job can be exciting and nerve-racking, but with the proper preparation, you can confidently put your best foot forward.

Article sources

  1. Ladders. “Eye-Tracking Study (2018), https://www.theladders.com/static/images/basicSite/pdfs/TheLadders-EyeTracking-StudyC2.pdf.” Accessed November 10, 2022.

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