How to Make A Professional Resumé


How to Make A Professional Resumé

A resumé is the single most important document for a job seeker. While it is difficult to condense a lifetime of skills, interests, experiences, and education into one page, it is essential to have a complete and professional summary of your credentials. The resumé serves as a way to introduce yourself to hiring managers, convince them to learn more about you as a potential hire, and persuade them to grant you an interview.

It is estimated that a hiring manager spends anywhere from 6 to 15 seconds reviewing a resumé to determine if a candidate will even be considered for a position. That means that you only have about ten seconds to grab the hiring manager’s attention and make them want to get to know you better. A strong resumé can do just that. Here are 15 tips for how to make a professional resumé to make sure that you stay at the top of the pile.

1. Customize Your Resumé For Each Application

The resumé needs to highlight your unique strengths, differentiate you from other candidates, and make the hiring manager want to interview you. However, before it is even seen by a human, the resumé needs to get past the applicant tracking system (ATS). To pass the ATS screening, your resumé needs to include specific keywords that are part of the job description. For this reason, you must customize your resumé and cover letter for each job application. Sending out generic resumés and cover letters will likely not result in any interviews. 

Review the job description carefully, and ensure that your resumé includes 3-5 key words or phrases that appear in the employer’s description or list of required qualifications. Ensure that terminology and phrases match exactly, including verb tense.

For example, consider a job description that needs someone to “Manage the preparation of monthly, quarterly, and annual financial reports and variance analysis.” If your resumé includes a position where you “Prepared all financial reports on a timely basis and analyzed trends,” the ATS may not recognize that you possess the desired skills and experience, because the wording does not match exactly. When thinking about how to make a professional resumé, make sure you are precise.

2. Build a List of Impressive Experiences and Transferable Skills

Given its importance, you need to spend adequate time developing your resumé. More importantly, however, it means spending the time during your years of higher education codifying your interests and gaining experiences that will tell a clear story when you become a job candidate. This story is comprised of your academics, extracurricular activities, skills, and professional work experience (paid and unpaid). Ensuring that you have an impressive list of accomplishments in these areas is vital to getting your resumé noticed.

Your extracurricular activities and work experience should be based on your interests, not based on building a resumé. When possible, pair your interests with opportunities to develop in-demand skills and experiences such as:

  • Collaboration and/or Team-Building Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Leadership & Management Skills
  • Customer Service Skills & Experience
  • Programming or Coding Skills & Experience
  • Research Skills & Experience
  • Analytical Skills
  • Ability to Speak and/or Understand Foreign Languages

3. Remember the Education Section

Since you’re starting to think about how to make a professional resumé, chances are this is your first resumé. You might still be in college, or you could be a recent graduate. You should always include which college you attended, along with your major, and your GPA if it’s above the 3.5 threshold. While the education section shouldn’t be too elaborate and take up a lot of space on the resumé, the majority of jobs require Bachelor’s degrees. Plus, employers are often curious about your educational background, so it’s good to put the information out there.

4. Format is Important

If you’re wondering how to make a professional resumé, both substance and style are important. This includes creating, writing, and formatting the actual document. Your first resumé should be only one page. You want to ensure that your document is formatted so that the reader can easily recognize key pieces of information about you, such as name, education, and relevant work experience. 

Be sure to pick a standard, professional serif font, such as Times New Roman, and use a font size that is easy to read (11 point is standard.) Margins should be wide enough that the document doesn’t look crowded - some white space is necessary. Half-inch margins are the smallest allowable space, but ¾ inch margins are preferable. Your first professional resumé should include five sections: Contact Information, Education, Experience, Extracurricular Activities, and Skills & Interests.

5. Be Honest!

My next piece of advice for how to make a professional resumé: never lie. In an interview, you should expect to discuss everything on your resumé. If you say you are fluent in Spanish, make sure you can read, write, and speak Spanish! While you should present your skills and experience in the most positive way possible, do not materially misrepresent yourself or your background.

6. Include Tangible, Quantifiable Results

Focus on demonstrable, quantifiable results and accomplishments, not the steps taken. Show how your work resulted in an improvement for the company or organization (increased customer satisfaction, increased sales, improved response time, dollar amount raised, etc). Since employers don’t spend a lot of time reading your resumé, it’s important to frame your impact in terms of numbers and results, because they immediately stand out to someone who is skimming the document. Moreover, including your quantifiable achievements from past experiences will convey to employers that you know how to use your skills in a way that produces great work and makes an impact in the workplace. 

7. Show, Don’t Tell

Instead of saying “an experienced customer service professional with excellent leadership skills,” document your experience and achievements that demonstrate these skills by showing your results: “Resolved 100% of all customer complaints within 24 hours and achieved a customer satisfaction rating of 95%.” Wording your best feats through concrete examples allows the hiring manager to visualize your strength areas, so that they easily understand why you’re a worthy candidate. 

8. Use Action Words

Use verbs to describe your roles and responsibilities. Action words include "led," "created," "developed," "implemented," and "managed." Action words are less cliché than phrases such as “responsible for,” “assisted” and “helped.” Strong verbs demonstrate the impact you’ve made as a leader or project manager at your previous positions, and make a lasting impression on the hiring manager. Here's a list of strong verbs to get you started:

  • Manage
  • Lead
  • Design
  • Implement
  • Supervise
  • Execute
  • Analyze
  • Mentor
  • Research
  • Collaborate
  • Improve
  • Deliver

9. Follow The Rule of 3

In the “Experience” section, showcase your top 3 experiences, which can include paid positions, unpaid positions (internships), volunteer work, and entrepreneurial ventures. Leadership roles in extracurricular activities can be included here or in the next section. Under each experience, include 3 bullets that describe your work and highlight your skills and accomplishments. This is the perfect number to show the breadth and depth of your experiences but not throw so much information at the reader that they get lost or worse - bored! Don’t forget the rule of 3 as you learn how to make a professional resumé!

10. Be Professional

Ensure that your contact information is current, accurate, and that you check emails and voicemails frequently. If you have a questionable email address (e.g., [email protected]), change it to something more professional. Do not include any activities or awards from high school. Use professional language and avoid the use of slang or undefined acronyms. Don’t use fonts such as Comic Sans, Papyrus or Jokerman.

11. Think About Your Field

Not all industries demand the same kind of resumé. Keep in mind the field you’re applying to when considering how to make a professional resumé. If you’re applying for a more creative role such as graphic designer, it can’t hurt to make the visual presentation more exciting. It’s not unusual for resumés for positions like these to experiment using bolder colors and fonts, and even including photos. 

On the other hand, if you’re applying to a law or consulting firm, know your audience and keep your resumé more traditional. These companies definitely do not want to see teal borders or unusual fonts. It’s important to show awareness about the field you’re interested in and maintain its expected standards.

12. Include URLs

There’s no better way to demonstrate your skills to potential employers than to provide them with work samples. If you have a professional website or maintain a blog, you can include them in the contact section. Your LinkedIn and (professional) Twitter can go here as well. If you’re applying for a creative position, you can link to your social media pages such as Instagram and YouTube, or create a portfolio on sites such as Squarespace or Portfoliobox.

13. Proofread!

The final step for how to make a professional resumé: ensure that everything is 100% error free, with no spelling or grammar mistakes. Glaring typos and mistakes will instantly remove you from the pile. Do not rely solely on autocorrect to catch typos and errors; have several people proofread your resumé. Save it as a PDF file and name it properly (e.g., lastname_firstname_resumé).

14. Update Regularly

Once you’ve made a first edition of your resumé, make sure this isn’t the end. You’re going to be picking up fresh skills, gaining more experience, and reaching new milestones. It’s important to keep checking in with your resumé and making sure it’s up-to-date and ready for whenever you need to access the file in the future. 

15. Review Resumé Examples

The best way to learn what hiring managers look for is by looking at examples of other professional resumés. Look through successful resumés online - note what information has been included, the kind of formatting that works, and how the applicant’s various experiences have been organized and prioritized.

Take a look at the resumés below (the first being traditional, the second being more creative) for examples of how to make a professional resumé.


How to Make a Professional Resumé


How to Make a Professional Resumé



Both of these resumés utilize the key factors that we’ve discussed. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that both individuals have outlined their experiences using action words such as “created,” “conceptualized,” and “presented.” Upon reading these words, you can immediately picture the roles they’ve played in the past. 

The first resumé is further boosted by outlining quantitative achievements such as “Received 3 Scholastic Citations” and “Three New Hampshire Weightlifting Records.” The creative resumé includes a list of skills on the left which showcases social media platforms and software the candidate uses. The placement allows employers to easily spot this section and note whether or not the candidate would excel with the responsibilities a position entails. Use these resumé examples as inspiration to go ahead and start working on your own!

Knowing how to make a professional resumé is the first step to jumpstarting your career. You definitely don’t want to miss out on a job you’re perfectly qualified for because you didn’t frame your experiences appropriately. By comprehensively outlining your skills and milestones, you help hiring managers easily find what they’re looking for, and in turn increase your chances of landing those coveted interview slots!

MaryBeth Hughes

MaryBeth Hughes, a Career Counselor from Yale and the Kellog School of Management at Northwestern, is an experienced professional at InGenius Prep. Throughout her career, she has worked in the telecommunications, management consulting, and technology fields, including spending the majority of her career as a financial analyst with IBM.

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