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Write a Winning Résumé

Learn the basic elements that make up the perfect résumé

A résumé is not an end in itself; it’s a tool to get the employer’s attention. You need a well-written, up-to-date résumé to market yourself effectively.

An attention-getting résumé is one that conveys your personal brand — the unique combination of skills, achievements and abilities that shows you are an outstanding candidate for the job.

The must-do’s

  • Tailor your résumé to the specific job you’re applying for. Don’t send the same résumé to hundreds of employers.
  • Keep it brief — maximum two pages.
  • Proofread several times. One typo can send your résumé to the trash.
  • Always include a cover letter with your résumé.
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Basic elements of a résumé

  • Contact information: name, mailing address, phone and email address
  • Brief statement of your key experience and strengths. This is optional, but many career experts recommend it as a way to convey key information at a glance.
  • Work experience that is relevant to the job for which you are applying
  • Skills, areas of expertise and specific accomplishments
  • Education, training and certifications
  • Awards, professional memberships and volunteer work — if relevant to the job

Keywords — the key to success

  • Keywords are the industry-specific terms necessary to get attention.
  • Learn more about keywords at
  • Sprinkle keywords throughout the résumé. Use them when referring to job titles, accomplishments, experience, skills, education, career objectives and training.
  • In online résumé, use the exact keywords and language that the employers uses in the job posting, or your résumé will be discarded.

What to include

  • Your most recent relevant jobs — within the past 15 years.
  • Accomplishments, not just job duties. Avoid phrases like “responsible for” or “duties included.”
  • Results and outcomes. Quantify your achievements and use action verbs. For example,  “increased sales by 40%,” “expanded program,” “exceeded fundraising targets.”
  • Skills and experience that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for. Include the specific computer skills that are mentioned in the job posting.
  • Transferable skills from nonwork settings such as volunteering — especially if you have gaps in your work history.

What to leave out

  • Dates of education
  • Early job history
  • Dates of jobs more than 20 years old. Say “five years” instead of “1980-85.”
  • Personal information, such as age, height, race, religion or health status.

Résumé styles

  • A chronological résumé works well if you have had steady employment in an industry or field and want to remain in the field.
  • A functional résumé is organized by skills and expertise. This is especially useful if you’re changing careers, because it focuses on transferable skills that carry over from one field to another.
  • A combination résumé includes elements of both chronological and functional résumés. Organize your résumé by job history as in a chronological résumé. Under each job, list the key skills that you demonstrated in that job.
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Formatting your résumé

  • The print version of your résumé should use at least 11 point font, black ink on white paper. No colors, photos or fancy fonts!
  • A plain text version is the same résumé but without formatting features such as bullets, bold fonts, etc. Use the plain text version for pasting into online forms and databases. The Riley Guide tells you how.
  • Format the résumé yourself instead of using résumé-building tools provided by online job sites. Many online résumé forms require a chronological format.

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