You tell your friends about your plans to get your first job or internship, and they asked, “Have you made your resume?” At a glance, a resume may look so simple, but it’s not always clear how to make one, even those with working experience.
What is a resume? Should it look cool and designed or black-and-white? How long should it be? What is it for? Should I put my science olympics from middle school in it? In this article, we’ll walk you through how to successfully make your first resume as a beginner.
What is a resume?
A resume is a brief document about you, your experience, education, skills, accomplishments, and other things that shows you that you’re a legit professional (or a promising candidate). A good resume convinces recruiters to hire you; an awesome resume does this before they throw it away after 6 seconds.
But let’s worry about that later. First, let’s start from the very basics of building a resume — length, content, design, things like that. When you’re through with this article, you’ll know how to condense your professional information and strengths in a single page, and make that page (and you!) look good.
Every resume is one page long, almost all of the time. Why is that? The reason is for the convenience of the ones who will actually read your resume: the people who’s considering to hire you. Nobody has time to read 50 pages of your entire life story, especially when there are one million other resumes to read beside yours.
The idea is to list down all information that will help convince that recruiter to hire you, then try to put it in a single page.
The only exception is if you have so much experience and accomplishments that are also relevant to your resume. In that case, a veteran resume often go over a page, even two.
But for the rest of us, If it came out over one page, then cut the fat and only put in the relevant ones. But what do you know which information is relevant? And what if you don’t have enough things to even fill a page?
Deciding on content is perhaps the most intimidating aspect of making a resume for beginners. I mean, what do you put in there? The rule of thumb is to put information that is relevant and will build you a good professional image, and ultimately make you look good in the eyes of the ones who will read your resume.
Put things that are relevant and will make you look good.
Let’s look at what your resume should contain, in order.
1. Personal information
Put your name as the title of the document. Think of your resume like a prospectus, with you as the product to be promoted. No need for “Resume of John Smith” or “John Smith’s Resume”, just put “John Smith” on top of the page.
Tell them what you are. Your title could be simply your current position (e.g. HR Director), your weight in the field/industry (e.g. HR Expert), or who you're working to be (e.g. Aspiring HR Specialist).
How can they reach back to you? Put your primary phone number, email, and address under your name, in the beginning of your resume. Also, make sure the email address you put here looks professional and doesn't sound like something out of high school.
If you've got a LinkedIn account (which you should), or made some awesome things online, put them in there! Put links to your online portfolio or (professional) website and start your resume with a strong online presence.
2. Summary or bio
Write one or two sentences to introduce yourself in the beginning of your resume. Here’s a tip: you can cheat off of your elevator pitch, since they both serve the same purpose one way or another — to introduce who you are, what you can do, what do you wanna do, and why they should work with you.
Your brief bio should contain your title (e.g. HR professional), mentions of your experience and achievements, and what your goals are (e.g. get a job). Don’t be afraid to write in first person! If anything, it makes your resume more human and engaging (easier to read).
It might look something like this:
I am passionate in HR and have helped multiple companies improve the efficiency and quality of life for their employees. After 10 years of experience in HR, I’m looking for the next opportunity to leverage my skills to empower a company.
Experience is the meat of your resume. It’s what people look for when they want to know if you’re any good. It’s what they use to measure if you’d be a good addition to the company. That’s why we put experience right after all the intro stuff, before education.
The format, in order of importance, is typically like this:
- Job Title
- Company Name (and location)
- Start and end dates (usually in months)
- Notable tasks and achievements
Actually, try your best to mention achievements and accomplishments over just tasks. This is because everybody knows what you’re supposed to do, but they want to know what impact you had on your previous job.
Here’s an example from my own resume:
- Indonesian Students’ Association — Kuala Lumpur
- 2016 - 2017
- Successfully ran first major collaborative charity event
- 68% increase in annual revenue
- Increased membership to 53 people
Notice how I gave proof of the accomplishments using numbers and percentages.
Notice also that it’s an extracurricular experience, not work experience. Is that okay? Totally! Don’t hesitate to list your extracurricular or volunteer experience if they’re relevant to your field or show your capabilities (in this case, leadership).
What if I don’t have experience?
It’s understandable for fresh grads to have (at least) extracurricular experience in their resume, but nowadays even that is not enough. It’s time to get yourself an internship so you can have something to put in the experience section.
Right after that, we have education. Though education can’t tell as much about you as experience, recruiters still need to see it for qualification purposes. They also tend to care more about where you graduated from, rather than what you studied, so the format for education might be a bit different from experience.
- School Name
- Degree Name (e.g. BEng Chemical Engineering, Hons.)
- Start and (projected) graduation dates
- (Optional) GPA
- Notable projects
If you GPA is impressive, by all means put it out there. You can take this a step further by listing your grades for selected subjects that are relevant to your industry (or with the highest grades).
5. Projects and portfolio
If your professional accounts and website are put in the contact info, then this is where you put links to your actual work. Any articles you got published by a major journal, or any specific projects you want to display should be put here along with a short description of what it’s all about.
Keep in mind that your resume is not always online and will usually be printed on paper. If you hyperlink is too long, consider using link-shortening services or QR codes. Just make sure they won’t expire.
6. Skills (and languages)
Personally, I prefer to display my skills in a rating format, similar to language proficiency. Instead of just merely stating “advanced” or “beginner”, a visual rating display is more eye-catching and gets the message across just as fine.
Please excuse the typo.
I recommend to sort your skills by category or expertise. For example, you can divide this section by soft, technical, and language skills. Alternatively, you can just sort it down from highest to lowest expertise, though you might want to put language aside for later because it might get tricky to read.
Of course, this doesn’t really say anything about how good you actually are. Your experiences should already speak for this, but you should also include a separate section for your certificates.
List down the title of the certificates, where you got it from, and the year that it was awarded to you. Certifications make you look more legit while also a way to show a bit of extra experience.
These are the people who can vouch for you. Recruiters would often call the references you put in your CV to find out how you’re like to work with, and to make sure you’re telling the truth. Your references should be people of significant position in your university or internship, like your professor or manager. Never put your parents as your references.
First, ask their permission to be your reference contact. If they’re cool with it, then you can put their names and positions in your resume. That alone should be enough to give an impression of who can vouch for you.
I recommend to hold their actual contact information, though. You don’t want people to abuse their phone numbers or emails. Instead, you can write “References available upon request).
8. (Optional) Interests
If you’ve got spare space (which in the case of fresh grads, you often do), consider putting your interests and hobbies there. This gives your resume a bit of humanity and personality, reminding them that you are a human being, not just a list of certificates and numbers.
Still, don’t just put video games or watching movies. Your hobbies should look good, that shows activity or intellectual stimulation (mountain climbing, reading, etc.). More importantly, put some of the causes that you’re interested or active in, such as the environment or ethics.
9. What not to put?
Don’t put any information that might be used to discriminate against you. That includes:
- Marital status
- Physical details (height, weight, etc.)
- Photo (unless you look like a Greek statue)
This information is not relevant to your ability in performing well in your tasks, and so they don’t belong in a resume; unless the job specifically requires it, such as being a flight attendant or an athlete.
In some countries, there are actually laws that prohibit you from showing these in your resume. Even though other countries may not have as strong a law, you can ensure fair opportunities for yourself by only showing what’s relevant.
Use the reverse chronological format for your resume. This means you list down your experience, education, certificates, etc. starting with the newest one first, ending with the earliest one last. This is the format that this guide used.
This format is the most popular resume format in the world. Recruiters and job seekers alike are already used to this format. While there are other formats (like the skill-based format that groups experience and education by skill), reverse chronological is the one you should use.
The decision to design your resume usually falls down on what you’re applying to. If you’re looking for a job in the creative industry, then make it as pretty as possible. But if you’re handing this to the HR department of a 90-story investment bank, then you might want to stay away from too many colors.
That said, all resumes should not look boring. For starters, use columns. Just by writing your resume in 2 columns, instead of a boring list it becomes a bit more nice to look at. Design it some more with lines to divide the sections. Pick a pretty font that is also clear and professional (when in doubt, use Helvetica).
Don’t be afraid to pick a color scheme, too. Of course, it should be a professional color, especially if you’re applying to an investment bank. Black or dark blue usually cuts it.
But if you’re applying as a graphic designer, then you can (and should) go a bit crazier. Put your self-portrait you drew on Illustrator instead of an actual photo, use icons for your skill ratings, etc.
And of course, always save and share your resume in PDF format.
Need an example?
The easiest way is to check out your Dreamtalent resume. It’s automatically generated as you complete your profile, and even has snippets of your psychometric results. Alternatively, free online resume builders like Novorésumé often give you example templates and even tips on how to make your first resume a good one.
After you’re done with the basics of a resume, check out our next article on how to take your resume into the next level of awesome.