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How to Write a Formal Resume

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Whether you’re just entering the workforce or you are an experienced professional looking to change your job or even your career, you’ll need a formal resume. A resume is a profile of your job experience, education and skills so that employers can get an overview of who you are as a candidate very quickly.

If hiring managers like what they see on your resume, then chances are they’ll call you in for an interview. While resumes are straightforward in nature, writing one is a whole different ballgame. But, by following some basic steps and tips, you’ll be on your way to writing a beautiful resume in no time!

When Do You Need a Resume for a Job Application?

Some people may be wondering why we still use resumes in the digital age. Resumes may seem outdated, especially since most people have online portfolios and LinkedIn profiles. Or, you may find it frustrating to add a resume onto an application when online job applications often require applicants to manually plug in information about each of your job experiences anyway.

The fact of the matter is that a resume ‒ or a curriculum vitae (CV) ‒ has been the standard for decades, and it doesn’t look as if that standard is going to change any time soon. A resume is the first point of contact between a potential employee and a prospective company, and it’s a vital part of any job application. Failure to include your resume in a job application usually means that your application won’t even be reviewed.

What Should You Include on a Formal Resume?

There’s a lot of debate about what to include or not include on a resume. And, this will vary depending on the type of industry you’re in and the type of job you’re applying for. In general, though, most resumes tend to include, more or less, most of the same sections:

  • Contact Information: Those reading your resume need to know who you are and how to contact you, so, at the very least, you should include your name, email and phone number.
  • Experience: A list of the past jobs you’ve held, your position in those jobs, the dates you worked at them, and your major responsibilities and achievements in those positions.
  • Education: If you went to college and earned a degree, graduate degree or anything else of that nature ‒ such as a certificate ‒ then you should mention it on your resume.
  • Additional Skills: What are the special skills you possess that will make you stand out from the other candidates? For this, you’ll need to think outside the box.
  • Awards and Honors: This is your chance to highlight any special achievements, honors, awards or even something you’ve published.

The Three Resume Formats

Before beginning to write your resume, it’s a good idea to first familiarize yourself with the different types of resume formats. Though no two people will have the same resume, resumes typically fall into three different categories. Knowing these categories can help you narrow down your decision as to the type of resume you want to write:

  • Reverse-Chronological Format: This is a traditional resume in which you write your job experience, beginning with your current or most recent job first, and continue down in reverse-chronological order.
  • Functional Format: This resume highlights your skills instead of job experience, and it’s ideal for someone with a lot of qualifications but who also may be missing something. It might work if you have gaps in your resume, you’re changing careers, or, you’re entry-level and don’t have a lot of experience. This type of resume gives you a chance to showcase your versatility and experience. However, it’s not the typical resume format.
  • Combination Format: This resume, as it sounds, is a combination of the reverse-chronological format resume and the functional format resume, in which the applicant highlights job experience but perhaps ties it to one specific skill. 

Writing Your Experience on a Resume

Once you’ve decided which resume format works best for you, start by adding your experience (especially if you’re not writing a resume in the functional format, in which case you’d want to choose your best skills). You should only go back a maximum of 10 to 15 years, depending on your level of experience and how long you’ve been in a certain line of work.

You also may want to consider leaving out any jobs that are not relevant to the one for which you’re applying. For instance, you may not need to add that one summer of babysitting to your resume if you’re applying to a different type of industry. But, if you’re looking to get back into teaching after a long hiatus, then it could be worth adding.

Job experiences should follow a particular stylistic format, but what information you choose to bold, italicize, bullet or underline depends on the specific template you choose, and, even then, you have a lot of flexibility. Just make sure you keep that format consistent throughout your resume:

  • Name of Company ‒ Position or Title
  • (Date Started ‒ Date Ended)
  • Job Responsibilities

Resume Font Size and Margins

Deciding which font to use on your resume can be a bit overwhelming, especially since you have so many fonts to choose from and may read a lot of conflicting information. Technically, no rules exist as to which font you should choose, though the standard typefaces are: Times New Roman (the most popular), Tahoma, Arial, Garamond and Lucida Sans, just to name a few. Standard point size is 12 points, but other font sizes are acceptable.

And, speaking of font sizes, you might be wondering how to choose a font size that will ensure your resume all fits on one page. Again, while no official rules dictate how long your resume should be, one page tends to be the standard, with regular 1-inch margins on all sides. The whole purpose of a resume is so the hiring party can get to know a little bit about whom you are in just a few minutes, so making it more than a page takes away from that. If you need a smaller font size to do this, that’s OK, but make sure it’s legible.

Other Tips for Writing a Formal Resume

When writing a resume, there are certain things you can do to make sure your resume stands out in a pile of resumes from other candidates. If you’re having trouble getting started, you can find many downloadable resume templates online to use as a foundation to build your own resume. This makes the process of writing a resume much easier, and it also helps keep your resume clean and neat.

If you’d like, consider adding a photo to your resume and customizing it a bit. If it’s a good fit for your industry, make it colorful and creative (but professional) and maybe add a fun quote or an interesting fact about yourself in the summary. It’s hard to get any kind of indication of an applicant’s personality from his or her resume, so if you can find a way to include something unique about yourself, your resume has a much higher chance of being read and considered. When in doubt, it always pays to have someone with HR experience look over your resume before you send out a copy.


Hana LaRock has been a content writer for more than five years. As part of her work as a contributor to numerous websites, Hana enjoys helping people find a new path in their lives, whether it involves editing a resume or providing information on finding work abroad.

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