Christine F. Della Monaca, Monster Staff Writer
Writing a resume is like exercising: You may not look forward to it, but you feel better once it’s done. And like the results of a good workout, a well-presented resume can help you keep your career in shape.
But when writing a resume, what works and what doesn’t? We thought we’d turn to Monster members like you for advice. Here are some tips from both job seekers who write resumes and hiring professionals who read them for a living. Keep in mind that like resumes, opinions can vary -- what works for one person may not work for you.
Title and Objective
A strong, descriptive resume title will help you stand out in a sea of resumes. “Titling your resume ‘Joe's do-it-all resume’ or ‘1975 hottie looking for a job resume’ gets your resume passed over by a busy recruiter,” says one Monster member who should know -- he’s a recruiter himself. “Make the title useful. For instance, ‘Nursing Director, Pediatrics Labor and Delivery’ or ‘IT Telecom Project Manager, Microsoft and Cisco Certified’ or ‘Enterprise Software Sales Manager, Life Sciences’ -- enough with the stupid titles we dismiss and make fun of. This is your career we're talking about.”
And an objective must get an employer’s attention quickly or it won’t get any attention at all, says a district manager for a wireless company. “I receive hundreds of resumes on a monthly basis,” he says. “Two-thirds of the resumes are rejected due to the applicant having no clear objective in seeking employment with my company. Your resume must grab my attention within the first few words of the objective. It must be clearly written and relevant to the position you are applying for. Take a little extra time and customize the objective to the position you are seeking…. If you cannot sell yourself with your resume, you might not have the opportunity to sell yourself at an interview.”
Look and Feel
As for typeface, you had definite opinions. “Don't use Times New Roman font,” advises one seeker. “Your resume will look like everyone else's. Georgia and Tahoma are both different, professional and pleasant to look at.”
But another job seeker’s font advice is more practical: “Use Times New Roman or Arial Narrow instead of other wider fonts to keep your resume to only one (or two) pages and save paper.”
Monster Resume Expert Kim Isaacs recommends using a standard Microsoft Word-installed font so the layout will be consistent when an employer opens your resume. No matter what font you use, she suggests you stick with one per resume. “Also, the type should be large enough to be read on screen without causing eye fatigue,” she says.
For the hard copy of your resume, make sure you invest in good paper stock, says one HR professional who has also composed and drafted resumes for professional clients. “Before our prospective employer even takes one glance at our resume, there is something they do first, and that is FEEL it,” she says. “Having handled nearly hundreds of resumes each week, I think most people would be amazed how much notice you can get with a resume on good-quality paper. Sometimes it is not even a conscious thought, just as you shuffle stacks of resumes from here to there, making all the appropriate piles to serve your needs, you always tend to linger just a little longer over that one resume with paper that feels a little heavier, like the cotton/linen blends or the one that feels just slightly different than normal, like the parchments. You can double the effect if you choose good-quality paper in a professional color other than white.”
When President Lincoln was asked how long a man’s legs should be, he said they should be able to reach from a man’s body to the floor. Likewise, your resume should be long enough to sell you properly without overstating your accomplishments.
But of course, you had opinions on this, too. The consensus on resume length is simple: Keep it short. There are exceptions, though. “Never exceed one page, unless you have 15-plus years of experience and are applying for a job in upper management,” advises one job seeker. “Make sure that your resume remains one page and formatted properly, even when viewed in different formats and different views -- if someone opens your resume in a view other than the one you created it in and sees a hanging line, it looks unprofessional.”
Style and Grammar
Finally, it may seem like grade-school advice, but it bears repeating: “Although I try to counsel people on how to write a raving resume and an awesome cover letter, I'm consistently shocked at how many resumes and cover letters I receive from people that are plagued with misspelled words, grammatical mistakes and basically little or no time spent proofreading prior to sending,” says one Monster member who’s been in the staffing industry for 15-plus years. “In an era when competition seems to be one of an applicant's worst enemies, it seems that one would want to do everything possible to stand out in the crowd. Trust me: I won't give a second thought to deleting a resume and/or cover letter that is fraught with mistakes.”
Learn How to Format a Cover Letter
When you submit your resume, you will typically need to write a cover letter as well. In this letter, you'll make a case for your candidacy, highlighting your relevant skills. Since a cover letter is a formal document, there are set guidelines for what information to include in the letter, as well as how to format it.
Hiring managers read a lot of cover letters, so while their most important goal is to find strong candidates, they will definitely notice if the letter is formatted incorrectly or does not adhere to the usual cover letter style guidelines.
Use the cover letter format below as a guideline when you create customized cover letters to send to employers. It lays out which information to include, and where. Then, review cover letter samples, a cover letter template, and tips for formatting hard copy and email cover letters you can use to write your own letters.
Cover Letter Format
Your Contact Information
City, State, Zip Code
Employer Contact Information (if you have it)
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name,
- Cover Letter Greeting Examples: Note: If you do not have a contact name, you can skip the salutation entirely. Or, you can use Dear Hiring Manager, To Whom It May Concern, or one of the other examples listed in the link. Ideally, you will be able to address your cover letter to a specific person. Doing research can help you figure out who is the most appropriate person to receive the letter. Note: If you do not know the gender of your contact, you can write out the person's full name, e.g., "Dear Cory Smith"or "Dear Jordan Parish."
Body of Cover Letter
The body of your cover letter lets the employer know what position you are applying for, why the employer should select you for an interview, and how you will follow-up. Organize the body of your cover letter into the following paragraphs:
- First Paragraph
The first paragraph of your letter should include information on why you are writing. Mention the position you are applying for and where you found the job listing. Include the name of a mutual contact, if you have one.
- Middle Paragraph(s)
The next section of your cover letter should describe what you have to offer the employer. Mention specifically how your qualifications match the job you are applying for. Think of this section of the cover letter as where you're making a pitch for your fit as an employee and show makes you a great candidate. Keep in mind that employers will be more interested in what you can do for them, than a list of your background. Make the connection between your qualifications and the job requirements clear. Use this section to interpret your resume—don't repeat from it verbatim.
- Final Paragraph
Conclude your cover letter by thanking the employer for considering you for the position. Include information on how you will follow-up. Optionally, you can briefly restate why you would be a good fit for the position.
Handwritten Signature (for a hard copy letter)
Email Subject Line
When you're sending an email cover letter, include a subject line that enables the hiring manager to recognize who you are and the job for which you are applying. Here are sample subject lines that are appropriate to use in your emailed job application.
Formatting Tips for Cover Letters
Here are some formatting tips to keep in mind when you are writing your letter:
- Email versus hard copy: The example letter above is formatted for a printed out hard copy. If you are emailing your cover letter, you'll need to pay particular attention to the subject line of your email. See more tips for formatting your email cover letter.
- Font choices: The details count when it comes to cover letters, so choose a professional font in a 10 or 12 point size. This is no time to break out emoticons or emojis!
- Spacing: Your letter should be single-spaced. Include a space between every paragraph, and in general, a space between each section of the letter. (That is, there should be a space between the address and the date, and then again between the date and the salutation.) In an email cover letter, where many sections are left off, you will want to include a space between the salutation and between each paragraph, and another space before your complimentary close.
- Proofreading: Remember that note about details counting in cover letters? Make sure to avoid errors by carefully proofreading your letter. Use your word processor's spell check to catch common errors, and then consider reading your letter aloud—or having a friend review it—to catch additional errors. Here are guidelines for proofreading your cover letter.
Cover Letter Examples
Examples of cover letters for a variety of different types of jobs, types of job seekers, and types of job applications.