How to Write a Job-Winning Résumé (Steps and Example)

Are you currently working on your résumé? Our insightful guide will walk you through the entire process, from start to finish.

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Job-winning resume example

Your résumé has the power to open doors for you.

But here’s the thing: you only have 7.4 seconds to make an impression on potential employers, according to a 2018 eye-tracking study by Ladders. In that short timeframe, recruiters will make up their mind on whether you’re application and résumé is worthy of an interview, or if they should keep the doors firmly shut.

It’s a tricky situation to navigate, but we’ve got you covered. Whether you’re just entering the world of work, looking for a new job, or changing careers, this step-by-step guide will help you write a résumé that gets you noticed and, most importantly, hired.

1. Do some prep work

Before you start writing your résumé, it’s a good idea to:

  • review the job description (take note of specific requirements, and highlight important keywords and phrases)
  • write a list of important duties and responsibilities you performed in your previous positions, especially those that pertain to the job you’re applying for now
  • write down all your achievements from previous positions, along with figures and data that quantify those achievements
  • create a master list of your soft skills and hard skills.

Why do this? By gathering all this information, you’ll be better equipped to craft a tailored résumé, which in itself shows employers your genuine interest in the role and that you understand their needs — and, in effect, gives yourself an advantage over the other candidates.

2. Choose the right format

Now that you’ve completed the prep work, it’s time to start writing your résumé. This begins by determining and choosing the résumé format that best matches your specific career situation.

There are three main formats: chronological, functional/skills-based, and combination/hybrid.

Here’s a quick rundown of each one:


Chronological format

Functional format

Combination format

 Résumé Purpose

Highlights work experience and expertise

Highlights skills

Gives equal weight to both skills and experience

Level of work experience

Key section placed at the top of the page

Secondary section placed at the bottom of the page

One of two key sections, typically placed in the middle of the page

Skills section

Secondary section placed in the middle of the page

Key section placed at the top of the page

One of two key sections, typically placed at the top of the page


Preferred by most recruiters and easy to read

Emphasizes marketable skills, and bridges employment gaps

Emphasizes most relevant skills and accomplishments


Very common, and calls attention to irregular employment record

Suggests you’re hiding something, and difficult to read

Work history may be pushed down to second page and recruiters might not read that far

Good for

Virtually everyone

Creative professionals, overqualified candidates, employment gappers, and military-to-civilian transitioners

Experienced professionals and career changers

Bad for

Career changers and employment gappers

Students, entry-level candidates, experienced professionals, and career changers

Students and entry-level candidates

3. Add a header

At the top of your résumé, always add a header that includes your name (typically in a larger font size), phone number, email address, LinkedIn profile and location.

You can also optionally add the following, if applicable:

Make sure you use the exact same header of your résumé in all supporting documents, including your cover letter and list of references. This ensures consistency in terms of personal branding.

4. Write a standout headline

The résumé headline (or résumé title) is one of the most underutilized elements of a great résumé.

It’s essentially a short sentence that summarizes your key skills and industry experience, typically placed right after your résumé’s header and before your summary section (but it can be placed immediately after your name). When done right, a headline can help you make a great first impression, catch the hiring manager’s attention, and convince them you’re the perfect candidate.

Headlines are ideal for candidates with a lot of experience, as it’s a great way to condense your value to potential employers into a snappy one-liner, but everyone can (and should) consider adding one to their résumé.

Make sure your headline:

  • includes keywords from the job ad
  • incorporates achievements (like years of experience, number of awards won or dollar amount of sales)
  • includes certifications and licenses
  • is limited to a maximum of two lines
  • uses title case
  • is free of clichés and buzzwords like “motivated”, “go-getter” and “synergy”.

5. Craft a strong career summary or career objective

Every great résumé begins with a strong career summary or career objective.

Though they both are placed at the beginning of a résumé and intended as an introduction, they do have some key differences. Here’s a quick comparison between the two:


Career summary

Career objective

 Résumé Purpose

Highlights your qualifications

Focuses on your goals


Written in the active voice

Written in the passive voice


Incorporates metrics to prove your achievements using percentages, years, dollar amounts, etc

Does not typically incorporate metrics

Ideal for

Virtually everyone

Entry-level candidates and career changers

Whichever you choose to use (you can even combine the two by including a one-sentence objective at the end of a summary), make sure it:

  • is tailored to the job you’re applying for
  • demonstrates your value
  • is concise (typically 3–5 lines long).

Here’s a useful tip: write this section last. Why? Because once you have the rest of your résumé planned out, it will be easier to pick out the things you want to show off here.

6. Detail your work experience

The work experience section is perhaps the most important element of your résumé — and the one that recruiters care most about. It gives potential employers an idea of your employment history and whether you have the skills and knowledge to succeed in the role.

You should only list the positions that are relevant to the job you’re currently applying for in this section, which should be formatted as individual entries in reverse-chronological order (i.e. starting from your most recent position first and then working backwards through time).

Each entry should include:

  • your position/job title
  • the name of your employer
  • the location of where you are working/have worked
  • dates of employment
  • a short optional description of the company if it’s not a household name
  • a bulleted list of 4–6 of your most notable achievements (make sure to start each list item with an action word).

If you want to showcase experience from a previous career or that is otherwise unrelated to the job you’re applying for, you can do this by creating another section titled “Additional Experience”. In this case, you should replace the company description and list of achievements with an optional job summary, limited to two lines at most.

7. List your education

Up next is the education section, where you should list your academic experiences as separate entries.

Each entry should include:

  • the type of qualification you earned or are working towards
  • the name of your school
  • the school’s location
  • years attended.

You can also optionally add the following, particularly if you’re an entry-level jobseeker:

  • your GPA
  • relevant coursework
  • any awards and honors you received
  • your academic achievements
  • relevant extracurricular activities.

Always begin this section with your highest education first, and then list everything else in reverse-chronological order. That said, don’t include your high school experience if you’ve completed a university degree.

8. Showcase your skills

The skills section of your résumé is intended to give employers an at-a-glance view of all your know-how that makes you the perfect candidate for the job. It should comprise a mix-and-match of your most relevant soft and hard skills.

There are many different ways you can list your skills in your résumé, including:

  • as a bulleted list (with an optional short description for each skill)
  • by category (such as “Technical Skills”, “Soft Skills” and “Languages”)
  • by rating each skill with a consistent metric to show your proficiency

As a general rule of thumb, you should list between five and 10 skills here. Depending on your background and the required experience for the position, you can list more, but limit the number to 20. Ultimately, the skills you include in your résumé should be directly relevant to the job.

9. Add other optional sections

If you have other key accomplishments and qualifications you weren’t able to mention elsewhere on your résumé, and which will help you further demonstrate your suitability for the position, consider including additional sections, such as:

Again, make sure that the content of any additional sections is tailored to the job you’re applying for.

10. Proofread your résumé

Before you submit your résumé to potential employers for consideration, make sure you thoroughly proofread itand then proofread it again. This is essential as it can save you from a potentially embarrassing — and job-costing — typo like “attention to derail” or “ruining the company’s global operations”.

Beyond proofreading your résumé for grammar and spelling errors, you should also:

  • confirm that your contact details are up to date and correct
  • ensure that dates, names (including those of employers and schools), and figures and percentages are correct
  • check that links work and point to the correct addresses
  • make sure that dates, numbers, bulleted lists, and fonts are formatted consistently.

It’s a good idea to ask a trusted friend or relative to look over your résumé after you’ve proofread it yourself. After all, they might find typos you missed, and can even offer you valuable feedback on content and layout.

11. Use an example for inspiration

Want to see a well-written résumé in action? With a custom example we created with our professionally designed and ATS-optimized Smooth résumé template for inspiration!

Smooth Resume Template Journalist Example

Get the Smooth template Explore all templates 

We compiled these essential résumé writing steps into a video too: 

Final thoughts

Résumé writing, whether it’s to apply for your first job or a more senior position, can be an overwhelming and time-consuming process, one that is hopefully simplified by this guide.

Before we go, here’s some parting advice:

  • Limit your résumé to two pages.
  • Optimize it for application tracking systems.
  • Save it as a PDF with a descriptive file name, e.g.: “Jane Smith — Journalist Résumé.pdf”.
  • Always supplement your application with a targeted cover letter.

Got a question about writing your résumé? Just drop us a line in the comments section below — we’re more than happy to help!