7 Secret Steps to The Perfect Resume

Learn how to write the perfect resume in 7 secret steps

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If you want to write the perfect resume, this guide will tell you how to do it. It will give you actionable advice on what to write in the perfect resume, and how to format it. Unlike giving you a bunch of templates, we will give you step-by-step instructions on how to craft your resume. Templates are good, and you can find a ton online. They all seem appealing, but do they work in your case? Why should a template be better than another? All these questions are often unanswered: we take a whole different approach here, the one that will get you the perfect resume.

How To Write the Perfect Resume

1. Understand What a Resume Is All About

Most people misunderstand the purpose of a resume, and thus produce bad or average resumes. If you want to create the perfect resume, you should start to think about what the purpose of this document is. Luckily, all resumes serve more or less the same purpose, regardless of the industry or the job.

To understand such purpose, you should think about the audience of your resume. Most likely, three categories of people will read it:

  • The Recruiter – a person from Human Resources that should check if you match the basics requirements of the job offering (that is, you have the qualifications listed on the job’s ad)
  • The Hiring Manager – if you are hired, this will be your manager. In most companies, especially smaller ones, this is the decision-maker on if the company will hire you or not. She is the one who will have the most insights on what you will do in this job, and therefore know the skills you need. This person can be sometimes frustrated because has an understaffed team and she may be desperately looking for someone to fill the role.
  • Future Peers or Other Colleagues – some companies, especially large ones, have job candidates interview with the hiring manager as well as other people. Those other interviewers can be future peers for the role they want to hire, as well as other managers or individual contributors in other parts of the organization. They will assess your skills and qualifications, but with limited insight on the actual job.

Each different audience bucket will use the resume for different purposes. The recruiter will briefly skim it and decide if it is time to pass it to the hiring manager or not. If the hiring manager receives it, she will have a more thoughtful look at it (but still under a minute in general), and decide if you qualify for an interview. If so, the peers will also get it, and the hiring manager will read it more carefully in preparation of the interview.

Most of the advice you find online on the perfect resume is tailored to impress the recruiter. This is not enough. If we want to make an analogy, if you want to go from New York to Los Angeles, taking the taxi to the airport is impressing the recruiter. The actual flight is the hiring manager.

Ultimately, all those people want to use your resume to answer just one simple question, although answering means slightly different things for each as we saw above:

Can you do this job?

2. Start with the Job

If the perfect resume answers “Can you do this job?”, it means it addresses specifically that job. Yes, it means that the skills you present are highly linked to the job you are applying for. The message here is this: there is no one-size-fits-all. If you are applying for different jobs, you need to present different resumes to each, each outlining the most appropriate skills.

For example, if you are applying for a managerial position you will want to showcase people-management skills, such as effectively conducting performance reviews, managing promotions and so on. If, at the same time, you are also applying for a project management role that has no direct reports, you should highlight your ability to influence without authority more than traditional managerial skills.

This is not to say that managerial skills are not important. They are just not as relevant as influencing others in the case of Project Management.

A good starting point here is looking at the job description for the job you are applying for. The perfect resume should closely match what you see in the description, and possibly expand on other things that you think will be a nice addition to the job. Of course, to know what those things are you really need to be an expert for that position, and that goes beyond the perfect resume.

In fact, let me outline the proper expectations for the perfect resume: it will get you to the interview. Getting the job or not is a question that is answered during the interview. And, being able to do the job or not is a question answered when you are on the job. Therefore, the perfect resume will not land you any job, but just any job you are actually qualified to do.

3. Just One Page (Every 10 Years of Experience)

Let’s get to one of the hardest parts first. The perfect resume is just one page, or at most one page for every 10 years of experience. Now, I know what you are thinking “Well, but I have so much to say…” or even “Well yeah, but in 5 years I gained the experience people normally don’t get in a lifetime…”. Yeah, I heard you. In that case, the rule still apply one page is the way.

Why is this so important? Because it forces you to prioritize what is truly important for the job. If it is not important for the specific job you are applying for, then just slash it: do not including in your resume.

This applies to everything: experience, details about your education, your own picture, huge fonts for captions, empty spaces, and so on. Is it adding value? No? Then just do not include it. If you still can’t fit 10 years of experience in a single page, then you have a prioritization problem because you cannot discern what is important from what isn’t.

The truth is, your resume will be prioritized. You have two options: you do it yourself, and ensure the proper priorities are set right, or you have the recruiter do it. If the recruiter does this, it means he is just reading random sentences across your document, or just the first few lines. If it’s not one page, you have no idea what they are going to read and what they are going to skip.

As a bonus, I know some highly skilled professionals with 20 years of experience or longer that still have a single page resume. On request, they can provide a second document wit the list of projects they worked on. For most interviewers, a one-page resume is enough even for people who have 20 years of experience.

4. Show, Don’t Tell

Recently, I was reviewing a resume from a friend that started with a “profile” section long a paragraph. In that section, he talked about himself, what kind of person he was, and described himself as a way that really seemed to match someone fit for that job. Well, the perfect resume does NOT include a profile section.

Think about this: if you have to tell people you are famous, then maybe you aren’t. The same applies to your skills: if you have to tell the recruiter/hiring manager you are qualified for the job, then maybe you aren’t. Anyone looking at your resume should immediately see from your experience and education if you are qualified or not.

Instead of writing “result-driven” professional in a profile section, write down the results you have delivered so far (for example: “Processing 80+ support requests per month with an average user satisfaction of 4.6/5” for a customer support role). Instead of writing “creative”, write what you have created (e.g., “Proposed and developed a new newsletter template, resulting in a 30% drop on unsubscribe clicks”). Instead of writing “passionate about technology”, show your passion (e.g., “Top contributor on GitHub for 2021 on project XYZ”).

All this should be done in the experience, education, or personal projects sections. Which, by the way, should be the only three sections. You heard me right: there is no profile.

Don’t be afraid to do not mention older roles, or just mentioning without explain them.

5. Are You European? Ditch EuroPass, Please!

If you are working or planning to work in the European Union, you might have seen the “EuroPass” resume template. In fact, that is the most common people use, especially people just out of college. Most people realize it somewhat looks like crap, but they use it anyway because they assume they won’t get called if they use a different format. They assume recruiter are used to that.

Well, recruiter are used to that, but it does not mean it makes their job easier. So here I am giving you permission, ditch the EuroPass template and use something else. The EuroPass format is not good because it adds too much whitespace, and it is virtually impossible to fit everything in a single page with that template.

So yeah, no EuroPass please.

6. Use the Right Tools

You can use Microsoft Word or Pager on Mac to create your resume. But will it do the job? For sure, you can use any tool you want to deliver all the content, but the truth is that appearance matters when you write a resume. You will be easily able to spot a professionally created resume from an amateurish one.

To write the perfect resume, my recommendation is to use some program that is designed to produce printable material, not just to write content. The most popular are Microsoft Publisher or, if you want to truly go overkill, Adobe InDesign. With those, you will be able to place the context exactly how you want ii to be in the page. And pay attention to the details. For example, to land a job in Amazon, I used the Amazon-created font named “Amazon Ember”, as well as the same colors I found on the Amazon’s website. I got the job.

7. Brevity, Brevity, Brevity!

The path to the perfect resume embodies brevity. In fact, brevity is the key for a resume to be efficiently skimmed. We are somewhat doubling down on the point #3 here, but it is so important that I cannot truly stress it enough.

A few tips the perfect resume always implements:

  • Each line item (detailing either education, employment, or projects) should never span more than 3 lines. They are bullet points, not paragraphs
  • If an experience is not relevant but occupies a significant part of your career, mention the role but do not expand on company or responsibility
  • If a position you held long ago (<10 years ago) is no longer relevant for your role, just avoid it completely
  • When not reporting all your experiences, be sure to not report old experiences, rather than selectively report experiences and having gaps in your career
  • Consider ditching the skill section on the left, or at least compressing into two lines at the beginning of your resume
  • Details on education lose relevance as you build up your professional experience, but are more relevant for new graduates that have no experience
  • If you have around 15 years of experience, you will have to either make your resume 1 page or 2 pages. 1 page and half or 1 page and just a little is such a bad prioritization choice

Summary (and The Perfect Resume Template)

In summary, your resume should serve the purpose to help recruiter, hiring manager and future peer to understand if you qualify for a job or not. It should do that in the least amount of time possible, and thus should convey that with the least amount of information possible.

If you look for a template you can edit, check out this one (Microsoft Publisher).

Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

Alessandro Maggio