How to Craft a Winning Resume: Step-By-Step Guide

ByNathan Paulus
Edited byRae Osborn

Updated: April 23, 2024

ByNathan Paulus
Edited byRae Osborn

Updated: April 23, 2024

Advertising & Editorial Disclosure

An effective resume is much more than a simple list of skills and career history. Your resume often makes the first impression on potential employers and is vital to securing an interview during a job search. When crafted correctly, it's a tool that reflects your qualifications, experiences and compatibility with the position you're applying for.

Importance of a Well-Crafted Resume

A well-crafted resume does more than state your work history — it's a strategic way to present your professional narrative in the most compelling light. Here's why a resume is vital in your job application process:


Step 1: Carefully Read the Job Description

The first step in crafting a compelling resume is a thorough understanding of the job description. It sets the direction for how you'll customize your resume to meet the specific needs and requirements of the role. Here's how to approach it:


Read Attentively

Begin by reading the job description carefully. Pay attention to the language used and the listed responsibilities and requirements. This will give you a clear idea of what the employer values most.


Highlight Key Skills and Qualifications

As you read, underline or highlight the essential skills and qualifications mentioned. These are usually listed under sections titled "Requirements," "Qualifications," or "Skills."


Match Your Skills

Compare your experiences and skills to those in the job description. Identify where your background aligns with the job requirements. This step is crucial for tailoring your resume to show you're an ideal fit.


Incorporate Keywords

Integrate keywords and phrases found in the job description throughout your resume. Use them in your summary, work experience and skills sections. This shows that your qualifications match the role and helps your resume get past Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), which screen resumes based on specific keywords.

Step 2: Choose the Best Resume Format

Choosing the right resume format ensures that your application captures the attention of hiring managers by presenting your background in the most effective and relevant way. Below are the three most commonly used resume formats, along with guidance on who should use each and why:


Chronological Resume

This format arranges your work experience in reverse chronological order, beginning with your most recent job at the top. It's ideal for individuals with a solid and steady work history. The chronological resume highlights career progression and is particularly effective for those looking to advance in the same field.

Best for: Seasoned professionals with consistent employment in their field.

Example: A marketing manager with 10 years of experience seeking to become a marketing director.


Functional Resume

This format emphasizes your skills and abilities rather than the chronological chronology of your professional experience. It's beneficial for those with career gaps in their employment, newcomers to the workforce or career changers, as it allows them to highlight how their skills transfer to the position they're applying for.

Best for: Career changers, individuals with employment gaps or those with diverse skill sets not tied to specific roles.

Example: A professional transitioning from a teaching career to a corporate training position, emphasizing skills in curriculum development, presentation and educational technology.


Combination Resume

A hybrid of the chronological and functional formats, this style allows you to showcase your relevant skills and work history. It's perfect for those with a solid employment record who also want to highlight specific skills that are particularly relevant to the job they're applying for.

Best for: Professionals with a robust work history and specific, transferable skills directly applicable to the job opening.

Example: A software developer with extensive experience in project management looking to focus on agile project management roles.

Step 3: Write a Compelling Resume Summary or Objective

Your summary or objective should introduce your resume and encapsulate your professional identity and value proposition, making a compelling case for why you're the ideal candidate for the position. Here's how to differentiate between the two and write them effectively:


Resume Summary

Ideal for experienced professionals, a summary provides a concise overview of your career achievements and key strengths. It highlights your experience, major accomplishments and the value you bring to a potential employer.

Example: "Customer Service Manager with over seven years of experience specializing in improving customer satisfaction and team performance. Achieved a 30% increase in customer satisfaction at XYZ Co., demonstrating proficiency in CRM software and effective team leadership."


Resume Objective

Best suited for those at the entry level, career changers or applicants with gaps in employment, an objective focuses on your career goals and how they align with the company's needs, emphasizing your enthusiasm and potential contributions.

Example: "Recent Computer Science graduate passionate about software development and problem-solving. Aiming to apply academic knowledge and innovative thinking in a Junior Developer role. Awarded university prize for excellence in project development, showcasing strong technical skills and creative solutions."

takingNotes icon
  • Be Concise: Keep your summary or objective brief, targeting three to five lines.
  • Showcase Your Value: Mention specific skills and experiences that align with the job description, indicating how you can solve problems or add value to the team.
  • Use Active Language: Start sentences with action verbs and use the active voice to convey dynamism and proactivity.

Step 4: Detail Your Work Experience

The work experience section of your resume is where you showcase your professional journey and demonstrate your value to potential employers. Here's how you can effectively list your work experience:


Chronological Order

Begin with your most recent position and proceed backward in time. This format allows employers to quickly understand your current level of responsibility and track your career progression.


Dynamic Action Verbs

Initiate each bullet point with a strong action verb (e.g., led, developed, increased, optimized) to capture attention and actively convey your role in each achievement.


Quantify Achievements

Wherever possible, use numbers, percentages and specific outcomes to quantify your achievements. This approach provides tangible evidence of your contributions and impact on your roles.


Beyond Duties

Focus on your achievements in each position rather than simply listing job duties. Describe how you added value, solved problems or improved processes. This distinction helps employers gauge your potential impact on their organization.


Tailor to the Job

Select experiences and accomplishments most relevant to the position you're applying for. Tailoring this section to the job description ensures you highlight the skills and experiences that align closely with what the employer is seeking.



Step 5: Highlight Your Skills

The skills section can be an opportunity to respond directly to the job description's call for specific competencies. Follow these steps to make your skills section stand out:


Inventory Your Skills

Compile a comprehensive list of your skills, including technical skills and interpersonal skills. No skill is too small to consider.


Prioritize Relevant Skills

From your inventory, select the skills that most closely match the job description. These are the ones you should highlight in your resume.


Balancing Hard and Soft Skills

A well-rounded candidate possesses hard and soft skills. Hard skills demonstrate your specific qualifications for the job, while soft skills illustrate how you interact with others and approach your work.


Presenting Your Skills

When listing your skills, consider using bullet points for clarity and ease of reading. Provide brief examples of how you've applied each skill in a professional setting, either within the skills section itself or elsewhere in your resume.


Integrating Soft Skills Throughout

While it's important to list soft skills, you can also integrate them into your work experience and achievements.



Step 6: Include Your Education and Credentials

This section should highlight your academic achievements and underscore your commitment to professional development. Consider the following tips to showcase your education and credentials effectively:


List Your Highest Education First

Begin with the most advanced degree you've earned, followed by others in reverse chronological order. For each, include the degree type, your major, the name of the institution and your graduation year (or expected graduation year if you're currently enrolled).


Certifications and Licenses

List any professional certifications or licenses you hold, especially those directly relevant to the job. Include the name of the certification, the issuing organization and the date of attainment or expiration, if applicable.


Relevant Coursework, Honors and Awards

Mention any courses, honors or awards directly relevant to the job or that showcase exceptional achievement. Place these details under the appropriate educational entry, keeping the descriptions brief yet descriptive.


Formatting for Clarity

Use bullet points for each element to ensure the section is easily scannable. This helps potential employers quickly grasp your academic and professional learning achievements.


Prioritizing Information

Your educational background will be particularly important if you're starting your career or a recent graduate. In this case, consider placing your education section above your work experience. For those more advanced in their careers, education can follow the work experience section, focusing more on degrees and certifications than on coursework or honors.



  • Master of Science in Data Analytics – XYZ University, 2023
  • Specialization: Big Data Processing and Visualization Technique
  • Honors: Received the Dean's Award for Outstanding Graduate Research


  • Certified Data Analyst – Data Science Institute, 2022

Step 7: Consider Optional Resume Sections

In addition to the essential components of your resume — such as your career summary, skills, work experience and education — consider including optional sections to further develop your brand, showcase a comprehensive skill set and stand out from other candidates. Select optional sections that add value and are relevant to the position you're applying for. Here are some possibilities:


Volunteer Work

Highlight significant volunteer roles and community service activities. These experiences can illustrate your commitment to social causes, leadership abilities and application of professional skills in a volunteer setting.



Detailing relevant certifications underscores your dedication to professional development and expertise in your field.



Share hobbies that reflect positively on your personality and offer insights into your soft skills, such as teamwork, creativity or leadership. Choose hobbies that are relevant or could contribute uniquely to the job.


Awards and Honors

Include professional or academic recognitions to emphasize your commitment to excellence and achievement in your career or field of study.



Listing language proficiencies can demonstrate your ability to communicate in diverse environments, an essential skill in many global or multicultural roles.


Professional Affiliations

Show your engagement with the professional community through memberships in associations, which can indicate a broader network and up-to-date industry knowledge

Step 8: Proofread and Format Your Resume

Errors, typos and inconsistencies in formatting can significantly detract from your professionalism and attention to detail. Here are some strategies to ensure your resume is polished and professional:


Be Consistent

Use a consistent format for headings, bullet points and fonts throughout your resume. This uniformity helps maintain a clean, professional look.


Choose a Professional Font

Use a professional, easy-to-read font such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman. Maintain a font size of 10 to 12 points for body text and slightly larger for headings.


Bullet Points

Use bullet points to list achievements and responsibilities, improving the document's readability and making it easier for employers to scan.


Margins and Spacing

Set your margins to 1" on all sides to create a balanced, uncluttered layout. Adequate spacing between sections further enhances readability.


Multiple Rounds of Proofreading

Go beyond a cursory spell check. Read your resume several times, each focusing on different elements — first for typos and grammar, then for consistency in formatting and finally for overall flow and persuasiveness.


Get a Second Opinion

Having someone else review your resume can provide valuable insights and catch errors you might have missed.


Use Digital Tools

Leverage grammar and spell-check tools like Grammarly or Microsoft Word's Review features for an additional layer of error checking.

Additional Resources

Here's a list of valuable resources for crafting a standout resume that effectively navigates modern job application processes. Each offers unique insights and guidance tailored to different aspects of resume writing and job search strategies:

  • Features a wide range of guides, including formatting resumes for Applicant Tracking Systems and tailoring resumes to specific job applications​​.
  • U.S. Department of Labor: Shares tips for writing a federal resume, including tailoring your resume to the job's requirements and selecting the right format​​.
  • Workshops for Warriors: Provides targeted advice for veterans transitioning to civilian work, focusing on showcasing military training, certifications and soft skills​​.

About Nathan Paulus

Nathan Paulus headshot

Nathan Paulus is the Head of Content Marketing at MoneyGeek, with nearly 10 years of experience researching and creating content related to personal finance and financial literacy.

Paulus has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He enjoys helping people from all walks of life build stronger financial foundations.