We’ve all heard those through-the-grapevine whispers that recruiters only spend X seconds looking at your resume, or that a resume should NEVER be two pages, or that candidates get rejected based on typos (tip: print out your resume on paper and read through it to double-check this).
Your resume is often the core decision-making tool for whether you get an interview, but there are so many wildly different opinions about what this French-sounding document should actually look like.
That’s why the Earlywork team thought we’d make a FREE section-by-section guide around how to design a resume for early-career workers to curate lessons from our own job application experience across leading tech companies, fast-growing startups and venture capital.
There’s no one silver bullet perfect resume template, because every candidate is different, but there are certainly tips and patterns you can leverage to your advantage.
Don’t take this as a bible, but rather, use each section to reflect back on your own resume and ensure you feel comfortable that you’re selling your experiences as best you can.
Okay okay, for the impatient ones, here’s a template + some real world examples…
We’ve made a FREE Resume Template for Hurley Wurk, a fictional ambitious university student. The template is built on Overleaf (using a language called LaTeX) that helps to ensure your formatting stays neatly aligned.
Plus, here's a real-world example of the resume I was using in my final year of university.
I also found Jessica Ponting’s resume template in this article as a pretty reliable reference point when I was applying for roles in uni (she landed offers at Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, McKinsey, Bain, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley).
Now for the deep dive. So, how many pages?
First thing’s first, if you’re an early-career professional, keep it to 1 page if you can.
It’s not a ‘mandatory’ rule and you won’t be binned JUST for having 2 pages, but most recruiters will already have their yes/no decision on whether to progress a candidate from a skim of the first resume page.
I like the 1-page format because it forces you to prioritise the most important information about your career background, rather than stretching and padding out your measurable achievements with fluffier or less relevant content just to get to 2 pages.
Ask yourself “Will this piece of information make the difference between me getting an interview or not?”
That being said, don’t force yourself to meet the 1-page standard if you’re cutting out a lot of relevant experiences and achievements.
Just ensure you’re putting your most important content on the first page because that’s likely where the decision will be made. Better yet, have it in the first half of the page. Put your best foot forward.
Let’s talk formatting...
If you’re applying for a creative-type role like design or marketing, then your resume is in of itself a portfolio piece; go forth and customise the design to your pleasure! Even for other roles, if you have an eye for design, Canva can be a great way to whip up something slick (they even have free resume templates).
However, from a risk minimisation perspective, I'd recommend staying closer to the classic resume format.
If design isn't really your strong suit, poor design choices could impact readability or give the recruiter a negative first impression before they've even had a chance to read your experience.
And if you're applying to larger companies, some firms and recruiters may also still hold a perception that colourful resumes are less 'professional'. Even though startups may care less about these sort of formalities, often their employees have come from bigger companies anyway, so going with that ‘standard’ resume format isn’t going to ruin your chances.
From a more technical perspective, there's also the consideration that a lot of larger companies with formal online job listings use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs). Using a non-traditional resume format, custom graphics, or overly colourful backgrounds may create difficulties for resume scanners that try to pull information and keywords from your resume (and some colours may not display as intended on the ATS).
At the end of the day, If you’ve got the right experiences and you’re wording it well with clear and consistent formatting, you’re not going to get rejected just because your resume was in black-and-white with a traditional font and bullet-point layout.
Okay, what’s this ‘classic' look?
Colour scheme? Black text on white background. Can’t go wrong with high readability.
Serif or sans-serif? Either is fine, not mission critical, but ensure it’s something elegant and readable. Best to keep a consistent font throughout the resume, or one font for headings, one for body.
Computer Modern, Helvetica, Garamond, Caslon, Arial and Lato are some of my preferences. Times New Roman is a bit too boomer, but maybe that’s just me.
If I were Prime Minister, I would legally ban Comic Sans, Chiller, Joker, Papyrus so recruiters didn’t have to suffer. Don’t get too cheeky with the font choice!
Font size? Depends on the font, but enough that someone can comfortably read a printed out resume without squinting. Usually sizes 10-12 tend to be fine.
White space? Minimise unnecessary blank space so you can try and fit in more information on that 1 page, but there is a limit here. Make sure it’s still sufficiently spaced to be read clearly and to demarcate resume sections.
Now when it comes to visuals, I’ve seen this a fair bit, but I’d advise against putting a photo of yourself on your resume.
This opens up much greater potential for conscious or subconscious discrimination by race, gender or religion, especially since a colour photo on a black-and-white resume is the first thing a reader’s eyes will jump to. Your resume should be about your skills, not your looks (okay, maybe an edge case if you’re applying for a modelling job).
Document type? Submitting as a PDF is increasingly becoming the way to go, because it preserves the formatting regardless of what computer or program is used to open it. Word docs can get a little...funky.
What Categories Should I Have?
Again, there’s no perfect rules here, but I think broadly, you can divide resume sections into must-haves and could-haves.
Must-Have (with recommended order):
- Contact Details
- Work Experience
- Leadership Experience
- Side Projects
- Career Summary
Let’s take a look at what each of these entail:
LinkedIn. Phone Number. Email. Those are the big 3.
If you’re applying for a role in a different location to your current location, or a different location to your university/work experiences, then it may also be helpful to include your city & country.
For designers/writers, a portfolio link is a must-have, and it’s advantageous for other creatively aligned roles like marketing. For engineers/data scientists, make sure you include your Github or personal website showcasing projects you’ve built.
If you’re not one of these but still have some sort of personal website or blog, great, chuck it in!
Let’s be real. This is the most important section on your resume.
Assuming it’s your strongest selling point in your profile, it should go first.
For early-career workers who may have strong academic and extracurricular experience at university, but less professional work experience, I’d recommend putting Work Experience after Education so you highlight your strongest area of value at the top of your resume and put your best foot forward.
For your most recent role, I’d have 3-5 bullet points, as the experience is likely more senior and more relevant to your current career objectives. Going further back, 2-3 bullet points probably makes more sense.
Should I include all my roles? If you're just starting out in your career and have the space on your resume, doesn't hurt, but as you start to get a few internships and roles, you should look to curate for the ones that have more transferrable/relevant skills to your desired role and more significant measurable outcomes. Too many unrelated roles can make your value proposition unclear.
Keep bullet points ideally to 1 line each, maximum 2 lines per bullet point. People don’t want to read paragraphs, they want a quick snapshot of what the heck you actually achieved.
Chronological order with the most recent role at the top is the no-brainer. Don’t reinvent the wheel here; keep your story clear with start and end dates indicating month and year.
Now if you haven’t had much professional work experience yet, a cheeky hack is to leverage some of your extracurricular leadership roles, volunteering roles, uni projects, and side projects in your Work Experience section to still showcase things you’ve worked on with tangible results and relevant skills.
As per our Level Up Your LinkedIn piece, here are a few quick tips about how to frame your experiences:
- Focus on Achievements, Not Responsibilities: Employers don’t want to know what you were meant to do in your role, they want to know what you actually did, what you created, what results you generated. Use action words to lead your bullet points like Built / Created / Developed/ Led / Grew / Spearheaded / Drove / Generated / Achieved / Defined.
- Show Me The Numbers: If you can’t measure it, can an employer really trust you actually got shit done? Think here about:
- $ figures (sales amount, savings generated, revenue generated)
- % figures (increased memberships by 30%, reduced wait times by 50%),
- Scale figures (managed a team of 10 engineers, conducted 50 customer interviews, reached 30,000 viewers)
For an early-career professional, your education section is still quite relevant. You’re showing employers what you chose to spend your years at university learning (a reflection of your interests), how you performed academically, and how you got involved with communal and leadership initiatives beyond just your marks.
When it comes to showcasing grades, if these aren’t a strong point, don’t showcase them. Your resume is a sales pitch so only put information that helps. If they are, great! Put your average mark, and if relevant, mention any subjects where you had a particularly high course rank. Awards and scholarships are also a great addition for building credibility.
You can choose to mention a summary of key extracurriculars here and have a dedicated Leadership section to explain some of these in further detail, but it’s not mandatory to have both. If your extracurricular experience is a key part of your competitive advantage as a candidate, probably worth a separate section.
Doesn’t hurt to also mention exchanges, external courses or bootcamps you’ve done outside your university degree! Reflects a diversity in your learning experiences and a deeper passion for learning. That being said, if you choose to include online courses, keep the list limited to role-relevant skills.
This is a powerful section in outlining your measurable hard skills, whether it’s programming languages, design tools, marketing software or even spoken languages. Think SQL, Excel, Python, Figma, Sketch, Salesforce...Portuguese!
The problem with including nebulous soft skills like ‘Teamwork’, ‘Leadership’, etc. is they’re much harder for the recruiter to measure and trust. Anyone could write these on their resume regardless of whether they’re actually good at these things, so they’re not going to hold much weight in the decision of whether you get an interview.
Soft skills are certainly important, but these should come across in your work and extracurricular experiences. Don’t say you have them, show you have them with the things you’ve led and built.
When it comes to grading skills, adding in some comparative indication of proficiency e.g. Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced may not be super reliable, but at least it gives the recruiter some sense of which of those skills you think yourself to be strongest at.
Now there’s certain baseline skills that are almost space wasters. Please don’t put “Microsoft Word” or “Outlook”. Again, ask yourself if the information you put is really going to be the difference between you getting an interview or not.
This section is a great way to showcase roles you’ve performed outside your formal work experience and education, though you can include them as a part of the Education section if the roles are university-based.
A lot of people have some sort of ‘Interests’ section on their resume, but ideally, the Leadership Experience and Side Projects section already implicitly cover these in a more tangible, career-relevant format, so you don’t really need an Interests section if these are done well.
Saying you’re interested in basketball is fine, but saying you had a leadership role in your university’s basketball club does this AND also conveys more relevant career skills around leadership, project management, teamwork, etc. Two birds, one stone.
Oftentimes, I see separate sections for Volunteering Experience, Leadership Experience, and Extracurricular Experience, but in the interest of efficiency, they all broadly fall under this category of roles and responsibilities you’ve taken on outside your professional work experience and direct education. Choose whatever name of these 3 suits best, or some merged name like Community & Leadership Experience.
Broadly, the bullet-point approach with these is pretty similar to your Work Experience. Achievements, measurable results and skills.
These are a fantastic way to:
1. Show off a genuine enthusiasm for honing your craft,
2. Demonstrate an entrepreneurial streak and willingness to create new things
3. Showcase your interests in a more measurable way whilst still creating conversational threads for the interview.
Maybe it’s a newsletter/blog you started, or a charity event you created, or a software tool you built, or your YouTube series, or an online community you founded. Makes for a great conversation starter in interviews and can really help to distinguish you in the interviewer’s memory from other candidates.
Oftentimes, these can just come under the relevant work experiences where the award was received, or your education experience if relevant to your education or extracurriculars. Important to capture but doesn’t have to be a separate section. If you have several awards that don’t quite fit into the Work/Education sections and you have the space, it doesn't hurt to have a bullet-point list of awards.
Pro-tip: frame how many people were given the award out of the total pool, so as to convey the selectivity and importance of the award. ‘Selected in the top 5 from 9000 competitors’ shows you genuinely performed above and beyond most of the group of consideration, and in turn, builds recruiter trust in your skills as related to the achievement. Otherwise, coming 3rd might mean 3rd out of 4 people.
It’s nice to have, but not mission-critical. Broadly the idea here is you want to efficiently summarise your key experiences, achievements and interests in 1-2 sentences such that from reading the top of your resume, the recruiter already has a general impression of your holistic value proposition. You can also be explicit about what sort of roles you're looking for, if this isn't clear from your resume.
Example: Associate Product Manager at Atlassian with 3+ years' interdisciplinary tech & business experience spanning product, operations, marketing, design, and sales in both startups and leading tech companies like Amazon, Uber, Deloitte Digital and IBM
Hot take: don’t bother.
Think about it. Can you imagine a recruiter actually saying “Wow this candidate has such great experience but they don’t list any referees. Let’s just reject them.”?
Oh, and no need for the memey “Referees available upon request” line either.
If recruiters want referees, they’ll usually ask you later on in the process.
Save that precious resume page real estate for more information about your skills and achievements.
Pro tip: a more effective way to curate referees & recommendations is your LinkedIn profile.