How to Build Your Résumé: Expert Tips

 July 27, 2020
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From sticking to a format that works to including personal details that catch the attention of employers, there’s a lot to consider when thinking about how to build your résumé.

Standing out from the pack has never been more important, especially since most recruiters spend an average of only 7.4 seconds initially scanning a candidate’s résumé, according to career site Ladders, Inc. That isn’t much time to make a great first impression.

Need some résumé help? We spoke with experts to break down what it takes to supercharge your résumé in today’s crowded job market. Here are some tips on creating your résumé, along with where to find résumé templates and what to do once you’re done.


Stick with a conventional format

When it comes to edging out the competition, it’s tempting to overhaul your résumé with a completely unique format — anything to stop a hiring manager in their tracks and make them curious about you. Insiders say to resist the urge.

“The larger the company, the more likely they are to incorporate applicant tracking systems in their hiring process,” Peter Yang, CEO of ResumeGo, told Student Loan Hero. “The fancier the résumé design you use, the more likely you are to end up with a résumé that these applicant tracking systems can’t read properly, so it’s usually better in cases like these to use more basic résumé designs.”

According to research from résumé optimization site Jobscan, about 99% of Fortune 500 companies use this type of software to automatically sift through résumés. This is why Amanda Augustine, career expert at TopResume, told Student Loan Hero that less is more.

“If you’re in a creative role, save that creativity for your personal website or online portfolio,” she said. “You need to keep your résumé in a format and design that has a visual balance to it and that’s easy for an individual to quickly glance at and pull out the most important pieces of information.”

Pay close attention to the top third of your résumé

When thinking about how to build your résumé, Augustine noted that the most important piece is the space that takes up the top third of the page. Look at it as a snapshot of who you are as a candidate.

“It whets the appetite, sets the stage and gets them interested in learning more about you,” she said.

Before unpacking your skills and work experience, make sure your basic identifying information is on point. Overlooking this step could eliminate your résumé right off the bat. Be sure to include:

  • Your name and phone number (don’t worry about including a street address).
  • A professional email address. If you’re still using your college email, it’s time to make a switch.
  • A customized URL to your LinkedIn profile. Augustine said that most professions expect you to have a fleshed-out profile that tells the same story you see on your résumé. LinkedIn is also the place to include a photo and more in-depth information about what you’ve done at each role you’ve held.

Ditch the objective statement

The old-fashioned objective statement is now considered antiquated in today’s modern job market. Objective statements are very self-centered by design. They call out what you want in a job, instead of addressing the employer’s needs. This is why Augustine suggested getting with the times and replacing it with a three- to five-sentence professional summary instead.

“When you think about it, the résumé is a marketing document, and you’re positioning it toward your target audience,” she added. “Who’s that? The recruiter or hiring manager.”

Your professional summary should be a catchy blurb that spotlights the things they care about most, like why you’re the best fit for the role they’re trying to fill. It’s also an ideal space for spotlighting soft skills that could make you stand out as a candidate. Keep it to a few sentences — think of it as the appetizer for your cover letter.

Break down your work experience and core competencies

Now for the meat and potatoes — what to put on a résumé. Naturally, your skills and work experience are far and away the most crucial part.

“You should never submit a résumé without including your most recent work experience, which arguably is the most important section and what hiring managers will home in on the most,” said Yang.

Now isn’t the time to be modest. Instead of using vague, general language to describe your industry experience and job responsibilities, really dig into the value you’ve brought to your current and previous roles. What concrete ways did you help contribute to the company’s revenue goals?

Beyond that, this part of your résumé is where you want to call out your core competencies: Think tech abilities and relevant proficiencies. You’ll also want to throw in your soft skills, like public speaking, visual communication, listening and more.

Include keywords to outsmart applicant tracking systems

Again, a good chunk of companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to scan résumés for relevant keywords and specific pieces of information. This helps them weed out duds so that only the best résumés find their way to hiring managers.

“To give your résumé the best shot at getting past ATS, you’ll want to predict what these keywords are and include them on your résumé,” said Yang. “A common strategy used is to include on your résumé the same skills and keywords mentioned in the original job description.”

Naturally sprinkling those words and phrases throughout your résumé gives it a fighting chance when up against a smart ATS software. Augustine suggested tweaking your résumé and replacing things as necessary so that it mirrors the language you see in the job posting.

Know where to spotlight your education

You may assume that your work experience should always come first when tackling how to build your résumé — not always, according to Augustine. If you’ve recently graduated or have only been in the workforce for under five years, it’s actually in your best interest to put your education up top.

“It’s really about flaunting what you have and bragging about the most relevant items,” said Augustine. “When you’re fresh out of school, typically that shiny new degree, along with some internships, are your best selling points.”

This is also where you want to highlight clubs you belonged to in school, student organizations, extracurriculars and any other details about your education that might translate to the job posting and give you an edge over the competition.

Don’t forget to highlight any volunteer experience

To be clear, the motivation behind volunteering should always be helping others and making a positive difference. The thing to remember is that these are two admirable traits that really speak to your character — and they’re worth sharing with prospective employers.

Volunteering also appears to have a positive effect on earnings for folks in professional and managerial roles, according to findings published in Social Science Research. What’s more, it just might give you a leg up in landing a job. One 2013 study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that applicants who had a history of volunteering were 27% more likely to get hired.

Really ask yourself if your personal interests deserve space on your résumé

“Whenever you are on the fence about including something on your résumé, you should ask yourself if it’s something that hiring managers would actually find impressive and relevant to the job,” said Yang. “If the answer is no, don’t bother mentioning it.”

Let’s say you’re into competitive gaming as a hobby. If you’re applying for a job as a game designer, that’s definitely worth mentioning. If you’re a financial advisor, not so much.

Saying on your résumé that you like to travel in your spare time doesn’t do much to differentiate you from other candidates. But if you’re applying for a sales job and you’re part of an improv team in your spare time, that shows you have a knack for thinking on your feet and presenting in front of groups.

Don’t discount life experience that could make you an attractive candidate

Take a minute to think about any past experiences that showcase skills that would translate to the job you’re applying for. Many of us shy away from putting things like part-time retail experience or bartending on our résumés, but it could actually work in your favor.

“Saying you waited tables, for instance, could be considered attractive because you’re not good at being a server unless you’ve got some personality and are good with interacting with customers, so it does lend itself to some of those softer skills that are considered very valuable,” said Augustine. “Don’t discount those other very common roles that people take on while they’re getting through school.”

This is especially true if you don’t have much to spotlight in the way of internships or industry experience.

Some stellar résumé templates to consider

There certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all template for how to build your résumé, but looking at how others have created their résumés may help stoke your inspiration.

If you need some ideas as jumping-off points, use an internet search engine to look for “resume template” or even “great resume.” Many of the formats you’ll find may be free to use.

Or else, try searching for “resume builder.” A large selection of these are also free, and they can walk you through all the various fields that you’ll likely want to include. Some popular word-processing software also include similar tools to build your résumé, such as Microsoft Word and Apple Pages.

What’s next now that your résumé is built?

Keep your résumé fresh. We tend to update our résumés when job hunting, but it’s an easier task if we modify it gradually over time. Be mindful of adding new skills and experiences as you learn them. The same goes for any new trainings you participate in, as well as recognition or rewards you receive. It can be easy to forget these things when time passes. Keep a running list so that it’s easy to add to your résumé when you need it.

Personalize your résumé for each new job listing. “If you’re sending out a generic résumé that hasn’t been tailored to the job, you’re wasting your time and probably theirs,” said Augustine. “You are going through these initial gatekeepers, both electronic and human, and they’re quickly scanning.”

If your résumé isn’t ATS optimized for that position, and you aren’t immediately showing them why you’re a good fit, you’re going to be passed over. Augustine suggested building a foundational résumé that applies to your industry, then taking a few minutes and modifying it for each specific job listing.

Keep track of where you’ve submitted your résumé. If you’re in a situation where you’re blasting out your résumé to a large volume of listings, be sure to keep track of where and when you’ve applied. (A simple spreadsheet will do the trick.) It’s customary to send a follow-up email one to two weeks after applying. Take notes of any correspondence, so a potential job doesn’t fall through the cracks.

There are a lot of moving parts at play when figuring out how to build your résumé. The end game here is showcasing what makes you the best person for the job while optimizing your résumé for applicant tracking systems. Keeping it clean and easy to read is the cherry on top.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.

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1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of September 6, 2022.

2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $9 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit

As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.

Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.

Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.


This information is current as of April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.

3 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 09/09/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 4.13% APR – 7.39% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.99% APR – 9.93% Fixed APR with AutoPay.

4 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 3.99% – 8.74% APR (3.74% – 8.49% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 2.74% APR to 8.24% APR (2.49% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Variable rates are based on an index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) plus a margin. Variable rates are reset monthly based on the fluctuation of the index. We do not currently offer variable rate loans in AK, CO, CT, HI, IL, KY, MA, MN, MS, NH, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, and VA.

5 Important Disclosures for Navient.

Navient Disclosures

You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 3.99% – 8.74% APR (3.74% – 8.49% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 2.74% APR to 8.24% APR (2.49% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Variable rates are based on an index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) plus a margin. Variable rates are reset monthly based on the fluctuation of the index. We do not currently offer variable rate loans in AK, CO, CT, HI, IL, KY, MA, MN, MS, NH, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, and VA.

6 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

Fixed rates range from 3.99% APR to 8.24% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 3.24% APR to 8.24% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law, Variable Interest rates on 5-, 7-, and 10-year terms are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, presence of a co-signer and a variety of other factors. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. This benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit lowers your interest rate but does not change the amount of your monthly payment. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi.

7 Important Disclosures for Purefy.

Purefy Disclosures

Purefy Student Loan Refinancing Rate and Terms Disclosure: Annual Percentage Rates (APR) ranges and examples are based on information provided to Purefy by lenders participating in Purefy’s rate comparison platform. For student loan refinancing, the participating lenders offer fixed rates ranging from 2.73% – 7.99% APR, and variable rates ranging from 1.74% – 7.99% APR. The maximum variable rate is 25.00%. Your interest rate will be based on the lender’s requirements. In most cases, lenders determine the interest rates based on your credit score, degree type and other credit and financial criteria. Only borrowers with excellent credit and meeting other lender criteria will qualify for the lowest rate available. Rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice. Terms and conditions apply.  

8 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

CitizensBank Disclosures

Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69%-9.92% (3.69%-9.92% APR). Fixed interest rates range from  4.49%-10.11% (4.49%-10.11% APR). 

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 6.39%- 9.60% (6.39% – 9.60% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.58% – 9.79% (6.58% – 9.79% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69% – 9.16% (3.69% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49% – 9.35% (4.49% – 9.35% APR).

Education Refinance Loan for Parents Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69%- 9.09% (3.69%- 9.09% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49% – 9.28% (4.49% – 9.28% APR).

Medical Residency Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.69% – 9.16% (3.69% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.49% – 9.35% (4.49% – 9.35% APR).