In our guide resumes still rule – make sure yours isn’t rejected we talked about why a resume still plays a vital role in recruitment, now we want to show you how to create one that pushes all the right buttons.
Take the time to make your resume perfect
Your resume is a marketing document designed to achieve one clear objective: secure an interview. Despite the arrival of new recruitment technologies and methods, a strong resume is still the most commonly requested document in the job search process.
Yet they’re often written in haste because candidates view them as an onerous part of the process. That means spending more time writing yours and thinking carefully about what should be in it, can put you one step ahead of the competition.
There’s no one-size-fits-all way to do it, but there are commonly accepted resume writing rules that everyone should follow. In this guide we share these and help you focus on the right things.
Pick the best structure for you
Resumes are usually in a chronological or functional format.
Chronological resumes are the most common. They list experience by employer, showing the time spent at each, starting with the most recent role. For people looking for work in a similar field to the one they are in, who want to highlight their experience, it’s the one to go for.
A functional resume groups and highlights specific capabilities, bringing together information by skill type rather than employer. This format is useful if you’re considering a career change or have a specific skillset (such as technical, medical or engineering skills) that a potential employer would want to know about in more depth.
Keep it short, sweet and instep with the internet
Your resume shouldn’t be longer than two A4 pages unless you work in a specific sector that expects more detail (and there aren’t many of those). The objective is to secure an interview, you can expand on the information you’ve provided when you’re there. So be concise.
Also take a bit of time to make sure your online profile complements your resume and creates a positive impression. Check dates align on sites such as LinkedIn – where you can also go into more detail about your experience than on your resume – and hide any social media posts that might damage your personal brand. Have a look at our guide Create and control your digital professional profile for more tips.
Target your resume
You should have a compelling resume on hand to share with anyone who wants to know more about you. But when you’re applying for a specific job you need to make it as relevant to the role as you can. This means researching the organization you’re applying to, reflecting on the skills and experience they need and shaping your resume to fit with what you think the recruiter wants to see.
If you already have a resume it’ll probably just need small adjustments to draw out the experience most relevant to the position. Imagine you’re the recruiter or hiring manager – what would you want to see and how can you align with that?
When you research the company think about when you’ve worked in that type of environment before. If it is large multi-national organization and that matches your experience, say so. For example:
Experience of navigating and getting things done in a large multi-country, multi-cultural environment.
Having said that, targeting your resume doesn’t mean you should make up skills and experience to fit the role. That’ll trip you up somewhere along the line. Likewise don’t copy and paste large chunks of content from the job advert into your resume, it looks lazy.
Don’t forget the robots
As we’ve mentioned in other guides, the ease and accessibility the internet has brought to the jobs market has dramatically increased the number of applicants per role. And recruiters are turning to technology for help. This means your resume is likely to be analyzed by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or screening robot.
These systems will categorize and rank applicants for their suitability for a role. The top ten or 20 matches will then be screened by a human who will create a shortlist to interview.
An ATS or robot divides a resume into smaller chunks and scans for key words. They’re not perfect but their accuracy is improving and they’re not going away, so you need to write your resume with a robot in mind:
- Keep your format clean and simple. Remove graphics, images, tables and logos.
- Use keywords from the job description. But don’t copy and paste the whole thing.
- Match titles from current and previous roles to those referenced in the job description.
- Submit in a common format, such as Word or PDF.
Now, let’s look at each section of a chronological resume in detail
Your profile or situation summary
If your resume beats the applicant tracking systems (ATS) and finds itself in front of a human, this might be the only section they read. So make it count. Here’s how:
- Avoid clichés and hyperbole. Keep it factual and concise.
- Think about what an employer needs. Describe your profession, specialist skills and a couple of professional characteristics.
- Include key words. A recruiter, and an ATS, will look for these.
- Avoid common skills. Such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint, unless they have been specifically asked for.
- Go easy on soft skills. You can demonstrate these at an interview, a resume should highlight hard skills.
Here’s an example of a good summary:
MBA qualified Operations Manager with 10 years of experience in retail banking and insurance. Innovative and practical approach to process re-engineering and a skilled negotiator with strong people management and leadership capabilities. Looking to secure a leadership role in the financial services sector that offers exposure to IT transformation initiatives that improve customer service and efficiency. Key skills include:
* Operational Improvement * Project Management * Strategic Planning * Leadership Skills * IT Transformation * Risk and Compliance * Stakeholder Management * Budget Management
List education and qualifications in reverse chronological order. If you have applied for a role as an accountant and are a fully qualified chartered accountant (CA) with a degree in accounting, list the CA qualification first and the degree second. Only include relevant qualifications – recruiters looking for accountants don’t need to know you’re also a qualified street dance instructor.
Remember the first half of the first page of your resume is the most important, so if you have more than two items of education you need to include, consider moving them below your work achievements, so they’re not overlooked.
As with education, detail your current or most recent role first. This works better with an ATS and means your recent relevant experience is most prominent.
Start with your job title, the company name, its location, and your dates of employment including the months. If your company isn’t well known, add a sentence explaining who they are and their size. Now link your skills with your achievements in the role, by showing a positive result followed by how you achieved it. For example:
National Sales Manager
ABC INC. Melbourne, Australia
Jan 2014 – Current
A global bio tech employing 300+ people specializing in drugs for patients suffering life-threatening cases of melanoma and other terminal cancers.
- Doubled annual revenue for the local affiliate and produced $7M in sales in the first year by conducting a robust territory analysis and implementing a focused sales strategy.
- Grew the team from four to eight territory managers in 2015 in direct response to expanding the portfolio into both specialists and hospitals.
Lots of people include this section but it’s unlikely to help secure you an interview. In fact, it can be detrimental to your chances if it triggers subconscious bias in a recruiter. If your personal interests have a direct link to the role you are applying for then include them (a passion for photography and art would be useful to a photographer’s assistant) otherwise leave them out.
Awards and affiliations
Only include them if they’re less than three years old, are directly relevant to the role and will be easily recognized by a recruiter.
There’s no need to include them or waste space writing ‘available on request’. A recruiter will assume this.
Write, edit and edit again
Once you’ve decided what should be in your resume you need to make sure you deliver it in a way that’s compelling and easy to understand. Always bear in mind:
- Spelling mistakes are lethal. According to CareerBuilder, 61% of recruiters will automatically reject a resume with typos. Don’t rely on spell check, ask friends to proofread it for you.
- Don’t overuse adjectives. Filling your resume with terms such as ‘inspirational leader’, ‘highly motivated’, ‘skilled communicator’, ‘pro-active mindset’ won’t impress anyone, in fact they’re more likely to put them off. Instead provide examples of an activity or initiative you were involved in that demonstrates each of these qualities.
- Ditch company jargon. Use commonly understood industry titles and references. Your company might call human resources ‘people capital’ but an ATS or recruiter might not know what you’re talking about.
- Be consistent with your tense. Select either first person or third person and stick with it.
- Use simple formatting. Whatever style and structure you select make it consistent and don’t get too creative. Unnecessary swirls, logos, italics or underlining make it harder for readers to pick out information.
- Don’t be economical with the truth. As tempting as is to overstate your skills, it’s a waste of everybody’s time if you can’t back it up at an interview.
Now, go back and read it one more time.
Five things to remember:
- Check, re-check and check again for spelling, grammar and layout consistency
- Keep it concise. Two pages is usually enough.
- Target your resume for specific roles and companies.
- Ensure your digital profile aligns with your resume.
- Don’t think of it as a chore. This can change your life – it’s worth a little time.
More tools and guides:
- Read the guide resumes still rule – make sure yours isn’t rejected.
- Check the quality of your resume using an evaluation and scoring tool like Rezscore.com. The report it provides might not be 100% accurate for the country you are in, but it will certainly be a great starting point and give you some guidance on where you could make some improvements.