Have you been sending out your resume, only to never receive any calls for an interview? There are few things as mysterious perplexing as the resume. Recruiters and human resource managers don’t like crawling through them. Job applicants loathe writing them, often discombobulated by the barrage of contradictory advice on how they should be written.
Despite this, your resume has tremendous influence on your career. While it’s our belief networking activities are more critical than firing off your resume cold an blind, if a professional contact results in a job lead you’re still going to need a document humbly proclaiming your brilliance.
So here are our six absolutely-must-have requirements for any resume. Some recruiters and communication books may emphasis different things, but stick with these as general principles to demonstrate you’re a true contender.
No naked resumes
Running with the Seinfeld theme and to quote the comic himself, “there’s good naked and there’s bad naked”. I’m not going into the good here but suffice to say sending your resume naked, without a cover letter, is like weeding au naturel. Remember, your resume is one element of a customised pitch that must include a cover letter and in some instances a portfolio. Each element has a primary job to do. Your cover letter sells your enthusiasm for the role in light of experience and achievements. Your resume sells your competence through a narrative of your academic and professional history. Read about how to write a cover letter here.
The relative importance of each will depend on the position. If recruiters are intent on speaking with applicants with specific experience and qualifications, they’ll likely view resumes first to confirm mandatory criteria is present. However recruiters looking to fill a graduate or entry-level position may initially read the cover letter if they anticipate work experience and education to be generic across applicants. In any case, never submit a naked resume.
Employ the winning mix
Just what goes in a resume and how should they be formatted? This is, by far, the most subjective component with recruiters and employers from different industries and countries having their own point of view. What’s generally agreed is that you’ve only got 15-20 seconds to convince a recruiter to keep reading your resume, so make sure you get right to the heart of why you’re a prime option for consideration.
List important information at the top. Start with the obvious: your contact details. Your full name, contact number and email are vital, but make sure you don’t have some embarrassingly puerile legacy address such as firstname.lastname@example.org A personal LinkedIn address is now also a must-have. Next present a Career Objective blurb if you’re a student or a Key Qualifications summary if you’ve been in the workforce for a few years. This is likely the first part of the resume your recruiter will read so it needs to tick boxes quickly.
In any case, don’t make this section focused on yourself and your ambitions. Instead focus on what you want to bring to a company in the future or what you’ve done for employers in the past, all while outlining key strengths and skills (reflecting requirements as per the job listing). Next, add a section on your work experience with clear dates (right down to the month) stating when you started and finished in each role, and for whom. Accentuate whichever is the most impressive, your role or the company you worked for. Underneath your role state your achievements. Educational qualifications are important too, but start with your recent results and don’t bother listing high school marks.
Omit unnecessary information to avoid discrimination
Don’t list your age or marital status. Be careful with hobbies, too. Only list them if they provide evidence you possess a trait transferable to professional life. Hula hoop enthusiast will lose you points, but “captain of the local cricket team for five years” suggests you’re a likeable person who knows how to motivate and lead. Avoid deception, even if you haven’t worked full time for the last few years. If there’s a gap in your employment, be open and highlight how you spent your time. Read this list of things NOT to put in your resume.
If you had to leave the workforce to be a mum list your time spent as ‘managing a household with three children under five, and assisting with domestic finances, including bills payable and researching insurance policies,’ for example. Prove you didn’t just lounge about watching Days of our Lives for four years because everyone knows that show is tripe.
Your resume is a direct argument for why you’re the best to solve an employer’s HR dilemma. That means a lot of the words and propositions you use must reflect the terms and requirements of the job as per the initial listing. Not only does this prove that you’re resume was created specifically for the job, and suggests enthusiasm, but it makes it difficult to waste the recruiter’s time with irrelevant information. So read the listing carefully and highlight key words or terms, such as ‘leadership qualities’ ‘or ‘diligence’ and reuse these in your resume.
As an example, let’s say a job listing features the following phrase: “the successful applicant will possess strong attention to detail”. Go one better and ensure your work history includes something like “I displayed fastidious attention to detail as I facilitated the transfer of two thousand dollars worth of payments per week.” Avoiding cliché resume terms and words is also advised. For example, don’t use the word ‘successfully’ when describing your job feats. The reader will assume that already. As a rule of thumb, if a word of phrase adds nothing to the proposition you’re communicating, cut it out or replace it with something more concrete.
Demonstrate your value
One of the more common boos-boos made in resumes is the use of waffly, bland job descriptions. It’s a space-eating killer that not only makes you look waffly and bland, it mule-kicks you straight into the fat of the bell curve. Rather than rehash your job description with aching banality, add punch by working in an achievement, ideally with some sort of numerical value (it’s no coincidence magazine covers and blogs often feature numbers!). For example, if you worked in retail for a year don’t write something naff like “served customers on shop floor” or “cash register experience”. Write about your highlights. Try, “contributed to the store’s turnover with an average of $2,500 worth of sales per day”.
Suddenly the recruiter has awoken from his coma and is thinking about you brandishing a friendly smile and inhaling buckets of cash into a register. Paint the image. Plant the idea. You’re creating the action-packed trailer of your work history with the boring bits cut out. Try to make the illustration line up with the sort of attributes they’re looking for to take your resume to the next level. If you’re struggling to think of anything impressive about your work experience then sing the praises of the company you worked for. This isn’t as good as highlighting personal achievements, but it’s better than ‘filed documents and used Excel’.
Presentation is almost everything
Unless you’ve just graduated with a graphic design diploma, opt for an elegant and professional look to your resume rather than anything unsual. The aim is to make your resume easy to read to allow the content to speak for itself. That means no crazy fonts. Go for something standard like Arial or Helvetica and make sure the size is large enough. Photos and clipart are not part of the equation and ditch borders or superficial decorations. Be incredibly cautious about injecting colour. Some applicants like to use tables in their resume but this has a tendency to eat up precious space on the page.
Get your head around your word processor’s tab and spacing commands instead. Just as important is perfect spelling and grammar, use a site like Grammarly to check your grammar. Any error whatsoever suggests you either have poor attention to detail or didn’t put effort into your submission. Either means the end of the line. Some of the most common types of spelling bungles relate to using the wrong dictionary to check your work. Ensure your document is set to Australian English, not US English, and get someone with strong proofreading skills to review your resume just in case. Our final tip: read it aloud, ideally a day later, to reveal poorly structured sentences or errors.
Never give up and keep seeking feedback
Writing a winning resume is tough work. It needs to accomplish a lot in a small amount of time and there are likely other applicants that have professional recommendations that give them a huge advantage. So make sure your resume is watertight. You’re trying to create an argument that almost instantly positions you as a contender and ‘worth an interview’.
Read Boost Your Resume with These 7 Top Tips. Mastering the type of tone that sells a proposal can take some time, so be prepared to continually finesse your job search abilities. You never know when that dream opportunity will present itself. Need interview tips? Then check out 8 Common Interview Questions & How to Answer Them.