It’s time to apply for a new job and that means it’s time to write your perfect resume… but why does that instantly fill most people with horror?
The assumption is that resume writing is difficult; that’s there’s a secret formula known only to a handful of HR professionals and that the rest of us are doomed to write entry level resumes that are hit and miss at securing interviews. Thankfully that assumption is wrong and I’m here to provide you with some easy to follow advice and guidelines that will ensure your resume works for you.
Things you need to know before you get started…
- A resume is a marketing tool; its sole purpose is to sell and you are the product.
- On average, recruiting officers spend just 8 seconds reviewing your resume during the initial paper sift.
- Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are increasingly popular in businesses of all sizes.
- There is no right and wrong format but there are some standard expectations you’ll need to meet.
- Recruiters can spot a standard online template instantly and they don’t impress anyone.
- A great resume is as much about personality as it is about experience; let your personality shine!
- 1 The Basics of Effective Composition
- 1.1 Choosing Keywords vs Clichés
- 1.2 Select Impactful Skills & Achievements
- 1.3 When to Mention Personal Interests
- 1.4 Formatting Your Educational Section
- 1.5 Organizing your Employment History
- 1.6 Optimizing Positioning and Layout
- 1.7 Personal Statements and Objectives – The Scary Bit Made Simple
- 1.8 In Summary:
The Basics of Effective Composition
Before we get started on what goes where in your perfect resume, we need to unpick some of the basics that result in the most common mistakes.
Choosing Keywords vs Clichés
Keywords are essential and your resume, whether read by a recruiting officer or scanned by an ATS, will be scored first and foremost on its ability to deliver the right ones. The good news is those keywords aren’t a secret – they’re right there in the job description for you to make good use of. Take care though; copying sentences from the job description may score highly with an ATS but still won’t get you an interview because it will be obvious to the relevant managers – pick out the keywords and make them into sentences that are your own…
To be successful in this role you will need to have excellent verbal and written communication skills and the ability to work to a high degree of accuracy within an ever-changing business environment.
The key words here are communication & accuracy; use your own experiences to demonstrate these skills and use these words in your own way. You should also try to demonstrate that you have worked in a fast-paced business environment and are adaptable.
Go through the job description with a highlighter – pick out all the keywords and make your own list that you can check off later.
Clichés are those old chestnuts found in millions of resumes across every industry and every continent. ‘Hard working’ ‘Well presented’ and ‘Motivated’ are three of my favorites! You should be all these things to even be considered for a job but to state them, is to state the obvious. Every word in a successful resume adds value to the application; these over used banalities will not help you to achieve your goal so avoid them at all costs!
Before you get writing, make sure you have a clear understanding of the 3 main types of popular resume formats and which format in particular works best to accentuate your personal educational and professional experiences.
Select Impactful Skills & Achievements
Communicating your skills and achievements to date is the most important purpose of your resume; a prospective employer is not looking for a list of the jobs you’ve done, he or she is looking to see what you achieved in those roles and what you learned from it.
Keep it relevant… Achievements can be gained from both professional or personal activities but they must be relevant to the job description. Being happily married, having 5 children, owning your own home and driving a BMW may feel like amazing achievements to you but to an employer they are largely irrelevant.
Keep it honest… It’s always tempting to add the odd skill that you haven’t acquired yet because you know it’s something they’re looking for – don’t do it! Employers do check and honesty is always the best policy. You may be missing one or two of the skills the employer has listed as desirable, but so will a lot of other applicants. Instead of trying to be the perfect match, concentrate on what you can genuinely offer that will bring value to the business or organization.
When to Mention Personal Interests
Before you even think about including a personal interests section in your resume, consider this very important question… do you have any?
That sounds harsh; maybe you enjoy walking your dog, swimming, reading a good book and socializing with your friends and to you those are personal interests. The trouble is, they’re common interests that relate to almost every person on the planet and therefore have no place in your resume. Personal interests should be exactly that – something that is [relatively] unique to you, makes you stand out and adds value to your application by contributing some skill set development.
For example, maybe you play an instrument to a high level of proficiency and participate in local public performances (this helps to build confidence and character), or you have raised money for charity through regular participation in sporting events (determination, physical wellbeing and public spirit). The message here is simple; personal interests are a nice to have on a resume rather than an essential. If your activities bring value to you but not to your skill set, leave this section out.
Sometimes I prefer to replace a profile with a less conventional ‘more about me’ section at the end of the resume. This allows a space to talk about both personal interests and professional development and include anything important you feel you haven’t covered. As a rule of thumb, your whole resume should be either in first person or third person (there’s no right or wrong way) and should be consistent – however, when writing ‘more about me’ I break the rules and change from third (my preference) to first person to add a personal element. This takes experience and practice to pitch it correctly so have a play with it but do be careful.
Formatting Your Educational Section
Would it surprise you to know that your prospective employer is not necessarily interested in what grades you got for each of in high school? What they’re interested in seeing in this section is your dedication to education, your relevant qualifications that add value to the job being advertised and your overall level of education.
In this section, you should list your qualifications in reverse chronological order, with the most recent (and therefore assumedly the most relevant) at the top. You don’t have to limit yourself to formal education either; if you have limited academic qualifications but an abundance of work related certified training such as First Aid in the Work Place, Health & Safety, MS Office certificates or Train the Trainer, these could absolutely be relevant depending on the role you’re applying for.
When it comes to your high school experience, it’s enough to list the school and dates if you are entry level as well as the basic grade range (A-C is desirable). As you get older, you may feel confident enough to leave out high school experience altogether; it loses relevance the further you go in your career progression and the more professional certificates you accrue.
The placement of this section is negotiable – look out for more details about that later.
Organizing your Employment History
Once again, I refer you to ‘reverse chronological order’, meaning that your current, or most recent, work placement comes at the top of the list. Your subheading for each job should contain details of the employer, the job title and the dates you worked there. After that it’s largely up to you what you write but there are some tips for success…
The prospective employer isn’t looking for a job description; what you learned is far more important than what you did. Your emphasis should be on skills that you developed in each role that are transferrable – i.e. can be used in the role you’re applying for – and on things you achieved, including where possible facts and figures. For example, if you led a team of 10 people in consistently exceeding KPI expectations over a period of 6 consecutive months, make sure this is included. It shows you are dedicated and committed, it shows you understood the KPIs that were set and it shows you are an effective leader.
Whether you choose to present this section in bullet points or paragraphs, consider each sentence carefully. What does it say about you? How much value does it add to your resume? Will the prospective employer be impressed and does it show you have the skills he or she is looking for? Each sentence is an opportunity to infuse those all-important keywords into your resume and by the time you’ve finished you should feel that 85% of them are covered. Like all other sections, if there is an aspect of your job that can’t be used in a positive way to reinforce your application, leave that bit out.
Below is an example of what a successful resume might look like; note the page borders and the use of color. This makes your resume stand out amongst dozens of typical ‘standard’ monochrome versions – but don’t overdo it!
Optimizing Positioning and Layout
Once you have all your sections planned, you need to think about building your resume so that it has the maximum impact. So, what does a great resume look like?
The first thing to consider is those all-important 8 seconds and how we can use basic human psychology to our advantage. Did you know that when you pick up a new document, your eyes automatically start reading in the same place every time? – and it’s not the top left! Our eyes are drawn to the space in the centre of the document, about one third of the way down the page. That’s useful to know because it lets you build your resume in such a way that the best keywords stand out very quickly.
The First page
The first page of your resume is the most important because in all honesty, 8 times out of 10 it’s the only page that’s going to be thoroughly read – even assuming you pass the 8 second test, by the end of the first page the recruiting officer will know whether you are going to invited to an interview or not. So, make the most of it!
Your first page should champion your key skills, your achievements, your current role (specifically the value it adds to your application) and of course your personal statement/objective/summary (more on that later). If your education is relevant or essential to your application – if you’re applying for a research role and you’ve already completed a relevant PhD, or you’re applying to be a teacher and you need to show your PGCE – then that belongs on the first page too. It can get pretty crowded on there, so be selective and be concise!
The second page
Less important for sure – but that doesn’t mean you can let your standards slip! Here is where you put your employment history, still making sure you write it up in a way that demonstrates relevant skills and achievements. Your education can go here too if you have nothing relevant or pressing to showcase and if you’re going to include references (many people choose just to state ‘references available on request’) then they belong at the bottom of the second page.
By the time you get to the second page, you may be feeling like you’ve done enough but just imagine what could go wrong… On the first page, you’ve showcased ‘accuracy’, ‘great communication skills’ and ‘attention to detail’ as some of your key skills – on the second page you make 3 typing errors and a blatant spelling mistake. Oops! Remember that regardless of the placement every word on your resume has value and that keywords hold no value if you can’t demonstrate them throughout your application.
Personal Statements and Objectives – The Scary Bit Made Simple
A personal statement/profile/objective or summary, may have many different titles but they all have the same job; to give the prospective employer a bit more information and background about you. This is your chance to shine!
If you are not quite sure if you should use a career objective or if you should use a summary of qualifications, we break down the primary differences in this comprehensive guide differentiating the two.
For a career objective for example, in no more than 150 words (less is preferable), you need to craft an elegant and beautifully written statement about your skills, your ambition, your direction, your progression and your personality. There is no room for mistakes here, you need to get this bit right! Although this is about ‘you’, try to remember that it’s not really; it’s about the ‘you’ that this employer wants to see; it’s about what ‘you’ can bring to the table and why they should employ ‘you’ over the possibly hundreds of other applicants.
That sounds scary but there’s no need to panic. Start by making some notes about the things you really like about yourself that you’d really like to showcase. Then, go through those notes again and cross out any that aren’t directly relevant to the job so that you’re left with a list of things that the employer might find impressive. Next, make another list next to it, drawing out details about how each of those points is relevant to the job on offer. If you can’t find relevance in it, cross it out. You should find that you’re left with a short list of no more than 3 or 4 key points.
Don’t try to make your language too formal here, try to sound like yourself and write up those 3 or 4 points in a way that says, ‘look what I can do; this will benefit you because…’ The position of this part of your resume is optional – if you choose to write an objective, this should go at the top but if it’s a profile, it can go anywhere on the first page – experiment and find the place you feel it fits the best.
Remember – this is about you and therefore you are the subject matter expert! You can do this!
Try to have fun with your resume. Instead of thinking of it as something scary, view it as a development exercise; this is an opportunity to really think hard about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your ambition and your direction. When you’re finished, you should feel proud of what you’ve achieved and keen to share that achievement with others. When you do feel that way, you know you’ve written your perfect resume.
This guide was developed by Ali Thornton, veteran of the Communications industry and owner of Let Me Write CVs. If this information is all a bit overwhelming, or if you are just crunched for time, you can visit her website (http://letmewrite.uk/) for more information!