When you write a good resume you need to achieve two purposes.
- It must get past the gatekeeper and
- It must get you an interview.
Learn how to write a good resume that grabs attention and builds interest
Get past the ‘Gatekeeper’
It’s a competitive world out there. Not many people find they can change their career and get a fantastic new job without effort. You have to work at it and for it. And because some jobs attract many applications, companies need to weed out the possible from the impossible. How do they do that? Someone in their office, or at a recruitment agency (let’s call them “the gatekeeper”) has the task of looking at your résumé to decide “You can come in” or “You can’t come in”. This gatekeeper is often in the HR department but in smaller organizations it may be a Personal Assistant who is given the task of culling the résumés.
Unless you get your résumé past the gatekeeper you have no chance of being offered the job.
Get an interview
Your resume needs to position you as the uniquely qualified job candidate that can be a hero in their job. The gatekeeper will recommend a number of applications. Then it often happens that someone else will look at the résumés of those still being considered and will choose those he or she thinks should be interviewed. Remember all of the above activities are based solely on your résumé, not on how good you are at your job. So you can see why it’s important. It is your entire marketing campaign!
What to avoid in your resume
Avoid red flags, that is the things in your past that you don’t really want them to ask about, or that show something about your character that are not traits they would want in a prospective employee. You need to check your résumé to make sure you have no red flags. Your job is to study the job requirements section thoroughly and make sure you meet those requirements. Do not include information which can harm your chances.
You may be well qualified and know a great deal about the subject but what if the person reading your résumé doesn’t have that knowledge? Will they be impressed by your expertise or will they find your application intimidating and so not accept it?
How long should a resume be?
The accepted length of a resume differs from country to country and according to the level of experience that you have. A resume should not be longer than two pages except for a senior professional. In some countries one pages is the norm.
When you write a good résumé you should never go back too far. Usually the rule of thumb is not to bother giving details beyond the last ten years. But if what you have done before that is genuinely relevant to your current application then it deserves inclusion.
Page 1 is very important
Think of the first page of your résumé as being like advertising outside a shop. It must quickly capture the attention of the reader and tell them something they are looking for.
If your resume doesn’t target the job being advertised someone else’s will and you won’t get the job. Your resume has to be specific to the job that you are applying for. Read through the job description very carefully and recognize exactly what they are looking for. Your job now is to show how you are that person!
This means your resume must hit the employers targets clearly, succinctly and immediately. This must be on Page 1, with the rest of the resume acting as backup!
Make your first page sufficient in itself. Try and put enough information on the first page that will tell the reader all they need to know to offer you an interview. It’s an exercise in being concise. Look upon it as a work of art. Re-work it several times so that your first page is a business card, your entree into the interview room.
What must be included in your resume
I’ll remind you again: Your resume should be targeted to each specific job. Certainly you can have a generic resume that showcases your achievements, but be prepared to tailor it to every job that you apply for.
You don’t want to be one of those applicants. Make your résumé call out, “This person just has to be interviewed”.
So how do you know what they are looking for? Read the job description carefully. What keywords are used? List them and use those words wherever it is appropriate as you write your resume.
If you are applying for a job that hasn’t been advertised then you need to consider first what would be in the job description for this job, and then use these phrases as your keywords.
Your contact details
Your contact details must be visible but shouldn’t take up a lot of space on the front page. You do not need the word Résumé as a header. It’s just not necessary. They know what the document is!
Your name is a good header for the page but it doesn’t need to be really large, just a little larger than most of your headings are going to be. Contact details can be set out as it appeals to you visually, but don’t take up too much space.
Your contact details should appear on each page. An easy way to do this is to put your name, phone number and email address in a footer.
Make yourself contactable
Only use contact addresses and numbers which get to you quickly. If you don’t check your email or phone messages for several hours, the interview offer may have gone to someone else. And don’t use email addresses that aren’t appropriate. You want to land an interview and need to show yourself as a serious and trustworthy applicant. Of course a cheeky email address doesn’t mean you are the wrong person, it’s just that you want to give yourself every chance of success.
Don’t include your address on the resume, but if it’s a local job you might want to mention that you live locally in your cover letter.
Highlight your qualifications in your career summary or in a separate education section if they are exactly what the employer is looking for. Put them towards the end of the resume if they aren’t wonderful as there’s no need to advertise the fact.
Quality rather than quantity is a good piece of advice. You may have attended many courses over the years and picked up some first-class skills. But if one or more of the courses have little or no relevance to the job you’re applying for, don’t list them.
It’s usual for an employer to ask for referees. Obviously you should have two or three who are easily contactable and who will speak well on your behalf. Many referees prefer not to have their details on a resume. Instead, under the heading Referees on your resume you could state, “Referees available on request”.
Of course you must ask them first, tell them about the job which they are likely to be contacted about and keep them informed about what stage your application is up to.
In the past it was customary to provide written references. That is far less common now because of the ease with which documents can be scanned and changed. People are worried about writing a reference which could be misused in some way.
Now lets get onto the juicy bits…
When you write a good resume it should have a section of about four sentences, carefully constructed, rich in keywords, that screams “This is why you should employ me!” This might have the header CAREER SUMMARY or something similar.
This should be written as if someone else was writing it about you and often doesn’t have complete sentences, although it must read well. For instance it might commence with a statement like “International experience as an environmental scientist with a Master’s degree in Marine Biology. Managed research teams of up to 10 people in both urban and remote locations”…not full sentences but full of keywords and giving the exact message you want to convey.
Career highlights and skill snapshots should be a keyword-rich section. They tell at a glance certain facts about you the applicant. Again keep them short, relevant and well positioned. The front page is the obvious location. These sections don’t need to be included when you write a good resume. It depends on whether they are highlights and skills that deserve their own separate section. If not, weave them into your achievement statements.
Not every résumé will have all of these sections. Think carefully about what your greatest strengths are from the employer’s perspective, and plan your résumé so that it will give that message clearly.
Many résumés list the positions that people have held and their responsibilities within those job roles. This tells the prospective employer what you were supposed to do in your job.
You don’t need to give a lot of information about your job but you should convey the scope of your role so they can get a feeling of what you have been doing.But that doesn’t tell them how well you performed those tasks, what you actually did, nor does it give any insight into who you are.
It’s in the achievements that you can really impress the reader. You need to be specific. Stating that under your sales management role there was an increase in sales is not good enough. Be really specific. By how much (yes, actually dollar value or percentages) did sales improve and over what period and how much of that success is due to you? And then having been specific you need to add how you did it. A general comment does not grab attention or make an impression. A detailed comment which is backed up by facts does. But pack that detail into as few words as you can to make it succinct and understandable.
It’s not boasting if you’ve had success. If you’ve added or brought improvement to your previous employer then that data must be on your resume. Employers want valuable people. If you can explain how your company set a target for growth, or some other measurable success, and you achieved that and more in your past 12 months, you are presenting a resume which is likely to attract attention.
Everyone has had some success
It may be that you have held low or middle level positions in the past; that you are not a high-flying executive. If so, you are probably feeling a bit worried about how you are going to express your achievements. The key is to highlight your good qualities. Are you reliable and loyal? Have you worked hard at a job or jobs for a number of years? Do you work well without supervision?
Everyone has their good points and your resume should reflect that. Put as much as possible in terms of achievement statements e.g. “Continued to provide outstanding customer service during a period of intense business upheaval due to renovation of the counters and dressing rooms in the department”
And this applies to people with a career which is not all about profit margins and the bottom line. Teaching is a good example of this situation. Many teachers seek a career change at a midpoint in their life. Here are some questions to be answered on a résumé of a teacher seeking to work outside teaching. These questions could be adapted for most “caring” professions.
- What innovative ideas did they implement?
- How did they work with other teachers?
- How did they respond to challenges in the school?
- What positive feedback have you had from parents and students?
- What extra-curricular activities have you performed?
All of these topics are not easily able to be measured but they are seriously important and reveal a great deal about the character and capabilities of the teacher.
If you’re not sure what detail to list, ask yourself “What were the biggest challenges during my time as a teacher?” Then you can explain how you tackled those challenges and thus present yourself as an achiever who reached valuable goals.
Another way to learn about yourself is to talk to your colleagues or your family members. They will have noticed many of the fine things you’ve done in your career. Take note of these achievements and add them to your resume.
Remember success is not only measured in numbers but in less tangible ways too. Encouraging a student to enjoy reading is hugely important. If you’re good at that sort of thing then every prospective employer should know and probably wants to know. Assisting an elderly patient to see their loved ones before they die can’t be measured by dollars, but it certainly reflects your character and dedication. The employer wants the best. Don’t be afraid to sing your own praises by showing them what you have already achieved.
Appearance and Formatting
You would be surprised how many people present their résumé in a way that makes it hard to read. Try the following:
- Use a font size which is generally acceptable – Calibri Size 10 – 14 point is recommended
- Be consistent in your formatting. Headings, subheadings, dot points and layout need to be consistent throughout the document.
- Ready-made templates are not superior to a simple layout you create.
- Paragraphs should be no longer than 3 lines.
- Bullets should not be longer than 2 lines, with no more than 6-8 on a page.
- Use plenty of white space. Leave a minimum of 2cm borders all around the page.
- Fewer words are better than too many.
- Simple headings can lead the reader through your resume easily.
- Use clean white good quality paper if you are mailing the resume.
You can’t just write a good resume once!
This is where many job applicants experience frustration. Many have confidence in their ability to give a good interview but just can’t get to the interview stage with their applications. They believe they can sell their previous job history and their expertise if only they can obtain an interview. But if their résumé lets them down this can become a pattern of defeat, with the candidate blaming themselves, their experience, their qualifications, their age…and overlooking the fact that it is their marketing document, their résumé, which isn’t convincing prospective employers that they deserve an interview.
Tailor your resume for every job application
Know that the gatekeeper is a busy person and may have to look at dozens or even hundreds of résumés. The question the gatekeeper will be asking with every résumé is, “Does this applicant fit the role?” If they don’t, the application stops there. So you have to be smart and make sure you write a good résumé which shows you are someone who does fit the role. That’s why you have to tailor your résumé for each job that you apply for.
When you write your résumé you must consider whether you are writing it for the job you’re already performing or for the one you’d like to perform. There’s a big difference there and that’s a trap. Write your résumé to fit the job you want, not just regurgitating the responsibilities of the old job.
Is your work experience not relevant enough?
What happens if you think you have the ability and skills to do a job, but what you do at your current job doesn’t really tell that story? This is where some clever writing can help your application. This just means that you tailor your résumé to suit the job you are applying for.
Consider not just your qualifications and experience but also your life experience.Obviously the first two are relevant and important to your chances of success. But let’s say they don’t give you a fantastic rating in term of the ‘fit’ for the new job? Well that’s where the third element comes into play.
Consider your life experience
Experiences outside your employment or achievements which were not part of your previous work can be highlighted. Use them to illustrate your versatility and your all-round capabilities. You want your résumé to fit the new job and there are various ways of establishing that fit.
Why are you not getting interviews?
If you send off your résumé and don’t get an interview it is easy to feel frustrated and disappointed but not ever ask why you were overlooked. Have you applied for jobs and not been able to get to first base? Have you made presumptions that it is because everyone is discriminating against older workers and wondered why you should even try? Well if so you are not alone. But what have you done about that situation? Don’t keep doing the same thing over and over without really examining what is going wrong.
“I’m returning to the workforce after caring for sick parents.”
Consider your life outside of the workforce and make a list of all the things you’ve done; the experiences and challenges you’ve had and how you coped; your skills and hobbies; informal training that you have done. These are the qualities you bring to your new job. You have so many transferable skills that will be useful in the working world.
Also consider the volunteer work that you have done during that time. Create a heading – Volunteer Work – and write about your volunteering in the same way you would write about paid work.
“I’ve just completed some study and haven’t worked in that occupation yet…..and I’m in my mid-50s.”
Have you realized the power of the message you are giving a prospective employer when they realize that you care enough about this occupation to have retrained especially to work in the field?
Writing a good résumé without specific work experience in your field is not easy, but you have worked in other fields and lots of that is transferable. Concentrate on those things you have done, especially if some of that is related in some way to the study you have done. In writing your résumé concentrate on your relevant experience in your studies, and then anything relevant in your previous experience.
From your past experience you will be able to demonstrate the sort of person and worker you are, whilst your studies will show them what you now know.
Resume rules are fluid
All the above information is up to date at the time of writing. The way we do business, and that includes the way we apply for a job, is constantly changing. Be aware of these changes. Make your résumé personal, make it unique, and most importantly write a good resume. Good luck with your applications!
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