How to write a resume
Whether you're looking for your first job or switching your career, the process begins with your resume. This one document can make or break your job interview chances. So what exactly should you include in your resume to get you the interview you’ve been hoping for?
This guide will cover all the rules and tips for creating a winning resume.
What's a resume?
A resume summarises your professional background which includes your work experience and academic achievements. It is usually required as part of a job application and contains essential information for an employer to evaluate if a job applicant is suitable for a role. For junior positions, it is often the tool to get your foot in the door.
So…what’s a CV? And what’s the difference between a resume and CV?
A Curriculum Vitae (CV) is a detailed summary of your professional and educational history. It is used for job applications. The main difference between CV and resume is the length and amount of detail. The content in a resume is intended to be selective and concise. That means that the resume for senior roles is typically one-page long and outlines a maximum of three positions. A CV, on the other hand, outlines your entire educational and professional history, along with major achievements, publications and other credentials, so it is almost at least two pages long.
That said, the term CV is often used interchangeably with resume.
What's purpose of a resume?
Your resume is basically a marketing tool for the brand called “You”. It doesn't matter how qualified you are or how much experience you have – if your resume is poorly presented or written, you'll have trouble getting the interview and the job you want. Hence, it's really important for you to take the time to work on your resume.
With the resume, you’ll want to demonstrate that:
- You're employable
- You meet the requirements for the job
- You have the right qualifications and training
- You have the right experience and skills
As with all marketing tools, you’ll need to make sure it is relevant to your target audience, which in this case are recruiters, human resources professionals and hiring managers.
Your resume also has to look appealing. This includes writing that is error-free, layout that is easy to read and style of writing that is easy to follow. We will touch on all these areas shortly.
How long should the resume be?
While there is no standard length for a resume, there are some best practices. In general, the length of the resume depends on your experience and education. This makes sense because the more years you've worked, the more professional experience and achievements you're likely to have accumulated. Conversely, if you’re fresh out of school or have only worked for one or two years, your resume would be shorter. Keeping the resume within two pages is a common practice that is likely to work well for anyone.
However, do not worry too much about the length of your resume but rather focus on the content that goes into it. Since the resume is a marketing tool, make sure the content is engaging enough to keep your readers interested in reading till the end.
Make the best use of the space. Think quality more than quantity. It is better to have a one-page resume filled with relevant information than a two-page resume full of unnecessary information.
How should I structure my resume?
The following sections can be included in your resume:
- Your contact details
- Opening statement or Professional summary
- Key competencies
- Software / technical competencies
- History of employment / volunteering / internships
- Educational history / Academic achievements
- Character references
Note that your resume may not contain everything listed above. Depending on the requirements of the role, you may leave out some sections. The order at which the sections appear may also be changed according to what’s appropriate for the role.
Let's now take an in-depth look at the different sections in your resume…
It's important to make sure your name, email address and phone number are included in your resume. After all, the main purpose of the resume is to get the recruiter, human resources professional or hiring manager interested in you and contact you for an interview.
It’s optional to include your home address, although it may be a good idea to do so in some situations. For instance, at Evolution Recruitment Solutions, we try to recommend candidates companies that are located close to their home address. This helps candidates save time on their daily commute should they get hired later on.
These days, your social media presence is also important. Increasingly, recruiters check out the candidate’s social media profile, particularly LinkedIn, to find out more about the candidate’s interests, content that he or she likes to share or even mutual contacts.
Avoid including your contact details in the header section since some recruitment software has trouble reading information in the headers or footers.
Opening statement or Professional summary
An opening statement is sometimes called a resume objective, and is a summary of what you’re seeking for in a job and how your skills and experience are aligned with the job requirements.
It is usually one or two sentences in length and written in the first person. A well-written opening statement can make your resume stand out from the crowd.
To grab the reader’s attention immediately, you should include a list of skills relevant to the job you’re applying for. You can refer to the job advertisements or job description to identify a list of skills essential for the job. If you have those skills, be sure to add them in. For inspiration, think about things you've done or learned to do as part of:
- Jobs you've had
- Your studies
- Any part-time jobs or internships you've done
- Any volunteering stint you've done
You can include a list of technical or software skills that you have. These include:
- Software that you have working knowledge of. Avoid listing MS word or PowerPoint since these can hardly help you stand out from the crowd (an exception is when these were explicitly mentioned in the job description)
- Programming languages that you have working knowledge of
Use the reverse chronological order by beginning with your current or latest job and going backwards in time from there.
You should include the following information for each position:
- Title of the position
- Company’s name
- Dates when you were in the position
- List of the things you’ve achieved in that position
- Important contributions you’ve made to the organisation for each of them. Make sure these achievements and contributions are in line with the key skills and strengths listed in the job description.
If you’re fresh out of school, you can still mention the following experiences:
Part-time and temporary jobs you did when you were in school
Internships that you’ve done through university
Educational history/ Academic achievements
Unless you’re a fresh graduate, your educational history should go after your employment history. All you need to do is show your highest level of education in this section. You don't have to include your results unless it is relevant for the job.
If you can, you should also include a few bullet points that list your academic achievements, e.g. awards that you’ve won or groups that you’ve been part of.
This is an optional section since the employer can ask you for these later on in the interview process. But if you already have them, listing them in your resume can add credibility to your profile.
If you do list referees, pick two people who can recommend you positively as an employee. Ideally, these are people you've worked closely with in your past position(s). Provide their names, the title of their positions, and a way to contact them.
What NOT to put on your resume
Here are a few things that should not be in your resume…
Typos or factual errors
Sending a resume with spelling errors will ensure that you do not get invited to an interview. Before you send it, you should use the spell check tool in your word processing software, or have someone else read it and check for mistakes that you may have missed.
Double-check everything on your resume. When mentioning the names of places you've previously worked, make sure you get them right. Faults in career history are worse than typos.
You can also consider hiring professional resume writers or editors to help you perfect your resume.
Images and graphics
For sales or other client-facing positions, the job applicant may be asked to include their photo in the resume. In such cases, make sure you include a professional photo.
For most other positions, it is usually optional to include your photo on your resume. Moreover, the recruiter can easily check up your LinkedIn profile to find your photo (one reason why you should always include a professional photo on your LinkedIn profile!).
Use fonts and formats that are easy to read. This provides a better reading experience for your target audience. It also means the information can be read easily by recruitment software that reviews your resume. Fonts that are safe to use are:
Use a 10- or 11-point font for your main content. You may bold the fonts for the headings.
Avoid tables as some recruitment software aren’t able to read tables. To ensure that your resume can be read by most recruitment software, use only simple formatting such as line breaks and multiple columns across the page.
Just a few more important things to note…
Tailoring your resume for different roles
You need to tailor your resume to meet the specific needs of the job you are applying for.
While you need not change your resume too much for each role, you need to make sure that your opening statement and key skills corespond to what's required for the role. Here are some ways to tailor your resume…
- Use your opening statement to link your experience and education with the organisation and job requirements
- List your key skills first
- Include examples of achievements that meet the job requirements advertised
- Includes keywords and phrases specifically relevant to your resume
Many recruitment agencies or inhouse recruiters use application scanning software to detect keywords and phrases. If you don't use the correct keywords, your resume may be rejected automatically.
Check the job advertisement and make a list of the words and phrases it uses to make sure your resume has the right keywords and phrases. If you don't have a written job advertisement to refer to, you can use a job search engine to find other advertisements for similar jobs and see what kind of keywords are being used.
Start adding these words and phrases to your resume once you have a keyword list to work with. Great places to add keywords include:
-Your opening statement
-Your list of key skills
-Your education history
-Your job history
Should you submit your resume in PDF or .docx?
Unfortunately, not every recruitment software is able to read PDFs. Unless a job advertisement specifically mention that you can provide resume in PDF, opt for word format, either in .doc or .docx.
Reviewing your resume
It's important to have someone else review your resume. Make sure you're engaging the help of someone who is open to telling you when something's wrong. People you can consider include:
- Former employers
- Teachers or lecturers
- Career counsellors
- Parents or caregivers
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About the Author
Lee Fengting leads the Marketing programme at Evolution APAC. Her articles are inspired by office situations, work-related events and research she has conducted. She likes to write about productivity, team building, work culture and leadership. Get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org and connect with her on LinkedIn.
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