How much do you want that job? Most people are happy with a ‘good’ resume and that’s what they’ll submit. What you need is a ‘great’ resume. One of those can tip the balance in your favour. Especially if you draw with another candidate in the interview. So, what is it going to take to make your resume stand out from the rest? That is where these resume writing tips can help.
1. Sections Every Resume Must Have
There is no right or wrong way to write a resume, but there are some common sections your resume should contain:
- Personal Details – Your name is essential and so is personal information relevant to the job like a driving licence. However, unless specifically asked for it, avoid adding your date of birth in case your potential employer is put off by your age
- Work History and/or Experience – A brief description of each role you have previously worked, listing responsibilities and achievements. Start with the most recent or current job at the top of the list and work backwards
- Education and Qualifications – List your skills, qualifications and certificates here, along with any grades/levels. Don’t forget to put your ‘soft’ skills as well as ‘hard’ skills.
- Personal Interests, Achievements or Hobbies – What you get up to in your spare time. Employers love people who do voluntary work or take it upon themselves to learn new skills, so try and spin a hobby, achievement or interest around one of these
- Contact Information – A telephone number you can be easily contacted at and/or an email address (make sure the email address is professional, as “firstname.lastname@example.org” is not likely to go down well with the reviewer). Do not put your home address unless specifically asked as some employers can be put off workers that have to travel long distances into work
- References – The names and contact details of two references. Usually one professional and one personal. If straight out of education, the name of a teacher. Make sure you ask the person you are putting down as a reference if they are happy to do it first. You may not want to let your work know you are going for another job, in which case use the phrase “References available on request.”
2. First Impression is Everything
Imagine you are given a bunch of loose pages. Most are packed with tightly typed words like pages from a book. However, one is laid out in clear sections with plenty of paragraphs, bullet points, a splash of colour and an attractive photograph. Which page do you think you would be first drawn to read?
If you want your resume to be picked up and read, rather than just binned, it must stand out from the others on a quick visual inspection. In order to do this:
- Use a professional looking font, size 12
- Keep plenty of whitespace
- Have clear sections
- Information lists should be bulleted or tabled
- Simple use of colour is good
There’s a comprehensive guide on resume visual impact here: Resume Format – Why Looks Can Be More Important Than Content
3. Tweak the Resume to the Role
Wouldn’t it be handy if you had a copy of the criteria checklist that your resume is going to be marked against? You could then tweak your resume content to make sure you get top marks and a guaranteed interview. Well, luckily for you, employers put a lot of hints as to exactly what they are looking for in the job description they issue.
Grab your copy of the job description and using a highlighter, highlight all the role holder skills, experience and any other relevant information you think the employer might be looking for. Copy out your highlights onto a fresh piece of paper and start making notes about how you can tweak your resume to satisfy them.
4. Resumes are Not Novels
Have you heard that it is okay to have a resume that is more than 2 pages of A4 in length? That’s absolute rubbish!
More than 2 pages of A4 and you will look like you can’t prioritise what’s important or summarise information. If your employment history and experience truly needs more than 2 pages, then put it all on LinkedIn, but keep your resume to 2 pages. Employers regularly check out potential candidates on LinkedIn for a ‘bigger picture’ anyway.
While we are on the subject of length, a common mistake seen in resumes is for the applicant to write out every action they performed while doing something. For example: “First I did this. Then I did that. Next I performed one of these…”. You aren’t writing a novel, save the full-bodied explanations for your interview.
Resume reviewers are mainly concerned with what the end result was. So, stick to a brief description of the reason why something needed to be done and the outcome. By being concise, you’ll cut waffle, and the reviewer will be grateful for it.
Finally, a one-page resume is fine if you are just starting your career, but if you are several years in to your working career, make it two pages.
5. Use Power Words
Which do you think sounds better: “I did this…” or “I developed this…”?
Using the right words can make you sound more professional and increase your perceived responsibility. Be positive in the way you write and show you take control of a situations. No one wants to hire someone who is depressed or lacks gumption.
Word of Warning: embellishing is fine, but do not lie outright. One company we worked with did a massive round of very quick hiring for an urgent project and a month later fired a dozen of the new employees when they found their resumes contained lies.
Would you like a comprehensive list of power words that will make your resume sound professional and confident? Here’s one I made earlier: Resume Power Words to Make You Look Buff on Paper
6. Make Your Skills Count
A common mistake in many resumes is for people to list their ‘hard’ skills, but miss adding their equally valuable ‘soft’ skills.
Hard skills are specific abilities that can be easily defined and measured. For example, hard skills would include things like a formal qualification, foreign language or the ability to use a specific piece of computer software.
Soft skills are less tangible and don’t tend to be formally taught, but rather picked up. These skills can include: communication, teamwork, leadership, etiquette, problem solving and negotiation. Most employers are as interested in seeing these softer skills as they are in the hard ones, so always include relevant ones.
Want a bit more guidance with skills, check out: The Resume Skills Recipe for Success
7. Qualify What You Say
Too often do we read statements in resumes that say something along the lines of “I have excellent [insert skill here] skills.” and then nothing to back the statement up. If you say it, qualify why you are good at something. For example:
- “I have excellent typing skills and can type at 180 words per minute.”
- “A great sales person, generating 50 sales leads per day.”
- “Experienced cost cutter, saving the company $50,000 last year by centralising stationary orders.”
Note how all these examples include figures. Resume reviewers love it when you quantify something in numbers as it makes it seem more real to them.
8. Don’t Forget a Covering Letter
A covering letter is a one-page document included with your resume. It introduces your resume and tells the hiring person why you are the right person for the job. It’s well worth spending some time on, as a great covering letter can really boost your chances of being interviewed. Here’s a few tips on what the covering letter should contain:
There is no bigger resume first impression turn-off than reading a generic cover letter. Tailor each letter to the company and role you are applying for. If you know who the hiring manager is, address it to them personally using their name.
Cite Critical Role Criteria
From the job description for the role you are applying for, find the essential skills and experience for the role. Get some early body blows in by mentioning them in the covering letter. Say how great you are at them and how much you enjoy doing them.
Why Hire You?
You may be applying for the job to simply pay the bills, but in the covering letter you are applying because of how much you are looking forward to working with the company, and because of how much you can offer them and accomplish together. Employers love candidates that can add value and enjoy the work. Make sure they know you are just such a person in the covering letter.
9. Have Friends, Family and Colleagues Review It
About 30% of Resumes we see have simple mistakes like spellings, poor phrases or obviously incorrect dates. These mistakes really stand out like a sore thumb and could cost you the interview. This is why it is always best to get at least one other person to review your resume once you have finished writing it. However, one other person isn’t enough if you really want to polish your resume. Look at it this way:
A geologist, botanist and meteorologist take a walk in a forest. The geologist only sees the rocks, the botanist only sees the plants and the meteorologist puts his umbrella up as it is about to rain. If you want a balanced view of your resume, try getting people you know from different walks of life to look at it.
10. Keep a List of Work and Personal Achievements
One of the tips that I keep hearing from other resume advisors is to always keep your resume up to date. However, we’ve yet to meet someone who does.
You can see why people don’t regularly update their resume; it’s takes a lot of effort to finely craft the sentences for a resume. Besides, won’t you need to adapt anything you write to the job you are applying for anyway?
We say, don’t keep your resume up to date, but keep a list of everything you do that you think may be worthy of a resume. You don’t have to carefully word things in this list, just make sure you keep a note of them along with your resume. It is a lot easier to do this than to constantly update the actual resume.
This list will act as a memory trigger for when you next need to produce a resume and you’ll be happy you did so.
Bonus Resume Writing Tips
Did we say there would be only 10 resume writing tips? Well, we’ve got one more which didn’t quite fit with the above: have you considered a video resume?
Video resumes are a growing phenomenon. They demonstrate a range of skills in a practical way that no written resume ever could. For example: personality, presentation, technical knowhow, artistic flair, etc. If you really want the job, there are few better ways to go the extra mile and stand out from the crowd.
They aren’t for everyone though (which is why they aren’t included in the main tips) and you need to be damn sure it’s good before uploading it to YouTube or it could have the opposite effect to the one you desire. Google ‘video resume’ to see what other people have done so you can benchmark your effort. Even if you don’t end up using it, it may make you think twice about how you lay out your written resume and they can be a lot of fun making.
Before you go…
Have you checked out the extra resume writing advice on these pages?