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How to write a resume

At some point in time, most people have found themselves exploring new professional opportunities. While this can be an exciting time, it also brings with it one of the more significant challenges of the job hunting process – how to write a resume. Whether it’s a quick update on your latest position, or you’re starting from scratch, it can be all too easy to get overwhelmed by the numerous details of writing a resume. An online search will probably return a few writing tips, but true step-by-step resume guides are hard to find. The good news is that you’re here now, and we have the resources and experience to walk you through the process.

One of the first things to put in your arsenal is a clearer understanding of what a resume is, and what it can do for you. In its essence, a resume is a marketing tool designed to get you an interview. It needs to convey enough information to a recruiter or hiring manager to help them to decide, and at the same time, it needs to be concise enough to prevent information overload. It, therefore, has the same elements and goals as an advertisement, so it helps to think of yourself as the product in this scenario. The analogy is also accurate because advertisements, just like resumes can be exceedingly good, or excruciatingly bad – therefore the advertisement itself cannot guarantee a purchase (or an interview in your case). Recruiting managers have to go through a large number of resumes in order to complete their shortlist. Therefore, the ones that are generic or poorly created resumes can be passed over because of the additional effort required to review them. This ‘friction’ can be removed by creating a document that showcases your skills in a clean and easy-to-read style and format. One of the other advantages of doing this is that recruiters also notice how much effort goes into creating a good resume and take this as a sign of how serious you are in your job search, as well as an indication of your professionalism at work itself.

Another significant point to remember is that there are no rules on how to write and format a resume. There are just too many different jobs to assign a specific resume to each. Even for the same job, different applicants will need to design a resume that is individually tailored to present their unique skills and experience. That being said, there are certain guidelines that can be followed to create a resume that leaves a strong impression. It will help to remember that your resume isn’t merely a chronological logbook of your professional experience, nor is it a just list of your skills. It serves as a critical bridge of information between you and your potential employer and portrays your overall professional picture. Merely having a resume cannot guarantee a job. However, if it’s well-designed it will greatly improve your chances of being called in for an interview – which is the primary goal we should aim for.

The primary goal in the first step to decide is the overall format of your resume. While there are a lot of different ways to do this, most of the popular formats are a variation of one of these three basic styles:

  1. The traditional Reverse-Chronological format is the most popular choice in resume formats, especially among entry-level applicants. Candidates like it for its flexibility and the fact that they can easily update it as they accumulate work experience. This is designed to document a clear career progression, with the latest work experience listed first. If you’re applying for a job that is in the same (or similar) field, this format works great. The biggest advantage of this style is the ability to showcase an interlinked upward trend in your work history. Of course, there is a flip side as well. If you have job-hopped in the past, or have one or more career changes, this style may not be the best choice for you. Similarly, if you have any significant gaps in your employment, it will highlight those as well – leading to questions about stability and consequently lowering the chances for an interview.

 

  1. For such situations, a Functional resume style will be more appropriate. Here you can shift the focus to your skills and abilities instead. This works best for experienced hires or senior technical roles since there is a strong emphasis on qualification, training, and certification. It will benefit candidates who are changing careers as well, since the focus is on skills, rather than experience. It is also a great way to draw attention to a specific skillset or qualification, especially in a niche or highly specialized fields. For these very reasons, entry level candidates with little or no experience should consider another style. The same applies if your skills are specific to one type of job and cannot be used in a different environment.

 

  1. The third resume format is the Combination style, which fuses parts of the first two formats. The focus is on detailed professional qualifications, and the work experience is grouped into a chronological timeline. For experienced hires in specialty occupations, this is a great format to use. It can also be a good way to showcase transferable skills and applicable experience when you’re applying for a job in a different industry, or considering a career change. It’s the preferred choice of resume for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and other professionals that have a strong mastery of their fields. However, this resume may not be the ideal way to present educational qualifications. For this reason, candidates that have little or no experience should consider the reverse-chronological format instead.

 

The second step on your journey to the perfect resume is to decide the order of information presented in your resume. This will be driven primarily by the chosen format, but certain text elements like your contact details should stay at the top. We’ve created sections for efficient organization and to improve readability. We’ve split it into five sections to make it easy to write, and easy to read.

Contact Information

Contact Information is the first section we will frame. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is surprising how many people can get this wrong. Try to follow the guidelines and you should be good to go.

  1. Name: Your name should be in a larger font than the rest of the document. This helps in introducing and projecting your identity and improving ease-of-recall for the hiring manager.
  2. Mailing Address: This should be a place where you live, or access frequently. Many companies will send a hard copy of offer documents or appointment letters to this address.
  3. Phone number: Put in a reliable phone number here. In case you have a back-up mobile number, or a landline, please include it as well.
  4. Email address: Use a professional sounding email address, preferably based on your name. If you don’t have one, consider creating an email account specifically for this purpose.
  5. External Links: This field should be used to provide access to external websites. For example, if you are a web designer, use the URL for websites you have designed. For creative professionals like graphic designers and artists, a link to their online portfolio may be placed here. An interesting way to use this is to share your LinkedIn profile – this will help provide additional information to the recruiter if they want. Needless to say, make sure your LinkedIn profile is clean and updated and the online information matches your resume.

Resume Introduction:

Resume Introduction is the second section, and you can choose from multiple introduction styles. The reason this is at the beginning of the resume is to gain the attention of a prospective employer and help answer the question ‘What’s in it for us?’ The purpose of this section is to highlight your skills and experience that will benefit the organization. These are some formats that can be used to achieve this goal:

 

  1. The most common are the Qualifications Summary, which is most suited for roles that have clearly stated job descriptions. This will typically be in a list format, with significant career achievements and skills presented in a concise manner. If you have multiple skills sets or extensive industry experience, this is the introduction to use. On the other hand, if you have no experience, or are applying for an entry level job, this may not be the best choice – use the Career Objective introduction instead.

 

  1. The Career Objective is a great option, which can be a statement of two or three lines that advertise your experience and skill sets. This is great for first-time applicants and entry level positions. However, candidates with large skill sets or those looking for career changes should consider another style. This type of introduction can also make a cover letter redundant – something worth considering if you plan to create a cover letter for your resume.

 

  1. Alternatively, you can use the Professional Summary as an introduction, which is created by combining the Qualifications Summary and the Career Objective. This has the flexibility of being formatted as a list, or as a paragraph. It’s the preferred format for experienced hires, or for specialty roles within the same or similar industry. Just like the Qualifications Summary, this may not work well for candidates with no experience or for entry level applicants.

Professional Experience:

The third and most important section is your Professional Experience, and will typically form the bulk of your resume.  This should be a reverse chronological list of your work experience, including the company name, location, job title and employment start and end dates. Each tenure should have three or four bullet points highlighting your role and achievements at that company. To maximize the impact, try starting each point with an action verb, and include a quantified element and the related responsibility.

For example, instead of saying this:

 “Headed a sales team for the western region and regularly exceeded targets”

try rephrasing it like this:

 “Exceeded sales targets by 30% while leading a sales team for the western region”

As far as possible, align these with respect to each specific role in the order of importance. These bullet points are a great way to grab the attention of the recruiter or hiring manager.

Educational Summary:

The Educational Summary brings us to the fourth section of the resume. As the level of competition rises it is more and more important to have a strong educational foundation, and this section is a great way to showcase that. Candidates that are applying for entry level jobs, or are first time applicants, can actually move this section before the Professional Summary. Experienced hires that have had time to expand their skill set can afford to trim this section down to the basics to help keep their resume short and effective. You may list each degree, diploma or certificate obtained in chronological order by including the following information:

  1. Name of institute: This includes college or university, technical school and any other full-time or part time courses that resulted in a degree or diploma.
  2. Location: You can also mention the location of your institutions with city and state if space on your resume is not a constraint.
  3. Date of Graduation should include the month and year and should correspond to the dates printed on the relevant certificates.
  4. Name of Degree: This would also include any diploma, certificate or license as applicable.
  5. Results or Grades should be mentioned as a percentage or GPA.

Additional Skills:

The Additional Skills section is the fifth and is applicable if you are applying for a role that requires specific training such as IT, Hardware, Nursing, or Heavy Equipment operation, or has additional information that is relevant to the position you’re applying for. Here is how you should structure this optional section.

  1. Certifications/Licenses. If you choose to add an Additional Skills section, chances are this is the primary reason. Some examples of roles that require certification are Nursing, Heavy Equipment operation, Transportation etc. You should include details of the certificates or licenses in a clear manner, including expiry dates where applicable. If it is a pre-requisite for the job, the hiring manager will be looking for this information, so it’s a good idea to make it easy to find.
  2. Publications: Graduate students that have published articles (relevant to the industry/ job) will use this section. Other candidates such as research scientists, content writers, and even some artists can take advantage of this to highlight their skills. In keeping with the overall theme, these should be listed in reverse chronological order. If you want, you can include a separate list of unpublished work, such as works in progress or if those submitted for publication.
  3. Awards or Achievements, Activities: This a great way to showcase your achievements and provide a glimpse of your abilities. Things that can be included here are Scholarships, Academic achievements, Professional affiliation (e.g. professional association for recruiters, lawyers, chartered accountants etc.) You can also include volunteer work here, as a sign of your willingness to participate in company activities for social responsibility.
  4. Technical Skills: Certain roles, notably IT and Engineering place a lot of emphasis on technical skills and specializations. In order to optimize projects, these roles are usually based on specific skills. Therefore, if you have experience in a particular system or technology, it is a good idea to present it here. If you have worked on multiple projects, or have multiple skill sets, you can organize the skills into summaries (e.g. Software, Programming Language, Testing Tools, Applications etc.)

The additional skills section may increase the overall length of your resume, but if used wisely it may be worth it. Since a lot of resume searches happen online, placing relevant keywords in this section increases the visibility to the right hiring manager. Therefore, including the names of applications (InDesign, Photoshop, Final Cut) etc. will make your resume relevant to the job. This is also the reason why you shouldn’t include skills that are not related or responsibilities that you don’t have a lot of experience with. This section is a good to include additional information that you would like to share with the hiring managers, but does not fit in the section for professional experience or educational summary.

The third and final step is the Formatting Style of your resume. Now that you have put together the content for a fantastic resume, it’s time to package it to grab the attention of the hiring manager. Keep an eye out for these four things.

  1. Pages: Try and edit the content of your resume to fit one or two pages at the most. No recruiter or hiring manager has the time or patience to read four pages of dense text. This resume is also a test of your written communication skills – how you can present a lot of information in the most economical way is a measure of your effectiveness.
  2. Fonts: The font choice should be professional, easy-to-read and applied consistently to the whole document. Stay away from cartoon fonts, or anything that detracts from the readability of your resume. Your font size should also be chosen appropriately – it should be large enough to read comfortably, with each section and sub section in a slightly smaller size. For online use, Sans Serif fonts are highly recommended.
  3. Lines: You can creatively use lines to break up the text into blocks to improve readability. Ideally, insert a line after each section to clearly define those elements in the overall scheme.
  4. Margins: You can adjust the margins to fit the content, but try not to reduce them too much. Thin margins can make the page seem crowded, and thick margins can indicate a lack of substance or content.

Finally, once you have entered all the details, it a good idea to review your resume making sure it accurately showcases your best skills and experience.