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Your resume is your passport in your search for a new or a better career. A high-quality, professionally presented, and well written resume will open doors, put you ahead of the opposition and win you that all-important interview.

Make your resume a quality document

Set yourself a high standard when writing a resume for yourself. Invest time and money to produce a beautifully set out, laser-printed, professional looking resume you are proud to send out. You can add one color or perhaps print on a cream, high-gloss paper. Keep to one or two fonts, sizes and styles. Remember your resume is a business document so don’t go overboard. Quality is the key so don’t overuse special effects.

Write a skills-based resume

Write a skills-based resume concentrating on the skills, knowledge and achievements and how these make you an outstanding candidate for the position. Get away from the dry, functional, chronological listing of positions held and duties performed. Your resume must stand out from the pack. It should let your reader see at once what you’ve achieved for others and by inference what you offer any prospective employer.

Pitch your resume to meet your prospective employer’s needs

You’re typically competing against 100 other candidates and the employer will only call four or five to an interview. You want to be one of those select few. To win that interview you must work out what your prospective employer wants and pitch your resume to meet those needs. Closely study the advertisement and try to match your skills and achievements to those specifically mentioned.

Nine out of ten people fail to write about what the employer’s central question: Can this candidate do the job? Most resumes are an autobiography or a chronological list of positions held. This makes it hard work for the reader. Keep the employer’s central question at the forefront of your mind when you put together your resume. The reader looks at the information presented and says ‘so what’. You have to work out what the employer wants so as he or she reads the information, the response is ‘great, that’s what we want.’

Think through the qualities the best candidates have for such a job

If you wanted to hire a software programmer, what qualities and qualifications would the ideal candidate have? Unless the employer asks for a specific programming skill, list and highlight all the operating systems you’re familiar with, programming languages you have qualifications in, the software packages you have used. In this way, your specific skills will shine through.

Think of the image your resume presents

Every resume must use good layout, high-quality paper and perfect typing. But beyond these needs, think what image your resume presents. If you’re applying for an auditing position, you will want a conservative image, minimum color, few or no graphics, and the best-quality paper. This will generate an image of a conventional, careful and controlled person. If you’re applying for a copywriting position, you can be more creative and show your skills when presenting your resume. If you’re a prospective sales representative, you must come across as confident, resourceful and dedicated. You must think about the image your resume and work hard to match it to the position and employer’s needs.

Keep your resume short, relevant and specific

You must get the reader to remember five or six key messages selling your qualifications and skills so you stand out as a candidate to interview. You want the reader to remember you and to pick you for interview.

Write your resume as short as necessary

You may only need a one-page resume if you’re a school-leaver or graduate with little or no work experience. Most resumes are two pages long. Never go beyond three pages. By the time your reader gets to the end of a long resume, he or she will have lost your key messages in the detail.

You don’t have to include everything in your resume. Keep what’s relevant and impressive. Don’t go into too much personal information such as your marital status, children or hobbies. Include only outside interests that show important sides to your character. Mention outside interests that show you are community spirited or ones relevant to your chosen career. For example, you could mention your position as Chair of the Parent-Teachers Association or your interest in photography if applying for trainee journalist posts.

Decide on the key messages you want the employer to remember

Research shows most people can only remember half a dozen ideas from reading a document. As an employer reads dozens of resumes, he or she will only remember a fraction of the content of each one. You must decide what you want the reader to remember. This is usually why your qualifications and skills match those of the prospective employer. For example, if you are applying for a position as a IT Help Desk Manager, your key, specific messages might be:

Four years’ experience as a supervisor on an IT Help Desk for a medium-size company,
Training staff in Microsoft Office products,
Knowledge of C++ and Unix,
Degree in Office Technology from Kent University,
Author of plain language guide to database management.

Place the key messages to catch the reader’s eye

Present your key information on the most prominent position on the first page. Use the top half of the page, using layout to draw attention to this text. You can use a heading such as ‘Most Relevant Experience and Skills.’

Throughout your resume, use layout, bold, bullet points and indentation to highlight the important information you want the employer to notice. Never bury important information in a long paragraph.

Grab the reader’s attention and stand out from the crowd by summarizing your best information first. Write a summary of your career highlights to show what you offer your future employer. Use a summary that sells how your background and experience will benefit potential employers. Don’t use the summary to state what you want as a career or the type of job you are seeking or your desires or expectations.

Poor goal-defined summary:
Seeks challenging position within a growth-oriented company in order to develop my management skills.

Excellent hard-selling summary:
Hard-working and enthusiastic certified accountant with 12 years’ managerial experience with Fortune 500 companies. Specialist knowledge of company taxation law and Federal Government business regulations. Offers quality business solutions to save money through improve financial controls for small to medium-sized companies.

Write a hard-selling summary or profile

Grab the reader’s attention and stand out from the crowd by summarizing your best information first. Write a summary of your career highlights to show what you offer your future employer. Use a summary that sells how your background and experience will benefit potential employers. Don’t use the summary to state what you want as a career or the type of job you are seeking or your desires or expectations.

Poor goal-defined summary:

Seeks challenging position within a growth-oriented company in order to develop my management skills.

Excellent hard-selling summary:

Hard-working and enthusiastic certified accountant with 12 years’ managerial experience with Fortune 500 companies. Specialist knowledge of company taxation law and Federal Government business regulations. Offers quality business solutions to save money through improve financial controls for small to medium-sized companies.

Make the key messages specific

Readers remember specifics and forget generalizations.

Poor: Generalizations

Relevant management experience
Leadership qualities
Proven sales record

Excellent: Specifics

Working for three years as Sales Director controlling a $5 million advertising budget.
Supervising 30 sales staff bringing in $18 million of sales in the last financial year.

Generalizations disappear from the reader’s memory within ten seconds. Instead make each message specific so the employer remembers you as the candidate that supervised 30 sales staff bringing in $18 million of sales.  You may have also highlighted similar information in your cover letter. You should expand on these key messages in the rest of your resume. In this way, your key messages will register with the reader.

Highlight your most relevant experience

Your resume is a selling document highlighting your best features. Decide what’s most impressive in your work experience and use it to sell your skills and achievements. For example, there’s little point in listing or expanding on your role as a trainee accountant for 18 months 15 years ago if you are applying for the post of Chief Accounting Officer for a major corporation. Limit yourself to the work of the past ten years or the past four or five positions you have held.

If you feel you must list all your positions, list them in descending order with the most recent first. Expand on the most recent achievements in your most recent positions. Then place the date and job title for less important or earlier career positions, without any more details. Better still, write a short summary sentence covering your earlier career such as: Accountant with 25 years’ experience working with Boeing Corporation. This will force the reader to concentrate on your more recent and most relevant work experience.

Write your resume sections in order of relevance

Which is more relevant to the employer—the university degree you gained in 1976 or your most recent job as Chief Chemical Engineer at DuPont? Abandon your chronological order and go for descending order of relevance to your employer. This usually means placing employment experience before educational qualification if you have been in the workforce for more than a couple of years.

Write about your results

These are your key selling points. You will get interviews if you list what you added, achieved, contributed, improved, discovered, expanded, launched, improved, sold, solved and won for your previous employers. Put your results under each position you have held to show prospective employers what you can do for them. Here is an example of how to write about your experience in your resume:

Poor: Duty-Defined

Routine clerical filing
Customer correspondence
Invoice preparation
Accounts payroll

Excellent: Results-Defined

Managed filing for 40 charity fundraising staff, mail campaigns, minutes of meetings, management reports and board papers.
Worked with the customer service team to review and rewrite customer correspondence in plain language.
Kept office accounts up-to-date and helped reduce invoice preparation time by two days.
Ran the payroll for 40 fundraising staff and 10 support staff in the area office.

Write a clear and easy-to-read resume

Avoid any confusing or cluttered resume formats. Expect your prospective employer to spend 30 seconds reviewing your resume. In that time the employer needs to know the essential information and decide whether to interview you. Test your resume. Can you pick out the essential information in 30 seconds? If not, redesign and rework it until you can.

Write a confident resume

Most resumes fail because people generalize, water-down and understate their achievements. You need to put positive information in the best possible light, without going over the top or taking liberties with the truth. Most employers want confident, enthusiastic, hard-working employees with skills and achievements, a willingness to learn and adapt. Don’t make your resume a dry document listing job titles and duties or you’ll stay in the pack of 100 other candidates. Let your confidence and enthusiasm flow through—don’t sell yourself short.

Exclude nonessential information

There’s no need to give the names of your supervisor, the street address and telephone numbers of your past employers or attach your references. This wastes valuable space in your resume and detracts from your key information. Your prospective employer will only need this information if you get past the interview stage and you’re on the shortlist for the appointment. Here’s a checklist of information to leave out of your resume.

Don’t include:

  • citizenship
  • health
  • irrelevant associations and memberships
  • irrelevant awards
  • irrelevant publications
  • irrelevant hobbies and pastimes
  • marital status and children
  • photograph
  • previous salary
  • reason for leaving previous jobs
  • references
  • scholarships
  • second mailing address
  • social security number
  • supervisor’s or manager’s names
  • travel history

Write an honest resume

There’s no reason to lie. Everyone has marketable skills. Highlight what you have to offer, without lying or stretching the truth.

Write your resume in plain English

Your resume may impress because you have organized the content to appeal to the reader’s needs, but that’s not enough. You need to use professional editing techniques to make sure you write clearly and concisely.

Keep your average sentence between 13-18 words

Don’t strain your reader’s concentration with long sentences. Keep the average for the document between 13-18 words.

Use active verbs

Banish all passive verbs from your resume. Instead, begin sentences with strong, action verbs. This will present you as active, as someone who can think, take responsibility and get things done. The key to switching passive verbs to active verbs in resume is to start each skill or qualification with an action verb.

Passive Example (Poor)

In 1998 I was promoted to Senior Finance Officer when I was given supervisory responsibility for 15 employees who were tasked with auditing the company’s accounts. In the next 12 months due to new cost controls that were introduced $40,000 was saved.

Active Example (Excellent)

Promoted in 1998 to Senior Finance Officer to supervise 15 employees auditing the company’s accounts. Saved $40,000 in 12 months by introducing new cost controls.

Keep the word choice simple

Avoid an impressive sounding vocabulary. Use simple, concrete words that say something. Don’t utilize plain English, simply use it.

Keep it specific

Don’t write: ‘Responsible for the management of sales staff…’ as this is too general. Write: ‘Ran a team of eight sales staff, two research staff and five administrative assistants and delivered a 15 percent growth in sales within the first 8 months.’

Keep it short by making every word count

You must write tightly. Cut any words or phrases that don’t add to your resume. Set yourself this test. Draft your resume and then resolve to cut 20 percent of the words. You might cut out a section, drop three qualifications of marginal interest and cut down on long-winded phrases. Read each sentence carefully and cut each long sentence and long-winded phrase. Go over it again and see if you can tighten the style further. This pruning will help put the rest of the information in sharper focus for the employer.

Avoid jargon, abbreviations or acronyms

Avoid management-speak and overusing abbreviations and acronyms. However, you can use technical terms and industry-standard terms if you are confident your reader will understand. Whatever, you do, there should be no abbreviation, acronym, word or phrase that puzzles your reader.

Proofread your resume

Make sure you catch all spelling, English usage and grammar mistakes, inconsistencies with capital letters and punctuation slips (especially missing or unnecessary apostrophes). Read your cover letter and resume thoroughly, several times. Ask a friend with good writing skills to double-check your writing.

Write a strong cover letter for your resume

Designing and writing your resume is important. But you also need a strong and effective cover letter to send with it. A cover letter has one aim: To help you get an interview and so increase your chances of landing that job. Take a look at my article on writing a strong resume cover letter.