Is your resume consistently getting you interviews:
For jobs you really want?
In organisations in which you really want to work?
If you’ve answered, “Yes” to both questions, that’s great. But if you’ve answered, “No” to either, your resume is the likely culprit.
Put yourself in the shoes of a potential employer recruiting for a new member of staff – you’d be busier than normal from the extra work involved in dealing with recruitment consultants and candidates and reviewing a pile of resumes. This is why it’s essential that your resume is of the highest calibre to distinguish you from your competition.
A resume that just outlines your career history and experience is not enough to convince employers that they should interview you. To get your foot in the door, you must have a resume that provides them with what they are looking for.
To do this it must present your experience, achievements, contributions and expertise in the most compelling, succinct and appealing way. This is how you optimise your opportunities to secure highly sought after roles in the most desirable organisations.
Your resume must be professional, crisp, clean and elegant to enable your potential employer to fully and easily assess your capabilities and understand the value you can add to their organisation.
When writing resumes, I use the following checklist to ensure that you receive the highest quality resume to give you a competitive advantage and open doors that would otherwise remain closed.
Go ahead, assess your current resume against my resume checklist below to see how and where it needs to be improved. Even if you don’t have a resume, these resume writing tips will help you prepare an effective one if you want to spend the time and effort writing it yourself.
If you adopt all the points in the checklist, you will have a resume that is worth reading and which will improve your career opportunities. Each point is important. Your resume must incorporate all of them. If you leave one or two out, you could see your efforts on the others go to waste.
Many people talk about their achievements from a personal perspective rather than from their employer’s. For example, some people include in their achievements that they were promoted to a more senior role or selected for a special project or won a trip or that they developed their expertise in a new technique. While these are achievements (for the individual), what is missing is an indication of the value or benefit to the employer. Prospective employers want to know about the contributions you have made to the organisations for which you have worked. They want to know what you did to earn those awards or rewards or what you did with what you learned. They want to know what you have done for others so they can decide whether you are likely to be able to do something of value for them.
Some people leave out the value or impact of their achievements. For example, I read many resumes where a candidate says something like: “Led a review of the company’s sales function and recommended the centralisation of the order processing department.” What is missing here is the impact or benefit. What happened as a result of the re-structure? Or, some people say: “Developed and implemented an effective induction program.”. What was the benefit or value of the induction program? What improved as a result?
The claims you make in your resume about your accomplishments and contributions are strengthened and have more credibility if you can provide examples and evidence. For example, if you introduced a method that improved workforce productivity, what indicators demonstrate that productivity increased and what was the benefit of the increase in productivity? If you reduced error rates, by what percentage? If you improved your employer’s reputation in the market, what evidence indicates that this occurred and what was the benefit to the organisation of this improved reputation?
If your achievements are quantifiable, don’t just provide dollars or other “raw” numerical data because these are not very meaningful until they are put into a context. For example, if you increased sales by $1m from last year, this might be impressive if the company was a $5m a year business. However, if the company was a $500 million a year enterprise, a $1m increase is not nearly as impressive. Therefore, express increases in sales, decreases in costs, increases in market share and other changes to an organisation’s key performance indicators as percentages or fractions.
If you improved customer satisfaction to 90%, or if you increased on time in full delivery to 95% or if you reduced machinery downtime to 1%, indicate the previous period’s figure. This provides the reader with an understanding of the magnitude or scale of the improvement. (For example: improved customer satisfaction ratings from 75% to 90% within 12 months.)
If an achievement is not easily quantifiable, you can still provide a meaningful indication of the value of the achievement. For example: “Reduced duplication and enhanced the re-usability of test suites by improving testing and planning through discussion forums to enable team members to share knowledge and identify areas for improvement.”
One of the frustrations an employer or recruitment consultant faces when reading a resume is when the method, approach or strategy adopted to get the result is not clear. This is important because employers will want to know whether your approach or style would suit their culture and way of doing things and whether you adopt strategies that seem sound and logical.
For example, if you increased sales by 10%, how did you do it? There are many ways of increasing sales. The value of the achievement is obvious, but was it achieved by penetrating existing accounts further with the same services and products or by introducing new products to existing clients or through a marketing campaign that attracted new clients? Or was it achieved by increasing the number of sales people? The how can often be as important as the what.
A resume is like a brochure, where you are the product. This means that the benefits of inviting you to an interview must be obvious from the outset. An effective approach is to summarise your competencies, skills, areas of expertise – your “offer” – up front. The rest of the document should then corroborate and expand on your offer and provide examples to substantiate what you claim to be your key strengths.
This last point is important. I have seen an innumerable number of resumes where a person claims to be an excellent contributor to a team, only to find no evidence in the rest of the document to suggest that they had ever worked in one. I recommend the competencies or key strengths section of your resume (see point 5 below) be limited to those attributes, qualifications, areas of expertise and knowledge that really are your strong suits. This means that a list of 30 (and I have seen this) so called key strengths is unlikely to enhance your credibility.
For example, if you claim to be an effective leader, then your experience and achievements should verify this. In this case it would mean, at the very least, that you have had significant experience in being responsible for managing the performance of one or more teams during your recent past. At best, it would mean that you have improved the performance, morale, motivation and turnover rates of the teams you have led.
There is a corporate myth that your resume will only get 30 seconds attention. This is not true. Some resumes only last 15 seconds before they reach the circular filing cabinet. It takes most people about that long (some claim even less) to form an opinion about you based on your resume. If they like the first half page, what it says about you and how it depicts you, it will stimulate them to invest in reading the rest. It’s a bit like a newspaper or magazine article. If the headline and the first few paragraphs interest us, we are more likely to put effort and time into the rest.
Therefore, ask yourself: “What is of interest to my reader in the first half page?” Most people ask the reader to read their home address, e-mail address, phone numbers, date of birth, marital status and all sorts of other detail before they get to the heart of the matter.
In addition, many people start with their qualifications and training. Unless you are applying for entry level graduate positions, this is of little interest to the reader at this point.
The first half page or so should be like a teaser. It should stimulate interest and arouse curiosity. You can achieve this by providing a brief career overview of your areas of expertise and setting out your offer up front.
One of the main weaknesses I see in resumes is when people provide the reader with a list of duties or tasks and think that is all the reader wants to know. In many cases the reader will already be familiar enough with the nature of the work you have done to know what your duties were. For example, if you are a Financial Accountant for a commercial enterprise, the reader, either a recruitment consultant specialising in finance roles or a manager in charge of the company’s finance or accounting function, will have a reasonably good grasp of what a Financial Accountant does. In fact, if you were to examine position descriptions for the Financial Accountant of 50 different organisations, you will find an 85% overlap. Just look at the job advertisements for ten or so positions in your own field of expertise and note the similarity between the position requirements.
Therefore, you need to ask what you can tell the reader that they might not know and that will interest them. An effective resume will deliver more than your responsibilities or duties being concisely summarised. The reader will want to know what you were accountable for ensuring or achieving, what value your current and previous jobs were designed to add to the business of the organisation, the level, nature and scope of your accountabilities, your decision making authority and the impact the job has or had on the organisation.
This level of information helps potential employers and recruitment consultants understand what you were asked to achieve and the level at which you were or are working. This helps them decide whether you are capable of operating at the level of the positions for which you are applying.
Providing the reader with information at this level will also help differentiate you from your competition because most people don’t go to this depth. It will provide employers with greater insight about your abilities and the level of responsibility you have had. It will help convince employers that you know what you are talking about and have thought through your value to the organisations with which you have worked.
There should be a logical flow and structure to the resume. You can read 11 books on writing resumes and find 12 opinions on the best way to structure and organise them. At the end of the day, the reader needs to know where you worked, when you worked there, the nature of the business of the organisations for which you worked (unless they are household names), what you were accountable for ensuring or achieving and what contributions you made or value you added. They need to know what you have to offer and how to contact you.
Many people agonise over whether to use a functional or chronological or hybrid format. The resume books will advise you what is most suitable for different situations. The main issue is whether the document has a structure that leads the reader from the general to the specific and whether it allows the reader to gain a quick overview and provides easy access to the details if they need them.
Some people go to extraordinary lengths by using sophisticated graphic design programs, charts, photographs, clip art and so on. Remember, you are probably going to send your resume by e-mail. Therefore, it should be created in Microsoft Word (saved as one version earlier than the current version in the market, since organisations might not upgrade their version as soon as it comes out), only use fonts that come as standard with Word and produce it in black and white, since most organisations will use a black and white laser printer and your efforts in selecting nice pastels, if you did, will look a bit washed out. Some people also use clip art. Clip art is cute, but cute is not usually what you want to sell.
Word has plenty of capacity to allow you to be a little creative in format and design. However, unless you are a graphics expert, I recommend that you keep things simple. Flamboyant attempts at “design” often fall flat unless you are trained. Some people try to create fancy cover pages. These are largely a wasted effort. They add no value. Remember, what’s important is substance, not form. Don’t use fancy borders and other special “effects”. They distract the reader from what is important and can unwittingly create suspicion in the reader’s mind.
If you are confident and competent in using Word, tables can be used to create plenty of white space to help the reader scan the document and reduce fatigue. If you use tables, I recommend making each line of text around two-thirds to three-quarters of the width of the page – shorter lines are easier to read and aid concentration. Use font sizes that are easy to read. I have seen people use 9 point Arial or even 9 point Arial Narrow in an effort to minimise the number of pages used. Doing this can make it hard for the reader. Remember, your objective is to make it as easy as possible for your potential employer to want to read your resume.
If you are not confident or at least competent to an intermediate level, don’t use tables. They can be tricky and Microsoft, after all these years, has still not cleaned out all of the irritating “bugs” contained in the tables function.
A four or five page well laid out document that is easy on the eye and leads the reader smoothly through the information is more effective than something crammed into two pages that makes it impossible to find anything and requires the reader to make more effort than necessary to deal with the information.
The most persuasive writing is typically the easiest to read and understand. If your resume is full of jargon with technical terms or phrases only commonly used by a handful of people, the reader will reach their tolerance level much sooner than you want them to. I appreciate that some jargon is necessary. However there are two issues to consider.
Firstly, not every recruitment consultant, senior manager or Human Resources Manager will be as intimately familiar with the terms and jargon associated with your profession or industry as someone who uses it all the time. Therefore, write for a broader audience than your colleagues or immediate manager. Someone once told me that they would not work for anyone who did not understand the technical side of the job as well as they did. They are still looking!
Secondly, an employer and recruitment consultant will want to know whether you understand the broader implications of what you do, not just the terminology and technical components. By talking to them in more general business terms you create an impression that you understand more than your particular field of specialisation. This gives an even better impression that you might be a candidate for promotion in the future.
Some people have MBAs and other post graduate business or commerce qualifications. If you know someone who does, you may find that something strange happens to their speech and writing. The word “strategic” appears in every other sentence and twice in others. Perfectly adequate, simple terms and phrases become tortured and vague so that the reader has to read three times before they think they know what is being said. People are impressed by resumes that express achievements and accountabilities in clear, concise, unambiguous, direct and active terms.
A resume should reflect your individuality, your unique achievements, and your particular combination of skills, expertise, achievements and contributions. It should set you apart from the other applicants.
Remember that its likely that the reader is going to be dealing with dozens of resumes. You don’t know whether yours will be the first they read or whether it will be the last in a large pile at the end of a hectic day. Assume yours will be the last one in the pile. You must therefore be memorable.
Being memorable does not mean using what you think are creative methods to give your resume a unique appearance or by using quirky headings or phrases to attract attention. Unless you are an expert in graphic design or linguistics or have the writing style of a best selling author, keep it simple.
A rule of thumb is that the more effort and time you invest in attempting to make yourself distinctive, the more irritating your resume will be.
What differentiates you from the rest of the field are your unique achievements, contributions and the value you have added. No-one can replicate that.
The most effective way to distinguish yourself from almost everyone else is to:
- Express your achievements in terms of the benefits and value you have added to your employers.
- Clearly corroborate your achievements with evidence and examples.
- Indicate how you achieved what you did.
- Make your key strengths and abilities obvious and demonstrable.
- Link your strengths to your achievements and accountabilities.
- Give the reader a reason to read the rest of it after they’ve read the first half page.
- Explain what you do beyond your job description.
- Structure and organise your resume logically.
- Ensure your resume is visually appealing and distinctive.
- Use simple and straightforward language.
because most people don’t.
Writing Your Resume
If you write your own resume, make sure you understand the Resume Checklist and Tips. Cover all of those points and you will be on your way to a resume that could increase the chances of securing interviews for jobs you want.
Or, make it much easier on yourself: get some help on resume writing from a professional. As a professional resume writer, I can help you write your resume. Many people only have their resumes professionally written after they have missed out on several opportunities that might not be available again. Don’t let that happen to you.
Unless you are a qualified mechanic, you probably rely on someone who is qualified to make sure that your car works well. In some ways your resume is like maintaining your car: if it isn’t done properly, your career could stall.
Developing a well written resume to significantly improve your chances of opening the right doors demands highly developed and specialised expertise, senior level experience and insight into the needs of hiring managers and recruitment consultants. It also requires advanced resume writing skills, the ability to understand the value of your achievements and the judgement needed to interpret your contributions so employers will conclude that you are a highly valuable asset. Many people find this a challenge and are stressed about this.
Investing in having your resume written by a professional like me can:
Save you thousands of dollars
by significantly reducing the amount of time you need to secure the best role
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Improve your job satisfaction
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Help you secure jobs with higher salaries
by positioning you appropriately
Reduce stress and risk
during an often anxious period
Save you the time,
energy and effort needed to improve your resume
Get Your Free Resume Health Check Today
I’ve helped thousands of people advance their careers for more than 20 years. Clients often refer their colleagues, friends, relatives, and people they don’t even like to me because I have helped make a significant difference to their careers. I can do the same for you.