A good resume is the first step to a successful job search. Following is a step-by-step approach to resume writing that we hope will prove useful to you.
1) What are your priorities? What are you looking for in a job? Challenge? Work-life balance? Career advancement? Learn to look at the job search process in terms of what you want for yourself and march towards that goal.
Basic Resume/ Brainstorming
2) Elaborate a rough version of what will eventually become your resume. Let’s call this version your “basic resume.” Try to recollect in the most comprehensive way possible all your accomplishments. Write them down in chronological order.
3) Use this opportunity to verify the information contained in your resume (dates, numbers, etc.).
4) Decide whether or not you should apply to the position:
- Before applying to a position, ask yourself if you really want it.
- If you are interested in the position, ask yourself whether you think you are qualified for it.
- If you think you are qualified for it, ask yourself whether you have a chance.
- If you think you have a chance, apply. Otherwise, look for the next opportunity.
5) Why not apply to as many jobs as possible?
- Because you should put the odds in your favour. Quality is more important than quantity.
- Because the key to success is to send out targeted applications. As you will soon find out, sending out targeted applications is time consuming.
- Because the measure of success is not to find any job, but to find a job that you truly want and one that will make you happy.
Background Information Gathering
6) If you are responding to a job posting, make sure to read it carefully to search for hidden clues. If you obtained your lead through networking, ask for details from your contact person.
7) Research the position, the industry, and the employer. What are the skills required for the position that you are interested in? How does the industry affect the position (e.g. an accounting position with a pharmaceutical firm requires a different set of knowledge than an accounting position with a mining company)? What is the employer’s corporate philosophy and how does it impact the nature of the position? These are all questions you should be able to answer once you have done your research.
8) Choose the main headings for your resume. Title, Summary of Qualifications, Work Experience, Education, Computer Skills, Languages, etc.
9) In addition to the usual headings, you should consider adding specific headings that will be of interest to the recruiter, such as: Computer Skills, Languages, Professional Associations, Community Involvement, Extracurricular Activities, etc.
10) Make sure the additional headings you add are relevant to the position you are applying to and think in practical terms. Many details are often omitted from job postings, but if you can read between the lines and do proper research, you can always come up with additional needs that the employer has but that are not stated. For instance, you may notice that the employer’s office is located in a neighborhood with a strong immigrant population. How about drawing attention to your multilingual background or your openness to other cultures?
11) Choose a resume format that will attenuate your weaknesses and showcase your strengths: reverse chronological, functional, or hybrid. (Please see the Resume Formats section.)
12) You have decided on the structure, format and basic content of your resume. The next step is to choose a professional resume design that will catch the recruiter’s interest and draw his/ her attention to what sets you apart from other candidates. There are no rigid formulas to a well-designed resume, but keep in mind the following guidelines:
- Keep your resume simple. Avoid visual distractions on your resume.
- Make it easy for the reader to scan through your resume. Avoid font sizes that are too small.
- Be consistent throughout your resume.
13) Keep your resume black and white, or you can also use shades of grey. Avoid colors. Most companies will make photocopies of your resume which they will pass around the office for the various persons concerned.
14) Following are four key rules to effective resume writing:
- Be clear: Candidates know what they did in the past and assume that what they wrote down is clear to the reader. Big mistake. Clarity is one of the major handicaps of most resumes. What matters is not whether your resume is clear to you, but rather whether your resume is clear to the person reading it.
- Be concise: Recruiters have a lot of applications to go through. They won’t have the patience to read through lengthy sentences.
- Be selective: Everything that you put down in your resume has to have a purpose. If a statement serves no purpose, take it out.
- Be on point: This goes to the clarity of your thought process. What message are you trying to convey and are you effective in that endeavor?
- Be accurate: Be careful not to over exaggerate and don’t lie.
15) Writing might not be your strength. If that is the case, ask someone to help you.
16) Resume writing is about “making a statement.” What statement are you trying to make?
17) Make sure that the person reading your work experience will have an appreciation of what that job entailed. You can undertake to do this in many ways:
- You can choose to have one sentence below your job title where you describe your employer’s line of business. This may be necessary if the company you worked for is small or is in another industry than the industry to which you are applying to.
- As opposed to discussing your experience in function of what you did, you may want to elaborate on what your responsibilities were.
- You can choose to include the URL of the company for which you worked.
- You may choose to have a short paragraph describing what your responsibilities were, followed by bullet points highlighting specific accomplishments.
As you can see, resume writing is not necessarily a mechanical exercise. A lot is also left to creativity and imagination.
18) Support your propositions by concrete and specific examples, if possible.
19) Emphasize the jobs in which you demonstrated skills that are relevant to the position you are seeking. Don’t fall into the trap of giving the same weight to all your past jobs. Some jobs are more relevant than others.
20) Keep in mind what the requirements for the position are and word your experience in function of those requirements.
21) Describe your main accomplishments and how you brought added-value to your previous employers.
22) How to showcase your accomplishments? Discuss the problem that you encountered, the course of action that you took, and how it ended up benefiting the employer.
23) Remember to use action verbs; you want to sound proactive. Resumes are based on the past, yet should be future-oriented.
24) When you write down numbers, use this format:
“1,000,000” instead of “1 million”
“Saved XYZ $1,000,000 by restructuring manufacturing operations.” vs. “Saved XYZ $1 million by restructuring manufacturing operations.”
As you can notice, “$1,000,000” stands out more than “$1 million.”
25) The education portion of your resume is not only about showing that you have a degree. Dig deeper to see if there are things that you can mention to make your application stronger (especially if you are a new graduate). E.g. “Worked 20 hours a week while attending university full-time.”
26) Don’t disregard activities or associations you were involved in. Employers also look for “soft skills” such as people skills or teamwork. In addition, you may share common experiences with some of the recruiters (i.e. he or she may have been in the same association or played in a basketball team as well).
Summary of Qualifications
27) The “Summary of Qualifications” is what will give you the edge over other candidates. Oftentimes, a well-written Summary of Qualifications will set the tone for the rest of your resume.
28) Although the heading reads “Summary of Qualifications,” it is more like “Summary of Strengths.” Misleading? A little, but what if you can pass all your strengths to be your qualifications. Will that make your candidacy stronger? You bet!
29) Careful about mentioning skills like “good research skills,” “strong analytical skills,” or “good organizational skills.” Anybody can mention those. If you do, make sure that the rest of your resume supports your allegations. Also, keep a balance between these general skills and specific skills such as “in-depth understanding of international tax rules” or “good understanding of GAAP.” Specific skills such as the latter ones are more persuasive and make a much stronger statement in terms of your knowledge base and the possible contribution you can make to your new employer.
Objective [Replaced by the Resume Title]
30) The “Objective” section of the resume is one of the trickiest parts because it is often misinterpreted as being the candidate’s objective. Actually, do you really need an “Objective” section? Isn’t it quite obvious that your objective is to get the job? So why the “Objective” heading? Well, some people say that it is intended for organizations that have many vacancies. This helps them keep track of things. This is true… but is there another purpose to the “Objective” section of your resume?
31) The objective section is not about what you want, but about letting the employer know that you are the person that they want. There has to be a meeting of the minds. Something like “your objective is my objective.” We have a common objective, what a coincidence!
Show That You Are Interested
32) Some people may have all the required qualifications, yet there is a sense that they don’t really care about the position. As opposed to common wisdom, interest is not only shown in cover letters. It can also emanate from your resume. How?
- By being specific.
- By showing that you did your research and know what you are writing about.
- By focusing on the employer’s needs as opposed to what you want.
33) To the extent that your resume is tailored to the position you are applying to, many recruiters will recognize the effort you put in and may give you a chance accordingly.
Some Writing Rules/ Reminders
34) A sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a period. Many people remember the former, but forget the latter. Unless it is a title, you need a period at the end of your sentence.
35) If you are still employed, use the present tense to describe your responsibilities in your current job and use the past tense to describe your responsibilities in your prior jobs.
36) Start your sentences with action verbs.
37) Be careful with punctuation.
38) Number your pages (unless your resume has only one page) and state the total number of pages. E.g.:
Page 1 of 2
39) Put your name at the top of all the pages of your resume (if your resume has more than one page).
41) Don’t bold, underline, or italicize excessively. Only do it in order to highlight what is important.
42) PDF your resume if you intend to send it via email. This will avoid formatting inconsistencies.
43) If possible, don’t include your cell phone number in your resume. You might receive a call when you don’t expect it (e.g. while commuting):
- You might not have a paper and pen handy to take down the time and location of the interview.
- You want to sound professional when you answer the phone.
- You don’t want to lose connection.
44) Unless specifically asked for, avoid video resumes.
45) Match the layout of your resume with that of your cover letter. Use the same heading, the same margins, and the same font.
46) Don’t mention “references available upon request” on your resume.
47) Once you are done with the first draft of your resume, proofread it many times. One trick to catch typos is to read your resume backward. Yes, it works!
48) Put your resume aside and do something else. Come back on it later with a fresh mind. While you go through your second round of revision, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your resume clear and easy to read?
- Is your resume compelling?
- Is your resume free from typos and grammatical mistakes?
- Does your resume look professional?
- Does your resume fit the job description?
- Would you hire yourself if you were the recruiter? Why? Why not?
49) Ask a friend or a family member to look at your resume. Listen to their feedback and keep an open mind.
50) Review your resume one last time.
That’s it. You have a brand new and tailored resume ready to go!
by John Sylo