What a predicament it can be to sum up all your qualifications, experiences and accolades in a page (or two) while walking that fine line between sounding accomplished or risk coming off pretentious. Along with the countless ‘How-to’ books available in the market that promise you the craft of writing the perfect résumé, the internet is also flooded with templates and freelancers willing to do the job for you. The million dollar question, however, remains the same — how to make your résumé stand out and get noticed?
Jargon, slang, grammatical errors, inconsistency and flaws in the format are some of the many reasons why a potential employer would ignore your résumé. Not to mention that these days, most organisations use online databases to filter the résumés and narrow them down to those that match their requirements. To mitigate all this confusion, here are a few tips that can help you write an insightful and effective résumé and get your foot in the proverbial door.
What is an insightful resume?
Your résumé is like a mini-trailer of your personality, performance, persistence, persuasion and presentation. It shows your personality, accomplishments, enthusiasm for work, ability to adapt and work under pressure, and finally, what differentiates you from other candidates. Based on whether it makes a positive impact or not, you get your interview call to show your talent. Remember, employers look for the ideal match based on how trainable the candidate is and if they are a potentially good fit for their organisation.
What are some common mistakes?
A common mistake that people make is to write the same thing for different jobs or have an inconsistent format. For example, the bullet points for each job should be tailored according to its requirements instead of using a standard four to six pointers for all jobs. Ripping off pointers from online templates should also be avoided. Some people also confuse a résumé with curriculum vitae — which does not have any specific limit in terms of length — and risk losing the employers attention with pages of unnecessary information. Similarly, in some instances, the candidates’ résumé is not updated, which fails to provide evidence.
What to do to make headway?
1) Update periodically — Be diligent and do not copy-paste. Stop procrastinating and waiting for the last day or until you are ready to start looking for a new job to make changes to your résumé. In fact, experts say it is best to remain proactive and update it immediately after a new promotion, professional development or upon completing an academic degree or a project. It is a good way to guarantee that you do not miss due credit later and increases your chances of getting noticed.
2) Remove less relevant information — Your employment history is important but if you have over a decade of experience or have worked several jobs over the last few years, you do not need to include all the details. Retain the more recent information since times are changing and a lot of skills that were crucial a few years ago may no longer be relevant. Moreover, you should also remove some of your older references as organisations look for referees within the last few years only.
3) Use keywords — Just like Google and other search engines thrive on keywords to display results, organisations use keywords to find the right candidate. To clarify this further, keywords are certain terms that appear frequently in job postings within a particular industry. You, as the job seeker, can benefit from keywords by narrowing down your job search and use these keywords in your résumé in order to increase your chances of being noticed. Some HR experts also propose that one should research industry trends to find out which words are doing the rounds these days and then include them in their résumés.
4) Format and structure — When it comes to the layout, there is no fixed format. However, apart from the theory-based chronological, functional and combination résumés, the skill-based résumés are the ones that get selected as they target the role directly and can tell the employer whether the candidate is passionate and committed to the field. But with two pages being the maximum length for a résumé, there is only so much information one can add, so it is best to keep it precise. Avoid significant gaps in your work history and check your spelling, grammar and unnecessary use of abbreviations and jargon. Here are some broad categories that the résumé can be divided into: summary of accomplishments, education, work experience, professional activities, volunteer experience and references.
Remember, the goal of your résumé is to sell yourself as the perfect match for the advertised position. Keep the above pointers in mind when you prepare or update your résumé and package it along with a strong cover letter when a job opportunity comes your way. Be creative, be honest and be prepared. Ready — Set — Hired!
• Be concise. Use brief statements and try to limit your résumé to one page.
• Keep font size to 10, 11 or 12 point and set margins to no less than 0.5-inch on all sides.
• Do not use “I” or other first-person pronouns.
• Use the past tense when describing past positions and present tense for your current positions.
• Be consistent with your punctuation usage.
• Use verbs such as “do” or “did”, “worked”, “completed” and “helped with” as replacement for low-content verbs.
• Include multiple titles and responsibilities if you had multiple roles at one organisation.
• Do not lie, exaggerate or include something on your résumé that you would not feel comfortable discussing in a job interview.
• Do not use jargon or other acronyms without explaining what they mean.
• Do not include personal data such as birth date, marital status or excessive information about hobbies and interests.
Last-minute checklist before submitting your application
• Create a log of applications you send. Include position descriptions, dates, contact information, follow-up date (if appropriate) and follow-up communication notes.
• Do not rely on spell-check and get your application material proofread by a second person. Remember to double-check names of companies and people.
• Print the document on résumé paper using a laser printer. Do not use dark or speckled paper that can be difficult to read once photocopied or faxed.
• Ensure that your documents are appropriately named.
• Ensure that your voicemail greeting is professional on the phone number you have provided to the employer.
• Ensure that your e-mail subject line is relevant and specific.
• Ensure that your e-mail address is professional.
The checklists have been recommended by the Cawley Career Education Center.
Moiz Allidina has worked as a career counsellor and is the founder of ‘M3 Training & Consulting’.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 14th, 2014.