Most applicants view the concept of updating a resume with dread. There is so much conflicting information about best practice that there is often a large degree of uncertainty as to how best to present your professional profile.
A resume is traditionally more concise but it should be adapted to ensure candidates stand out in what is an ever-evolving and highly competitive hiring market.
Here is our essential guide on how to construct a perfect resume, whether you are applying for an executive level or contract position, changing industry or relocating.
1. Format Correctly
Aesthetics are important even in a resume. The format should be simple and consistent, while there should be no more than two fonts used and these should be professional – so avoid Comic Sans!
Similarly, there shouldn’t be too many lines or breaks; underlining is unnecessary as are excessive columns. Keep the content short and accessible, surrounded by plenty of white space. This is especially important considering a number of potential employers may be looking at resumes from their mobile devices. Having a clean, mobile-optimized format will inevitably work in your favor in the 21st Century job market.
Considering that a resume may be read from a smaller screen, all important information should be written in bold so that it can be easily located. This also indicates that background graphics or color should be avoided as they will clutter the screen and distract from the important information.
2. Perfect the Tone
Once the aesthetics are covered the actual content and tone of the resume must be perfected. There is no need to use ‘I’ in a resume, and writing in the third person should also be avoided. It is best to begin sentences with verbs that indicate a proactive disposition.
Try to be original with verb choice – good examples of strong verbs include: pioneered; envisioned; leveraged.
But don’t overload the resume with redundant information. Be concise and interesting, but above all speak with your own voice. Combining an intelligent voice with original descriptions will make a resume dynamic and unique.
3. Consider the Structure
The beginning of the resume should again be concise and interesting, with a short opening statement that pinpoints what you can do for the company you are applying for. Enhance your personal brand within the first few paragraphs (above the fold if viewing online) by including a bold opening statement, a positive performance review statement, and relevant keywords.
The following paragraphs should then ideally include chronological career information, with the most recent experience listed first. Plenty of relevant detail should be included in these paragraphs, but in an accessible format – using bullet points to outline each role undertaken, your responsibilities, the experience gained, and the value you added to the role.
Time spent at each role and the dates worked should be accurate. Any gaps in employment will require an explanation.
4. Construct the Content
The content of a resume should be detailed but not excessive; information that is surplus to requirement will translate as padding to a recruiter.
Information on responsibilities held for each role and how you personally added value is considered useful, but the overall message should indicate that you are a detailed worker, communicative, understand the business and industry environment, and are future-focused.
A short description of your employer is also useful to include as it helps portray a sense of the size and scope of the companies you have worked for in the past.
Include quantifiable information. Descriptions are important, but direct reference to stats regarding sales or how a team expanded under your leadership, for example, will help substantiate claims in the more descriptive sections of the resume.
A more subjective section on hobbies and interests can be included but should be short.
Overall the content should be targeted. Utilize relevant industry/role-specific keywords to help with this (especially keywords used in a job description) to ensure your resume stands out as relevant to hiring managers and recruiters, who often have only a few minutes to scan numerous applications at once.
Never forget to provide an informative and impactful title as well, so that the hiring manager knows exactly which position it is you’ve applied for.
Other important pieces of information to include are:
Specific computer/software skills
Training and qualifications
All this detail should still be provided in bullet points and be properly spellchecked.
Information that is not required includes the following:
Specific career objectives
Personal information (age/religion/sex)
Resume Writing Scenario: Changing Industry
If you’re looking to change industry, then your resume must highlight areas of relevance between your current and desired roles. Drawing attention to correlating qualifications, skills or even quoting specific reference testimonials will help make the transition easier.
Drafting a functional or skills-based resume, as opposed to a chronological document, may also work in your favor. A resume in this scenario should be written with the employer’s perspective in mind. This means focusing on the progression of your career and alluding to how this change of tack is a natural progression.
Unlike a standard resume, if you are hoping to change industry then career objectives should be included to reinforce the notion that this is a natural step. Similarly, references can be used to detail and prove you have transferable skills and are well suited to the transition.
Be careful, however, in using industry-specific terminology especially if you are unsure of the correct usage or have a tendency to use your own industry-specific terminology. It is best to write this kind of resume without any biased language.
Resume Writing Scenario: Relocating
Relocating can be just as disruptive as changing industries, so a resume must again be adapted accordingly. It is important to appear enthusiastic and dedicated to the move in the opening section and indicate why you are relocating—but make this career-related, rather than for personal reasons.
If the relocation requires new language skills or is particularly different culturally, then conduct thorough research. Ask a local contact to check your resume before sending it to a potential employer for spelling or grammar mistakes and any cultural faux pas.
As well as providing the resume in the relevant language, detail other language skills you may have as these will be highly relevant.
Do not lie about your current location or address. Be honest and, as stated, openly discuss your desire to relocate.
Resume Writing Scenario: Applying for a Contract Position
Contract resumes must focus on previous contracting experience, where possible, and include key phrases like “contractor”, “freelancer” or “consultant.”
Previous employment information should focus on specific companies where you worked on a non-permanent basis, as well as the time spent doing so – but also personal company information should be included to prove your previous experience as a contractor.
It is useful to show flexibility by including the different employer names that you have worked for and include references for these. Specific projects that you have worked on for these companies will showcase your range of skills and abilities and make you more attractive as a candidate. If you’re a seasoned contractor, provide a summary of these projects ordered by industry sector to showcase experience within each market that you work. Similarly, languages spoken, qualifications gained, and publications written will all work to your advantage and should be included.
Resume Writing Scenario: Applying for an Executive Position
For an executive level position or one higher than your current role, the resume must be tailored— but so must your online presence. With executive positions, a resume may not be a recruiter’s first impression; they may have already conducted research into potential candidates online. Your LinkedIn profile must read like an online resume, containing updated information and potential links to recent articles or posts you have written, for example.
Online profiles and your actual resume must remain targeted to the role in question, as roles for coveted executive positions are under fierce competition. For such specific roles, you cannot afford to be too general—every piece of information included must be relevant.
Personal branding is even more important when it comes to high-profile roles. Being able to link key personal attributes to the skills required in the role is essential to a successful executive resume, as a good company fit is important considering the prominent position. This involves not only subjective personality traits, but objective proof of your abilities—again, list specific examples of projects, qualifications, and career success stories.
Executive level resumes will generally veer toward three pages, with educational information included at the end if you are already in a senior- level role.
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