When you are starting out in your career, the job ads can be pretty exciting. It is easy to allow yourself to start daydreaming about the corner office, power and perks. But not so fast! Before you hit the ‘apply’ button on a recruitment website, critically evaluate your resume. Is it easy to read and putting your best foot forward? Your next steps could be the difference between whether your resume is rubbish or readable. And that is a critical difference when you are trying to stand out against hundreds of other applicants.
1. Start with a summary
Your resume is your opportunity to attract a prospective employer’s attention and show off your best attributes. Once you’ve added the standard list of personal details like name and contact details, kick things into gear with a short introduction. This is your personal career mission statement and it should outline where you are at in your career currently, your key skills and strengths and your longer term aspirations. If an employer likes what they read in these first few sentences, it will encourage them to keep reading and spark interest that should make them want to learn more about you.
2. Do you have the skills?
The importance of soft skills is attracting more and more attention when it comes to recruitment. The interview is your prime opportunity to show off your soft skills, but to make it to an interview you need to show your education and experience fulfil the requirements of the role. After your summary, add a list of your education, including level achieved and the provider. Add any additional training you have undertaken, and then move on to a reverse chronological list of your employment history, with your current or most recent role listed first, including start and end dates.
3. Are you addressing the key selection criteria?
How many times have you tailored your resume for a specific job? It takes just a few minutes to review the job advertisement and find the short list of items considered essential or highly desirable for the role. Use this detail to your advantage by linking the duties and responsibilities of your past experience to the skills that the employer needs. Use bullet points to outline details then back it up with succinct examples. That means you do not simply use words like “organised”. Instead, give an example, like you how you created a reporting system for a project that re-energised a team by providing a detailed understanding of expectations.
4. What not to include
There are certain details that you may think define you, but do not really have any impact on how well you can perform a job. It is not necessary to list personal details like your age or date of birth, your relationship status, your gender, or any health problems or disabilities. If you have personal circumstances that may affect your ability to perform the role, it is courageous to state these upfront. But it is your individual choice whether you do this now or later in the process. Your hobbies and interests show you are a well-rounded, interesting person with outside interests but they shouldn’t take up too much valuable space.
5. Resume length
This can vary according to industry, role and application criteria in the job advertisement, but if not stated, it’s good to keep things concise. One or two pages depending on your employment history with enough information included to get their attention. This leaves room to discuss your experience in more detail in an interview.
6. Avoid clichés
Does your resume have clichés? Because it is worth keeping in mind that pretty much everyone thinks they are ‘innovative’ or ‘motivated’. Ask yourself if these predictable words could be replaced with something better? You may have been taught to use them in high school, but if you are a graduate entering the job market, it is time to step it up and stand out. Have you heard the saying “show don’t tell”? Illustrate your strengths with examples. It’s much more effective than just saying you are organised and a strong leader. So if you are analytical, creative, effective and great a problem solving, let your experience do the talking, not your vocabulary.
7. Proof read
Attention to detail has tripped up many otherwise excellent candidates. Too many of us rely on our software to pick up spelling, grammatical and punctuation mistakes. Not to mention accuracy of details, like the company's name. When even one mistake can send you to the rejection pile, it is important to check everything twice and better still, ask a friend to proof read your resume with fresh eyes.
If you want to stand out avoid quirky tricks like coloured paper and oversized presentation, particularly for professional roles. Lay out your information in a neat and easy-to-read fashion. You want your prospective employer to be able to navigate your resume with ease. And when it comes to formatting – keep it simple. Choose one font and stick to it, and use a black or near-black font colour in a standard size so that it is neat and easy to read. Ensure that your cover letter is saved in a format that you are sure the person receiving it will be able to open. Generally accepted formats are Word documents and pdf files, but do read through job advertisement carefully to see if the company has asked for a specific format or given special instructions for the delivery of your application.
9. Include a cover letter, unless asked not to
Think about the last time you applied for a job. How much time did you put into your cover letter? Chances are it didn’t get as much attention as your resume, if it got any at all. Tempting as it may seem, copying and pasting cover letters puts you on the fast track to missing out on your dream job. Your cover letter is like an elevator pitch – so get the details right, provide a succinct synopsis of who you are and where you want to go, and briefly address the selection criteria making sure you match as many key words as possible to the job advertisement.
10. Make contacting you easy
You have gone to all that effort in creating your best possible job application. Now before you send it, make sure your contact details are clearly listed, and that you have regular access to the phone number or email address you have used. And if you are using a ‘fun’ email address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org it is a good idea to create a new email address with a more professional impact for your job search.
Your resume is a critical step on the path to those exciting words: “You’re hired!” This is not a place to take short cuts so find the time to create a solid starting document and commit to reviewing it for each application so you are always putting your best foot forward.