The point of a resume is to get the hiring manager to think, “This person can do the job I need done.” It’s more than a recorded list of your skills and accomplishments.
A resume is a marketing document that you use to market yourself to your future employer. It’s what you use to tell a compelling story of your professional experiences and achievements and convince the hiring manager you’re the best person for the job.
So, what should you write in it? You’ve heard that a resume needs to be customised for every job that you apply for. But exactly what goes into each resume and how different do they need to be?
1. A summary of your expertise
Start out your resume with a summary of your expertise in about 15-20 words. This is your elevator pitch about your competence to catch the hiring manager’s attention. Use this summary to explain why you have what it takes to get the job done.
Include a descriptor or job title followed by evidence of your competence like this:
Senior firmware design engineer with 10 years of experience developing and implementing software for a broad range of corporate projects.
Human resource manager that specialises in overseeing and directing administrative functions for developing SMEs.
Avoid cliches like “highly motivated” and “adaptable and eager to learn” which suggests you have nothing valuable to offer.
Pro Tip: Ask a friend, former colleague or mentor about what they would say if they were to recommend you for a job or introduce you at a networking event and use that to formulate your summary.
2. An accomplishments section
Don’t jump straight into your experience and job requirements. Instead, insert a short list of any impressive employment history or related experiences to provide further evidence of the summary you’ve written above.
The point of this is to shift the hiring manager’s interest from “who you say you are” to “what you’ve done to prove yourself” so that they will continue reading the rest of your resume.
You can include your academic achievements but for a business resume, highlight your work experience first and save your degrees and certifications for the end.
Pro Tip: Don’t include a skills section in your resume. If your accomplishments and relevant experiences don’t prove that you have the skills the job needs, then listing it out isn’t going to convince the hiring manager. For your expertise with a specific type of software, put it in the experience section.
3. A curated selection of relevant experiences
You might be tempted to list every job and project you’ve ever done, everything you’ve achieved over the course of your career and education, but remember that you’re writing a resume, not an essay.
There’s no need to provide your employer with a comprehensive history of your professional life. You don’t even need to worry about accounting for gaps in your past employment. (87% of hiring managers no longer see candidates with an employment gap as a red flag.)
Instead, pick and choose the experiences in your life that will convince the hiring manager you have what it takes to do the work. Only include volunteer work, hobbies and other personal projects that are relevant to the job.
If the company you’re applying for is an informal one that emphasises the importance of work-life balance, then include a line about your hobbies and interests—otherwise, take it out.
Pro Tip: 95% of your relevant experiences should be framed as accomplishments rather than responsibilities. “Upgraded the company’s customer service platform” is less convincing than “Upgraded the company’s customer service platform, resulting in an increase in clientele and customer satisfaction”. Give as many tangible concrete examples as you can and attach percentages and dollar signs if they’re available.
4. Two or three pages of decently sized words
Don’t cram all your accomplishments into one page and shrink all your words to a tiny-sized font with skinny margins just to make everything fit. At the same time, make sure your resume is no longer than three pages, that just shows you don’t know how to edit to meet the job requirements.
Keep your points short and sharp—don’t ramble. Make it easy for the hiring manager to read, so leave enough white space and use standard fonts. Keep it clear, elegant and simple.
Pro Tip: You can prepare a foundational document that lists everything you have accomplished or have to offer in terms of skills and ability to use as a reference when you customise resumes for each job that you apply for. Remember that your resume should also point out exactly why you’re a good fit for this particular job.
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