Whether you’re an executive, a mid-career manager, a professional, or an eager graduate setting off on your career, one of your most important success tools is a great resume that opens job interview doors. Too many of us, however, suffer from bad teaching in this area and our resumes don’t produce interviews consistently. In fact, many of us find ourselves sending out resume after resume for weeks on end. And the phone doesn’t even ring once.
The best thing we can do to transform those results is to find and work with a professional resume writer. I have known clients who have gone from no interviews to receiving four to ten interviews within a month. And I’m not the only resume writer reporting such results.
“But some of us may not have the budget to hire a professional” I hear you say, “Is there anything we can do?” So, for people in this position, I have provided this article that outlines the basics of how to write a resume that increases your chances of opening interview doors.
Before you begin: take note of your wins
The first thing to consider is this: are you working now, or are you not working? Most resume writers face an immediate job search, but if you are currently working, you have a tremendous advantage. If you are planning to look for new employment in a few weeks or months, you can use your remaining time with your present employer to begin tracking your accomplishments. Note down things like “suggested procedure change that cut production costs by 10%” or “Negotiated agreement with a new client that increased territory revenue by 15%.” They will be useful when you come to write your resume later.
First, you must decide which resume format best suits your needs. There are three major formats that organize the professional experience section of your resume in different ways. The reverse-chronological format is the most popular. It tracks your work history backwards from your most recent employment to your first job and it makes it easy for employers to notice any trends in your career. If your work history is stable and your job titles reflect progress in your career, this resume format could work for you as it has for millions of others.
In contrast, the functional format tries to meet the needs of people who are not well served by the RC format including career changers, people returning to the workforce after a long absence, or entrepreneurs looking for a conventional job. Instead of presenting skills and abilities under the jobs where a client used them, the functional resume presents these details ahead of the work history.
The problem with the functional format is that it has been widely seen as a technique to hide problems in someone’s work history, e.g., to minimize gaps in employment and it has become a red flag to many hiring managers who ask themselves “What is this candidate trying to hide by using this resume format?”
The hybrid or combination resume format tries to incorporate the strong point of functional resumes into the reverse chronological resume by inserting a Key Skills section directly after the objective or profile statement. By keeping the rest of the reverse chronological resume format, this approach minimizes reader concerns. I recommend a modified version of this format for most of my clients.
Decide on the page margins, fonts, font sizes and special effects that you’ll use. The standard margins for business communication are between 1” to 1.5” on the top, bottom, left and right of your document. I recommend using 1” margins to get more on each line. Don’t use any margins less than that: if you do, some printers may not print the ends of your lines or the bottoms of your pages. Use left justification: center justification often creates so much empty space between words that a reader might think you have put in an extra space and reject you for your apparent spelling mistakes.
Next, you will have to consider the question of fonts and font sizes. Since the goal of your resume is to generate an interview, you need to pick a font and a size that makes your resume easy to read. In the Windows world, the most readable fonts are: Arial, Calibri, Georgia, Tahoma or Times New Roman. Helvetica, Georgia, Geneva or Times are their counterparts if you are working with a Mac. To make reading your resume as easy as possible for prospective managers, pick a font size of between 10 and 12 points. Any smaller and some readers may have trouble reading the resume.
Finally, pick one or two emphasis elements (bold, italics, underline, and ALL CAPS). I recommend using the first two, underline and ALL CAPS are too easy to overdo).
Start at the top
Your resume begins with your name, usually emphasized by appearing in a slightly larger font than the body text of your resume. And since employers will need to know how to get in touch, you need to add your phone number and email address (and your LinkedIn url if you have one) in your chosen normal body text. Don’t use a hyperlink for your email or LinkedIn url – many companies consider hyperlinks in incoming documents to be dangerous, so don’t take the risk of having your resume delayed or rejected by defensive software. And while you won’t need to add your full mailing address, don’t forget to include your city of residence and province. This tells your prospective managers that you live within commuting distance. If you currently live far away from your prospective employer’s location, a P.S. in your cover letter can tell them about your moving plans.
Many people put their contact information in the header block Microsoft Word provides at the top of the page. Don’t do it. And don’t put any other critical information there, either. Applicant Tracking Systems, those computerized resume readers used by many companies, can’t read headers, footers, tables or columns so if an ATS scores a resume that puts contact information in a header the resume will score on the low side, and you might miss a chance at an interview.
Some writers say that the next section of your resume should be an “Objective Statement” identifying the position you are looking for. There are two reasons why I disagree. First, if you include a well-written cover letter with your resume (and you should!), you will already have identified your target job in the cover letter, which makes an “Objective Statement” in your resume redundant. More importantly, an objective statement is out of place in a resume-it’s telling the employer what you want from them when the entire point of the resume is to sell potential employers of the value you are offering them in hiring you.
To give potential employers an idea of your value, create a Profile statement at the top of your resume. From the job ad you are applying for, identify the key traits the employer wants to see in the new hire. Then write a two-or three-line paragraph that positions you as the person who can deliver what they are looking for. Don’t be too detailed, the details will come later.
Key Skills section
Your profile section has told your target employer that you are a match for the key traits they are looking for. Here is where you prove your claims by adding incidents that show you using those character or business traits to get the kind of results they need. If they are looking for a sales professional, tell how you grew sales in your territory; if they are looking for a first-level nursing manager recount how you revised patient procedures to free up nursing time. For each of these success stories add a tag telling the reader the name of the employer you worked for when the event occurred.
Professional Experience section
This section is the heart of your resume. It is where you provide the information that will convince a manager to hire you. For each job you have held, you will need to supply the following details:
Employment Data – The employer’s name and its location, the job title and your employment dates (months and years are best wherever possible. If you can’t remember the months in which you changed jobs, don’t include the ones you do remember. Be consistent.
Job Responsibilities – A short overview of the tasks you were responsible for. This is usually written in a one or two-sentence paragraph.
Here’s a sample job description:
Major Credit Union Surrey, BC
Director, Enterprise Transformation February 2017 to Present
Canada’s second largest credit union by membership.
Repeatedly played leading roles in bringing together the technical and the business teams, ensuring directional and strategic alignment to achieve both short-term and long-term business objectives.
Notice that the position title, (the critical detail) is bolded, and the snapshot description of the employer is italicized. Each job in your work history should use the same layout format and emphasis elements.
Why most resumes don’t make interviews happen
A great many job seekers end their resumes at this point, and apply with what I call an average resume. Resumes that stop here set their clients up for failure because they are essentially identical to those of other applicants with similar work histories.
Using an average resume doesn’t give hiring managers any reason to interview the jobseeker because the average doesn’t answer the questions that a prospective employer wants answered above everything else:
“What kind of job performance can I expect from you?” Or, “How effectively do you use your skills and abilities to solve the problems I need solved?”
Astonishingly, it is only a small minority of jobseekers who answer these questions in their resumes. As a result, these few people receive the vast majority of interview calls. So how do you join their number?
Add success stories – the secret to a job winning resume
When you load your resume with success stories, you are telling an employer how you used your skills and knowledge to achieve goals the manager wants to see met or solve problems your employer needed you to solve.
A success story consists of three elements; the challenge you faced, the actions you took to meet the challenge, and the result of your actions, quantified in some way wherever possible. For example, a bank CEO facing the challenge of replacing outdated systems to end a longstanding payment delay might describe what happened like this.
- Led team that replaced outdated systems and quickly transformed a longstanding five-year syndication partner payment delay into next day payments.
Notice that this success story begins with the client’s actions: leading the team and replacing outdated systems. Next, we see the challenge: the need to end a longstanding payment delay which in turn is followed by the quantified result of “into next day payments.”
This success story illustrates another principle. Use active verbs like “Led” and “transformed” rather than passive voice wherever possible.
If you wonder what kind of success stories to include, the ads for the jobs you want to apply for can provide the answer. Look at challenges they expect the new employee to face and find an incident in your employment history where you successfully took on those challenges. Consider these excerpts from a requirements list of a job ad I saw recently:
- One to three years experience in a customer facing role
- Analytical, problem solving and decision-making skills
- Computer literate
- Math skills are essential
- Proven results on delivery of performance objectives and quality targets
That the candidate meets the requirements of point one can be shown in a position description of a customer facing role. The candidate’s computer literacy can be demonstrated by listing the programs they are familiar with later in the resume.
The best way to demonstrate that the candidate has the required math, analytical, problem -solving, decision-making skills and the history of meeting of performance objectives and quality targets is by using success stories. Consider how the following success stories address each the above requirements:
- Helped customers save an average of over 15% on their home utility bills by analyzing usage patterns and demonstrating alternatives. (Math and analysis skills are necessary to solve the problem of customer overspending. Also, the savings are quantified.)
- Met all project objectives, deadlines and quality targets.
One last point about success stories: your layout needs to emphasize them. A good way to do that is by using paragraphs for each of your position descriptions and reserving bullets for success stories. Try to include a success story that addresses all the major functions listed in the job ad.
The Education section
In many average resumes, this section is what managers see right after the applicant’s contact information. If you are applying for a job as a teacher, a university professor or another role where educational credentials are very important, that spot is where your credentials should be. But if you are applying for anything else, your education details are far less important than your work history, so your work history should come first.
For each degree or diploma, including the university, college or school name, the city and province, the degree or diploma name and the year you got it. If you went on to post-secondary education, don’t include your high school unless you did something distinctive such as winning a scholarship. Again, choose a format design and keep it consistent. For example:
University of British Columbia Vancouver, BC
Master of Science in Nursing 1999
Professional Development section
In this section include shorter one-subject training courses and other relevant certifications, i.e., first aid training.
List the computer programs you are familiar with.
This may or may not be necessary depending on the job you are applying for. If being fluent in Mandarin or Farsi will be an advantage, add this section.
A few last words
Now that your resume is complete there is one more thing to do. Proofread, proofread and proofread again. You will almost certainly discover some spelling and grammar errors. Next, read your resume aloud to yourself. This will tell you if you’ve written any awkwardly phrased clauses. Correct any spelling mistakes and awkward writing.
Now you know how to write a resume that is much more likely to open interview doors. Good luck in your job search.
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