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36 Resume Writing Tips
Your resume is an fundamental and essential tool for your job hunt. At some point in every job application process, someone will want to have a look at your resume. This document is a reflection of you; not just the information in it, but how you present it too.
So how do you make your resume top notch? Here are 36 resume writing tips to get you started:
1. Include your name and contact details
You can have the best resume ever written but if there is no way to get in touch with you, what’s the point? Forgetting simple things like name and phone number is a surprisingly common mistake according to many hiring managers. Include your name, address, phone number and email, and put them on every page of your resume.
2. Know what your resume needs to achieve
Don’t write a long and boring document completely irrelevant to the job. Your resume is there to get you an interview, and the interview is where you land the job. Focus on the essential information.
3. Connect your strengths and qualities to actual achievements
“I’m good with Microsoft Excel software” is not at all compelling. It’s the kind of generic statement anyone could make without any real skills to back it up.
“Used Microsoft Excel functions like Pivot Tables, VLOOKUP and a range of other formulas to extract actionable insights from the company’s customer database. This information was used to develop company’s current successful marketing strategy.” is much more descriptive. It gives specific examples of what you can do and how it benefited your employer.
Instead of creating a list of generic list of skills and qualities, use real examples to demonstrate your abilities.
4. Put the most important information first
You’re the best candidate for the job… except you’ve hidden all the most important information on page 5 of your resume! No one has time to hunt through your resume to find it. Make sure you put the most important sections at the top of your resume; within each section, order the information from most to least important.
5. Use the right keywords
Technology is used to make everything more efficient, even hiring. Many big companies already use digital databases to find candidates. This means the hiring manager will filter resumes for specific keywords related to the job requirements. If you’re not using those keywords, you’ll have no chance.
You can usually find the exact keywords (or have a pretty good guess what the employer will search for) by looking at the job advertisement. Keywords will usually be nouns. Use them!
6. Use compelling titles
Make sure your job titles (and descriptions) grab attention. Be descriptive so it’s easy to glace over your resume and get an idea of what you actually did in each job.
Poor title: Bookkeeper
Good title: Bookkeeper – Payroll and Accounts Receivable/Payable
7. List all your positions
When you’ve worked for one organisation for a while, you’ve most likely worked in several different positions and had a range of responsibilities. Your official job title doesn’t always keep up with your actual role. Explain what you were actually doing in your time with an employer.
• Company X hired me as a childcare trainee 6 years ago.
• The trainee role naturally evolved into a full time position as a childcare educator occasionally acting as a group leader
• Officially promoted to group leader after 3 years with the company.
• Have been acting facility manager for the last 6 months while the regular manager took maternity leave
Sounds a lot better than “hired as a childcare trainee 6 years ago, employed with same company until now”!
8. Don’t be negative
You might have hated your last job but don’t put that on your resume or say it in your interview! Keep the tone positive and focus on the high points of your career. If you’re asked why you left a job, put a positive spin on it.
9. Customise your resume for each employer
Sending the same resume in every job application is a common mistake. Tailor your resume for each employer and relate your experience to their specific requirements. It will take more time but also greatly increase your chance of getting an interview (the entire purpose of your resume!). The same applies to your cover letters.
10. You don’t need to include everything
Get rid of old and irrelevant experience. If you’ve been consistently employed and working in professional bookkeeping roles for 20 years, employers won’t care you made burgers at McDonald’s for a year when you were 16. The last 15 years of working experience is generally enough.
11. Make the best use of what you’ve got
If you don’t have any relevant work experience yet, list the things you have done – volunteering and summer jobs. If you haven’t finished your training, include it anyway with an estimated date of completion. As long as you can show it’s relevant to the job, it’s much better than having nothing there at all.
12. Name drop
In normal life “name dropping” is a bit obnoxious; when applying for work it’s completely relevant that you reported directly to the company president or CEO, or worked with a well known personality in your industry.
13. Don’t lie
You never know when it’s going to come back and hurt your career! Present your ‘best side’ but don’t start making stuff up. Outright lies might be picked up in background checks, discovered during the interview process or will be painfully obvious when you start the job and obviously have none of the skills and experience you claimed. If you’re busted it can ruin your credibility for good!
The most common lies are people claiming qualifications they don’t actually have and experience they didn’t really earn. People also ‘pad’ their resume: pretending they went to a more prestigious school or university; sporting or artistic achievements that never happened; even more bizarre things like being an orphan.
14. Keep your resume up to date
It should be obvious you need to update your resume before applying for jobs, but if you’ve been searching for a while you may find you have new things to add. If you’re customising your resume for each employer it shouldn’t be an issue.
Many job search sites or social networks like LinkedIn allow you to upload a resume to a database which employers pay to search. If you’re using one of these services, regularly update this with your most current qualifications and experience to give yourself the best chance of success.
16. Avoid jargon and slang
Don’t assume the person reviewing your resume has the experience or technical expertise to understand industry jargon or slang. In many cases, it’s a HR officer who reads resumes and selects the best ones to pass to the hiring manager.
17. No headshots
No no no! It’s not normal practice in Australia and not encouraged by most employers. They tend to distract the person reading your resume from the important information – your skills, qualifications and experience.
18. Think twice about listing your hobbies and interests
Unless it is relevant to the job! “I love fishing” is not relevant unless you’re applying for a job directly related to fishing. “I am the president of my fishing club” shows that you have skills like leadership, planning, organisation and delegation which are relevant to a huge range of jobs.
If there is space left after you’ve covered the most important information, then you can include some of your core interests. It can help people relate to you as a person and gives you something other than work to discuss in your interviews.
19. Don’t include your religious affiliation
It doesn’t matter if you are Christian, Muslim, Jedi or Pastafarian. Employers are trying to find a candidate who can become an engaged, committed and cohesive part of the work team. Including religion simply opens you up to bias and discrimination.
There are handful of situations where it might be appropriate – for example, if you’re applying for a paid job with a church or mosque and your religious affiliation is relevant to the job.
20. Don’t include your sexual preferences
It’s not relevant to most jobs and may hurt your chances of getting an interview.
21. Don’t include your marital status
22. Don’t include your age
You are not legally obliged to include this information. Age discrimination is illegal but it happens anyway. There are a couple of exceptions: it may be relevant if you are under 18 and it affects the hours you’re legally allowed to work; or the job requires you to be over 18.
Formatting & Presentation
23. Be careful using template resumes
If you copy-paste all your information into the first template you find on Google, there’s a good chance someone else has done the same thing too. It’s hard to stand out when other people have almost identical resumes! They’re still useful though – they can be great guides to help you create your own unique resume.
24. One or two pages is enough
Your resume is a marketing tool intended to highlight your key selling points. Every word should sell your achievements and value to an employer. Keep it short and focused on the most relevant information.
Aim for one page if:
• You have less than 10 years of experience.
• Are starting a new career without much experience relevant to the new role.
• You’ve only every held one or two positions.
Think about 2 pages if:
• You’ve had more than 10 years experience.
• There are many skills and technical knowledge required for the job which need to be included.
Consider 3 or more pages if:
• You’re in an area like science or academia where you need to list all your papers and publications, professional development activities, patents, licenses and speaking engagements.
• You’re applying for very senior roles and need to demonstrate your long track record of leadership and achievements.
25. Use white space
Effective use of white space makes documents easier to read. You can play with all sorts of settings in word processors to pack as much text as possible onto one page, but it will be incredibly tough to read.
26. Use formatting tools
It is difficult to read and extract information from long, densely packed paragraphs. Careful formatting can be used to break up paragraphs and highlight the most important information.
Formatting tools include:
s p a c i n g
• bullet points
carefully chosen fonts.
Your resume should not be a long list of bullet points. Use a mix of formatting tools to create a visually pleasing document that conveys your message effectively.
27. Use numbers
Make your achievements as solid as possible. Instead of saying you “increased revenue for the company”, make it clear you grew company revenue by 35%, worth over $4,000,000 annually.
28. Don’t add fancy designs and pictures
You can definitely spend time working on the visual design of your document – things mentioned above like the order of information, white space and formatting. Avoid using coloured backgrounds, fancy fonts (no comic sans please), flowers for dot points, clip art or emoticons.
29. Check for spelling mistakes
It’s very unprofessional and makes you look sloppy. Any modern word processing software has a spell checker built in. Most will automatically highlight spelling errors for you. If you can’t proof read and correct mistakes in your resume it just looks sloppy. Would you want to hire someone like that?
30. Check for grammatical errors
When translating thoughts into words, you frequently make small typing errors or miss-type words entirely. Automatic spelling and grammar checks don’t always pick up these errors so “make sure your manually proof read you grammar an writing”.
31. Repeat steps 29 & 30
Just in case you missed something the first time!
32. Get someone else to proof read your resume
It’s difficult to proof read your own writing. You know what you were trying to say, so you read the intent of your writing without necessarily seeing the individual letters or words. Getting a second person to read over it to find your mistakes is great help. If you don’t have anyone you can ask to proof read your resume, then put it away overnight and read it with a fresh mind the next day.
33. Convert to PDF
If the advertisement does not list a specific file format for your resume, send a PDF. You have no idea how the receiver’s version of Word will react to your formatting. All your careful spacing, indenting, bullet points, font sizes, bold, italics and carefully chosen fonts can be undone the moment a Word document is opened. This is particularly true if you use applications like Open Office – most companies use Microsoft Office and the formatting in one doesn’t always translate perfectly to the other.
Word also automatically highlights spelling and grammatical errors unless the default settings have been edited. The only thing worse than missing a spelling mistake on your resume is having Word highlight it with a red squiggly line for everyone to see!
Most versions of Word can convert directly to PDF. If yours can’t, grab a free tool like CutePDF creator which will allow you to “print” to PDF.
34. Use a quality printer
If you are submitting a hard copy of your resume, make sure it prints properly! You don’t want to send in something smeared, streaked or faded because of a bad printer. A decent quality black & white printer is fine; if you don’t have one at home, try your local library, net cafe or a friend’s house.
35. Don’t use glitter, sparkles or scents
Packing glitter into the envelope along with your resume will get you noticed, but the recruiter will hate you when they have to waste time cleaning it up. Adding “extras” to make your resume stand out can backfire and get your resume thrown out.
36. Seek professional help
If you’re submitting resumes and not getting a response, it might be worth getting a professional to help you. A resume expert will have the experience to craft your resume into a job-winning document.
There’s no excuse for a bad resume!
If your resume is sloppy, lacking important information and riddled with errors then what will an employer think of you? Would you hire someone who presents themselves that way?
Your resume is a reflection of you and your work history. You can’t lie about your qualifications and experience, but you can show the best side of yourself. Take the time to prepare a top-notch resume!