How to write a resume

I have read thousands of resumes. Some very good ones and many poor. So what’s the difference?

Firstly, contrary to much advice, your resume or curriculum vitae is not a marketing document. If it looks like one (photos, colour, images, fancy fonts and designs, and extraneous information) it immediately tells the reader that:

  • A) you really want/need a job (begs the question why); and
  • B) you may be trying to appear better than you are.

Over-selling oneself is a common mistake, and you don’t need to include any images, logos, fancy borders, etc. You might disappoint the interviewer in person if you include that really great photo of yourself on your CV, and resumes that look more like PowerPoint presentations are quite often missing the required qualifications, experience or track record.

Then there are the resumes that are poorly laid out, overly-edited or too congested which, apart from being difficult to read, usually indicate poor organisational, communication or presentation skills. The use of white space is important and it isn’t necessary to try to fit everything in only one or two pages (unless you are in the earlier part of your career).

Writing your resume in the third person is just weird. We all know who wrote it. It comes across as pompous or arrogant.

A resume should only contain factual and undisputed information. The reader isn’t concerned with how you see yourself but with what you have done. So avoid lengthy descriptions about yourself, your capabilities or your career aspirations, and just focus on what you have actually done.

Your resume should be consistent regardless of the position you are applying for. You shouldn’t try to “tweak” it for every job application. Specific and relevant highlights can be addressed in your cover letter.

A resume should be a logical representation of what you have actually done from finishing high school until today. It should include all education and training including dates, institutions and qualifications, and all employment history including dates, employers and positions. You shouldn’t assume the reader knows the organisation is even if it is well known. Include a sentence or two to describe it and/or the division in which you worked. You should list your key responsibilities and your main achievements, and quantify these where appropriate and possible. Avoid colloquialisms, acronyms and jargon, and don’t lump all your career achievements together but instead list them for each role you have undertaken.

Missing or vague dates for employment history or education suggests something to hide, as does leaving out periods of time (even if you consider them irrelevant) or reasons for leaving jobs.

Avoid cutting and pasting from job descriptions – write in your own words, and use complete, proper sentences, even when using bullet points. Similarly, using “&” instead of “and” comes across as casual and unprofessional.

Don’t forget to include your personal and contact details, and avoid unprofessional email addresses like foxylady@….. or macca@…..

Also make sure any online profiles (eg linked in, facebook etc.) are consistent with your resume and avoid using overly casual photos for your online profile picture.

Whether you list referees or not is up to you, as these will be checked at the appropriate time. There is no need to include written references. I’ve never read a reference that wasn’t positive.

Similarly, don’t include your responses to questions from previous applications about how you meet certain selection criteria. I’ve never read one that says “I don’t meet this criteria”.

Finally, to help the reader develop a greater understanding of you, include details of your interests, and any memberships, associations, additional languages, licenses, accreditations, awards and publications. And make sure you have proof-read and spell-checked the entire document.

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