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Ideas to consider when writing your résumé:

August 19, 2013

I rarely have a problem with the format of the résumés that I read.  It is the content of a résumé that can leave me with questions about its author and their abilities.  As such, I thought it might be good to provide a few ideas to help job seekers understand the kind of content that might help their résumé.  I can’t speak for what others like to see, but hopefully some of these points give you food for thought so that your résumé will get attention from employers and avoid the pitfalls that might land your résumé in the recycling bin.

1.    Tailor your résumé when applying to a specific job:  This should go without saying, but not everyone does it, so it requires top billing.  Remember that in this instance, your résumé is not just about you and your professional history.  It’s about communicating how you can address the problems that need to be solved for your new potential employer.  That generic résumé that you maintain over time is a great starting point.  Tailoring its content gives you the best chance of getting noticed.  

2.    Think about who will be reading your résumé:  Remember that in many instances, the first person to screen your résumé may have limited knowledge of role itself and how it will truly impact the organisation.  Only include industry jargon or job-specific acronyms when they are used in the job ad itself.  Don’t assume that a Human Resources professional knows that “TOD” represents “Transit Oriented Design” or that “EIAs” represent “Environmental Impact Assessments.”   Don’t give someone an excuse to discard your résumé because they don’t fully understand it.  

3.    Accomplishments, not just duties:  Don’t simply write about the duties, tasks and projects you’ve completed in your career so far.  Write about these with regard to the impact your work made toward achievement and success in some measureable manner.  Your new employer wants to know how you will positively impact their organisation.  Outlining your previous tasks does little to express how you will make a positive impact.  Think about the job from the employer’s perspective, not your own.  The process of getting a job is really about the employer addressing their needs.  Think about how your work will improve their bottom line.  Did you increase efficiency or productivity somehow?  If so, by how much?  Did you constantly meet deadlines and make clients happy leading to repeat business?  If so, in what way?  Did you catch an error or solve an issue that saved money?  Not everyone that reads your résumé may understand the significance of completing a certain project or task (see #2 above).  However, if you relate your work to tangible results and benefits for the organisation, you ensure that everyone that reads your résumé will be impressed and understand exactly why they should be calling you for an interview or at the very least placing your résumé into the shortlist pile.

4.    List all your technical skills:  When it comes to roles that require knowledge of several technologies, software packages or programming languages, I find that some people omit certain technologies from their résumé because they do not feel they are experts.  I then usually discover their unlisted skills and experience in further discussions.  What if I didn’t have that discussion?  I’d never have known about several important, marketable skills.  Thus, I encourage people that I deal with to list every technology to which they have been exposed in a “skills” section on their résumé.  Not everyone has the same level of ability with each technology.  In many cases, some experience with a given technology is better than none and thus it is best to list the skill rather than omit it, even if one’s aptitude with it is limited or at a basic level.  If it turns out that the role requires expert use of the given technology, your level of aptitude will come out in subsequent questions from the recruiter or employer, or possibly through testing.    

5.    Write a good summary:  A good summary at the top of your résumé can grab the reader’s attention and ensure they read the entire document.  I always prefer a summary to an objective.  Usually an objective is filled with fluff about the kind of organisation a particular candidate hopes to join, and about the type of job a candidate hopes to fill.  This makes for a waste of space, especially if you are applying to a specific job ad where these statements are rendered redundant or irrelevant.  A good summary encapsulates key points of a person’s experience in a few sentences.  When constructing yours for a particular vacancy, pay attention to the job requirements and “preferences” or the attributes of “preferred candidates”.  If a job ad states “Master’s degree preferred” and you have a Master’s or higher, ensure this is either in your summary, or the designation is listed after your name, or both.  Oftentimes, the preferred qualifications listed in a job description are seen as “the icing on the cake” or are the kinds of attributes that the employer uses to differentiate top candidates from those that meet the minimum requirements to do the job.  Don’t hide this important information in the “Education” section at the bottom of your résumé when it is clearly an attribute that is in high demand.  Furthermore, job descriptions will often outline minimum experience required in years.  Make things easy for the reader and define yourself in years in your summary:  “A 6-year town planning professional…” or “GIS application development professional with over 8 years of experience…”  Don’t make the reader go job by job in your “work experience” section to count up the time you spent in each role to figure out whether or not you’ve got what they are looking for in terms of experience.  If they know they want a 5+ year professional, and you communicate 5+ years of experience immediately in your summary, they will be interested to read more.

6.    All about references:  Is there anything more obvious than stating “References available upon request”?   If you want a job, you’re going to provide references, transcripts and other items that prove you earned your credentials (so get them ready).  It’s simple; if you have references to list on your résumé, then have a “references” section.  If you do not list your references, don’t include a “references” section.  For professional references, you should only list people that were your manager or superior as opposed to those from peers or co-workers.  A reference from a co-worker or peer holds little if any weight in professional terms as they likely took no responsibility for your work.  If you are short on applicable managing references as they relate to your chosen role or industry, you can use a reference from past roles in unrelated industries or jobs as they can shed light on your soft skills, reliability and your general performance as an employee.

7.    Scratch unrelated job experience: Eliminate jobs listed on your résumé that have nothing to do with the kind of work that you will be doing should you land the new role.  This is not to belittle the retail job or restaurant server role that you held to put yourself through school or to make ends meet.  Unless the job has directly transferrable skills for the role to which you are applying, leave it out.  Don’t eliminate the job from your résumé if there is good legitimate experience there as it pertains to your potential new role.  For example, if you had a sales role with excellent results and your new job for a GIS solution company has a sales or business development component; your past experience may directly translate even though the job was in a different industry.  Just don’t try to stretch your great order taking abilities as a restaurant server into great communication skills as applicable to your new role working in an office.