When was the last time you sat down and re-wrote your résumé? It’s an interesting question because most of us don’t have an answer. In today’s competitive job market, résumés tend to be an afterthought. We spend hours preparing for interviews, speculating over hiring questions, scouting job boards and networking sites, yet few young job seekers ever give their résumé the attention it needs. A résumé is more than just a list of skills and previous jobs: it’s a first impression. How you present it speaks volumes about the kind of person you are and the kind of employee you might be.
It’s a classic rule that every time you apply for a job, you need a personalized cover letter. Most of us are good at putting care and detail into those letters, yet all too often, we attach a cookie cutter résumé to them without anything more than a brief glance. Many people use the same résumé for years, only giving it a brief update when a new job or education credential needs to be added. Too often they’re boring documents, in plain font and read as a mundane list of past experiences. Other times they’re totally unreasonable, with immature looking fonts, erratic formatting, and too much colour.
A résumé should be approached in the same way we market our skills. Every part of an application, including the résumé, should be tailored to the unique job to which you are applying. For example, a bright, avant-garde résumé with non-standard fonts and flourishes of colour may be perfect for a graphic designer looking to get involved with an edgy young client, but entirely inappropriate for a project with an investment firm. Just as you must construct your job application to speak to the work you would be doing, your résumé should reflect the industry you’re trying to enter. Corporate or business positions generally call for clean, minimalist formatting with simple, concise statements (although that doesn’t mean there’s no room for originality). At the same time, creative industries may allow a freer use of non-traditional composition and adornment, but that doesn’t mean your résumé shouldn’t look neat and professional. A job is a job, and professionalism is a universal value regardless of where you work.
In terms of a résumé’s inclusions, it’s important to be mindful of what a reader will parse out. Beware embellishments – little white lies can come back to haunt you. Obviously you shouldn’t put half-finished degrees or diplomas on, and be mindful of stretching the truth in terms of specific skills in a previous job. Gaps in employment or skills acquired from unfinished education should be addressed in your cover letter where there is more room for explanation and clarification. If you had a period of unemployment after graduating university for example, don’t fudge the dates to hide it. Employers know find a job is difficult right now and would rather read about you taking time to find the right position than try to make sense of a misleading chronology.
Honesty is important, and clear, precise statements about exactly what work you did previously stand out much better than hyperbole. If you were an administrative assistant, then you shouldn’t list your title as “Office Organizational Engineer” or some other grandiose description; hiring managers will see right through the desperation. List your duties neatly and sequentially, taking care to emphasize the skills and keywords that will be relevant to the job you’re seeking. If it won’t be useful in the new job, it doesn’t belong on the résumé.
Ultimately though, you want your résumé simply to stand out. With competition for jobs as high as it is right now, employers are inundated with applications and have the luxury of being picky. If it’s uninteresting, disorganized or – worst of all – full of poor spelling and grammar, your résumé will quickly find a new home in a recycling bin without so much as a second thought. Have a friend or two proofread your documents and elicit constructive criticism from them. A hiring manager won’t bother giving you feedback on what you did wrong. If it’s been a while since you went over your résumé, don’t just update it; start from scratch. A fresh start, a résumé injected with some thought and creativity, can make all the difference between landing an interview or a rejection letter.