The resumé is your opportunity to make a strong first impression on an employer. Most employers see dozens of resumés every day, so you need to ensure that yours puts your best foot forward. Follow the tips below to increase your odds of winding up in the “keep” pile.
- Begin by creating a master document
- Follow these tried and true formatting practices
- Put the most important information first
- Education is a key selling feature
- Identify your accomplishments in prior jobs
- Demonstrate why you’re the best fit for the job
Creating your resumé
Your resumé must give prospective employers a clear idea of who you are and what you offer. It should outline your education, experience and extracurricular activities. The following formatting tips and suggested sections leave some room for flexibility, but you should keep them in mind when drafting your resumé.
Begin by creating a master document listing everything you’ve ever done. Don’t overlook anything—it’s better to have a longer list to whittle down than to overlook an impressive accomplishment. Be sure to include dates.
Once your master document is finished, start trimming it. Successful applicants craft a new resumé for each job application, so include only the information that meets your prospective employer’s criteria. Most employers spend just 20 to 30 seconds scanning a resumé, so it’s vital that you hit on the points they’re looking for.
There are many ways to prepare a resumé, but you can’t go wrong if you follow these tried-and-true formatting practices:
- Limit your resumé to two pages—maximum. If you have only enough information for one page, keep it to one page.
- Use a simple font that is large enough to read; anything less than 10-point font may be too small.
- Don’t include references. Instead, note that they are available upon request and bring them with you if you’re called in for an interview.
- Don’t include photographs.
Name and contact information
Put the most important information first. Begin with your name, mailing address, phone number and email address. You can also include links to your social media presence, if applicable to your position (e.g. LinkedIn profile, Twitter account). Make sure you have an answering service set up on your phone and that your message is clear and professional.
Next, include three to four lines that show why you should have the job. Focus on how you meet the criteria outlined in the job posting. It’s a good idea to include one point each on education, experience and interpersonal or soft skills.
If you are in—or graduating from—a post-secondary program, education is a key selling feature to a prospective employer.
- Open with a one-line description of the focus of your degree/diploma.
- Include all relevant courses, as well as school work that demonstrates the skills and knowledge you’ve learned (or are acquiring).
- Only note your grades if you’re in the top 10 percent. One exception to this is if you’re juggling a job and school—carrying a heavy workload in addition to completing your studies. If that’s the case, you may wish to include a statement like: “Achieved a solid B (75 percent) average as a full-time student while working 20 hours a week.”
- Teamwork is often important to employers. You may want to note the various roles you’ve played working on group projects (e.g., led a five-person team in the engineering software challenge, and finished first out of 35 teams).
Don’t focus too much on past work experience unless it relates directly to the job you’re applying for. If you worked as a sales clerk at The Gap, the employer can imagine what your duties involved. Rather than listing boring details, identify your accomplishments in prior jobs that will impress a prospective employer and demonstrate your soft skills (e.g., developed new method for stocking displays during peak periods to ensure constant availability of new product).
- Using the heading “Experience” instead of “Employment” allows you to include volunteer work, which may represent some of your most valuable experience.
- People believe numbers, so use them whenever possible to demonstrate your successes (e.g., redesigned the company Contact Us web page, which resulted in a 30 percent increase in contacts during the first month alone).
Skills/accomplishments/extracurriculars (the “Other” section)
Use this section to highlight your extracurricular activities, interests, community work, special skills, accomplishments—anything that will highlight your achievements, show what makes you unique and help demonstrate why you’re the best fit for the job. Select whichever heading best represents the information you choose to include.
- Include interests that will make your resumé more memorable.
- Languages are very important to employers. Note which languages you speak and understand, and make sure you correctly identify your level of fluency in both the oral and written components of a language (e.g., working knowledge of written French; fluent in spoken French).
- Most employers require basic computer skills. You should indicate which software programs you’re familiar with and what your level of proficiency is (e.g., very familiar with Microsoft products; expert with macros and mail merge in Word and all formulas in Excel).
- Mention sports experience, especially if you have contributed to a winning team or received noteworthy recognition as an athlete. If the company you’re applying to has a recreational team in your sport, mention how many years you’ve played.
- If applicable, travel is a good interest to include; it shows employers that you have a variety of experience and suggests that you may be more culturally sensitive and worldly than other applicants.
At the end of your resumé, include the standard “References available upon request.”
- Be truthful. If you say you have expert skills programming in C+ and you can’t answer an elementary interview question about programming in C+, then I won’t hire you.
- Tailor your resumé to my job description. A generic resumé won’t get you an interview.
- Make sure your resumé is error free. If you think it’s acceptable to give me work with errors before I hire you, what will your attitude be once you are hired?
- Don’t waste my time describing what you did when you worked as a cashier at Petro Canada. Instead, describe your accomplishments in that position.
- If you can show a prospective employer how you saved your past employers time or money, she or he will want to interview you.