Yesterday, my good friend Shazia asked me if she could see my resume as a basis for her own. This does not seem to be a common occurrence for me, many friends and family have sought my advice on resumes and cover letters. I have had a lot of employers and career councillors compliment it, and consider it one of the best they have seen. It seems to be one of my hidden talents, so I thought I would share some of my most commonly told tips.
Format – Skills or experience?
My preference is to go with the experience based resume. If you have a fair amount of work experience, and you have given yourself credit for everything you have done, your skills should shine through this. The difference is with the experience laid out right above it, it feels more professional and gives you suitable backup for the skills you claim to have without the employer having to go back and forth through your resume. They wont waste their time trying to find things. The only time I recommend a skills based resume is for someone who is entering the workforce for the first time (ie highschool student looking for a part time job)
Building the Resume
Build your resume as you go, you should be adding to it every time your situation changes. Even if that doesn’t mean you have a new job, it could just be when you are given a new project or tasks at work. Don’t worry about it being too long or putting in too much detail. Describe your duties in 2 ways, a general way, and an industry specific way. NEVER EVER DELETE INFORMATION. This will be your master copy, it doesn’t matter if its 2 pages or 17. Each time you apply for a different job, copy your master and then delete anything irrelevant until you meet 1 or 2 pages. Don’t expect yourself to remember all the details every time you need to make a new resume.
Give yourself credit
A lot of resumes I read miss half of the major accomplishments or skills these people have. I just know it because they are friends who I help, but an employer wont know everything hiding behind those lines. Really think about everything you do, even if it is not listed as a part of your job description. Use things you are proud of at the time. Even if you are just a cashier, you must have done something right. How many customers would you process in a given day? Did you know your customers names? Did they know YOUR name? What compliments do they give you. Employers don’t just want your paper skills, they want someone with a personality to fit into their company, don’t be afraid to prove you are a nice person! Keep asking yourself questions, and talk to friends about what they think you do. Often your coworkers notice nice things about your work that you wouldn’t even think of!
What is relevant
I had told you to write specifics and general information. An example I like to use for this is when I worked for Customs. I will write something like “Reviewed commercial importation paperwork and assisted customers with documentation and fees” as a general description and “Reviewed commercial importation paperwork including B3, B15, EDI and yellow wrapper forms. Calculated appropriate duties and made decisions regarding validity of documents” as my specific. To most people, B3 is a vitamin or will mean nothing on a resume and i will use it on a job that isn’t customs related, but its an important part of my experience, particularly if I wanted to apply as a customs broker or in the transportation industry. Depending on the job description, I will choose the most appropriate line. Do you really think I would remember the numbers of those forms if I tried to remake my resume each time? Not likely! On a higher level, many jobs can be eliminated from your resume all together if they are not relevant. Study the job description carefully. Only you know what will be best in that situation. Take the time to really think it through.
Don’t let me ever catch you using a template. Employers see so many resumes, that all the template ones blur together. This makes it tough to find “that one” that they want to go back to, but also shows a lack of initiative on your part. Invest some time and show them how much you care. Design your own to reflect your personality and your industry. Remember to keep it tasteful. I like to add coloured underlines to my headers, and choose a non standard but easy to read font. Other places you can get creative is in bullet points, horizontal rules, simple page borders, even a light background. Depending on what job or industry you are, you may have more flexibility to pull off wilder ideas. Research the company you are applying for and find out what culture they have and try to work it into your styling.
So important. Save your resume as a PDF file. If you save it as a word doc or other format, you run the risk of the employer not being able to open your resume. Also, you could lose all your design from specialty fonts, to even the layout. When I was in the hiring seat, I had one that clearly someone had spent a lot of time on, but the file opened incorrectly and there were a whole bunch of squares and random code mixed in, it was impossible to read and hello… can this person even use a computer? Sure don’t want your interviewer thinking that!
Have someone review it. One of my bosses here told me a great story about how he submitted a business proposal for Nassau Bahamas. Spell check went in and changed Nassau to nausea. Needless to say, he didn’t get approved. Spell check helps, but it shouldn’t have the final say.