Preparing for Work
Did you know that employers spend an average of 5-7 seconds the first time they look at your resume? Once they have divided resumes into “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” piles, they will often take a second look, this time for perhaps 20 seconds. If they are really interested in you and considering inviting you for an interview, employers may spend about 1 minute reviewing your resume for the third time. With such a short time to convince the employer to read further, your resume must be clearly targeted to the position you are interested in. An employer should never wonder why you submitted your resume or be forced to spend time trying to figure out how you fit.
The purpose of any resume is to get you – the candidate – noticed, ensuring you move forward in the hiring process. In other words, the purpose of the resume is to secure interviews. Although there are resume best practices you should adhere to, sometimes employers have strange and secret ways to screen people in or out and, too often, this is only based on Profile, Highlights of Qualifications or Summary of Qualifications section. Anything from font type and colour and overall length (both too long and too short) to a resume format/style that the reviewer dislikes could get you screened out, without a careful review of the details. Ultimately, all you can do is take the time to write the best resume possible, targeted to each position and employer… and this will take time!!
Think of your resume in terms of available space, or real estate. You have limited space on a page to demonstrate to the employer why you are the best candidate for the position and, therefore, worth interviewing. An employer should never wonder why something was included in your resume. It is your job to make the link between your skills/experience and the position explicit, and immediately clear. Avoid including something in your resume because you think it needs to be there; everything in your resume either adds value or detracts from your candidacy. It is all about relevance to the position.
To begin, select the type of resume that best fits your situation, and the type of work you are seeking:
Chronological Resumes highlight work history in reverse chronological order (i.e., most recent position is listed first). Duties, achievements, and skills acquired are included under each position providing a detailed listing of accomplishments aligned to each position. You should use a chronological resume if:
- You have many years of experience in one career, and can show progression
- You have worked for several employers or clients in one industry
- You have minimal or no gaps in between jobs
Functional Resumes highlight your relevant skills instead of work history. Skills are often grouped or categorized under meaningful headings (e.g., Sales and Marketing, Administration). Work (or employment) history is minimized to a simple list of positions held, employer name, and dates employed. You should use a functional resume if:
- You have little to no experience in your field
- You are changing careers
- You have transferable skills from different areas of your life that compensate for your lack of experience
- You have gaps or job hopping in your work history
Combination Resumes bring together the important elements of the functional and chronological types, allowing you to highlight your skills and work experience separately and consistently by providing proofs of your skills in action. A combination resume usually prioritizes skills before the work history section. Your work experience section should support your skills section by weaving in how you used the skills in each of your jobs, using powerful accomplishment statements. A combination resume would work best if:
- You are in the early stages of your career with 1–3 years of relevant experience
- You are a recent graduate with limited work experience
- You are changing either careers or industries
- You have worked with only a few employers, but have a consistent track record
- You have no gaps in your work history
In order to succeed in today's job market, you have to think of your resume as an advertisement targeted towards your future boss.
There is significant debate over which resume format might be best and the answer can vary depending on your individual circumstances, the industry you are interested in, even the specific position. Visit this link for further information on types of resumes, and how to decide which will work best for your scenario.
Ultimately, the format you choose should be the one that best sells you for the position you want, in a targeted way. Your job is to make it easy for the employer to see the connection between what they need and what you offer.
The standard information included on resumes (regardless of format) includes:
This is a short statement that outlines your broader career goals while linking you to the position you are applying for. In 2-3 lines forming a brief paragraph, not a bulleted list, summarize your career goal in the context of the position you are applying for. The biggest problem with most career objectives is they are too generic, rendering them a tad useless and therefore wasting valuable space. 50% of employers want to see an objective statement, whereas 50% do not. Carefully research the job and write a very targeted objective that sells you, or else leave this piece off your resume.
This is a summary of your relevant background and skills, targeted to the job, and can include:
- Number of years of experience in the field
- Your education, training, and/or certifications
- A related accomplishment or recognition
- Your key skills, talents, or special knowledge (hard skills)
- Anything appealing about your personal work style or attitude (soft skills)
This section can be written using bullet points, or a short paragraph (3-5 lines). Employers typically read this section first and may do their first screening by only reading this section, so it’s critical.
Include your post-secondary education, credentials and certifications, and specific courses, making sure to only include what is relevant to the position.
Feature only your last 3 jobs OR the past 10 years – unless your experience prior to that is relevant. Only include descriptions of positions that are relevant to the job. If you have chosen a functional format, this section will simply be a listing of your previous jobs. If you are trying to avoid showing gaps in employment, you can include jobs that are not relevant, but limit these to a listing of 1-2 lines to show chronology of your work history without the detail.
Can be important to include, again if space is available and if there is a link between this information and the position you are applying for.
Can be included if you have space but remember that your resume is all about real estate and selling yourself as the ideal candidate. If you do not have sufficient space or cannot link your hobbies or volunteer work to the position, best to leave this out.
Can be included if space permits, i.e., links to your professional (not personal) profiles, only if they relate to the position and showcase your relevant talents. LinkedIn is a good one to include. If you have a website related to the career you are pursuing, include a link to it. Here is a great video that explains how to include social media icons in your resume. Do not include social media icons if applying online, as screening software will not recognize them.
Characteristics of a Good Resume
- Easy to read, with lots of white space and a font that is large enough (size 10-12 for the body, 16-18 for headers) and is legible, both on a screen and printed. Click here for some tips on choosing a font.
- No more than 2 pages in length.
- Your name appears on each page with your contact information on page 1.
- The top third summarizes what you have to offer; the rest provides proof.
- Feature only your last 3 jobs OR the past 10 years – unless your prior experience is relevant.
- Is customized and targeted to each job you are applying for.
- Use action verbs and skill words to make your statements more powerful and to connect with what employers are looking for.
- Describes your work history and other relevant experience by qualifying and quantifying what you’ve done, as opposed to providing a list of your previous job duties (which is boring to read). Adding value statements (i.e., providing metrics and accomplishments) increases your chances of getting screened in by 30%. Click here for how to transform duties into accomplishments.
- If you are applying online, you MUST use keywords (see “Online Application Systems”).
In your resume, action verbs are powerful tools that can highlight your achievements and accomplishments. They are a way to clearly communicate skills and experience and can be important tools for capturing the employer’s attention. Remember, all you have is 5-7 seconds making each word you choose incredibly important. Don’t, however, just start replacing simpler words with more complicated ones; this is not an exercise in using a Thesaurus. The action verbs must make sense in your context and be something you can speak to in an interview.
Here is a great list to get you started: https://resumegenius.com/blog/resume-help/action-verbs
Ensuring employers understand what skills and attributes you can bring to the role is a critically important part of resume development. Whenever possible, match the terms you use with those the employer, or industry uses. You can identify these words by analyzing job postings, conducting informational interviews and paying attention to the skills employers, in general, are looking for. Skills can be sorted into various categories, such as Employability Skills and Innovation Skills along with hard and soft skills.