Unfortunately, though, there are so many conflicting opinions it can quickly make writing your resume an anxiety-inducing experience.
There are obvious things like checking your spelling and grammar and using a format that is clear and easy to read. Those don’t really need any explanation. But what about the rest? Do I need to stick to two pages or is three OK? Should I explain my career break? What order do the sections need to be in? Do I have to include referees, or can I state “available on request”?
These are all great questions, but I want to simplify your thinking by helping you focus on the end game. The point of a resume is to get you an interview. It’s a document tailored to address the key criteria of the role you are applying for i.e. what the employer is looking for in a candidate.
So, the single most important word to remember is ‘relevance’. This is the word I use most when working with clients on their resumes, to the point where I sound like a broken record. So what do I mean by relevance?
A resume is:
A piece of marketing that sells the knowledge, skills, and experience you have which the employer is interested in i.e. the things that are relevant to the role.
A resume is not:
A blow-by-blow account of your life story. A recruiter doesn’t want to hear this any more than a stranger you just met at a party would (yawn!).
When a recruiter is short-listing candidates for a role, they are comparing them to the criteria for the role. Think of it as a simple checklist. Usually, the employer will include all of this information in the job advert which could look something like this…
“To be successful in this role you will need a degree in X or related discipline, exceptional problem-solving skills, proven ability to work independently as well as in a team…”
That’s what the recruiter is looking for when scanning your resume for the (scarily) brief window of time that you have their attention (most likely less than 10 seconds in the first instance!). If the criteria aren’t obvious from the job advert (or the opportunity hasn’t been advertised), create your own. Take an educated guess as to what they would be looking for. For example, if it’s an engineering role perhaps attention to detail, problem-solving, analytical skills, and communication would be relevant (hint: always include communication).
Your mission is to tick as many boxes as possible within those few seconds that eyes are on your resume, and do it obviously. Make sure you are highlighting the relevant items through your education, work experience tasks, achievements, and skills.
It goes without saying that you ideally want to tick all the boxes, but it may be that you genuinely don’t have one or two covered. Don’t be deterred (I secured my first professional job by applying for a role that required a Ph.D. that I didn’t have). Cover every item you do have with conviction, include a cover letter that demonstrates your drive and enthusiasm, and go for it. Some employers put together a wishlist that won’t be met by anyone, so don’t rule yourself out by assuming you are competing against unicorns!
So, that’s it. Start by identifying the checklist and tailoring your resume to highlight your qualifications, skills, and experience which meet the criteria. Be honest, but remember, it’s marketing.