Careful attention needs to be given to all elements of a resume, including: its overall presentation and layout, grammar, spelling, and, most importantly, content. Even if the content is top quality, most employers won’t get round to reading it if they are put off by any of the other, more basic elements.
Another big turn off for employers is submitting a resume that has clearly not been tailored to the specific application. It’s not hard to tell which resumes have been modified and which haven’t. Not personalising your resume indicates that you’re not enthused enough about the position to spend half an hour researching the role – not a great introduction!
So, in order to help you stand out, I’ve compiled some guidelines based on my experience of viewing thousands of resumes over the years:
Presentation and layoutYour resume must look clean and well structured, with enough white space to enhance readability. It should be approximately two pages long unless your industry has its own standards; for instance, if you are expected to include your publications or details of many projects.
Use a simple font like Arial, 10-12pt, and keep formatting like italics and underlining to a minimum. Bullet points are extremely useful as they allow you to highlight key points succinctly and keep the document looking tidy. Start each one with an action verb if you can (‘created’, ‘managed’, ‘increased’, ‘improved’ etc.), rather than ‘I’.
Spelling and punctuation must be perfect, so after you proofread and spell-check it, give it to a friend to do the same. Hiring organisations are inundated with so many applications and unnecessary mistakes can mean yours ends up in the reject pile.
Basic resume structure:
1. Name, address and contact detailsMake sure to use the phone number and email address that you use most often. You don’t want to disappoint an employer by failing to respond to their invitation to an interview in a timely fashion.
2. Personal summaryThis is optional, but it’s a good opportunity to highlight in a few sentences what you hope to achieve in your next position and what you feel you can offer to the employer. In marketing terms, this is the place for your ‘USP’, or unique sales proposition. Tailor this section to each job position that you’re applying to.
3. Skills summaryThe reader of your resume may not have more than a few seconds to spend scanning applications, so including a skills section can capture their attention by making it immediately clear what you can offer. Compile a brief bulleted list of the skills and experience that you possess that are relevant to the role. Wherever possible, use the same adjectives as those used in the advertisement.
For instance, if the ad specifies someone who has ‘effective administrative abilities and excellent interpersonal skills’, these should be addressed under your skills section with brief evidence as to where you gained those skills. Make sure to tailor your skills and expertise to the individual position you are applying for, always.