Writing Your Résumé (CV)
Highlighting Your Skills and Experience
Whether you're applying for a new role in your current organization or looking to change career, you need a great résumé (or CV) if you're going to get the interviews you want.
Your résumé is your chance to highlight your accomplishments, and communicate how you can use your expertise to help someone else. So you must make sure that it's clear, concise, and up-to-date.
And with some organizations receiving hundreds of thousands or millions of résumés every year, it's important that yours stands out and actually gets read.
So, what's the best way to create your résumé? A quick online search yields literally millions of results telling you how to write a good one. Which approach should you use?
In this article, we'll look at how you can create an effective and compelling résumé. We'll cover layout and content, as well as how you can use the internet to further sell your skills and experience.
In this article, we've included the tips and strategies that we feel are most effective for writing a résumé. However, there are no set rules, and there are plenty of different opinions on the right way to format, write, and style your résumé. So use your own best judgment, depending on the role you're applying for, and the culture and best practices in your region.
Building Your Résumé
Some recruiters claim to read résumés in as few as 10 seconds, due to the volume of applications they receive. (Many companies receive several hundred résumés for just one position.) Therefore, your résumé must be easy to understand, clear, and to the point. Recruiters need to find key information quickly, or they might just toss the résumé into the rejection pile. Keep this in mind when you're putting it together!
It's also important to remember that your résumé's purpose isn't necessarily to land you a job; rather, it's there to get you an interview.
Layout and Key Content
Here are some simple rules that you can follow when you write your résumé:
- Put your name and contact information at the top of the page, much like a header. Your name should be centered and in bold, 14- to 16-point font. You should also include your phone number, email address, and mailing address in the header.
- Under your header and contact information, include a brief summary of your skills, accomplishments, and qualifications as these relate to the role you're applying for. This means that you need to do some research into the position to determine what's most important to the employer, and then customize this brief summary with these elements in mind.
Then list your work history, using a reverse chronological order. That is, put your present position first and then work backward. (Try to include all of your recent work history, and explain any gaps in employment – otherwise, it may look as if you're hiding something.)
For each role, write out the full company name and include your start and end dates, including the month and year. Then include a brief outline of your key responsibilities and your accomplishments in the role, again, in relation to the position that you're applying for.
- Include qualifications, details of training courses you've attended, and membership of professional bodies only if these relate to the role. For example, it may not be worth listing your high-school diploma if you're applying for a position as an executive.
- Limit your résumé to a maximum of two Letter/A4-sized pages. Any more than this may mean that the recruiter will ignore it altogether, or miss the most important information.
Overall, you'll want to structure everything you write on your résumé with your prospective employer in mind. Recruiters may not care about your career objectives or your carefully written executive summary; they just want to know how you can help them accomplish their goals.
Sometimes it may be appropriate to use a non-chronological approach for writing a résumé. Just be aware that experienced recruiters may view these with suspicion, as they're often used to hide information.
Adding More Value to Your Résumé
As well as the basic rules above, you can also add more value to your résumé, and help it stand out, with these further tips:
- When describing your accomplishments in your career, avoid adjectives. Instead, use strong action words such as "launched," "analyzed," "negotiated," "implemented," and "completed." (A quick search online will yield hundreds of action words that you can use in your résumé.)
- Be as specific as you can when highlighting your achievements – your prospective employer wants to see the results of your past work, and the difference you made in your last role. For example, how much money did you save your department? How many new sales did your plan produce?
- Avoid clichéd descriptions and overused buzzwords. For instance, phrases like "client-oriented," "great communication skills," or "ability to think outside the box" often mean little. You should also avoid other clichéd adjectives such as "highly-skilled," "excellent," or "outstanding." Focus on clear, concise, and simple communication.
- Some recruiters scan résumés and search for terms and keywords that fit their job opening. To get past an initial HR screening, use specific keywords relevant to your qualifications and the open position. Look at the job-opening summary or advertisement for relevant keywords to use.
- Avoid fancy fonts and too much use of highlighting, bold, and underlining. Stick to an easy-to-read font, like 10- to 12-point Times New Roman or Arial.
- Don't include personal information, such as your hobbies, interests, or family situation unless these specifically relate to the role. You can discuss these subjects during the interview, if relevant.
- Avoid using graphics or pictures, again, unless these actually relate to the role you're applying for. (Graphics, for example, may be relevant for some creative positions.)
Statistics and numbers grab attention, and they'll do more to highlight your accomplishments than a dozen adjectives.
For instance, the phrase "Reduced departmental expenses by 25 percent" or "Increased client retention by 30 percent" are more likely to mean something to potential employers. Put any numbers or statistics in bold to catch the eye.
- Avoid using highly technical jargon, unless it's specifically related to the role. As a general guide, anyone from a high school student to a CEO should be able to read and understand your résumé.
- As you scan your résumé, make sure that your formatting is spot on. For instance, are all of your bullet points lined up and punctuated in the same way? Are all of your fonts the same? Is text consistently aligned with the right or left margin?
Once you've finished the final draft of your résumé, take some time to proofread it carefully. (Reading it out loud helps here!) If you submit a résumé with typos or poor wording, the employer will question your attention to detail and professionalism. If you can't communicate well in your résumé, a potential employer will assume that you can't communicate well at all!
You should also email your résumé to yourself and to several other colleagues or friends – sometimes documents won't format correctly on different computers, and this will help you ensure that your résumé looks good on different machines. (You could also save your résumé in PDF format to avoid this issue.) Also, ask friends to cast their eyes over your résumé and provide feedback.
Once you've written a résumé that you're satisfied with, leave it alone, and update it only when you need to. It's easy to slip into "analysis paralysis," spending more time refining details instead of pursuing opportunities. Spend this time honing your interview skills, so that you're prepared for the next step.
Using the Internet
You can also use the internet to add even more value to your résumé.
For instance, you can use LinkedIn® or create a website to highlight your professional work experience in greater detail. You can then include its URL in the header of your résumé.
Or, if you're in a visual or artistic profession such as architecture, photography, writing, or graphic design, you can use the internet to create and store an online portfolio of your work.
It's also worth remembering that, as well as enhancing your reputation, social media and the internet can damage it just as quickly. Potential employers may be able to view anything you post online, so you need to avoid writing or uploading anything that could jeopardize your personal and professional reputation. (It's easily done if you're not careful!)
With this in mind, you may find it useful to put yourself in a potential employer's position and do appropriate internet searches on yourself. You can then take appropriate steps to manage or delete anything that puts you in a negative light, before you send out your résumé.
It takes time to create a great résumé. Keeping your résumé clear and concise will increase the likelihood that your prospective employer reads it.
Keep your résumé to a maximum of two pages. Use action words instead of adjectives when describing your accomplishments, and be specific about the results you achieved in your current and past roles. Remember, employers want to know what you can do for them.
Also, make sure that you proofread your résumé thoroughly. Send it to several friends and colleagues to read over, and make sure that formatting stays consistent on different computers.
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