Note that I used the word “recommendation” instead of “rules” or “requirements”. There are no hard and fast rules for the structure, they can also evolve and change overtime. My recommendation is to google “preferred resume structure in _______(country)”. Do not just take the first one as gospel, really do some searching and notice common accepted themes. Also, most word or document writing programs these days have easy to use templates that can get you started. I write mine for example using an apple pages template, why make life more difficult!?
- Research if a specific template is required based on your country or that of the country you are applying in. Again, our friends at Google can help with this. Why have to do the same job twice if you do not have to?
- Determine if you prefer to create a conversational resume which is also called a behavioural style resume, or a bullet point or skills style resume. Either are accepted. I had a bullet point skills resume for a long time but switched to a conversational resume a number of years ago. I switched because there is more warmth and heart in a conversational resume. Also, because the majority of resumes I see are still in bullet style, meaning that is one more reason my resume will stand out among a mountain of bullet point applications.
"Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent"
- Start writing! I prefer to do a “brain dump” so there is the basic structure in place and then fill out the rest and then refine.
- How long or short should the resume be? Please do not let anyone convince you that it must be restricted to one page only! It is considered acceptable in North America to submit a resume up to three pages. If all you need is one page no problem. This document is selling you to the prospective employer, so take the space you feel is necessary to gain their interest in you.
- What personal contact details should I include? I recommend having your address or at least the city you are residing in, your phone number including area and country code, your e-mail address and then links as required to a professional site such as LinkedIn. The address shows whether you reside in the location of the position you are applying for, the first question the recruiter may ask you is “are you willing to re-locate?”. Make it easy for everyone, make that decision BEFORE applying for any roles outside of where you live. Adding your electronic contact details simply make it easier for a recruiter to contact you. Special note, I recommend thinking about adding your e-mail address if it is not appropriate, I have received resumes with addresses similar to; “firstname.lastname@example.org” and “email@example.com”, this might sound picky, it is one small detail that demonstrates your level of professionalism.
- Objective? or No objective? I like an objective for a couple reasons, it allows you to name the company and exact position you are applying for. This does two things, one it shows you took the extra time to customize your application for the company and role and two it protects your application should it become lost in a stack of applications, the recruiter will know with a single glance what competition you are applying for. The objective should also not be more than one sentence.
- Your previous employment is next, it really should be listed in reverse chronological order with dates of start and end dates. I only really care about seeing months and years together if the job you had started ended in the same calendar year. Otherwise "2015-2018" is acceptable (recruiters take note). It should be universally accepted that we all have gaps in employment for a slew of different reasons, we are all human and if I ask a candidate “can you explain the three month gap between Job 1 and Job 2 and your answer is “my mother passed away” then I have veered into territory that is frankly none of my business and might throw YOU off during the interview. How far back should I go? That depends on you, your age and experience level. If I am 18 and looking for a part time job while in post secondary school I might have to list that I was a landscaper and house painter during summer breaks and weekends. If I am middle aged and have worked since I was 18, well then you can edit down to the jobs only relevant to the role you are applying for (look! more gaps). One interesting story I experienced personally, I had a lady who was upper middle aged who had been a stay at home mom ever since graduating from college, she was applying to be a Flight Attendant but was quite concerned she wasn't eligible because she had never “worked”. I told her being a stay at home mom IS a full time job and one with heavy responsibilities. I told her to re-submit me a resume with the job of “Stay at home mom”, I hired her that week. She turned out to be one of the best Flight Attendant hires I ever made, in the process we made a great persons dream come true who, because of family could not enter the work force and follow her dreams of becoming a Flight Attendant. She is still flying by the way, doing a great job and loving what she does everyday, I hired her 7 years ago.
- Now education, this can be listed also in reverse chronological order and can just be bullet stye as it is fairly straight forward. Part way though a program? list it, just make sure it states (in progress). Also, let’s keep the education to professional education “St Johns Babysitter Course - 1997” likely will not help and just take up space.
- Following education you should also note any significant accomplishments, awards etc. Again, keep this relevant, for example if applying for a sales position you can share that you were “Winner - Salesperson of the Year West - 2015”.
- Finally, references. I have two rules I follow myself for references. One, I never include them in the initial application for privacy reasons and instead state “Available upon request”. Two, ask your references beforehand if they wont mind being a reference for you! Also give them a heads up again once after your first interview is complete so they know a call or email may be forthcoming. Note on references, these days most organized corporations refuse to provide a professional reference for liability reasons, you may have to rely on personal references instead. Also, references do not have to be all previous/current supervisors. It is actually a good thing to include a colleague or someone you collaborated with and also someone that was your subordinate is also helpful.
- A word on grammar and spelling. This is important and careful attention should be paid to this. Do not rely on spellcheck only, have someone else give it a once or twice over as they may catch things that you do not, especially if English is not your native language. This one should be common sense, do not swear in your resume, cover letter or application! I have seen it, more than once.
- Should I include a photo? On a resume, in North America, no. Please do not. Although very common in the EU, Africa, Asia, etc it is seen as odd by the majority of North American recruiters. I myself have received some applications with a collection of rather unprofessional photos.
- Be honest! You will get caught and it wont be pretty. Plus recruiters are smart, they can usually pick up on dishonesty and you may simply get a “thanks but no thanks” email after the interview #HonestyMatters.
- Finally, your resume is a living document and needs to be maintained and updated over time. Also, if you find you are applying for roles that you qualify for yet are not being contacted for interviews it is perfectly ok to follow up with the recruiter from those companies and ask for feedback. They may not all respond, one of them likely will and they may have very valuable insight into what you can do to improve for next time.
Consider the above and how your existing resume compares. Most importantly, I hope you have found this helpful. What are your thoughts? Please comment with your thoughts and share with others.