resume writing

The basics

If you are a beginner or could simply use a refresher, this is the place to start.

With unprecedented levels of competition for every vacancy that comes onto the jobs market, it has never been more important to make sure your resume is as good as it possibly can be. This means that you must give careful attention to all elements of the document: its overall presentation and layout, grammar, spelling, and most importantly, content.  Because even if the content is top quality, many employers won't even read it if any of the other elements is imperfect.

To help you in this challenging market, we've distilled our experience from viewing thousands of resumes every day into these guidelines.

Presentation and layout

Your resume must look clean and well laid out, with an abundance of white space to enhance readability.  It should be 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. Bullets are extremely useful in resumes as they allow you to highlight key points succintly 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 check it over for readability and any errors you may have missed. Hiring organizations are inundated with so many applications that many have implemented extremely strict criteria: if your resume looks cluttered or if one full stop is out of place, it may be removed from consideration.

Basic resume structure

Name, address and contact details

Make 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.

Your nationality and working visa details

This is only relevant if you are on a working visa, so employers know in advance how long you will be living in the US.

Personal summary

This is optional, but it’s a good opportunity to highlight in a sentence or two what you hope to achieve in your next position and what you feel you can offer to an employer. In marketing terms, this is the place for your ‘USP’, or unique sales proposition.

Skills summary

The 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. Highlight a brief bulleted list of the skills and experience that you possess that are relevant to the role, such as software packages you have worked on. 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 in the same order, although not verbatim, as this will be too obvious.

Relevant experience

This is your work history and includes paid work and any relevant volunteer or work experience placements. Work backwards from your most recent job and don’t leave any gaps; these could could lead potential employers to suspect the worst. If you took a year out, carried out an interim assignment or traveled for six months, say so. It could be useful to treat it in the same way as a job, indicating what your accomplished and learned in this time.

If you are a graduate, you may not have a great deal of work experience, although many graduates undertake day release or a year out in the industry. In this case, highlight the relevant skills that you gained in your course or on work experience. Again, list each position in reverse order, so that the most recent appears first.

Education and training

Use your common sense here. If you have an advanced degree, few people are going to be concerned about your High School diploma. Make sure to also include any training courses that you have done that are relevant to the job that you are applying for.

Interests

These are optional, but should you choose to include a section on hobbies and interests, keep it very brief. Avoid saying anything that could be contentious (e.g. political or religious affiliations), and wherever possible, use the space to show how you can fit in with the company's organisational culture. For instance, if they have a company sports team, it might be useful to indicate that you enjoy playing sports.

References

Actual references are rarely included on resumes. It is usually fine to simply say 'References are available on request'.

Now that you have the basic structure, read our tips to make your resume stand out to employers and learn how to tailor your resume to specific job applications.

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