Blog article on how to write a winning resume.

I love it when people tell me they got their job without a résumé.  Clearly, they’ve nailed both sides of the ‘Me Ltd’ equation – they’re very good at what they do and they’re well-known and well respected in their marketplace.

However, for most of us a résumé is part of our Job Search campaign. 

And, at the risk of sounding harsh, these résumés are usually awful. No matter how intelligent or strategic you might be, your résumé is unlikely to deliver that oh-so-valuable ‘Wow’ factor.

OK, but what if you have a respectable ‘B’ grade résumé, one that gets you through to the interview on a regular basis? Do you really need to set the world on fire?

Yes, you do.

A great résumé does more than just land you in the ‘Yes’ pile for interviews. It starts to swing the balance of power to YOU.

Your prospective employer will presume that someone as good as you must have lots of other options. They start to worry about whether you would ever come and work for them. They often even start to think about increasing the salary to make sure you don’t get poached by someone else. You become the candidate the decision-maker measures all others against.

Not a bad outcome, eh?

It’s time to nail it once and for all

Of the many résumés I have seen in my years as a Career Transition specialist, I will always remember Hue’s, a graphic designer who worked in Singapore. 

It was wonderful. I barely needed to touch it and I can still visualise it all these years later. Hue had mastered three critical issues, all equally important.

It doesn’t matter how junior or senior your role is – you are capable of analysing your role and painting a picture of the value you bring.  The good news is that once you’ve grasped these concepts and created a great résumé, you’re usually set for the rest of your working life.

#1: Is your résumé modern, attractive and well-spaced?

The first thing I do when someone brings in their current résumé is to see what it looks like. That is your starting point. It doesn’t matter how persuasive your content is, if it looks like a dog’s breakfast, you’re in trouble.

These days, more and more people won’t even read your document if it looks ugly and/or squashed and/or too hard to read.

Here are 6 elements to audit your résumé against:

  1. Consider a modern font.
    Avoid Times New Roman, Arial, Garamond and even Century Gothic.  The classic (and safe) font these days is Calibri. If you like to push the envelope a bit, try Calibri Light, Corbel or Candara.
  2. Select the correct font size.
    Like Goldilocks, it should not be so small that it’s difficult to read, nor so big that it looks like a primary school assignment. If I’m working with an Executive, we often use Calibri 10.5 instead of Calibri 11 to give us just that little bit of extra room for additional content.
  3. Remove old-style formatting.
    Ensure there is no underlining, no shading, not too much use of Upper Caps, no headings in boxes and that you limit the use of italics. 
  4. Review the use of colours.
    This is a vexed question.  Generally, for the corporate market, I don’t recommend colour.  You have no guarantee that the recipient of your résumé will use a colour printer, in which case it can look bad when printed in black and white.  Furthermore, I find the colours that people choose are rarely carefully thought out. 
  5. Space out your content logically.
    Our brain uses spacing to make sense of a document. Between each section, for example, there should be more space than between the content within a section. Make it clear to the reader which content belongs to which section.
  6. Establish a hierarchy with your headings.
    You will likely have either 3 or 4 different levels, each of which should be less obtrusive than the one before.

Once you have come up with your attractive, easy to read document, make sure that you check its appearance every few years. The ‘look’ of documents changes over time and you don’t want your résumé to date.

#2:  Does Page 1 sell you as an excellent prospect?

Your entire résumé is important, of course, but nothing caps the role of Page One. If you don’t win the reader over on this first page, most people won’t even bother to read the rest of the document.

Here are 3 steps to help you decide content for Page One:

  1. Create a list of key ‘things’ an excellent incumbent would have. 
    These ‘things’ will differ according to the specific role.  They may relate to qualifications, attributes, experience, personal qualities and, of course, specific achievements. 
  2. Source data for this list from three sources.
    First, you should have some idea of what a ‘star’ in the role would look like. Then, check similar job ads to find out what’s trendy now. Finally, check with an astute person – someone who seems switched on in this area.
  3. Examine each element on the list.
    Ask yourself: ‘Have I convincingly sold this aspect on page one of my résumé?’ 

The next stage is to assess how persuasive your content is. Here, it may be time to give up your attachment to Responsibilities.

Responsibilities have their place in a résumé.  They help the reader position you in the organisation and they tell the world what you were supposed to do.  However, they don’t tell the world whether you actually did it or how well you performed the role. 

A useful rule of thumb is to devote between 40-50% of the space of Page One to Achievement Statements.

#3. Does your résumé focus on persuasive Achievement Statements?

It’s very difficult to write strong Achievement Statements – short phrases which clearly and specifically outline how you added value to your organisation and why you deserved to get paid. 

Here are six tips to help you out:

  1. Just get your thoughts down first.
    Don’t worry about how clumsy or clunky your words are. Revisit it the next day and you’ll find the magic phrase, the elegant line.
  2. Obey the conventions.
    Achievement Statements are always written in the past tense, even if you are talking about your current role.
  3. Pick up the energy levels.
    Begin each Achievement with a verb e.g. designed, created, delivered, participated… (By the way, ‘successfully’ is not a verb, so don’t begin your Achievements with this word as it breaks the pattern).
  4. Restrict the length of each statement.
    Stick to one or two lines to avoid exhausting the reader’s attention span.
  5. Focus on the classic formula.
    What did you do and what was the result? (quantified where possible – $,%, etc)
  6. Match the length to the culture you are operating in.
    North American résumés are usually 1-2 pages (though they do cram content in with very little spacing). Australian résumés tend to be a bit longer, especially the more senior you are. As a rule of thumb, the further back in time you go, the less you say.

Odds and Sodds

Whenever I run a résumé workshop, I’m inundated with queries, such as…

‘My most relevant job was 10 years ago. How can I highlight it?’

‘What should my résumé be like for a government job?

‘How far back in time should I go?’

‘I did the same tasks in the last three jobs. Won’t my résumé be boring?’

Obviously, we are all different so there is no ‘one size fits all’. Behind a fine résumé is a great deal of thought and a considerable degree of judgement.

A useful starting point is to consider what you are most proud of. List specific areas where you think you added value to your organisation.

Not a Fun Task!

I’ve never met anyone yet who enjoyed writing their résumé!  So, a very useful tip is to never let it get out of date again.

Once you have constructed your wonderful new résumé, drag it out once a year and review it.  Update it to take account of your achievements of the previous year.  That way, the edit becomes a bit of fun and it’s ready to go whenever you need it. 

At a minimum, producing a strong, persuasive résumé adds to your confidence, as you navigate through the modern world of work.  It makes you stand out from the crowd in the visible job market.

I often call it a ‘feeling of comfort’ document. When the decision-maker meets you face to face, your interview performance makes them think you are great. The résumé provides a feeling of comfort that there is substance behind the impression you have made.

Ask yourself whether your résumé is a masterpiece. If it isn’t, do something about it.

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