We’re not talking high literature, here – or, for that matter, popular literature. When reading a summary of your work experience, nobody is looking for engaging prose.
The place for such prose is in your cover letter; more on that later.
A resume, also commonly known as a CV or curriculum vitae, should be a snapshot of what you have to offer in the way of education, experience and suitability to the company you’re applying to.
In a job search, suitability actually counts more than experience and perhaps even more than your educational background.
Still, there are specific ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ to heed when composing or tweaking your résumé to better match the requirements of any job you apply for.
Your Superprof wants to provide you with hacks, tips and tricks to nailing your first impression – the all-important resume; the first contact you make with a prospective employer.
The Origins of the Résumé
In German, the word for ‘résumé’ is ‘Lebenslauf’, which translates to ‘Life Run (or Course)’; it is a direct translation of the Latin term Curriculum Vitae.
Indeed, most languages – French, Spanish; even Polish uses either ‘resume’ or ‘curriculum vitae’ (abbreviated as CV) to describe this document, albeit modified to suit their languages’ particulars.
Job seekers in Spain should know to use only 'curriculum vitae'; CV means 'horsepower'!
The word ‘résumé’ - with or without the marks, comes to us from Latin via the French. In that language, it’s meaning is ‘summary’, reflecting that such documents are intended to be a short recounting of your academic, professional and personal experiences.
The personal aspect of the résumé, listing one’s hobbies and interests, did not become an integral part of the resume format until the mid-20th century. That segment is now considered standard and is used to determine a candidate's suitability to a position; what employers call 'a good fit'.
Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci is credited with presenting the world’s first résumé?
In his time, this all-important document was not much more than a handwritten letter describing one’s abilities. Résumés maintained that seeming informality for nearly 500 years, until technology mandated a neater, more professional appearance of job applicants’ CVs.
The words ‘résumé’ and ‘CV’ are often used interchangeably but they are (supposed to be) fundamentally different. The contrast is hinted at in their names: a résumé is meant to be a brief summary while the CV is an extended retelling of one’s life.
Still, hardly anybody makes that distinction these days so, whether you are called on to submit a résumé or a CV, know that, to prospective employers (or websites) those documents are one and the same.
Also discover how to write a cover letter to complement your CV…
The Purpose of a Résumé
Long gone are the days when one could simply present oneself to a corporate establishment, seeking work.
For the last half-century, two sheets of A-4 paper (maximum!) have done what supplicants had been doing for thousands of years. Indeed, if any random person turned up at an office building claiming they are looking for work today, security officers would promptly turn them away.
On the other hand, your local newsagent, greengrocer or dairy farmer might not require you to submit a résumé to work in their shop, in part because they already know something about you.
That distinction is key to understanding the purpose of the résumé in today’s business world.
Every year, around summertime, the job market is flooded with newly graduated university students seeking their break into.
That torrent of job seekers counts among its numbers students who have not yet graduated – from secondary school or university, who want/need to gain a bit of pocket money or to get some work experience under their belt while they have a chance, before the school year starts again.
From this onslaught of workers, hiring departments must make the best selections possible to represent their companies’ interests but, you have to admit, it is hard to meet individually with swarms of applicants all vying for the same position.
The noise, the crush of humanity… the ongoing moments of face time can only melt into one long blur. How could any job candidate stand out?
By contrast, the hiring team that gets to review stacks of résumés, culling out the ones with the most potential and presenting only those to their manager, who gets to look over those picks in the tranquillity of his/her office…
Presenting yourself well on paper gives you a far better chance at being hired than pressing yourself into an applicant scrum, hoping to get noticed in all of the clamour.
Consider this a tip to finding your first job: write an effective résumé.
Writing Your Résumé
If you are preparing to graduate from university or still in secondary school, there’s a good bet you don’t have much work experience. Still, you shouldn’t worry about a thin résumé; you can still make a good first impression on paper.
On any résumé, work experience is less important than relevant experience, meaning any experiences relevant to the field of work you are applying to.
Let’s say your future ambitions include a career in law. A logical place for you to apply for work would be in law offices. As someone who might never have even had a brush with the law, you might be hard-pressed to flesh out your résumé but you’re not down the pan just yet.
Are you a member of your school’s Debate Club? Do you do any volunteer or charity work, especially with less fortunate segments of the population?
These are both fine examples of relevant experience relating to careers in law; now, all you have to do it present them in the proper context.
Let’s get started by writing your header.
Aligned with the left margin, list your name, address and contact details: email, phone and Skype – you may have a phone interview or a video interview so it is important to let prospective employers know that you would be happy to talk with them by any means possible.
Because your résumé will be light on information – not through any fault of your own, you may write an introductory paragraph; something to the effect that you are a (university? secondary school?) student.
This paragraph should be no longer than two or three sentences and reflect directly on the position for which you are applying.
Next, you will list your educational accomplishments.
The chronological résumé is generally considered the norm; it starts with work experience and progresses through educational accomplishments. As you are rather light on work history, perhaps you should write a functional résumé; one that highlights skills and experience. With this type of résumé, you can make your educational achievements the focus.
Obviously, there is no need to divulge your primary school awards and accomplishments; only from secondary school up.
If you have participated in any extracurricular activities, perhaps the aforementioned debate club, you would list them in the 'education' section, under the header ‘Extracurricular Activities’.
The next segment you should populate is ‘Experience’. Later in life, once you have experience, you will be able to revise and edit your résumé so that you can adapt it to suit any job you may want.
For now, here is where you would list any volunteer work and any experiences you might have had that are relevant to the job you're applying for.
Please keep in mind that you will not write rambling paragraphs detailing thoughts and feeling; the essence of the exercise is to be concise; present your thoughts as bulleted statements. And always stay relevant!
The Résumé Skeleton
- Header: the place for your name and contact information; you may list social media profiles only if they are professional – a LinkedIn profile or a sanitised FaceBook page
- Introductory paragraph: only a couple of sentences, targeted to the job you are applying for.
- Education: go no further back than secondary school; list relevant courses and test scores if you have them
- Extracurricular activities (and achievements): if you’ve won debate competitions or played team sports, list them here.
- Experience: any ‘work’ experience relating to the field you are applying in. Include any volunteering and freelancing you’ve done that connects back to the job you want.
- Skills: list any special skills you might have that could bear on your ability to do this job better than others.
- Hobbies and Interests: in this last section, feel free to list key skills that bring out your best qualities – reading, community work, etc.
Join the discussion: does anybody still expect a thank you letter after an interview?
Formatting Your Résumé
A good résumé is formatted such that the hiring manager or job recruiter needs only to glance at your document to know that the job seeker who wrote it merits more than a cursory glance.
Everything, from the font you use to the font size, matters!
Experts advise that Arial and Verdana ‘pop’ more than tried-and-true fonts such as Times New Roman. Also, a 12-point font is optimal and it should remain consistent throughout your document.
Also, these fonts work better with the online applicant tracking system, a hiring tool more personnel departments are gravitating to for applicant screening.
Avoid stylising your résumé with bold, italic or underlined scripts; trust the hiring managers to find critical information without your having to point to it. However, you should make your section headers a bit bigger and it wouldn’t hurt if they were in bold.
Feel free to jazz up your résumé with targeted keywords; these are words that relate directly to the job field you’re applying to.
Finally, the most important advice: proofread!
Run your résumé through a spell-checker. Ask two or even three other sets of eyes to go over it – for both content, appearance and correctness. There is truly nothing worse than presenting yourself through a grammatically unsound, poorly written document.
Once you’ve sent your résumé in, you only need to sit back and get ready for your phone interview…