How to write a resume: The basics

A friend asked be to look over his C.V. before he applied for a job. The thing was six pages long. He is new to Canada, and this is the type of application that was typically used in his country. I had to fill him in on the differences between that kind of document and how we apply for jobs here.

To begin with, a North American resume is different from the European style Curriculum Vitae. A C.V. is literally The Course of one’s Life and is an all-encompassing document that lists of all your schooling and everywhere you’ve ever worked in your life along with some personal interests, publications, and hobbies thrown in to round out the full picture.

Except for some academic or government roles, you probably won’t use a C.V. to apply for jobs in Canada. You will use a resume.

A resume is a marketing document. It’s a short and concise sales brochure, and the product is you. So, when writing your resume, you need to think about the customer – the employer – and include just the information that is specifically relevant to them. A successful resume will capture their interest enough so that they will want to find out more about you in a job interview.

Resumes don’t get you hired. They win you job interviews. It is successful interviews that get you to the job offer. But to get to that step, you need a resume. Here’s how to write one.

The header

Customize the title of your resume so that it exactly matches the job title that you are applying for.

You contact information should be your name, email address, and a phone number. An actual mailing address is optional. As a general rule, the closer you live to the location of the job, the more of an asset your physical address is. The further away you live, the more of a liability it can be.

Don’t list a cell phone, a work phone, and a home phone number. Just pick the one phone number that you most want the employer to call. (It shouldn’t be your work number.) Make sure that you have a professional sounding voicemail message on that line and actually check your messages.

Opening statement

Traditionally resumes used to open with an ‘objective statement’ about what the candidate was looking for in a job. Don’t do this. Because your resume is a marketing document, don’t start off by talking about what you want. Highlight what you can do for the employer instead.

Open with what a brief statement that points out your key career accomplishments and credentials to show what you have to offer. Customize this introductory statement to the specific needs of each job you apply for.

Your work history

Employers prefer to see your work history in reverse chronological order with the names of the companies you worked for, the dates of employment, and your job title all clearly highlighted.

How to describe your past roles

Analyse the details of the job ad you are applying for carefully, so that you can tailor your resume to demonstrate how you are a good fit for the position. Clearly showcase how you meet with the requirements of the job, and whenever possible match the wording and language from the job ad in your resume.

Other than demonstrating how you have the required on-the-job experience, don’t use up a lot of space describing what your ‘duties’ were at each of your previous jobs. Most people already know what a sales rep, a receptionist, or an accountant does.

What employers really want to know is what set you apart in the role. This is why it is important to list your specific accomplishments at your past jobs.

Your career journey

While your resume isn’t the “course of your life,” it still has to tell your story. Ideally a resume should show the progression of the jobs you have held with the one you are applying for be the next logical step in your trajectory.

Your education

Other than for your earliest jobs, your specific level of education isn’t all that important to employers. They tend to care more about your work history. Once you’ve demonstrated your skills, the other credentials matter less. Employers often request advanced degrees and education in job postings as a filtering tool. Less qualified candidates will be discouraged from applying, and rule themselves out of contention.

List your highest level of education first. If you have a university degree or college diplomas or certifications, do not list your high school. If you have taken any courses or training that is specifically relevant to the role you are applying for, highlight them.

Other relevant qualifications

If you have other skills that you would like to call attention to, you can simply include a bulleted list of relevant abilities, software, languages, or certifications.

For example:

  • Canadian Red Cross CPR Certified
  • Organize annual fundraiser for the Local Shelter – over $45,000 raised
  • Native fluency in English and French
  • PMP: Project Management Professional certification

You don’t need to include “References available on request” – or actual references – in your resume itself. This just takes up space and can make your document appear outdated. Employers assume that candidates will provide references when they ask for them.

The whole thing should fit on one page early in your career, and maybe two or three pages when you have some significant work experience and accomplishments later on.

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