How to write an amazing resume that will get results
You already know what has to go on your resume. You’ve probably done it half a dozen times (though it might feel like a hundred). It’s some variation or other of the following:
- Contact details
- Career objectives/overview/summary or opening statement
- List of key skills and abilities
- Employment history and technical skills
- Personal attributes
- Educational history and qualifications
You also know you have to write a cover letter to send with it, targeting specific people and job openings, and that your resume should be tailored to fit the job you’re applying for. You know not to use silly email addresses or include demographic information like your date of birth, sex, or hair colour. You know this because you’ve read tonnes of resources on the internet for writing resumes, and followed countless templates showing you what information is essential to include.
But somehow, your resume doesn’t do you justice: even you know it’s boring, and it’s a carbon copy of everyone else’s.
So how do you write a resume that would make you want to hire yourself?
Copywriting, not copying
Your resume is not just your serial number in the factory of your career. It’s actually a marketing tool, designed to reveal something of your ‘brand’: your personality, your style, and your uniqueness that makes you the perfect candidate for the job. You need to sell yourself, but as concisely and articulately as a good advertising slogan.
It’s not about you, it’s about them.
You probably think your resume is all about you. It’s about your accomplishments, your experience, your expertise, and your qualifications. Wrong—it’s about them, or more specifically, what you can do for them, and their organisation.
Your objective should be what you want to deliver, not what you want to obtain from your potential employer. You’re aiming to demonstrate why you’re the perfect candidate: your goals and ambitions are to achieve excellence in a position they have, to use the skills you have to benefit their business, and to demonstrate the qualities they are looking for. It should read along the lines of: ‘A position in an organisation that is seeking (your skills) in order to achieve (what you can deliver)’. This can be valuable if delivered the right way; that is, not sycophantic (‘A position in the single greatest organisation in Australia’), and not nonchalant or boastful (‘An organisation that will value my tremendous abilities’). But if you can only come up with something generic and uninspired, do away with it.
Why they should buy your product (you)
You might consider replacing your career objectives with a career overview or summary of qualifications— a few short sentences serving as a teaser of what’s to come in the rest of your resume. List the skills and achievements that make you good at what you do: not just the tasks anyone in your position is expected to do, but how you went over and above, and what made you so spectacular and successful. Instead of ‘5 years experience in training new recruits’, it should be ‘Achieved highest rate of retention of new recruits in 10 years’, and instead of ‘Increased revenue’, use actual figures as evidence, and write ‘Increased revenue by 155%’, or ‘Generated $250 million in new revenue per year of employment’. And make sure it’s what they’re actually looking for: research into your potential employer is mandatory if you’re going to convince them that you can meet their needs.
This section is your elevator pitch, and it can make or break your chances. If it’s bad, it’s game over. But if it’s good, the perfectly timed and executed delivery of bite-sized chunks of information can single-handedly win you the job.
Talk the right talk
Write like Ernest Hemingway: good, straight and true. Plain language advocates will tell you that clear communication is your only objective: don’t fill your resume with fluff. Verbose or archaic language or overused business jargon won’t make you sound intelligent—it will make you sound boring and intolerable. If you actually make it to an interview, your potential employer will also notice the disparity between your verbal style and your writing style, which can be a deal-breaker. Do away with unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, and make sure every sentence delivers the truth with strength and conviction.
And it might sound surprising, but take yourself out of it. You should write in first person, but take the pronoun out: instead of ‘I achieved (this thing)’, it should read ‘Achieved (this thing)’.
Mirror their sales pitch
Part of your research into your potential employer is looking for statements about the philosophies, values, missions, and goals they have.
Their websites and marketing collateral should give you an idea of what they’re about and how they want to be seen. Mirror elements of their key phrases so they see their reflection in you—but not verbatim, and only if you mean it.
Make no mistakes
Get an editor: if you can afford a professional one, great; otherwise, borrow a friend—a fresh pair of eyes can do wonders for picking up errors, because their brain isn’t accidentally filling in blanks you’ve missed, which happens when you’re scanning the same information for hours. You already know you can’t rely on your spell checker—it won’t pick up words that don’t belong there if they are real words, even if they dramatically change the meaning of what you’re trying to say.
Failing to correct your errors not only makes you look unprofessional, it also proves that the ‘attention to detail’ cliché you’ve dropped in is actually a fib.
Lay it out straight
You have about 10 seconds, and about half a page, to convince your potential employer that the rest of your resume is worth reading. You need to establish a hierarchy of information: what’s most important and most relevant to them should be first, and your headings should contrast enough with your body text so it is easy for them to find the sections they are most interested in.
There should be enough white space so their eyes aren’t fatigued—if it’s a strain to read, they won’t bother. Plain typefaces, correct typesetting between paragraphs, bullet points, and broad margins for making notes will all help to make your resume a comfortable and easy read.
Cheeky infographics detailing how clever and quirky you are can come across as juvenile, and distracting colours and fonts intended to make you stand out from the crowd can result in an altogether unpleasant reading experience—neither of which are going to get you your dream job. But if you’re in a creative industry, like fashion and design, a plain page of text is not likely to stand up against the striking documents showcasing the innovation of your stiff competition.
So what do you do? If you’re not sure, pare back the graphics in favour of clean, legible type—the emphasis must always be on clear communication. But good graphic design, if you can do it (or afford it), can use a simple pop of colour or an interesting alignment to prioritise the evidence that makes you credible, and make it easy for your potential employer to navigate to the bits they want to read. If you’re not an expert, hire a professional or use a minimalist, dummy-proof template—or go without.
Including your photo
The general consensus is that your favourite headshot has no place on your CV, and it’ll make you look naïve, arrogant, or unprofessional. Your photo might also reveal enough about you to make it easy for your potential employer to discriminate (or reverse discriminate) against you.
But there are a few arguments in favour of including an image on your resume: the strongest being that the digital world we’re living in is primarily visual. If you’re using LinkedIn, you’ll know that it’s entirely acceptable—and expected—to include your photo in your profile. Your profile may serve as a digital adjunct to your resume, and a shared image could enable the potential employer to put the pieces of you together. And if you’re not diligent with your social media accounts, they’ll find unflattering images of you anyway—you might as well have control over the first impression they’ll have of you.
The real answer, however, lies with who you’re pitching it to. Do you need an image of yourself, for a profession like acting or modelling? If not, it’s probably superfluous, so it might be best to get rid of it.
This one can be tricky. It’s no longer conventional to list your personal interests and hobbies on your resume—the one thing you probably believe makes you different from the rest—unless they are directly linked to skills and abilities that your potential employer needs. But being unforgettable isn’t just about being unique, it’s about being easily remembered.
Repetition works: your name and contact details at the top of every page serves to drill your name into the memory, while making it easy to reach you, and making sure they know your resume pages belong to you if they accidentally come loose. Including a URL to your professional profiles or websites also helps to distinguish you from people with the same name, and makes it faster for the employer to find more information about you.
And if you can, be a little mysterious. Make your potential employer want you, not the other way around. Telling your whole life story makes you look desperate. Keeping it shorter might also leave the employer with a refreshing feeling, after enduring the exhaustion of the 20-pager before yours.
Wherever you’re heading in your career, take the time to make your resume the best version of yourself in words. Do your research, put your neck on the line and accept constructive criticism, and when you’re satisfied that you’d hire yourself, commit it all to memory. If all else fails try working from home. You need to like—and believe in—what you’re saying, because you’ll need it for your real elevator pitch, and your interview.
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