1. Represent skills, knowledge, and experience realistically for employment purposes.
2. Prepare a customized resume.
A résumé is the central document of your job application because it’s what employers focus on most when judging an applicant’s suitability for doing the job they’re hiring for. Does the candidate have the right combination of core and soft skills to do that job? Did they acquire those skills with the right combination of education, employment, and other experience? Are they able to put a document together in a clear, concise, correct, organized, and reader-friendly way? Unable to appear in person to make the pitch at this point, the applicant’s résumé conveniently answers these questions. It’s convenient because (1) it proves the applicant’s writing ability and (2) interviewing every applicant in person about their skills would be logistically impossible. The goal of the résumé, then, is to convince the employer to include you in the small selection of candidates they will interview to find the right person for the job.
Can you get to an interview without it? Sometimes a small-business owner will sidestep usual human resources (HR) best practices and hire without placing too much emphasis (if any) on the résumé. In most cases, however, the résumé is key to the hiring process. Sometimes one writing mistake—even just one little typo (LedgerLink, 2009)—can fail you out of the running so you don’t proceed to the oral component (the interview). Employers demand perfection in the résumé for the following reasons:
- Enough applicants set the quality bar high by delivering a flawless résumé. When the hiring manager’s task is to whittle down a pile of a hundred applications to about five for interviews, even one writing mistake in a résumé gives them the reason they’re looking for to dump the résumé in the shredder, thinning out the pile a little further. They might even feel vindictive about it because a résumé riddled with errors is insulting; it says to the employer: “I’m not bothering to fix up my résumé because you’re not worth my time.” This is why writing errors often rank as hiring managers’ #1 pet peeve (Vandegriend, 2017). If 90% of résumés have errors and can be shredded upon first sight of one, the hiring manager’s job of sorting through a hundred applications then becomes selecting the five most qualified from among the ten flawless ones remaining after the quality-of-writing cull.
- A perfect résumé speaks volumes about how conscientious a job applicant can be about the quality of work they do. If a résumé is poorly written, the employer can safely expect a similarly poor quality of work if the applicant became an employee. That may be untrue and unfair, but the employer has nothing else to go on besides this document and the cover letter to make a snap judgment about whether the applicant would be suitable in the position. A perfect résumé shows that the applicant cares about what the employer wants, knows how to deliver it, and could potentially continue to do the same if hired.
Employer expectations are high and rising. Gone are the days where a printed résumé was all you were responsible for. Today you must also project a professional image online in whatever employers find when they Google-search you—because they almost certainly will. Even your electronically submitted résumé must be written with a consideration of the electronic filters employers use to scan applications and pre-select only those that truly answer the job posting’s call. This chapter section will help you increase your chances of getting to interview for the job you’ve been training so hard for by writing a résumé that meets employer expectations.
Since 93% of employers Google-search job applicants to see how they present themselves in social media differently from their application (Jobvite, 2014, p. 10), a two-pronged approach to professionalizing your web presence is absolutely necessary. First, remove anything that makes you look unprofessional. Adjust your privacy settings to minimize your personal presence in public searches. In Facebook and Instagram, for instance, this means setting your entire profile to private (available only to friends) except what the sites force you to make public. Since over half of recruiters have reconsidered a candidate based on what they see on social media (Jobvite, 2014, p. 11), your publicly available profile picture, for instance, should be a decent headshot rather than a beach-party pic of you guzzling beer in a revealing swimsuit.
Second, professionalize your social media presence by actively posting career-oriented content that will be the first “hit” employers see when they Google-search you. When this content takes the form of a résumé, it’s a “passive” one in that you put out a generic version for people to find rather than a targeted one in response to a job posting. In combination, passive and targeted résumés can be a winning combination. On its own, however, a passive generic résumé is useless. Consider the following strategies for how to win an interview with a combined approach to résumé building.
Generic Résumé Topics
If you haven’t done this yet, professionalize your web presence by assembling a well-developed LinkedIn profile. The site and others offer plenty of advice on how to make the most of the social media platform, so search a few out to get a picture of the consensus on what makes for a successful profile. A good, current place to start is The Most Effective Ways to Use LinkedIn (Doyle, 2018) because it links you to several in-depth guides for building each aspect of your profile.
If you’ve done this already, show potential employers that you’re fully committed to your profession by continually updating your profile as the site adds and develops features. Keep building your network and adding content related to your field. Show that you engage in professional activities online because you’re a motivated professional rather than toss a profile together as a one-time exercise because someone told you to.
As you gain more professional experience throughout your career, add it all to your LinkedIn profile to make it a master CV (“curriculum vitae,” meaning “course of life” in Latin) from which you can extract targeted résumés for particular job applications. It’s okay if your targeted résumé and CV cover the exact same content in the beginning of your working life because you won’t have much to put in either; employers will understand that when they see the year you graduated from college. As you gain more experience and can be picky about what you include in a targeted résumé, however, your LinkedIn CV will provide employers with a fuller picture of what you’ve been doing with your life. They will be impressed that (1) you were able to present to them a slice of that history relevant to the job at hand, and that (2) you’re so much more well-rounded than your targeted résumé lets on. They’ll see that you have depth.
To be competitive in any fierce job competition, a generic résumé—i.e., the kind that you made a hundred copies of to get your first job and handed out to every shop on the street that had a “Help Wanted” sign in the window—just isn’t going to cut it. Indeed, it ranks among the top 10 pet peeves of hiring managers (Vandegriend, 2017) because, like spam, generic résumés just give the busy hiring manager more useless junk to sort through. Even a well-developed passive résumé like a LinkedIn profile isn’t enough on its own. (Don’t be surprised if your LinkedIn message inbox isn’t flooded with job offers if you do nothing other than post your profile.)
To have any chance of succeeding in this game, actively apply to job postings and make your applications stand out with superior quality, knowing that your application will be just one of dozens, perhaps even hundreds, vying for interview spots. When an employer goes through the pile of applications that make it past the electronic filters, the résumés targeted specifically at that job make the generic ones look like they showed up to a gunfight with pocketknives. Along with those marred by glaring errors, generic résumés are the first to go into the shredder. They annoy hiring managers because they mean more work, but they’re easy to spot and reject when the goal is to thin out the pile.
Can you land a job with a generic résumé alone? If you’re somehow what a small business without dedicated HR personnel is looking for regardless of what your résumé says, sure, you can get that job mostly by networking your way into it. If you’re up against some serious competition in a strict, application-based hiring process driven by sound HR practices that seek to eliminate bias, however, anything less than a targeted résumé doesn’t stand a chance. What is a targeted résumé, then?
Customized Resume Parts
A Customized résumé is the result of the job applicant tailoring their résumé to present nothing more or less than what the job posting asks for. An employer’s job posting is a wish-list of all the skills and qualifications that would set up the applicant for success in the position advertised. It also informs the selection criteria the employer applies to every job application. This way, every application is measured objectively for how well it reflects what the job posting asked for, as well as how current and well-presented it is. The employer expects that each section will prove that the applicant is perfect for the job, as well as meet general expectations for quality of writing—clarity, conciseness, correctness, and accuracy—as well as document readability and organization.
You have three options for types of résumé based on your situation and what the employer wants, each defined by how they organize the content:
1. Reverse-chronological résumé: For each experience section (Education, Employment, and Related), this résumé lists your professional activities starting with the present or latest (most recent) at the top and your first (oldest) at the bottom. A key feature is a column with date ranges in months and years beside each educational program, job, and relevant activity you’ve done. This presents the hiring manager with a snapshot of where you’re at right now in your professional development, how you got there, and where you came from.
Reverse-chronological résumés can be revealing in ways that might not cast you in an entirely positive light. Exclusively short-term employment and significant gaps in your work and educational history will raise red flags (Vandegriend, 2017). These will make the reader wonder (1) why you’re not able to keep a job for long (are you chronically unsatisfied in your work? incompetent? unlikeable?) and (2) what you were doing in those gaps. Were you in jail? Unemployed and playing video games in your parents’ basement all day? None of these characteristics and scenarios are appealing to employers. Luckily, there are alternative ways of organizing a résumé.
2. Functional (a.k.a. competency- or skills-based) résumé: Rather than organize the résumé around experience sections measured out in months and years, the functional résumé makes important skills the subheadings. The bullet points that follow explain in more detail what each skill entails, how it was acquired through training or education, and how it was practiced and applied professionally. The functional résumé is ideal if you have questionable gaps or durations in your employment or educational history because it omits or de-emphasizes date ranges.
3. Combination functional and reverse-chronological résumé: This is the most popular form and the basis for the guide on targeted résumé parts given below. It uses the reverse-chronological format for the standard experience sections showcasing the applicant’s educational and employment history but adds a Skills and Qualifications Summary at the beginning to highlight the applicant’s abilities and credentials that match what the job posting asked for.
Some employers have strong preferences for one résumé type. Helpful employers will specify which they prefer in the job posting. If not, however, your only recourse is to contact the company and ask what their preferences are. Rather than cheating, this shows that you care enough about meeting employer expectations to be proactive on the communication front. Employers hope you’ll do the same as an employee—as opposed to guessing at expectations and potentially wasting your time and effort, as well as company money, doing something no one wants. Let’s look in detail at how you can make your résumé meet common (but not necessarily all) employer expectations in all parts of a combination reverse-chronological/functional targeted résumé.
The personal information header appears at the top of the document because its most important piece, your name, is your document’s title, not “Résumé.” Use your full legal name so that, if you’re the leading candidate, it will make the employer’s job of due-diligence background checks (e.g., police record checks, checking academic transcripts for proof of credentials, etc.) easier. (If you go by a nickname, you can certainly state your preferences after you get the job.) Also use a larger font size, bold typeface, and even colour to make your name stand out from the rest of the text. Don’t make it so large that it looks like you have an out-of-this-world ego, however; a 15-point font, compared with the 11- or 12-point font you use for the rest of the text, is perfect.
Below or beside your name, add your contact information, including your physical mailing address, phone number, and email address. If you have multiple addresses and phone numbers, use only those that the employer can best reach you with. Use a one-line address in the following format:
[Street #] [Street Name] [Street Type], [City or Town], [Provincial Abbreviation] [two spaces] [POSTAL CODE]
- Add “Canada” at the end only if you’re applying internationally.
- Fully spell out the street type rather than abbreviate it (e.g., Avenue, not Ave.) to strike a formal tone.
- Separate the provincial abbreviation from the postal code with two spaces, not a comma.
- Place a space in the middle of the six-character alpha-numeric postal code.
- Use commas only before and after the city or town.
Whatever phone number you give, ensure that the personalized message that a caller hears if they’re sent to voicemail is a professional one.
Use a standard email address like firstname.lastname@example.org or your college email address to prove you went to the school given in your résumé’s Education section. Don’t use an unprofessional email address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org; that email address is fine for using with close friends who share your sense of humour but not with an employer. Also, don’t use your work email address unless your current employer is okay with you using it to look for work elsewhere since they’ll have access to those emails. Finally, space permitting, include a personal website such as a link to your LinkedIn profile and/or online portfolio. Make it easy for hiring managers to find whatever else you want them to see of you online besides what they search out themselves.
Don’t overload your personal information header with inappropriate or too much information, however. To avoid inviting various types of bias into the selection process or information that might be exploited, never include the following details:
- Your Social Insurance Number (SIN): Give this to the employer only when you’ve accepted a job offer and they require your SIN for payroll processing.
- Your age: Don’t give employers a reason to make biased assumptions about the quality of work you’ll do based on your age. Some employers consider employers who are too young or too old to be liabilities. You want to at least plead your case in an interview rather than be discriminated against during application selection.
- Your ethnicity or place of origin: The employer will inevitably make certain assumptions—positive or negative—based on what your full name says about your ethnicity, but the personal information header isn’t the place for you to say anything about it either way. Many organizations have an affirmative-action clause that gives special consideration to applicants who are traditionally underrepresented in the workforce. Only indicate your ethnicity or sex if an online application questionnaire asks if you identify as a minority.
- Your sexual orientation: If this matters at all (99.9% of the time it doesn’t), it’s something you can discuss during the interview if you want.
- Any disability: To prevent inviting ability bias into the employer’s assessment of your employability, leave out any mention of disabilities or health conditions.
- Your picture: Unless it’s an industry expectation, such as in the entertainment business, your physical appearance shouldn’t matter at this stage—only your words. Avoid inviting lookism bias into the selection process. The employer can always look you up on social media; otherwise, they will see you at the interview.
Putting it all together, your personal information header should be only two-to-three lines on the page and placed in the document header so that it goes automatically on every page and leaves more room below. Spreading that information out across the header is a more efficient use of space than stacking each piece of information to make a five- or six-line block. To look fresh, some résumé templates place the information in a column in the margin or even near the bottom. This may backfire because, if most employers expect to see that information at the top and don’t see it at first glance, they might discard the application thinking the applicant simply forgot to put it there. No matter how good a résumé is, there’s no point reading on if the applicant can’t be contacted. Stacking your personal information on the side may be okay for someone with a one-page résumé that lacks depth of experience, but any résumé that goes onto a second page should have the that information in the header so it appears uniformly at the top of every page.
When the Objective statement mentions the company and position in question, it’s the first sign confirming to the employer that this résumé is targeted. Like someone on a date who makes the other feel special by saying that they’re interested only in them, the Objective statement singles out the employer as the applicant’s priority. Whereas a generic résumé may call this “Career Objective” and declare a long-term career goal, a targeted résumé’s Objective statement focuses on what exactly the applicant can do for the employer. Convention requires that this be a one-line infinitive-verb statement that helps the employer understand that your priority is to help them achieve their business goals. Not a complete sentence, an infinitive verb phrase begins with “To” and follows with a present-tense first-person verb.
To contribute to an increase in sales at Company XYZ as a top sales representative.
The Skills and Qualifications Summary section follows the Objective because of its importance in declaring in one neat package the major skills and qualifications that match those in the job posting. In a combination résumé, it’s the feature borrowed from the functional résumé type. If the job ad lists four main skills—let’s call them skills “ABCD”—the candidates who list skills ABCD in this section will have the best chance of getting an interview because they frontload their résumé with all the top-priority items the employer seeks. Doing this shows you can follow instructions and says to the employer, “I read your job posting and am confident that I’m what you’re looking for.”
If you have skills ABC and omitted D even though you have that skill, you could lose the competition for interview spots to those who were conscientious enough to add it to the list. If you have skills ABCDEFG, adding EFG will appear to be a résumé-padding distraction. You can put EFG in your CV on LinkedIn but listing only ABCD here makes this a truly targeted résumé. If you have ABC but adding D would be dishonest because you don’t have that skill, just go with ABC; don’t let the fact that you don’t have everything the employer is looking for stop you from applying. If you shoot yourself down for every job application because you have only about 80% of what they’re looking for, you will self-sabotage yourself out of almost every employment opportunity. Apply anyway because the employer may have asked for too much and will find that no applicant has ABCD, which means they’ll shortlist candidates with three out of four.
Your Skills and Qualifications Summary section helps you pass the filter that many employers use to scan electronically submitted applications to ensure they’ve used enough of the job posting’s key words. Filtering out applicants merely taking shots in the dark gives the busy hiring manager more time to focus on those who truly qualify. Don’t worry about this being plagiarism. If your application fails to mirror exactly the key terms listed throughout the job posting, the employer might not even see yours.
Dividing the Skills and Qualifications Summary into sub-lists related to categories of the job will increase your chances of meeting the employer’s approval. To use this highly prized real estate on the page effectively, consider arranging the sub-lists in three columns; a couple could be for job-specific technical skill sets, another for transferrable soft skills. Make a three-cell, single-row, borderless table from MS Word’s Insert menu with a centred bold heading and bulleted list of skills in each cell. Only do this, however, if you’re sure that your application formatting won’t be electronically filtered out. Some of the online application services offered through job search engines such as Indeed will convert résumés into scannable formats, often scrambling text into an unreadable mess. Converters are the bane of applicants who spend time carefully formatting for readability and space efficiency (TERRIBLE Resume Converter, n.d.).
Begin with a short paragraph of noun phrases (not complete sentences) profiling where you are in your career with relevant credentials.
SKILLS AND QUALIFICATIONS SUMMARY
A recent graduate of the three-year Game Development Advanced Diploma at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Ontario. A video game developer specializing in programming and project management but with additional proficiencies in level design and asset modeling, as well as competence in user interface design.
Whether your Education section or Employment Experience section immediately follows your Skills and Qualifications Summary section depends on which is more relevant to the job you’re applying to. If you’re applying to a job that directly relates to the college program you’ve just graduated from, then you want the employer to see that before your work history because it’s more recent and relevant. The order of information matters because the hiring manager is scanning each résumé quickly to get through the pile of applications. They make quick judgments about which to discard and which to consider for an interview. If the Employment section precedes the Education section but has jobs unrelated to the position in question, it’s a strike against the application.
List your education in reverse-chronological order with the program title and credential type as your bold subheading followed by the institution and its location in plain style either on the same line or on the line below. The program title precedes the institution because it’s more relevant in proving that you’ve trained for the job at hand. Give the date range in months and years near the margin. If you’re still in the program, put “Present” or your expected graduation date—e.g., “April 2020 (expected).”
|Game Development Advanced Diploma
Algonquin College, Ottawa ON
|Sept. 2015 – Apr. 2018|
- Overall GPA of 3.97 in courses including Programming Fundamentals, Game Algorithms, Graphics Computations, Assets, Level Design, Scripting, Project Management, and Communications
- Gameplay programming in C++, C#, Java, OpenGL, Unity, and Unreal
- Asset design and animation using 3ds Max, Substance Painter, and Photoshop
- Collaborated in the production of a fully functioning FPS video game
|Pre-Animation and Illustration Certificate
Algonquin College, Ottawa ON
|Sept. 2014 – Apr. 2015|
In the sub-points under the program title subheading, include your overall grade-point average (GPA) if it’s above 3.5 on a 4-point scale (high-A average), which proves to employers that you’ve had a strong work ethic throughout your training when you have more industry-relevant training than work experience. Be honest because the employer may request an official college transcript, and any discrepancy between the numbers there and on your résumé will end your candidacy. Drop the GPA line when you have 3-5 years of successful work experience in the same type of job you apply to.
In the list of subpoints, include course titles that prove how you learned the skills identified in the job posting and in your Summary section. If the titles alone don’t have the same wording as those sought-after skills, include further points that do. The wording is vital because your application can be electronically filtered out if it doesn’t contain enough matching key terms in the job posting. Once a human reads the résumé and they’re not convinced you’ve proved where you learned, practiced, and applied the skills they’re looking for, they may deprioritize and ultimately reject your application. When you have enough industry-relevant work experience (e.g., 5-10 years) for the jobs you apply to, you can shift the skills learned in your training to go instead under the jobs you’ve actually done, leaving your Education section as simply a list of credentials.
Omit your high school in the list of educational experience. Even if you recently graduated, to an employer it’s redundant padding because being in a college program proves that you completed high school. Also, showing when you graduated gives away your age, which may introduce some age-based discrimination into the selection process. If you want to list participation in high-school clubs related to your field of study, do it in the Related Experience section.
Add other programs you’ve completed, even if they’re not directly relevant to the job, just to show what you’ve been doing with your time. If they didn’t provide you with any skills matching those in the job posting, omit sub-points under them. If you didn’t finish a program, including it depends on whether it provided you with any skills that match those in the posting. If so, add it. If not, leave it out. When employers check your LinkedIn profile, they’ll understand that you omitted an unfinished program from your targeted résumé because it didn’t relate enough to the job at hand.
The Employment Experience section follows the same format as the Education section, only with the job title as the subheading in bold followed by the company name and location in plain style. List your jobs in reverse-chronological order with your current (or most recent) job first and your earliest last. List the month/year date ranges in the same position as in the Education section. The months are important because a date range such as “2015-2016” is misleading if you worked a few weeks before and after New Year’s, whereas “Dec. 2015 – Jan. 2016” honestly indicates seasonal work.
|Student Support Representative, Student Support Services
The AC Hub, Algonquin College, Ottawa ON
|Apr. 2016 – Present|
- Provide effective customer service in supporting student and faculty clientele
|Sandwich Artist, Person in Charge, Subway
Rideau Centre Food Court, Ottawa ON
|Jul. 2014 – Apr. 2016|
- Managed staff and conducted quality-control inspections
- Ensured customer service satisfaction through direct interaction and team motivation
- Fostered effective teamwork among staff by role-modeling and conflict resolution
At the beginning of your working life, include whatever jobs you’ve done (except perhaps newspaper or flyer delivery) but make them relevant by adding transferrable skills as subpoints underneath. While you should omit task-specific skills (e.g., in Figure 22.214.171.124 above, there’s no mention of food preparation), definitely list transferrable skills (e.g., teamwork) that match those listed in the job posting. As you can also see in Figure 126.96.36.199, each bullet-point skill begins with an action verb for consistent parallelism, the verb for the present job is in the present tense, and those for the past job are consistently past-tense verbs. Use clear, high-impact action verbs such as the following:
Fleshed out into bullet-point descriptions of skills in a three-part verb + object + prepositional phrase structure, some of the above action verbs may look like the following:
- Collaborated with team members consistently in working groups improving departmental processes
- Streamlined collaborative report-writing processes by switching to Google Docs
- Organized annual awards dinner celebration for a department of 150 employees
- Designed 13 internal feedback forms in the company intranet for multiple departments
- Secured government program funding successfully for eight departmental initiatives
Notice that the writer focuses on quantifiable achievements with actual numerical figures and places adverbs after the verb rather than begin points with them (e.g., not Consistently collaborated with team members) so that you always lead with verbs (Guffey, Loewy, & Almonte, 2016, p. 387). To make your accomplishments more concrete, Google executive Laszlo Block advises you to structure them according to the following formula:
Accomplished X as measured by Y by doing Z
Even if your job is just a grocery store cashier, you can quantify your achievements and put them in perspective. Instead of “Processed customer purchases at the checkout,” saying “Served 85 customers per day with 100% accuracy compared to my peers’ average of 70 customers at 90% accuracy” demonstrates your focus on achieving outstanding excellence with regard to KPIs (key performance indicators), which hiring managers will love (Block, 2014).
As you add more industry-specific work experience throughout your career, you can move those transferrable skills to go under only career-oriented entries in this section and delete non-industry-related work experience. For instance, you would delete food service industry jobs such as Subway if your career isn’t culinary in nature. A decade or two into your working life, you’ll have a solid record of only career-oriented work experience in résumés targeted to career employers.
The gold standard of experience that employers want to see in a résumé is that you’ve previously done the job you’re applying for—just for another employer (Vandegriend, 2017). This means that you can carry on in the new position with minimal training. If that’s the case, you certainly want to place your Employment Experience section above your Education section. Otherwise, recent college graduates should lead with their more relevant Education section, appealing to employers hiring for potential rather than for experience, until they get that industry work experience.
The Related Experience section gives you a chance to match any of the skills listed in the job posting that you haven’t yet matched in either of the Education or Employment Experience sections. It also helps prove that you’re a well-rounded candidate who has developed the soft skills that employers value. (Merely listing such skills in the Qualifications Summary is suspicious unless you later list experiences that suggest you developed them in a formal way. Without the proof, the employer may just think that you’ve copied a list of soft skills off a generic résumé model.) The Related Experience section is organized in the same manner as the other two experience sections above it, using subheadings for categories such as the following:
- Volunteer activities
- Unpaid work experience such as internships
- Memberships in professional associations or community organizations
- Honours and awards
- Extracurricular activities
Beneath each subheading, list specifics (e.g. First Aid and WHMIS as bullet points under Certifications). Omit mere hobbies and interests but include league sports if the job posting included teamwork skills as a requirement and you match that in the bullet point beneath the entry. Use a single month-year combination for one-time events and date ranges for longer-duration activities. Drop the least relevant from targeted résumés as you gain experience over the years while keeping them in your LinkedIn profile.
There is no need to list “References available upon request” in your resume as it is assumed that you will provide references if they are requested. If you are invited for an interview then you do need to think about who you would use as references and contact them in advance. Three or four references is best, and each must be someone who was in a position of authority over you, such as a manager or supervisor, for at least two years, ideally. One of your references can also be an academic reference.
Provide a list of your references in order of what you expect to be the most enthusiastic endorsement down to the least. Do not include coworkers, friends, or family members among your references. If your parents or relatives were your employers (e.g., in the family business), include them as references only if they’re your only work experience. As soon as you have enough non-family work experience, drop your parents or relatives from the list. An employer seeing endorsements from people with the same last name might assume that they’ll be biased to the point of being useless as references.
Each reference must contain the following pieces of information:
- Full name in bold, followed by a comma and the reference’s official job title capitalized (e.g., Manager, Supervisor, CEO, or Franchise Owner)
- Company or organization they represent (or represented when you worked under them, though they’ve since moved on to another company) in plain style. It’s important to give the name of the company so that the reader can connect it to your Employment Experience section. If you worked for a company but don’t have a reference for it, the reader might suspect that you did so poor a job that the employer refused to give you a strong reference. This is why you should always do your best work in any job; even if you don’t enjoy the work, doing your best increases your chances of getting a good reference that you can use as your ticket to a better job.
- Phone number. Employers checking references prefer to call, rather than email, so they can have a quick back-and-forth conversation about the candidate. The caller will rely on important clues such as voice tones for assessing the honesty of the reference’s endorsement, which wouldn’t be possible in a non-verbal email.
- Email address. This is only for the potential employer to set up a time for a phone call with the reference or to ask for details in writing if a phone call is somehow difficult or impossible (e.g., time-zone differences or international calling charges). Consider, however, that managers or supervisors might hesitate from endorsing anyone in writing, which is why the telephone is the preferred channel here.
It’s very important that you confirm with your references that they will provide you with a strong endorsement (use those words when you ask) if called upon by a potential employer. Don’t be afraid to ask. Providing references is part of a manager’s or supervisor’s job. They got to where they are on the strength of their former employers’ references, and there’s a “pay it forward” principle motivating them to do the same for the employees under them. If they don’t believe in your potential, they’ll likely be honest in advising you to ask someone else.
When all your content is in place, ensure that your résumé is impeccably organized, revised, and proofread. According to one study surveying hiring managers, the top three deal-breaker reasons for rejecting a résumé are the following:
- Spelling or grammar errors
- Lack of customization
- Disorganization (Vandegriend, 2017)
Since even one typo can ruin your chances of being selected for an interview (LedgerLink, 2009), no documents you’ve ever written in your life should be as thoroughly revised and proofread as your résumé and cover letter.
A common employer expectation requires you to fit all of your details on one page. If this means cutting details that might convince an employer to invite you to an interview, then only do this if you’re sure that an employer will discard your résumé if it goes over a page. If you see “Send your one-page résumé” on the posting, that’s your cue for the required length. Even if an employer isn’t so strict, any details that spill onto the second page will, according to the Law of Diminishing Returns, work against you if they don’t effectively convince the employer to invite you to an interview. The busy hiring manager speed-reading through dozens or hundreds of applications will be annoyed by any time-wasting padding in a résumé, and the slightest annoyance is enough to prompt them to dump your application in the shredder.
Ensure that your résumé is easy to read in every way. Trying to fit everything on a single page by reducing the font size to 8-point and the margins to 1cm, as well as using multiple columns to fill every square centimeter of available white space, will just annoy the reader. They’ll suspect that you’ll be similarly disrespectful to your readers on the job, so they may simply shred your résumé after a mere glance at its formatting. Ensure especially that your:
- Text is a standard 11- or 12-pt. font type with sparing use of colour, all-caps, and bold typeface (just for headings and subheadings); avoid italics and underlining
- Margins are between 2.54cm (1 in.) and 3cm all around and empty on the sides
- Text and whitespace are balanced without leaving large gaps
If the employer requires an electronic submission, follow their directions exactly. If they ask for a PDF or MS Word file named a certain way (e.g., Resume_Yourlastname_Yourfirstname.docx or .pdf), doing it any other way will disqualify you immediately. (The reason is obviously that if you can’t follow simple instructions for submitting your résumé, you’ll have problems taking direction in the workplace—problems that can potentially be expensive to the employer.) If you have a choice between MS Word or PDF, go with PDF because it embeds fonts and formats, so you can be reasonably sure that you’ll avoid issues with font conversion or format scrambling when your document is opened on another computer.
If the employer uses a job search site such as Indeed, beware that your résumé formatting will be stripped out by their scannable résumé converter. Avoiding the nightmare scenario of the employer seeing your résumé massacred by the converter and thinking it’s your fault (TERRIBLE Resume Converter, n.d.) by doing the following:
- Produce a version of your résumé that uses no formatting whatsoever—no bullet points, no tabbing, no columns, no bold typeface, no colour, no changes in font size, etc. If the converter can’t do this properly for you, doing it manually yourself will ensure that the employer sees a readable (albeit homely) version.
- Use Indeed (or other search engines) to find job postings but send your well-formatted application directly to the company either via email or traditional mail.
Try these approaches in combination to ensure the employer gets your application.
If the employer uses an online application form, having the simplified version recommended in #1 above ready to copy and paste into the given fields will make your work much easier. This is especially necessary if the form will time out to prevent applicants writing from scratch as they go. Don’t forget: when employers use these electronic filtering methods, it’s for no other reason than to have the program scan the résumés and filter out the generic spam applications that fail to meet a given quota of the job posting’s key terms. The program sends along only the targeted résumés to the hiring manager, so ensure that your résumé content features those key terms.
If the employer requires a hard-copy submission, it may be worth going to an office supply store to invest in some high-quality paper and printing. When the employer sees stacks of applications printed on standard paper stock, one printed on quality paper really stands out. High-quality printing also show respect, suggesting that the employer was worth the extra expense. Also, put an 8.5″ x 11″ cardboard backing in with your application when you mail it in a 9″ x 11.5″ envelope to ensure that it won’t be creased in transit. High-quality writing and convincing content printed on pristine, high-quality paper is a winning combination in the eyes of any hiring manager exhausted by the disappointing quality of the majority of applications.
Customized résumés perfect in the quality of their content, organization, writing, and overall presentation increase your chances of getting interviews and hence the jobs you apply to.
1. Review the information on resumes available at Seneca Career Development for Students.
2. Find inspiration for your resume by reviewing different resume templates that are available online.
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LedgerLink (2009, July 14). One resume mistake can cost you the job. Monster.com. Retrieved from http://ledgerlink.monster.com/benefits/articles/468-one-resume-mistake-can-cost-you-the-job
Purdue OWL. (n.d.). Introduction to and expectations for résumés. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/564/01/
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TERRIBLE Resume Converter. (n.d.) Indeed.com Forums. Retrieved from https://www.indeed.com/forum/gen/Resume-Tips/TERRIBLE-Resume-Converter/t471652
Vandegriend, K. (2017, November 30). Hiring manager resume pet peeves, must-haves, and red flags. Career Story. Retrieved from http://careerstory.ca/blog/2017/hiring-manager-resume-pet-peeves-must-haves-and-red-flags
wikiHow. (2018, May 28). How to make a resume. Retrieved from https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Resume