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How to write a resume

Updated: 18 Oct 2016


CV writing can be a daunting prospect. This is a document that a potential employer uses to make their first judgement about you - so you'll want to ensure these judgements are positive.

Tips for great resume writing

In order to make the shortlist, your resume must meet most or all of the criteria in the position description. If your credentials are appropriate for the position to which you are applying, here are our tips to make sure your resume stands out.

Contact details - Obviously you need to include such basic information as your name, address, telephone numbers, email address (make sure the e-mail address you use appears professional - is not appropriate) and LinkedIn profile URL.

Professional summary - Ensure the first area at the top of your resume is a "summary of experience" and includes specific applicable experience as opposed to generalities.

Consider using words from the job description or posting so that applicant tracking systems (ATS) can recognise them and make a match. This area of your resume should be designed to prove your value proposition and differentiate you from your competition — and shouldn’t list objectives.

Career objective - In this section reference your career objective back to the job applied for to give an indication of what you are looking for in your next career move, with an overview of your key achievements.

Work experience - This should be listed in reverse chronological order, beginning with the most recent. Include employer names, positions held and primary responsibilities. Use language like “managed” or “oversaw” as recruiters and hiring managers react better to this terminology.

Quantify your accomplishments where possible. Also, where appropriate, include an indication of salary level achieved and reasons for leaving each position.

We advise you not to leave gaps in your CV. If you took a year out, carried out an interim assignment, or travelled for six months, say so. If you do include gaps, potential employers can suspect the worst.

Stating the years, rather than the months you started or finished a role can also send off alarm bells. Writing "2014 - 2015" could be interpreted as employment from December 2014 to January 2015 unless you say otherwise.

Education and qualifications – Keep it concise by listing the qualification obtained, year it was completed and the institution you studied through.

References - It is also important to include details of two references, such as former employers. If you are a graduate with no work history, include details of a former lecturer.

Online recommendations are great for showing the skills you are best known for but they are not a substitute for the role references play.

The referees recruiters and employers value the most are those people you reported to directly. These people can speak about how you used your skills and experience to add value to their organisation.

Former managers can also speak to your personal attributes such as reliability, ability to build and leverage relationships and whether you collaborate well with other team members.

Document format - Most companies will upload your resume into their databases so make sure it is written in a common format. Most applicant tracking systems accept a variety of document formats, including PDF, DOC, TXT, ODF and HTM.

We suggest using a clean format with no graphics, images or tables. ATS software doesn't pick up images and graphics as they aren't searchable inside the database. Within the text of your resume, it is best not to use any special characters or fonts. Avoid headers and footers, too, as these can be incompatible with most ATS. 

Also, ensure there is plenty of white space and avoid flowery or small fonts. 

If you have your own website profiling your work, include the URL, but do not simply submit the URL address instead of a resume. 

Final checks - Don't forget to spell check your resume. Remember, it is the first impression your potential employer will have of you, so take the time to get it right. If possible, ask someone to proof read your resume to check for any spelling, layout or typing errors.

Finally, attach your resume and if requested cover letter to an email, rather than pasting the text into your email program. Pasting text into an email program sometimes causes text to appear on the recipient's screen in a distorted or muddled mess, making it very difficult to read.

Unless otherwise stated, you do not need to attach copies of certificates relating to educational and/or professional qualifications (including recent academic transcripts) or references from previous employers. You should instead bring these to a job interview.

Make personal contact - The best way to make sure your resume is seen is by following up with a phone call.

Personalise your resume

To make sure you present yourself as the best person for the job, personalise your resume for each position you apply for. Prepare a resume template and adjust for each job application. Expand the section on experience that applies to the job and cut back the space you have devoted to those areas which have little or no value to the role applied for.

Phrases to avoid on your resume

As any recruiter or hiring manager can tell you, there are a lot of over-used phrases and clichés that waste valuable space on your resume and add no value. An employer doesn’t want to read what you think about yourself, they want to read about your results. So replace the following overused phrases with examples of your work to demonstrate your strengths. Remember that proof is in your results.

‘Can work independently’: It’s very common to see ‘I work well both independently and in groups’ on a resume. But this is a given in today’s workplace. Rather than writing ‘I work well independently’, write ‘I independently designed and implemented a new strategy that increased sales by 25%’.

‘Hard worker’: Instead use an example to prove how you go the extra mile to get work done, such as creating a successful product launch in a short time frame or never missing a deadline in two years in your last role.

‘Work well under pressure’: Rather than write you ‘work well under pressure’, state how you managed your time to meet multiple deadlines while keeping a clear head and remaining organised.

‘Good communicator’: It’s more preferable to give details of a presentation you gave that won a client or meetings you chaired that you kept on schedule.

Enthusiastic: In lieu of ‘I’m an enthusiastic worker’, describe a task you threw yourself into and your successful outcome.

Team player: Instead show how you worked in a team to meet a specific goal. For example, ‘Worked with our international and local marketing teams to implement a global rebrand across 12 countries.’

Good listener: Rather than ‘I’m a good listener’, describe how you successfully delivered what a customer, manager or colleague asked for.

Excellent written communication skills: Your written communication skills should be demonstrated in your CV, so make sure you use concise language, coherent sentences and proofread.

Get your resume right and next you will need to prepare for the interview questions.