Written by Julie Dal Santo from My Career Capital
Preparing a professional resume can often feel like a daunting task for everyone — even those who have been in the workforce for some time can find it a difficult process. For students who are often still learning about themselves and the world of work, it certainly can feel like a huge task.
Before reading on, take a deep breath — you’re not alone.
First of all, what do we even refer to it as? Is it a CV (curriculum vitae) or a resume?
Traditionally, a CV presents a comprehensive description of your entire professional life and academic credentials. This means that the document can be lengthy. On the other hand, a resume is a concise summary (up to two pages) of your education, skills and work experience that are relevant for a specific job.
These days, the need for a lengthy overview of your career history is usually not required. Recruiters or hiring managers now expect around a two-page summary, which should be supported by a cover letter in which you introduce yourself and advise that you are applying for a given position or role. Importantly, whether you call your career overview a ‘CV’ or ‘resume’, it often has no bearing on your chance of reaching an interview shortlist.
How do you condense all of your experience into a couple of pages — or, if you’ve just graduated, how do you even fill out one page? How do you make it look good, succinct, engaging, concise and capture all information? Here are some tips to support you as you prepare your professional resume.
Try on the job
Really understanding the brief and getting to know what you would be doing in that job is such a valuable source of information to help you prepare your resume, all the way through the process to your first day in the job.
To help with this as a minimum, we recommend printing out the job description and highlighting keywords and responsibilities that are most important.
Firstly, you must make sure these keywords are included in your resume (and cover letter). These are the most critical skills that the job requires, so if you don’t address them, the reader likely thinks you don’t have them. Also, having them will help get past any initial screening algorithms or applicant tracking systems (ATS), which identify suitable candidates based on the use of relevant keywords.
Then take a minute to imagine yourself doing these key responsibilities of the job:
- What would you be doing at work?
- How would you need to talk to people?
- What does that feel like?
- Would you feel nervous because you haven’t done those tasks before?
- Do you feel excited because you love the sound of that and feel strongly about it / connected to it?
- Do you feel confident because you’ve either done it or something similar in a school project or in your casual job?
- What were the strengths or previous experiences that came to mind for you?
Depending on your response you’ll get an idea about what is important and relevant for you to include in your resume.
Another benefit from imagining yourself doing these tasks and getting a sense of how you’d feel, is that it grows your connection and perspective of the job. This will provide more depth and connect with how you write and talk about yourself and the job.
Make every word count
With only two pages, you need to make sure every word you have on those pages is telling the reader something important about you and why you’re the best candidate for the job, and that it’s working for you.
To help do this, remove any filler words that are not necessary — instead of words like ‘did’, use action oriented words (adjectives) such as ‘designed’, ‘processed’, ‘created’, ‘implemented’, ‘analysed’ or ‘recommended’. These words describe what and how you’ve done something, and provide the reader with much more information and insight without taking up too much space on the page.
What story are you trying to tell?
You are the only person who has your story. It’s strong and unique, so use it to your advantage. Start with asking yourself these questions.
- What does the person reading my resume need to know?
- What is it they would want to know?
- What is important about me to tell them?
- This can help you get the narrative and key headlines to your resume, the professional story about you underway.
Structure always underpins a good story. To help you with this, keep the resume design simple. Include a “headline” under your name at the top of your resume that describes who you are, your strengths and key qualities in how you go about your work. Another tip is to ensure you’ve captured your experience in chronological order and use bullet points to help make the details digestible.
Sometimes we often feel uncomfortable or anxious around how to approach a ‘gap’ in our story. Gaps in peoples’ careers are becoming more common and are a natural thing that can occur over a career journey. A gap could be due to a number of things, such as a long period of time actively looking for work, personal reasons, transitioning between employment, or more education. More recently, we are seeing students take a different approach to designing their career post-Covid. If this is you, the key is to make sure you can address this rather leaving the reader guessing, and having a confident explanation to offer up at a potential interview. Whatever the gap is from, it’s important to draw the learnings and transferable skills that you have taken from that time to put a positive spin on that time. For example, while I don’t have any direct experience in this area, I have the confidence to ask questions or ask colleagues.
Keep in mind that when you’re writing your professional story, it must be able to demonstrate and articulate how your past and current skills, experience, unique value and future potential are all working together to set you up for this job.
The same CV isn’t a fit for every job
Your resume must demonstrate that you possess most or all the criteria required for the job. What is required by each job will vary, even if it’s the same job title for two different companies. The company’s culture and values, team size or structure will vary. Do your research and ‘try the job on’ to get a better understanding. It will help you be clearer when you tailor your resume for each position you apply for.
Some tailoring and changes may only be minor — it’s about expanding on your most relevant experience for the job and cutting back the less relevant parts.
Again, use the highlighted keywords you’ve already captured in the job description ensure you’re tailoring the skills in your current work or previous professional experiences to the job that you seek.
So the resume is done. Yay! You’ve spent so much time working on it, and you can’t possibly look at it again. But before you submit it, please make sure it gets proof read!
You can be the best person for the job, the most qualified or have the most experience, but if the reader picks up on any grammar, formatting or spelling mistakes, your resume may go to the bottom of the pile.
To do all your hard work justice and to give yourself the best chance at having success with your resume, it needs to be proof read.
Try to find someone to proof read it for you. Not only this, ask them what impression they get from reading your resume. They may even give you some extra tips that will make all the difference.
If you can’t find someone to proof read it for you, walk away and take a day of not looking or thinking about it. When you’ve got fresh eyes and mind, print it out to proof read it. This can make it much easier to mark up and see mistakes when not looking on a computer screen.
There is lots of discussion about whether we should even have resumes any more. Some companies have even stopped asking for one when advertising a job. Maybe in time this will become the norm. However for the foreseeable future, these are most certainly required. At My Career Capital, we recommend updating your resume at least once every 12 months. Your future self will thank you for it when there isn’t so much to do the next time.
This guest article was written by Julie Dal Santo from My Career Capital
Julie is an experienced coach, HR professional and facilitator. Julie’s work is focussed on ensuring people have the tools, support and know-how they need to successfully grow and manage their own ‘career capital’ across their lifetime.
Are you interested in more about this, and wanting to develop students clarity, confidence and readiness for their career? My Career Capital offers integrated workshops, programs and an innovative platform where students can design, manage and grow a personalised digital portfolio of their career capital to enhance their career and employment.
Get in touch with us today if you’re interested to find out more about how we can help.