We continually emphasize that an important aspect of managing your personal finances is improving your ability to earn income. While reducing your expenses would provide an immediate increase to your savings, there comes a point when further expense reductions could be difficult; instead you need a higher level of income. Increasing income, however, takes time and investment, so managing your career upwards is a critical aspect of developing strong finances.
We have dedicated a few posts to the topic of resumes because the reality is, despite how good your experience might be, it may go unrecognized unless you can bring it across on paper to a prospective employer. While the posts Resume Don’ts and More Resume Don’ts covered what you should avoid doing on your resume, there are also several tips you can apply to improve your resume. (You can also check out Your Resume and You, to learn more about resumes generally.)
We describe a few below.
Previously we commented that “Objective” statements are generally unhelpful at best, or useless at worst. A far better use of space is a Summary or Profile section, in which you give a quick snapshot of yourself and your professional experience. Try to use our 30-second guidance: how would you summarize yourself and your achievements if you had 30 seconds to explain it to someone. This eliminates a lot of fluff and allows you to focus on your core offering.
Our other advice on this section is whatever you describe in it HAS to be substantiated in your resume by your experience and achievements. You cannot say, for example, that you are “a team player who displayed leadership skills in many challenging situations”, and then give no support to those statements in your work experience. The reader will just dismiss your claims as nonsense. Note the phrase “team player” in particular is now a cliche; don’t say it unless you can strongly back it up by examples.
Use of space
Given that you may have 2 pages to describe your career (3 or more pages are truly for the selected few), how you use that space is critical and sends a message to the reader. The more space you dedicate to something, the more important it is.
As a result, ensure you are using valuable space on the areas you want the reader to focus on. For example, your first job 10 years ago cannot occupy the same amount of page real estate as your current job, assuming you have advanced your career in the meantime.
Be deliberate and judicious. Don’t just put words on a page.
What comes first: education or experience?
Similar to the previous point, just remember your resume layout is telling a story. What your reader sees first means that’s what is important to you.
A graduate or someone less experienced may want to lead with education because it’s his/her biggest selling point. A more experienced person should relegate education to the end of the resume, unless you are deliberately trying to highlight something by placing it first.
More generally, assume the reader will not read to the end of your resume. Put the valuable stuff upfront.
Part of our dilemma is although we intuitively understand the importance of a cover letter, we also find they are useless unless they are being used to actually communicate something. They should be used to send a message to your prospective employer, and we don’t mean that you are a great employee, who can add a lot of value and you’re excited at the prospect of joining the company. Blah! All of this is either obvious or the reader should find it in your resume.
So what are situations where a cover letter could be appropriate?
- You are trying to explain a career gap
- You are applying for job that is unrelated to your past experience, so you are emphasizing your transferable skills
- You are introducing yourself because you are sending an unsolicited resume, perhaps because someone suggested you contact the addressee, so you are explaining the connection
There are several possibilities, but hopefully you understand what we mean. The letter has a PURPOSE. It is not just a mass of words summarizing your resume.
We’ll probably dedicate a post to cover letters in the future…
Extra curricular activities
We mentioned in Resume Don’ts that no one generally cares what your hobbies are, but we did say this needed a bit more explanation.
We understand why you would wish to include hobbies: you want to show that you are well rounded and have non-work interests. All we are saying is be sensible with what you include. It means nothing to a prospective employer that you like building model airplanes or making pastries if this activity is unrelated to the company.
But some pursuits would be entirely appropriate, if not necessary, to include. For example, if your prospective employer publicly has a big non-work presence, for example, they have a football or cricket team (I don’t mean sponsorship but an actual team made up of employees), then it is certainly wise to note you have an interest in these activities and can contribute.
Perhaps you may have an unusual interest. This could be a way to start a conversation in your interview and help build rapport with the interviewer.
Extracurricular activities can be very important to build or demonstrate soft skills and leadership. If you have this experience and do not include these examples in your resume, you are actually selling yourself short.
Also make sure to identify charitable or volunteer work. Even the most surly interviewer will publicly or privately acknowledge the value in these activities.
Alignment to prospective employer
This one is simple but important: ensure your resume reflects the job you are applying for. For example, a financial institution will likely expect you to submit a professional resume but a restaurant would likely expect to see your creative side if you are applying as a chef.
Not matching your resume with your audience will likely get it discarded.
What does this mean? Quite simply, you have work experience that you are no longer proud of, or more importantly, your prospective employer could discount its value. For example, it could be you made a bad career choice, or a once great company has fallen into disrepute, or there are just negative connotations with certain employers. There are several possibilities.
The first thing is recognizing you have a resume stain. You need to be objective and acknowledge this may be why you are not being called for interviews. While there are techniques you could use to minimize the impact, you might also need to be practical and accept a lower level position or lower paying job to reset your career and move away from the stain.
Expect your prospective employer will Google you. Make sure there is nothing embarrassing online that will contradict what your resume is trying to convey. Especially ensure profiles used in sites like LinkedIn are consistent with your resume.
There are a lot of sources to find out information about you these days. Check them all out before sending your resume: your recruiter will.
We hope you find these tips useful and we’d love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments below!
If you need more personalized resume advice, why not check out our Career Coach advisory option? We’d love the opportunity to help you!