Your resume format can decide how quickly – or slowly – a recruiter or potential employee can see what you bring to the table.
Picture the scene:
After weeks of trawling through the job listings in your industry you have found the perfect job for you.
You know that you have the skills to do the job, you are a perfect fit and you know that you can ‘wow’ at interview.
Now all you need to do is submit a resume and a cover letter that will get you an invite for an interview.
Competition for jobs is tough and a good resume can make all the difference between being invited to interview and being turned down before you even get a chance to speak to your potential employers.
When faced with a pile of resumes, do you know what interviewers do?
They look for any little reason to throw a resume on the ‘discard’ pile and bring their list for interview down to a manageable level.
It makes sense, therefore, for you to do everything possible to make sure that your resume is in the very best shape it can be before submitting it.
Luckily, although it is important to get your resume right, it is not difficult. With a little know-how and a bit of time you can make sure that your resume truly shines.
The first thing to do is this:
Make sure that you choose the right resume format.
There are a number of different resume formats available, and each has their pros and cons. There are also many samples and templates available for each of the formats.
Here, we will take you through the different options available and advise you when to use them and when to avoid using them.
Note: Interchange ‘resume’ and ‘resumes’ with ‘CV ‘ and ‘CVs’ throughout this article, depending on where you are in the world.
The Chronological Resume Format
The chronological resume format is the most traditional form of resume.
It is extremely popular with interviewers as it enables them to see where a candidate was working when they achieved certain goals.
It is a flexible format that is designed to put your work history and achievements together. It works particularly well for candidates who have a solid and continuous work history with no inexplicable gaps.
Some candidates with gaps in their employment history might worry that a chronological format might cause problems by highlighting periods of unemployment.
So how do you avoid that problem?
It is possible to work around such problems by listing your employment history by year, e.g. 2003-2004, rather than October 2003 – January 2004. This is a little less specific and can be useful to avoid highlighting gaps of up to 11 months in employment.
You can also add unpaid work into the employment gaps on your resume. Many voluntary positions generate good quality transferable experience that allows you to build your skills.
But you still might be wondering:
“Do I have too many unexplained gaps on my resume?”
If so, you should think about using the ‘functional’ resume format.
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The Functional Resume Format
The functional resume format explains your work background by highlighting your key skills rather than your chronological job history.
So what’s the advantage of that?
This resume format is very useful for people returning to work after a career break or where there are long periods of unemployment that might be difficult to explain.
It can also be useful in applications where skills that you learned early on in your employment history will be important to the new position.
And the best reason for using a functional resume format?
It allows you to highlight your skills that are directly applicable to the job you are applying for, based upon the job description and the person specification of the role.
So if the job description emphasises customer service, make sure you place ‘customer service’ as a key skill right at the top of your ‘skills’ section on your functional resume.
And any downsides to this format?
Yes – there are, however, some problems with functional resumes.
Some employers can be suspicious of a functional resume precisely because it is often used to mask prior employment difficulties.
A functional format can also make it difficult for an interviewer to connect experience and achievements with a particular position.
If you truly feel that a functional format is best for your resume you can allay any concerns by referencing every skill back to a previous employer listed under a separate ‘work history’ section.
Alternatively, you might think about using one of the other formats available.
The Combination Resume Format
The combination resume is exactly that:
A combination of a chronological and a functional resume that allows you to highlight your skills and achievements.
As such, it combines the strengths of each format while eliminating the weaknesses. The format highlights the skills you have perfected during your career but supported with a chronological history of your professional experience.
Best of both worlds.
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The Achievement Resume Format
This resume format is a variation of the functional resume but rather than concentrate on prior experience it highlights your main professional achievements.
While this can be a very powerful format it is not necessarily popular with interviewers and recruiters (for the same reasons as a functional resume).
Because of this, it is really only useful if you cannot make either a chronological or combination resume work for you and if you have a large number of big ticket, impressive achievements to shout about.
Just like a functional format, an achievement format can be helpful if you are returning to work after a lengthy career break. Highlighting your achievements in previous roles can help to show that you are a high quality prospect.
Once you have succeeded in getting back into employment you can revert to a more traditional format such as a combination resume.
The Targeted Resume Format
A targeted resume is the ultimate resume solution.
You can use any of the other formats as your base but rather than use a generic resume to send to prospective employers you take the time to customise your resume to highlight how your skills and experience match the job description.
This can be very labour intensive but if you are able to devote the time to this it will pay dividends as your resume will stand out and it will look as though you have really made an effort.
A candidate applying for their first job out of university is likely to be sending in applications to a large number of companies. A candidate in this position will not yet be in a position to truly differentiate their resume and target their skills to each specific employer (although if you can you should).
As candidates become more senior they will, inevitably, start to be more directed in their applications. As a rule of thumb the more senior the position you are applying for the more time you should spend targeting your resume to the job.
What to include…
Every good resume has a minimum amount of information on your background and experience.
You should have a minimum number of sections to cover:
- Personal details including name, address, contact details (mobile number and email address).
- Education history and academic qualifications.
- Work experience (typically in reverse chronological order with your most recent position first).
- Any professional qualifications.
Other information you may want to include:
- Interests and hobbies outside of work.
- Professional skills.
What not to include…
There is no need to take up valuable space adding details of referees, or even writing ‘references available upon request’.
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No matter what line of employment you are in and how secure your job you never know when an excellent job opportunity will come up.
Keep your resume up to date to save yourself work down the line
It makes sense, therefore, to update your resume every year with all the experience you gained or any interesting projects you were involved in so that your basic format is ready to go at a moment’s notice.
That way when you see the opportunity of a lifetime you will not have to spend time dusting off the off resume you used to apply for jobs after university.
You can then spend the time you have saved to target your resume to the job description.
Adjust the resume length to suit your industry
Most recruitment professionals will advise you to keep your resume to no more than 2 pages of A4.
While this is good advice there are times where you should think about derogating from this. A law firm hiring a solicitor, for example, will want to see details of representative matters the candidate has worked on.
Similarly researchers and science professionals may need to go into more detail than other job seekers.
If you still want to stick to the traditional 2 pages you can list the representative detail on a separate and attached document.
What’s the standard in your profession?
If all of your colleagues have 5 page resumes listing their achievements in great detail the chances are that you should too. If you are in such a profession it makes sense to have a number of different resumes in various lengths (2 page, 4 page, etc.).
This will allow you to choose the version most appropriate to the position you are applying for.
Consider the layout of your resume to make it attractive on the eye
Do not use a small typeface or crowd your paragraphs just to keep your resume to 2 pages. A good, readable resume will have plenty of ‘white space’ on the page so that it looks inviting.
The problem with resumes that have text all bunched up is this:
They tend to put recruiters and employers off, with such resumes being more likely to end up in the ‘reject’ pile.
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Mention your personal interests to demonstrate your personality and help build rapport
It is a good idea to devote a (small) section of your resume to your personal interests.
Many hobbies allow individuals to develop transferable skills that an employer might be interested in.
And it gets better:
Your interests may also be interests of the person who is going to interview you. Having an interest in common before you’ve even had chance to meet will really help break the ice and build rapport at interview.
Target your interests wherever possible:
Don’t make general statements such as ‘reading’ or ‘cooking’ as these look as though you have no real interests and are struggling to find ‘filler’ content on the resume.
High calibre candidates would, for example, specify exactly what they like to read about or what and when they like to cook.
But be warned:
Make sure, however, that if you do this you only include interests that you can genuinely talk about because you do not want to be caught out if the interviewer is a fellow enthusiast.
Sell yourself, but don’t exaggerate the truth to the extent that you’re lying
Good candidates are always honest about their skills.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating your experience and even talking it up a little but do not over-exaggerate what you can do.
Qualifications and prior work experience can always be checked and if you are found to have lied, even on the smallest of things, you will lose all credibility.
And guess what?
You won’t get the job.
Do not, therefore, boast on your resume that you can speak fluent Spanish if all you can do is order tapas. You may not ever be found out but imagine how mortifying it would be to be interviewed by a fluent speaker who decides to conduct the interview in Spanish.
With all these tips in mind you are ready to write the resume that will get you through the door and ready to nail the job at interview.