Imagine shopping for a new car. You visit the showroom (or website) of an auto manufacturer, where you’re presented with a lengthy and exhaustive list of every component imaginable on the vehicle you’re interested in, whether big or small.

You walk to a neighbouring dealership, where you are handed a well-organized, neatly arranged brochure that makes it easy to compare your requirements with the features offered by the competing automobile.

Guess which vehicle has a better chance of ending up in your driveway?

Your resume is that brochure. It will be your first (and, if poorly executed, last) opportunity to make a positive impression on an employer. Ensuring your resume is focused and clear means there is a better chance that the reader (or scanning software) will recognize that you belong at the top of the pile.

As with so many things in life, your resume writing aim should be to keep it simple.

Formatting Tips

Your resume will get scanned for 5-10 seconds, so the formatting should be simple and easy to follow. Start by dividing content into subsections. Headings should include Profile (or Summary), Employment History, Education, and Skills Summary.

  • Use bullet points, not long paragraphs, to concisely describe your duties, skills and accomplishments. This allows the reader to quickly scan for keywords and experience

Next, consider whether a Chronological or Functional format works best for your resume.

Functional resumes allow you to talk about your overall work experience, but they leave the reader guessing which experiences are recent and what duties you performed in each role.

Employers want to know specifics. What were your responsibilities in your previous jobs? What results did you achieve? An easy to follow Chronological format, using bullet points, provides the answers to these and other questions.

Remember: you can summarize your work experience and highlight specific skills in your introductory Profile or Professional Summary section.

Documenting when your previous work experience occurred is another important formatting consideration. Including dates may seem obvious, but it’s easy to overlook the details Hiring Managers search for.

For instance, always include the months (in addition to the years) you were working in each position. Only listing the year creates suspicion and makes it unclear how long you were in a role. Time spent clarifying these details in an interview means less time discussing your experience and skills.

For short employment periods, add a brief explanation if the position was a contract or project, or if a layoff was involved.

Content Tips

Length vs Content. What should be your priority?

Again, we’re keeping it simple here. Ideally, limit your resume to two pages in length—but do not leave out important information because you fear it’s getting too long.

If you have a long work history, full summaries of each job you’ve held may make your resume too long. Instead, shorten the descriptions of your early roles, especially those which may be very junior or not relevant to your current career.

Include all your relevant skills and experience for the position you are applying for. This will ensure you get a call for an interview, which is much more important than meeting a certain page count.

Begin with your generic resume, then start customizing specifically for the job you want. The rule here is that the more closely aligned your experience and skills are with the job description, the more likely it is you will be called for an interview.

Be sure to:

  • Include keywords, experience and skills referenced in the job posting
  • Shift any skills that match the job description higher up in the bullet points of your resume (and be sure to add them to your Skills section to give them further weight)
  • Be honest

This last point cannot be overemphasized: do not lie on your resume. Employers can (and often will) carry out background checks to verify employment history as well as education, certifications, or developmental courses listed on your resume.

Needless to say, do not reference work experience, skills, or languages you don’t have. Similarly, do not imply you have a degree/diploma/certificate if it is not complete. Instead, note it as “in progress” or list the dates attended to show partial completion.

Your contact information should include a phone number with voicemail, plus a personal email address. Using a current work email is not recommended.

And no pictures, please. Save that for your LinkedIn profile.

When you are finished and ready to send your resume to prospective employers, save the document as a PDF to retain the formatting.

A polished resume is the most valuable tool you have for marketing your background, skills, and knowledge. Make sure yours finds its way to the top of the pile.

For more resume and job-hunting tips, please see the Resource section on our website.