A resume (also known as a CV or curriculum vitae) is a summary of your strengths, responsibilities, work experience and qualifications. Its purpose is to snag you an interview, by proving to a prospective employer that you have what it takes to do the job – no more and no less! It’s a foot in the door to get you through to the interview stage.
Resumes are usually sent via email or post to prospective employers or recruiters, together with a cover letter. A cover letter is a short summary of your most relevant skills and experience (up to one page long).
This article uses samples from a Student Resume to show you the most common elements of a resume, and what sort of things you should include in each part.
How long should my resume be?
The simple answer is – it depends where you live! In the US, the standard is generally 2-3 pages. In the UK and Australia, a longer resume (4-7 pages) is the norm. It also depends on other factors such as experience and industry. For example, academic resumes often include a “Publications” section, which can be many pages long.
Let’s get started: Contact Information
Resumes usually start with your full name, email, mobile number and postal address. Its purpose is quite simple – so your prospective employer can get in touch with you to arrange that interview!
Recruiters and career advisers suggest there are some things you shouldn’t include:
- Your photo. Only include if it’s been requested or it’s relevant to the job (it’s common for actors or models).
- Marital information, date of birth, religion or politics. These details could lead to an employer discriminating against you, even if it’s only subconsciously
Career Objective, Overview or Profile
A Career Objective (or Overview, or Profile) is like an executive summary for your resume. It’s a short paragraph of about 3-5 sentences summarising your most relevant skills and experience. “Most relevant” means your skills and experience that are most relevant to the particular job you’re applying for – to maximize your chances of making the shortlist, you should tailor this section for every job you apply for.
It’s important to devote some time and effort into crafting a good Career Overview. It’s on the front page of your resume, which is sometimes the only part that gets read! Also, if you’re applying via a recruitment agency, this paragraph will often be the bit that the recruiter copies and pastes into their email to your prospective employer.
Here’s an example of a short and simple one. This one’s from a Student Resume. The student is applying for a Retail Assistant role:
You don’t have to include a Skills Summary (especially if you’re running short on space), but it can be a handy way to get those all-important keywords into your resume. (Keywords are important words that employers or recruiters search for when looking through resumes.)
A Skills Summary is a list of employable skills you possess (eg Graphic Design, Project Management). The sample resumes below use a table format to line up the skill with the relevant “tools” you use to apply that skill. Tools include computer programs (eg Microsoft Excel, MYOB, Photoshop), techniques (eg PMBOK, PRINCE2, etc) or particular types of machinery.
Professional Experience is the part of the resume where you list your previous jobs, what your responsibilities were, and any outstanding achievements you made along the way. It’s usually the lengthiest part of your resume, and it allows a potential employer to see if your experience matches what they’re looking for.
Usually this section is done “chronologically”, ie starting with your most recent job first, then proceeding in order to your oldest job. You don’t need to include every job you’ve ever done, by the way – if you have plenty of experience it’s fine to leave out that part-time job you had in high school.
The things to include are:
- Your role
- Name of the company
- Timeframe you were employed
- A brief description of the company (if necessary)
Responsibilities are the duties you regularly perform / performed at your job (ie what you’re paid to do). In a lot of cases, this might be very different to your actual job description (if you have one!). When you’re listing your responsibilities, use a new bullet point for each one. Only capture the key ones! Keep it short and to the point.
It’s also a good idea to mention relevant tools used if possible, eg “Microsoft Word”. Employers often want to know where and how you used a particular tool – this shows how current your skills are.
Achievements are the highlights of your career. They can include big or important projects you worked on, or times when you exceeded expectations, or achieved an outstanding result. Try and use them sparingly, as they can lose impact if you get carried away!
A little tip is to you talk about achievements in terms of “facts and figures” – eg the value of the project, how many people were involved, what was achieved, the benefit to the employer / client, etc.
Education is your formal qualifications and certifications. It shows your potential employer what your level of formal schooling is.
List your most recent qualification first and then proceed from most recent to oldest. Make sure you write down the name of the qualification, year it was obtained, and institution. If you’re from overseas, put the country they were obtained in.
Hobbies & Interests
These are personal interests such as skiing, reading, craftwork, skateboarding. They usually AREN’T required and it’s suggested you avoid them unless there is a specific reason – for example, if your employer particularly values all-roundedness.
This is membership of a professional association. It can be very important if membership of a professional association is a requirement of your job, eg doctors, lawyers.
Awards are usually gained through study or the course of employment. They can be very impressive to potential employers! However, be careful not to put trivial awards down. That prize you won for the spelling bee may not be suitable for your resume.
This is anything you’ve had published. Examples are articles in magazines, newspapers or journals. This is very important for some jobs, particularly academic positions. They can also be great ways to enhance your resume by painting you as an expert in your field.
Referees are people that are willing to vouch for you. They’re usually your direct managers at previous jobs. This allows a potential employers to verify the truth of the claims you’ve made in your resume.
Don’t put your referees in your resume. Instead, it’s traditional to have a sentence stating “References available on request.” If you get to the interview stage (and hopefully you will!), the employer will ask you for your referees’ contact details.
It’s important to make sure your referees are aware you’re applying for a job. Get in touch with them before you give their details out, and make sure you’re confident they’ll put in a good word for you!
The final check – proofing and editing
This is a final check once you’ve written your resume. Make sure there are no spelling mistakes, that your resume makes sense, and it’s neat and well-formatted. Remember that the person reading your resume doesn’t know you from a bar of soap – if you appear sloppy on paper, they will assume you’re unprofessional in person.
If spelling and grammar aren’t your strong suit, try asking a friend to proofread your resume before you send it anywhere.
Finally… good luck!