Before you sit down to start or update your resumé, make a master list of everything you’ve ever achieved: education, employment history, skills, seminars and conferences attended, experience, activities, committees, awards and volunteer work. From this list, edit out anything that isn’t directly relevant to the job you want. And keep current: “High-school student-council president” won’t look so impressive if you’re a university grad who’s been working in your field for six years.
Colleen Clarke, a Toronto-based career specialist, says there are two common resumé formats that work best: chronological, where your employment and education are listed from most to least recent; and functional, which lists your experience by skills. Clarke advises using the chronological format if you’re staying in the same field or sending your resumé to recruiters, although you’re better off opting for a functional resumé if you’re planning a career change. Regardless of the type you choose, a “summary of qualifications” or “profile” (a few lines describing who you are and what you can offer) should appear right below your name and contact info. Then list professional experience, education, awards and committees and volunteer work or other experience.
Instead of writing “Handled budget” and “Worked on presentations,” try “Managed budgets and brought departmental costs down by 12 percent last quarter” and “Created presentations successfully used in new-business pitches by senior-level management.” Don’t fret if you end up with more than a page of statements that you feel really highlight your qualifications. That “one page only” rule is old hat, and potential employers won’t mind reading more if they’re interested in you (but keep it to three pages, max).
Save your pretty rose-patterned stationery for personal letters. Use regular white paper (it will be photocopied anyway) and a clean 11- or 12-point font (such as Arial or Times New Roman), triple-check spelling and grammar and be consistent with the use of boldface type and italics.
If you’re surfing job-posting websites such as Workopolis and Monster and a company posts a position with instructions to apply online, do so; don’t just send a hard copy by mail or fax instead. If you’re asked to apply via email, send your resumé either as an attachment (containing your cover letter) or in the body. One tip is to send it either late at night or early in the morning so it’s the first email waiting in a recruiter’s inbox. And don’t worry about formatting the document; Clarke says, “Employers understand that borders and margins can get wonky when emailed.”
Don’t list any references as it’s understood you’ll provide them when you’re asked, says Clarke. She also suggests omitting all information about age, marital status or children. And only direct a potential employer to a personal website if you have content that will further your chances of getting hired. “If it’s about all your humanitarian work in Africa that you do every year, that’s wonderful,” says Clarke. “But if it’s about all the hours you spend on hobbies or doing other work, don’t include it.”