In part 1 we explored some basic principles of resume formatting, but the most important part is the content. It can be quite challenging to know what areas of your education and work experience to focus on when writing a resume. Here we present some foundational tips for you to write a great resume.
Remember always that hiring managers have to read through hundreds or thousands of resumes for a job search. Even if you are qualified, a poorly written resume may mean that you never make it to the interview.
Tailor the resume content to the job
Many people seem to think that filling up a resume with every single small project and short course they have ever worked on makes them seem impressive and hardworking. This is nonsense – it makes them look like people trying to show off how impressive they are.
Remember that a hiring manager is looking for a specific set of skills and talents tailored to the position. Think about what the job needs before thinking about how to make yourself look impressive.
If you are applying to many different kinds of jobs, it makes sense to make separate resumes for the different job searches.
For example, imagining someone is applying for jobs in both teaching and marketing. During their time in college this person volunteered as a teacher in slum schools and helped their professor as a teaching assistant. They also spent summers interning at an advertising company and did some graphic design work on the side for an artist friend’s website.
For the teaching job, the applicant should put the teaching experience first in the resume. They should talk in more concrete detail about the skills and experiences they acquired in these teaching settings. The advertising work could be mentioned briefly at the end to show that the person is well-rounded and can perform well in professional settings, but should not be more than 2 or 3 lines.
For the marketing job, the applicant should make a separate resume that highlights the internship and graphic design work. The teaching experience should still be mentioned, but not for more than a few lines.
Remember: resumes should be short, ideally a single page. Focus on the experiences relevant to the job at hand. Extracurricular activities can easily be fit into a single line at the end.
Start Strong: Qualifications Summary
Many resumes start with a brief one line summary at the beginning. This can be in the form of a “Qualifications Summary”. While this is purely optional, and many traditional resumes do not have this section, these short introductions can make your resume much stronger.
A “Qualifications Summary” is a quick summary of your qualifications as a candidate that lets the hiring manager get a positive snapshot of your background before reading the resume. Never forget that this manager has a pile of hundreds of competing resumes – a powerful starting summary like this can make a big difference. An example of a qualifications summary for a secretary position in an insurance company could be something like:
“Efficient and dependable secretary, skilled in all aspects of office management with extensive experience in the insurance sector.”
A hiring manager reading this will immediately be interested in the candidate, even before they have read through the entire resume.
Never be vague; always be precise & concise
When people list experience acquired from different work and educational experience, there is a tendency to be vague and general. Consider an applicant who is applying for a teaching job who did some volunteer work to teach at low income schools. They could describe the experience in the following way:
Volunteer teacher, Dhaka – Taught low income children at slum schools: overcame challenges, learned to excel and conduct organized work
From the description of their work one can hardly tell if the candidate was working at a school, a factory or an office. Sadly, this kind of vague writing is only too common in resumes all over the world.
A smart hiring manager will look at the description above and think “This person didn’t do any real work while volunteering and I am unsure if they have the right attitude and skills for this job.”
A much better way to write it would be like this:
Volunteer teacher, Dhaka – Taught low income children mathematics and general science at slum schools: designed syllabus and lesson plans, wrote exams and weekly homework assignments, graded assignments, met frequently with students for direct peer mentoring
A hiring manager for a schoolteacher position reading this will immediately be more impressed – they will get a sense that the candidate did serious work during their volunteering. They will know that the candidate already has experience in many of the skills needed to be a good teacher. The candidate comes across as a hard, serious worker.
In the past, before the internet, it was often possible for people to completely fabricate qualifications – knowing that it would be very difficult for the employer to check if they were true or not. There was even a famous scientist at Duke University who was fired after they found out he lied about being a Rhodes scholar!!
If you are tempted to go down this road – don’t. Not only is it dishonest, with the invention of the internet you will get caught immediately. If employers learn that you are a liar, you will be blacklisted in a heartbeat.