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How to write an effective resume

A resume / CV is the single most important document to any job search. Unfortunately, there is little to no universal standards when it comes to the content and format of resumes or CVs. As a recruiter I screen thousands of resumes, CV, LinkedIn profiles, and applications every year.  We tailor resumes and CVs for candidates all the way up to the c-suite.  Here are some universal truths about how to write an effective resume / CV and begin your job search.

CV / Resume what is the difference?

A CV or Curriculum Vitae, which means “course of life” in Latin is an all-inclusive document of candidate’s background.  The major difference is that a CV contains an exhaustive amount of details about a candidate’s background. This can include everything from career biography, publications, awards, honors, certifications, etc.  A CV is generally 2 pages or longer, where a resume is more concise and is generally under 2 pages.  Another key difference is that a CV is chronological and does not get overly tailored to a specific job application.

A resume on the other hand is closer to an application. It is much more tailored to a specific job application or job search. It is a popular belief that a resume should be less than one page, though with the use of digital technology, most professional resume writers will recommend no longer than 2 pages. A resume should be concise enough to grab an employer or recruiter’s attention and not have too much information as to inundate them.

One Page, two pages, or unabridged resume / CV?

The one page “rule” came from the pre-digitalization application process.  When resumes were faxed or printed and reviewed by an employer. These were the days before applicant tracking systems & AI resume screening tools. During this time, it would be very easy for a candidate to get lost in the stack or information to missed in a CV. That is when resumes became more popular as they offered a concise document for a candidate to pitch their qualifications for a role.

The application mediums have altered the ease of exploring, organizing, and searching a CV / Resume, but the impact of decreasing attention spans and information overload have continued to increase the need for concise tailored resumes. The length of your resume and cv will be relative to the individual candidate.  Though candidates should generally try to keep a resume under 2 pages and only use a cv when the role warrants an in-depth background.  Some careers require a CV such as a Physician or

Medical provider where the CV is used as part of the credentialing process.

Structure: What do Recruiters look at first glance?

What is shorter than the average attention span? A Recruiter’s attention span. Due to their volume driven performance standards a recruiter will decide on a resume within the first 30 seconds of viewing.  The first thing we look for is job title, longevity of experience, employed company, and keywords / skillsets. If they do not see it within 30 seconds, then they may not move it forward.  That is why the structure of a resume is incredibly important.

The general structure will improve how easily a recruiter can find the information. It will also make first impressions, such as having giant blocks of text, or too much negative space can make your resume look embellished or devoid value. Utilizing headings, italics, bolding, bullet points and consistent structure will help recruiters find the details they are looking for quickly.

In addition, using the same or similar terminology as the company used in their ad.  The same terminology for Job titles, software, skillsets, and the like will help the recruiter identify the information quickly.

What design should I use for my resume / CV?

If you are thinking about using a “beautiful” resume template, do not. This is especially true for a CV There are some careers where having a font, color palette, attention to negative space and the like can be advantageous. Even in these careers over designed resumes can be detrimental to getting through the talent acquisition process. Most employers use applicant tracking systems, that parse the information into their systems. Or they are using different keyword searching tools, resume sharing tools, and the like that generally do not keep the formatting of the original document. Most of these systems have trouble with PDF formats, let alone colors, fonts, and the like. If you copy all of your document and paste it into a document without the formatting that could be what the recruiter or hiring manager is seeing.

Cv’s contain far too much information for any design to do it justice. If you do end up doing a designed resume only use them in person, while using a standard format for digital applications. This will avoid any issues with your resume getting through the talent acquisition software, running into issues with file formats, and the various other issues. Not to mention, too many different audiences will see your resume for an effective design.  If you want to show off your design skills keep a portfolio!

What do I put in my resume?

The most effective way to prepare a resume or CV is to first research the marketplace.  After all CVs & resumes are a piece of marketing collateral used to sell the applicants candidacy to an employer and for a role. Going onto popular Job boards and looking at job advertisements, searching for similar professionals, and looking at professional societies will give a roadmap of what to include.

Job Postings are particularly useful as job postings are the advertisements for a job order. A job order is the scope of requirements and preferences that an employer has designated for a role. These can range from job or company specific requirements to industry standard skillsets. Looking at a plethora of sources will help you figure out the difference for your job search. This is also beneficial as it can help you identify mentors, career tracks, and deficits in your own skills, all of which will better prepare you for your job search.

Using the research, you have done and your career objectives you should group your tailored resumes to fit the jobs you have decided to pursue. If you are looking at two different roles you should have a resume specific for both.

When should I prepare a resume?

Ideally you will maintain an exhaustive CV throughout your career. Then when it comes time to apply for a new role you would extract a resume that fits your career objectives and job search strategy. Others just maintain an ongoing resume instead of a CV.  The advantages of doing this go far beyond just searching for a new job. Maintaining documentation of your experience and achievements are useful in career development, negotiating pay increases and understanding your market value to name a few.  You also never know when opportunities come knocking. If not, it is appropriate to start putting one together immediately after you have decided to make a career move.

Also consider…

Resumes & CVs are just one component of the job search. Do not lie or embellish about your experience, doing so can get you into trouble or unemployed. Utilize cover letters & conversations to talk about the gaps in experience, or why you left that one company only after a year, or any other blemishes.  Preparing a strong resume / cv will help you identify these and be prepared to talk about them. If you feel comfortable with it, then it will be no problem to convince someone else to be comfortable with it. If you don’t then you may want to consider a different role, or professional development.