When starting a job search, where do you begin? Some might start scouring over job portals, others might announce to their friends over LinkedIn.
For me, I’d begin with my resume.
I see my resume as the first essential tool to even get a foot in the door. A good resume is not a surefire guarantee to an amazing job, but it certainly helps.
If you are here reading this guide, that’s a great start.
In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about crafting a resume. Join us and improve your resume in a guided, step-by-step manner.
Read till the end for a useful checklist that you can use to guide your own resume development process!
If you are job hunting, sent your resume to many companies, but received little to no replies, this is the resume guide for you.
If you are considering switching jobs and want to find out how you can improve your chances, this is the resume guide for you.
If you are a student or fresh graduate, and want a great resume to land your first internship or job, this is the resume guide for you.
Part 1 is going to bring you through the key sections of each resume, what to include and what to take note of in each section.
Part 2 will help you refine the resume content that you have created in part 1. This will make your resume more attractive to employers by aligning yourself with the employers’ needs.
Part 3 will help provide the final touch-ups. We will make the resume more visually appealing and reader-friendly for potential employers.
Let us first begin by exploring the different sections of a resume.
We have to first start by understanding the big picture:
The resume template of a general resume and how we can build it.
A resume consists of the following sections. Here is an overview:
Personal contact details are a must-have in every resume, as they help interested employers contact you easily.
Here are the details that I would strongly recommend including in the resume:
Other details are typically not required in the resume, unless clearly specified by the employer.
This is an optional aspect of the resume, as there are different preferences between employers and recruiters.
We recommend using a profile picture if you have a professional-looking one that improves your application.
If you don’t have one, or only have one that is shabby or overly casual, you can choose to omit it from the resume.
An executive summary helps to provide a short and succinct overview of who you are as a candidate. It highlights your past achievements and demonstrates your key value in a short paragraph.
Many employers do not have the time to look through your resume in detail.
The executive summary allows for time-starved employers to have a quick look. If it piques their interest, they will give your resume more attention.
Here is a general guideline on how you can write your executive summary:
It is important to tell your story the way you want it:
Express your summary in a way that you want to be remembered and leave a great first impression!
Similar to the previous section, highlighting your key competencies helps employers to have an easy look at what you excel at.
Without going through your resume in detail, they can have a good sense of whether your competencies match what they are looking for.
I recommend providing 4-6 key competencies to showcase a multitude of skills.
The competencies you should include depends on your own expertise, your past work experience and industry.
There is no fixed formula for this, and should be personalized based on each individual.
For example, a candidate for a Human Resources role might include competencies such as:
Compare this to a candidate for a Marketing role, who might include competencies such as:
In the later sections, I will also provide more detailed steps on how you can better write these competencies to best suit the job you are applying for.
The section most of you are most concerned with, work experience is absolutely a key part of the resume.
It demonstrates your past work achievements, and what you can potentially bring to the table in the new job.
Here are the must-have information in this section:
Tip: For smaller and less well known companies, you can add a short one-liner description to give the reader an idea of the type of company and its industry.
For the details of work responsibilities, a common mistake I see many people make is to simply list their responsibilities as it is.
Some even simply copy their job descriptions into their resume!
This is a big No-No!
Instead of presenting them as responsibilities and tasks that you had to fulfil, this section should tell your accomplishments.
Accomplishments over Responsibilities
This is a section on how you worked on and solved problems, contributing to the company by taking action.
Sounds difficult? This can be done by using R-A-P framework:
This is the WHAT: What did you achieve?
During your job, you would have created some positive results for the company from your efforts.
Describe in detail the results that came out of your efforts, and remember to try and add quantitative results wherever possible.
Additionally, remember to start with action words that make a greater impact. As detailed in our other article, action words help to highlight achievements and make them more convincing.
This is the HOW: How did you achieve it?
This is the process that worked towards resolving the problem for the company.
Try to add relevant industry relevant terms and details.
The employer should understand the thought process and steps you took to solve the problem.
This is the WHY: Why was action needed? What is the context of the situation?
Here, it is good to add a brief explanation of the problem at hand to give context to the situation. It also explains why you needed to take action.
Note that this does not literally have to be a problem to be solved. It could also simply be objectives/goals that you strived to achieve.
When you put these three parts together, the R-A-P framework clearly shows
(i) what you have achieved,
(ii) how you achieved it, and
(iii) what the importance of this achievement is.
Here’s an example of this framework put in action!
Try to use the entire R-A-P framework as much as possible, especially for your key highlight achievements!
This helps to accentuate these achievements and offer more impact to the reader.
Of course, potential employers want to know where you received your education.
This section is also pretty straightforward, it usually includes these information:
Other details can also come in handy when relevant. You can include things such as your:
Most importantly, these details should be relevant to the reader and helpful towards your application.
Going through training and acquiring certifications are a good way to help improve your knowledge of relevant skills required in your desired jobs.
They also show potential employers that you are well equipped with the skills needed.
If you have previously received certifications for different courses you completed, be sure to include them in!
Simply include the following:
(i) name of the certification,
(ii) institution that provided the certification, and
(iii) the date you received the certification.
Here you can showcase other skills that you have yet to mention clearly in the above sections.
Do try to include technical and/or relevant skills, rather than general and ‘fluff’ skills that will not add any value.
For example, here are examples of some skills that would be good to include (if you have them, of course!)
For these skills, also try to use words such as ‘Advanced’ and ‘Proficient’ to highlight the best skills you have.
Additionally, you can add further details to each skill to demonstrate your level of competency.
Here are some skills that you would be better off omitting.
The problem with the latter is that they do not are not really considered as skills; they are simply attributes that most candidates can have!
In this section, you can also include the languages that you understand and have mastery of.
Remember to include level of proficiency in written and spoken forms!
Now you have a good understanding of the structure of a resume. Great! But how can you better write a resume to stand out from the crowd?
The answer: By matching your experience and competencies with what the companies are looking for!
Many candidates send the exact same resume to tens and hundreds of companies, in the hope of securing a few interviews. However, this often proves to be ineffective.
For every role, different companies are looking for a specific type of skillset, expertise and experience.
As such, a single resume cannot be suitable for different job openings.
But what can you do?
Of course you cannot lie and change or make up your work experience.
What you can do is to highlight and position your expertise and competencies to suit what the companies are looking for.
I’ll bring you through the process of a candidate, John, looking to refine his resume for a Business Development role.
First, John has to establish what the company is looking for in a candidate.
John should look for his ideal job’s listing and look out for key things that they specify. In this case, John is interested in a Business Development role.
He should take note and highlight certain keywords and specific industry-relevant terms that they use in the job listing.
It is likely that they are looking for candidates with similar experiences and skills.
Tip: This applies for soft skills as well! For certain jobs employers might put greater emphasis on a set of soft skills, so it would be good to take note of them for your application.
From the job listing of his desired role, John has found some key aspects that the employer is looking for:
He should then find similar suitable experiences in his resume that he can highlight.
Now John needs to research Business Development job listings from other companies as well.
He should try to notice if there are certain similarities and/or patterns.
This suggests that most companies expect similar skills and experiences among Business Development candidates.
The value of this exercise is to find these details that you might not have noticed in a single job listing.
After going through more job listings, there are other additional terms and keywords that John came across:
Now that John is familiar with the key skills and aspects that employers are looking for, he can find areas in his resume where he can use them in.
IMPORTANT: Note that this is not to make up skills and attributes that he does not currently have. Instead, the key is to highlight existing abilities and express similar skillsets that he possesses in a way that is familiar to employers.
Highlighting existing abilities
John might have a diverse experience: in sales, marketing and business development.
In this case, he should be highlighting experiences and skillsets that fit the positions he is applying for.
These skillsets will be the focus of the presentation of his job experiences.
The other less relevant responsibilities can be briefly stated, or even omitted if the resume is too long.
Expressing skillsets in a suitable manner
Even as he highlights these experiences, he can make them even more relevant by using familiar terms in his resume.
For instance, he might have originally used the terms on the left column. After the earlier exercise, he can modify them into terms on the right.
Notice that the main skills and competencies that John has haven’t changed.
Instead, the way that the resume is expressed is well suited towards employers and ATS systems alike.
This way, his resume is refined and better crafted to match what employers are looking for.
Try this exercise yourself too, and further improve on your resume content.
Each resume is unique to each individual.
While we have provided a general framework that can guide you towards writing a great resume, there is no one resume that works well for everyone.
You now have a good resume with relevant, appealing content.
Here are some tips to help personalize your resume and make it more reader-friendly.
Based on each individual’s years of experience, the order of sections in a resume can be quite different.
For younger candidates new to the workforce with little work experience:
You should consider putting the Education section earlier in the resume as this will make up a big part of your resume.
Similarly, you can add in a section on your co-curricular activities and its important highlights.
For more experienced candidates:
Your core competencies and work experience should be at the forefront of the resume.
You will be more certain of what you bring to the table, and have many years of work experience to showcase.
Your educational experience will be less crucial as employers will be looking out for your career achievements.
Always organize your job experience (and other parts of the resume) in reverse chronological order.
Start with the most recent experience you’ve had.
This is because your most recent experiences will be the most relevant to the potential employers.
On the same note, for each job experience, do not simply list down your different responsibilities.
Organize them in such a way that:
The most important and relevant responsibilities are placed first,
and the least important and relevant responsibilities are placed last.
Most employers don’t have the time to read in detail, so your organization is crucial to catch their attention within the first few lines.
Reiterating the previous point, most employers do not have time to read your resume in detail. In fact, it is well known that they typically only read a resume for 6 seconds!
As such, keep your resume to 1-2 pages as much as possible. If it is any longer, chances are the potential employer will not read past page 2 anyway.
That being said, do not try to cram too many words and information into these 2 pages.
Give enough white space for the reader to digest what you are trying to showcase too!
Congratulations, you have successfully completed the resume guide!
Now that you have taken in all the details of our resume guide and learnt how to write a resume, now is the time to try and apply it yourself!
To recap, we have covered 3 main parts in this resume guide.
As promised, here’s the resume guide checklist with important questions to ask yourself as you go through the resume development process.
What is your key takeaway from this resume guide? Let us know in the comments below.