Resume 101

The resume is the first part of your ‘application package’. The purpose of your resume and cover letter is to qualify you for the job; the resume should cover the quantifiable side of that.

Let’s look over the key elements of a good resume. For each section, I will lay out the basics of what you need, then I will go in to what you can add to truly customize your resume to a job and go ‘above and beyond’, and finally I will tell you some common mistakes to avoid.

General

Know your industry: in finance, resumes should never be longer than one page. In marketing and sales, two pages are acceptable. For computer sciences, sometimes you need references to code examples, or more emphasis on certifications. Whatever industry you are applying in, know the universal resume standards.

Sweat the details. When a potential employer looks at your resume and finds a typo, it’s an instant disqualifier. If you had months to prepare this one page document and made careless mistakes, what is going to happen when you have days – or even hours – to get something prepared? Don’t like a small crack sink the ship – proofread your resume multiple times and get someone else to look at it too.

Avoid: there are a couple things that you need to avoid on your resume, no matter who you are and what job you are applying for.

Firstly, don’t include an objective in your resume. Students for some reason feel obliged to put the reason they are applying for a job on the actual job application. That’s like explaining to your grocer why you are buying groceries – I think they can figure out it’s because you plan on eating. Likewise, don’t put an objective on your resume; it takes up valuable real estate, and it makes you look like you found you resume template on some tacky site (vs. the great one you can find on my site!).

Secondly, don’t put ‘references available upon request’ on your resume. Of course you are going to give them references if they end up asking for a few – you’re trying to get a job here. You might as well just amend your objective to “as per my objective of getting a job, I have references available upon request to support my objective” – sounds like a rocky start.

Thirdly, don’t like ancient/irrelevant information. I am sure your parents thought it was phenomenal that you were on the soccer team in Grade 10 of high school, but I doubt a potential recruiter will give it much thought. In fact, it actually might hurt you. By cluttering up your resume with low value information, you make it harder for a recruiter/potential employer to get through to the quality stuff that shows you are an ideal candidate

Fourth, don’t lie. Lying on your resume is a recipe for disaster, and can potentially soil your long term career. Its okay to spin – try to put everything in an optimistic light –  but don’t lie.

If you worked on a project that only received 50% of the users that were planned, highlight the lessons. Say the company (and you) learned to be more accurate in forecasting, market understanding, and client onboarding assumptions – focus on the positives. Don’t lie and say it actually was 50% over subscribed; it’s just not worth it.

Education

Basics: Firstly, you will most likely have your education at the top. This will highlight your school (University/College), the years your attended (which will most likely take the form of start date – present), and your program.

Above and Beyond: if you want to go above and beyond in this section, list specific courses you have taken that are relevant to the job you are applying for. If it is a financial job, list mathematical and economics courses, if it is a teaching assistant job in the history department, list relevant history courses, etc.

Avoid: unless you are in your first year of university, there is really no reason to have your high school in your education section. To be frank: no one cares.

Work Experience

Basics: this is the meat of your resume – unfortunately if you are a new student in your first few years of school, it might be somewhat sparse. The idea of getting involved, taking a part time job, and doing anything possible to fill out this section is a whole different conversation. For now, let’s focus on what you can do: wherever possible, quantify. That is the most important thing about work experience, if you can attach a number to anything, DO IT. Everyone likes to use impressive sounds adjectives on their resume, few applicants actually give recruiters hard numbers to go by.

Let’s look at some good and bad examples to better display this practice:

Original: worked on prospecting small companies and suggesting ideas to management
Improved:  Brought in a junior gold company (TSE:GCM) and organized the attendance of the banking group and research group to establish the initial relationship and introduce the management team to the desk

Original: Had several customers across the country
Improved:  Secured 18 nationwide customers, including 12 in the GTA, as well as 3 in the United States

Above and Beyond: again, to go above and beyond in this section, try to emphasize relevant work experience, and minimize irrelevant work experience. Also, be aware of any gaps in your employment record (as long as you weren’t at school – that’s acceptable). If you didn’t work last summer because you couldn’t be bothered (and didn’t do anything else productive), you better have a reason why.

Avoid: avoid vague terms and vague descriptions. Attach numbers wherever possible.

Activities & Interests

Basic: here is a section to add some personal flare to your resume – but be restrained. Just because you like rave techno music, isn’t a reason to necessarily include it on your resume (unless you’re applying to MTV, then it might be). Understand your audience, and gauge the level of acceptability of your activities and interests.

Above and Beyond: certifications are a great thing to add to this section. If you have any formal certifications, program completions, or other accreditations, feel free to include it here.

Avoid: don’t include clearly irrelevant material. If you are applying to work at an ad agency, including the fact that you are a certified life guard is highly irrelevant, and probably won’t help you.

Final Tip

Get someone in the industry or more experienced than you to review it. This is a great way to innocently get your resume in front of someone. When I used to go out to coffee regularly with people, I would always follow up with a request to get their feedback on my resume. It’s a win-win. First, you get genuine feedback on your resume – what to fix, what to include, what to remove. Secondly, you also have the potential of opening a door – they might see it, and think you are a good fit for them or with someone they know.

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