Making Your Resume Stand Out From the Crowd

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Before you’re ever in a face-to-face position or have the ability to impress a potential employee with your skills, you’re going to have to go through the mulcher that is the written resume. A good resume is your foot in the door; with job competition always on the rise and job scarcities for a lot of sectors. Relying on your interview technique just won’t cut it if your written word isn’t spick and span too.

Knowing what to do and what not to do is vital for this process. There are certain rules that every employee expects you to follow, a bunch of optional extras, and some explicit no’s. When space is vital – after all, a resume should be as concise as possible – it’s up to you to communicate that which best describes you in the least space possible.

Get the basics

It’s simple, it’s basic, but make sure you’ve covered all the bases before you start getting fancy. If you’re writing your resume now, make a checklist and cross off each point once you’ve jotted it down fully. If you’ve got a resume, check that you’ve got these points covered:

  • Name and contact details at the top of the first page (email and contact details. Remember to include BOTH mobile and email).
  • Current job, start and end date and the position you held there.
  • Prior experience in the same format.
  • Education and qualifications.

You want to be ordering these in roughly that format – your ‘fluff’ and introduction first, with your core experience and qualifications on the left hand side running down the page (more on that coming up).

Keep your whitespace

Here’s a quick tip for visual readability. A recruiter is going to be scanning a list of resumes for quickly identifiable information. That means they’re going to be dealing with a lot of densely packed text. For this reason, make sure that you’ve left clear and large linebreaks.

There’s a concept in marketing, which is a good sector to turn to if you want information on how people react to things, called the ‘F-Shaped Pattern’. Basically, we scan a lot of words and papers every day, and our eyes naturally gravitate in an F-Shaped method to quickly scan if something’s important.

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Image via Heidi Cohen

That means that a recruiter’s eye is going to be going almost fully across the first few lines, which makes them a perfect place to put your name and summary, and then scan mostly along the left hand side of your page, which is where you want to be putting job titles, education, and the ‘meat’ of your resume.

Give flavour

The next step is to flesh out your sections. A resume with no flair might get you in the door if you have superior qualifications, but if it comes down to two identical candidates, what you choose to include is going to make the difference.

For starters, we already know that the first few lines are where they’re going to be focusing from the start. If there’s anything you really need them to see, put it there.

For example, you might think to include a short summary of yourself. You might start off by saying that you have X year experience in your sector, or that you’re a recent tertiary graduate looking for opportunities in Y. If the job is something that requires you to be social or interact with customers, you might even want a short description of you as a person.

Under your employment history, you could include a list of the goals you achieved in that position, or any major milestones or awards you were given.

For education, you could put your academic rankings, extracurricular activities (who knows, maybe the recruiter was in the band\swimming team\whatever too), or similar.

Keep it simple, stupid!

Put what you think best sells you as a person, but don’t make it too dense! One of the largest issues people have is filling their resume with too much junk and not giving the recruiter what they really need to know. If they don’t see it quickly, they’ll skip it and move to the next candidate. Put only as much as you think is necessary without making it bulky.

Know your industry sector

We’re covering hard and fast rules, but there’s one area that only you can know – your industry. What works for a teacher’s resume might not work for a programmers, or vice versa.

Try to put yourself in the mind of the recruiter. What would they want in someone for this position? Give them that, and structure your resume so that they see it.

Don’t be too cute

By not being cute, we don’t mean that you should make your resume precisely the same as everyone else’s, but there’s some definite things to avoid:

  • Don’t use a ‘fun’ font if you can help it. Papyrus might look unique, but Helvetica, Arial, and Times New Roman are the standard for a reason.
  • The ‘use a different coloured paper’ line has been done to death a million times. It might land you a job, but it’s pretty likely to make someone’s eyes roll too. Black on white improves legibility a millionfold.

Update your details

When providing contact details, remember to have both a mobile and email address. Double-check when you’re making these that your email address or answering machine is something you wouldn’t mind a potential employer to hear (eg: if you’re still using doomslayer666@killscreens.net as an email, it’s time to make a business contact email).

If you do have to create a new account, keep up to date by either setting email forwarding to your main account or using a multiple email tracker like Thunderbird. You don’t want to miss that letter of offer!

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Gladys is the Associate Director of Admissions & Student Services with over 10 years of experience at the International Career Institute.