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10 tips for a stellar résumé

Making a CV or résumé is every job seeker’s nightmare. Just the thought of it feels like so much work. But the fact of the matter is that, considering its importance in job search, most people spend too little time on their résumés.

Here are 10 tips to help you make your résumé stand out.

But first, which one is it – a Curriculum Vitae (CV) or a résumé?

Before we move on to the tips, let’s just get this out of the way.

The terms CV and résumé, although frequently used interchangeably, are NOT one and the same. At the start of your career, your résumé and CV may look similar but over time, they will vary in length and detail.

What most employers really want is a résumé – a one-page [or maximum 2-page if you have extensive experience in the field] summary of your education, skills, and work and voluntary experiences relevant to the job you are applying for. A résumé will be tweaked for every job you apply for.

A CV, on the other hand, is primarily for academics and is a comprehensive list of all significant educational and professional credentials including any research paper publications or presentations, teaching experience, grants, etc. It can be as long as necessary so long as you are not exaggerating your experiences. A CV will generally remain static regardless of where you apply unless you gather more experiences or academic achievements.

We found this great infographic that highlights the key differences between a résumé and a CV, at the Ulethbridge Blogs website.

Tip #1: Tweak your résumé for every job application

If you are applying in a renewable energy firm, a summer spent studying green initiatives abroad will add to your profile. But if you are applying as an accountant at a financial consultancy, it is irrelevant.

Whether you are making your résumé for the first time or trying to improve on one you already have, the layout and structure of your résumé will vary with every single job opportunity you apply for. Yes – EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. So, be prepared to make changes to your résumé every time you are applying for a job position. Sounds like a lot of work? Maybe it is but not so much if it helps you get the job you want.

Tip #2: Understand the employer’s screening process

This one is not always easy to find information on, but if you can figure out a way to understand how the organisation you are applying to shortlists applications, it can really help you with making your résumé.

Do you know many organisations now use automated résumé screening software [or application tracking software] that sorts out résumés in order of relevance using keywords and only shortlisted applications [or ones deemed most relevant by the software] reach a human? Figure out if the organisation you are applying for uses a similar software, whether they have a specific format they prefer, would a PDF or MS Word file be a better option, and so on.

Some organisations are very clear about their process and explain it on their website or as part of the job advert. Alternatively, try and hover your mouse over the ‘apply’ button on the employer’s website and look at the bottom of your browser window to see the destination URL. If an organisation is using an application tracking software, the URL will indicate a vendor.

You can also try and find someone who is already working for the organisation and talk to them about it. No matter how you do it, it is important to understand the screening process so you can structure and format your résumé accordingly.

Tip #3: Match the job requirements to your résumé

It is funny how most of the times we skip the most basic of things even though they are staring right at us. A job advertisement should ideally provide you with everything you need to put on your résumé. The job description or a brief summary of what you will be expected to do and the skills required for it tell you exactly what the employer is looking for. It may also mention the format you need to follow for your résumé, things to include or exclude, and so on. Make a note of these and use them as a checklist to ensure you have everything needed for the job on your résumé.

Without exaggerating or lying, ensure that your résumé highlights some [if not all] of the skills and proficiencies they are asking you for.

Tip #4 Replace the objective with a personal profile or career summary

Over the past few years, the objective on the résumé has been replaced by a personal profile or summary. This is your chance to convince the recruiter to read on. Your summary should ideally be 60 – 80 words giving the employer reasons why to hire you.

For an entry level résumé, a good career summary may look like this:

Accounting graduate with strong work ethic and an eye for attention to detail. Excellent analytical thinking and problem solving skills. Proficient with MS Excel, and comfortable working on QuickBooks. Recently completed a competitive internship with ABC, Pakistan and frequently offer volunteer accounting services to a local startup.

The skills mentioned above have not been randomly placed. Look at the list of skills the employer is looking for in the job advertisement and plug them into the summary. A strong work ethic and attention to detail are both qualities expected of an accounting professional. Excel and QuickBooks are also used widely in the accounting field.

Tip #5: Use keywords and buzzwords [but don’t overdo it]

To demonstrate thorough understanding of the industry, the organisation and the job role you are applying for, you should use keywords. You can identify these from the employer’s website and most often from the job advertisement. These could be skills, software or tools, values, or any other words specific to your role. You can also add buzzwords that everyone is talking about in your industry these days – of course these have to be relevant and shouldn’t look like they have been forced into the résumé.

Tip #6: Replace list of tasks with a list of achievements

Most applicants either list down their entire job description under each job role or use excerpts from it. Think of how many people may have written ‘prepared job descriptions’ or ‘maintained financial records’ as part of their résumés. I am assuming too many. You need to stand out.

Think of your significant achievements at each of your jobs. Did you bring in any revenue? How many clients did you attend to? How many articles did you write? Did you recruit a new team? Maybe you helped implement a new technology or accounting software. You may have been the youngest to become manager at an organisation. Did you issue the first office newsletter? Were you the mastermind behind office team-building retreats? Think of all the things you can call ‘achievements’. List the relevant ones down. A relevant achievement would be one that either shows you excelled at a particular performance metric or demonstrated a crucial skill. Here are a few examples of what you can include:

In my first three months as web developer, I helped redesign the company website increasing visitor traffic by 50%.

Throughout my job, I maintained the lowest resolution time for customer complaints.

I was recognised as intern of the month twice during my four-month internship based on quality of work and efficiency.

I initiated weekly meetings between members of different departments to have them collectively work on customer issues and avoid future complaints. It helped reduce customer complaints by 15%.

Tip #7: Proofread

Spelling and grammatical mistakes, and incorrect e-mail addresses and phone numbers, are the worst kind of mistakes because they are reflective of a candidate who lacks attention to detail, is not willing to put in effort and / or does not value the job opportunity. Such applications will almost always be shot down even if they fulfil the rest of the criteria.

Ideally, ask a friend or sibling to proofread your résumé for you. When proofreading, also check for consistency in formatting, fonts and font sizes, etc. A well formatted, and well-presented résumé is very likely to increase your chances of an interview compared to one that looks sloppy or is difficult to navigate.

Tip #8: Use bullet points instead of paragraphs

Remove big chunky paragraphs wherever possible. Bullet points will help you highlight important information and make it easy for the employer to navigate through the résumé.

Tip #9: Save your résumé with an appropriate name

Please do not submit your résumés as ‘Document 1’ or ‘New’ or ‘CV’. You want to make the best impression on your recruiter. Give your résumé an appropriate name. I generally go with something like ‘Sana Khalid-Résumé-2017’.

Tip #10: Structure your résumé strategically

The placement of information on your résumé can be as important as the content itself. Here are two important tips to keep in mind when structuring information in your résumé:

  • Place your work experience before educational background unless this is the first job you are applying to and have little or no work experience to show.

  • Make a functional résumé [as opposed to a chronological one] if you have frequently switched jobs or have long gaps in between. This one isn’t very popular in Pakistan but neither are career breaks and job hopping. A functional résumé divides your work experience into the various functions you performed, for example, communication, customer service, talent management, etc. as opposed to in a chronological order.

Good luck with your job search!

Want us to work on your passport to success?

If you have specific questions about your resume or your job search specifically or anything to do with your professional life in general, write to me at and I will be more than happy to share insights with you.

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