by Heidi Riley
Preparing an effective resumé is an important first step to introduce yourself to a prospective employer. Hiring managers spend very little time scanning each resumé, so it needs to stand out and be easy to read. It should clearly show how your education, abilities, and experience fit the open position.
A workshop about writing effective resumés, cover letters, and references was recently held at UPEI during Canada Career Month. Krissi Ewing, Student Advisor, Office of Work Integrated Learning, was on hand to offer tips.
“Resumé writing takes a lot of time,” says Krissi. “You should tailor your resumé to each job you apply for. Do not submit a generic resumé with the same information to multiple employers.
“First, carefully read the job description and pick out the key skills, relevant experience, and qualifications required. Consider how your skills and experience are relevant to the qualifications needed for the job, and customize your resumé to show that you are well suited for that position.
“Lots of great templates are available, but we recommend that students build their own. Sometimes only a certain number of words are allotted under each category, which limits how much you can write. As well, when you save a document made from a template, it can be more difficult and time consuming to edit the material.
“You can use creative elements such as colour to make it more aesthetically pleasing, but it must be clear and easily read in order to make your key skills and attributes stand out without spending a lot of time searching.”
Types of resumés
For those with relevant work experience, use a reverse chronological format, listing your most recent work experience and work backwards.
If you do not have work experience directly related to the job you are applying for, you could focus more on a skill-based or functional resumé to highlight different experiences where you gained skills relevant to the job you are applying for.
- Do not include a photograph, personal information such as social insurance number, passport number, marital status or if you have children. Employers are not allowed to ask these questions.
- Limit your resumé to two pages. Typical categories include a career objective, education, work experience, volunteer experience, project work, professional development, and interests.
- Contact information should include your preferred name, email address, and phone number. Your address is optional. If relevant, include your LinkedIn account and a link to your eportfolio. Put this contact information in the same format at the top of both pages of your resumé, and on your cover letter and reference list as well.
- Do not use personal pronouns such as “I, me, or my”.
- Before submitting the resumé, use a grammar checker.
- Ask someone to check your resumé for typos or other mistakes.
- Be consistent in the presentation style throughout the document.
- Always save and send the documents as a pdf so that the format will not change when it is opened.
Parts of the resumé
Career objective or personal statement: a brief description of who you are, your greatest selling feature or relevant experience, and what position you are applying for.
Highlight of qualifications: use three to five bullet points with some of the key words from the job description. “Hiring managers typically spend less than a minute reading each resumé,” says Krissi. “If they immediately see points that are relevant to the job they are trying to fill, they are more likely to continue to read the entire document.”
Education: List the start and end date, or the start date to present. If your GPA is high, list it, but it is not necessary. Note any specializations, accomplishments, or projects relevant to the job you are applying to.
Employment history: List each job title and the name of the company you worked for. Align the month and year of employment on the right side of the page to create an easy-to-read time line. “Listing all the tasks done on the job is not as effective as listing your accomplishments and what your learned.”
Use no more than five bullet points for each work experience. Use numbers to make your description stand out, for example “worked with a team of five people” or “increased following by 40 percent.”
Volunteer or extracurricular experiences: “Volunteering is unpaid work experience,” says Krissi. “Your volunteer experience shows what you are involved with, what you are interested in, and the skills you are building.”
Using the same format as with employment history, align the dates on the right, and list the title of the volunteer role, location, name of the organization, and skills and abilities learned through the experience.
As you describe your accomplishments, focus on outcomes and learning experiences. Start with an action verb such as “Led, organized, completed” to describe the experience, and end with an outcome or result.
- Directed a play for the North Shore Community Theatre, which resulted in five sold-out shows with over 600 people in attendance.
- Achieved 40 percent increase in social media following over six month period, which increased subsequent event sales by an average of 20 percent.
List hard skills such as technical lab skills and specific computer program skills. Also, list soft skills transferrable to other jobs such as communication, decision making, creativity, and teamwork. Give concrete examples of each skill from your training or work experience, eg. Communication: Delivered Powerpoint presentations to groups of 10 to 20 people.
Formatting your resumé
Use 11 or 12 point font in Calibri or Arial. Headings can be larger. Clearly lay out the sections, leaving a space between each one. Use bold to highlight sections. “You could add a light colour bar between each section of your resumé. Be consistent in the style, and use just one colour.”
Three references are preferred. Use previous employers, supervisors, volunteer organizations you have worked for, or professors. “They should be people who know you and can give a good account of you. Ask them for permission before you submit their names to an employer.”
References should be listed in a separate document, using the same header as the resumé. Include the person’s name, position, location, phone number, and email address.
Use a one-page business letter format with the same heading as the resumé and the references. Do not repeat what you have listed on your resumé. Customize the cover letter to show how you are a good fit for the specific position.
Paragraph 1: Identify the position you are applying for, how you heard about the position, and how you are a good candidate by mentioning your experience relevant to the position.
Middle one or two paragraphs: Focus on how you can meet the needs of the employer through your relevant skills. Use some of the key words from the job posting to give examples of what you are good at and how those skills would be relevant to the job. Say something specific about what the business does and why you are interested in it.
Last paragraph: Thank the hiring manager for their time, and say you are interested in following up with an in-person interview. Sign the cover letter if you are submitting it in person.
UPEI students looking for more help in writing an effective resumé or cover letter can visit the Career Studio at Dalton Hall on the UPEI campus from Monday to Thursday, 1 to 4 pm.
Visit UPEI Career Services at www.upei.ca/career-services.