Getting a job during COVID is a lot harder than pre-COVID days. The pandemic has brought disruption into every aspect of our lives including our careers. The pool of people looking for jobs is bigger today than it was pre-COVID days. In a competitive environment, a winning resume can make the difference between getting an interview or getting a rejection letter.
As a career coach, I have first-hand knowledge of what recruiters and hiring managers look for when shortlisting applications. I am sharing some of their secrets with you in today’s blog. I have also included some tips on how to address the COVID-gap if you have been affected by the pandemic. I hope you will find the tips useful.
The difference between a CV and a resume
Most organisations tend to use the terms interchangeably. Traditionally, a CV is a comprehensive account of your professional life. A resume, on the other hand, is a summary (up to two pages) of your education, skills, and work experience. Hiring managers today are inundated by applications and they prefer to read a short and succinct summary to speed up the shortlist process. Whether you call your document a CV or a resume these days have little bearing on whether you will reach the shortlist. It is not the title that is important. It is what you write in the document.
What is the purpose of a resume?
The resume is a summary of your skills, experience, qualifications and achievements. It aims to show the recruiter or hiring manager why you are suitable for the role. Remember, you have only a few minutes of their attention to convince them. The best way to do this is to present the information succinctly and to the point.
What makes a good resume?
Your resume is your sales pitch. It answers all the questions the recruiter or hiring manager has about you and your suitability for the role. The degree of information you provide and how you present this information will help them make an informed decision whether to invite you for an interview. To leave them with no doubt that you are the best candidate for the role, you have to present a strong case in the right tone. Check out the section below on what to include in your resume.
How long should a resume be?
The average length of a resume is around 2 pages. Write only the key skills, attributes and responsibilities from roles that match the job you are applying for. Keep in mind that you are articulating your skills, experiences and future potential to the reader. So, get to the point. Don’t use 10 sentences to describe something you can say in two sentences.
What to leave out in a resume?
Sometimes less is more. I don’t mean leaving out chunks of important information from your resume. I mean using your common sense to determine the type of information to include. If you have been in the workforce for some time, it is not necessary to describe all the jobs you have. If you have been a successful manager, you don’t have to describe every single accomplishment. Likewise, if you have a postgraduate degree, it is not necessary to list down the grades of every subject (unless otherwise specified). Also, you do not have to include certificates, qualifications and references in your resume unless otherwise stated.
I usually advise my clients not to include hobbies and interests unless these skills can advance the application. Remember, you have only 2 pages to show the reader you are the best candidate so use information strategically.
What layout to use for your resume?
It’s not necessary to use a creative template unless you are applying for a job in the creative industry.
Your resume must look tidy, clear and well-structured. Use a simple font like Arial 10-point or 12-point. Keep formatting like italics, uppercase and bold to a minimum. Bullet points are extremely useful when you have an economy of words. Use action verbs when starting bullet points. Be consistent i.e. if you start with an action verb then make sure every line starts the same way. Be consistent with punctuations. Spell check and proofread the document to catch any errors before submitting it.
A step-by-step guide to writing a professional resume
Here’s a standard resume structure you can use to craft a great resume:
1. Contact information
The basics including your name, address, contact details (email and phone) and LinkedIn profile link.
2. Professional summary
Write a 50-150 words summary of your applicable experience and skills. This summary shows your value add to the organisation and why you are different from other applicants. Focus on what you have to offer to the organisation. This section should be tailored to the job. Use keywords so the ATS match can pick it up. (ATS or applicant tracking system is software used by most organisations in the hiring process. ATS arranges a resume into categories and then scans it for specific keywords to determine the candidate’s suitability for the role).
You have about a minute to show why you have the right skills for the role. Be clear about what you can offer. Bullet points are effective. Match what you can offer with what they are looking for by reading the job description and candidate attributes carefully. For example, if the job asks for someone who can meet deadlines and work autonomously, these skills should be addressed in this section.
Show the prospective employer how you can contribute to the job beyond the expected responsibilities. List key achievements that match the role. Support your achievements with facts and figures.
5. Work experience
List positions in reverse order beginning with the most recent. Include employer names, positions and quantify primary responsibilities. Focus on the value you can add to the organisation. Support with facts and figures. Avoid writing job descriptions. Write strengths and accomplishments instead. Action verbs are useful. Avoid cliches. Do not leave gaps in this section. If you have taken a gap year, say so. Focus on the positives and value add you can offer to the prospective employer.
Read my section below on addressing COVID-gap below
6. Education and qualifications
List academic qualifications obtained, year and institution. This section can be brief.
Unless otherwise stated, you do not have to give references in your resume. You can write a caveat: References are available upon request.
Additional information on resume writing
Get into the habit of regularly updating your resume and your social media. Employers today are on the grid so be sure that your LinkedIn profile is up to date and you do not have any controversial posts on your social platforms.
How to address COVID gaps in your resume
Here are some useful tips that can help:
1. Be honest
Honesty is the best policy. Everyone understands the difficulties COVID poses so there’s no need to hide things. Include instead a reason why you had to leave your position.
2. Close the gap
List any work experiences and opportunities during this period for example volunteer work, pro bono or casual employment. The reason you do this is to show the employer you have not been sitting idle at home.
If you have used the time to upskill, your resume is a good place to introduce this to a prospective employer especially if the skills you have acquired are relevant to the role.
A winning resume could be the difference between getting an interview and getting a rejection letter. Resume writing need not be a daunting task if you know what to include in your resume. Tailor your resume to every job. Use facts and figures to support your claims. Pay attention to detail. Good luck with your job hunting!
As a business, HR and career strategist, Thai Ngo has worked with some of the biggest businesses in Australia to help people fulfil their professional potential. Thai firmly believes that the biggest barrier to success is often ourselves, but with the right guidance and the right perspective, that barrier can be overcome. Now he works with businesses, leaders and individuals to tap into their existing talent to create the professional and personal life they desire.