I often get asked to review resumes for friends, families and industry new grads, and I’m constantly surprised at how poorly people build a resume. So I thought I’d build a comprehensive article on how to create an awesome resume.
I’m not talking about just any old resume here, I’m talking about building a truly killer resume that will lend to you getting an interview and landing your dream job.
I promise it’s not that hard. It just takes a tad bit of time, a little bit of finessing, and a hint of creativity. Let’s get started!
What is the purpose of a resume?
Before we start to build a resume, let’s quickly make sure that we know what the purpose of a resume is. If you don’t know the purpose of a resume, it’s going to be hard to build one!
Your resume is essentially an advertisement of you to a potential employer. It outlines your skills, accomplishments and abilities—not necessarily in a way that summarizes them but in a way that tailors your skills for the job you’re applying for.
For your resume to work for you, it needs to:
- Make you look like a star—this is its primary purpose
- Highlight the parts of your career history that pertain to this job
- Show a bit of your personality off
- Give someone a quick snapshot of your skills and abilities
And please DO NOT forget to include your contact information. No one can hire you if they can’t get in contact with you. Seriously, they can’t.
What’s the difference between a resume and a CV?
There seems to be confusion about what the difference between a resume and a CV is. So, before we get into building a resume, let’s highlight those differences.
The main difference between a CV and a resume rests in their:
A good resume is a maximum of two pages in length and highlights your skills, accomplishments and abilities with reference to the specific job you’re applying for—your resume will change! A CV, on the other hand, details a high-level overview of your entire carer history. That means it’s not limited to two pages.
The purpose of the CV is, like I said, to give a detailed history of your career to a potential employer—CVs are also used in a number of government applications and the like. A resume, however, is tailored to a specific job that you are applied for.
Finally, the layout of a CV is very technical. CVs are laid out in chronological order and include all of your employment positions, abilities and accomplishments. A CV never changes, beyond what you add to it. A resume, on the other hand, changes based on the job you are applying for. It is a snapshot of your tailored work history.
CVs tend to be favoured in European countries, including Germany, the UK and Ireland. Resumes are the primary preference of employers in Canada and the United States. If you live in Canada or the United States, you’ll likely only require a CV when you’re applying for international jobs.
How to build a resume
Types of resumes
There are three types of resumes you can create:
- chronological—lists your resume according to when the experience too place. Typically chronological resumes see the most recent experience on the top and the last on the bottom.
- functional—lists your resume according to skill relevancy and function.
- combination—uses a combination of the chronological and functional layouts.
The most popular resume, and the one we’re all most likely familiar with, is the chronological resume. Functional resumes are great for job changes because they focus on skill, which is better when it comes to hiding a lack in experience.
My resume (see above) is probably considered a “combination” resume as it holds a timeline of my work history (which is not prominently featured), but focuses mainly on function and skill.
What to include on a resume
You can include anything professional that’s relevant to a job that you’re applying for when you build your resume, but there are a few sections that should be on there:
The education section on your resume is pretty self-explanatory. It’s where you can include any education, certificates or relevant classes that you’ve taken.
For each entry, you’ll want to include:
- The credential you gained or name of the class, certificate or otherwise that you took
- The year you completed it
- Where you took it
Master of Arts, Intercultural & International Communication (2019)Example of an education entry
Royal Roads University
Work History or Experience
When it comes to your work history and experience, depending on when you are in your career, you might have to do some picking-and-choosing of what you include.
Your cashier job at 7-11 in 2001 is likely not relevant if you’re applying for an accounting manager job. Likewise, being an accounting manager is not terribly relevant if you’re switching careers to be a film production assistant.
You’ll want to tailor your resume’s experience section so that you don’t include everything, but definitely include something.
For each entry, you’ll want to include:
- Job title
- Time period
- Short description of your duties, relevant to job you’re applying to— you can do this via bullet points, a summary or otherwise
Communication Coordinator, 2013-2014Example of an experience entry
Alberta Utilities Commission
– Provide communication support to the organization and Commission members
– Draft and edit decisions and other public documents
– Draft organization’s first social media strategy and policy
While my hope is that you already know this must be included, I want to make sure that you know to definitely include your contact information. That can include any (or all) of the following:
- Email address
- Phone number
- Social media profiles (definitely include LinkedIn if you have it… and you should have it)
- Portfolio / website
Other resume components
Ditch the “objective” statement. I don’t care what your career counsellor told you, no one cares. If you hand in a resume, the HR department knows that you are aiming to get a job with them. Instead, trade this in for a professional summary—this is a quick elevator pitch that gives a snapshot of what you’re all about.
I am a passionate, dedicated leader that works exceptionally with everyone. As an emotional chameleon, I can jive with any crowd from frontline staff and senior executives, to government officials and dignitaries. I handle conflict with grace, dignity and respect, but can act as a catalyst when change needs to be made.Example of a personal statement
You can also include a collection of personal interests, pending they are interesting or relevant.
Volunteer experience is great to include, especially if you’re new to the game or making a job change. Volunteer experience can be a great way to show capabilities and past experience that your current work history doesn’t show.
Awards, if you’ve won any relevant awards definitely include them on your resume. I say relevant because no one cares about the dance award metal that you won in 1999. Just sayin’
Memberships are relevant if you’re in an industry where memberships matter. For example, if you’re a legal marketer and are a member of the Legal Marketing Association, that would be considered a relevant membership. Likewise, if you’re a member of a bar association and are applying for a legal job (which is more likely than not required for you to work as such), it would be relevant.
What should a resume look like?
While there is definitely a “typical” resume look, you can really do whatever you want. In fact, with the job market as competitive it is, it’s important for your resume to stand out. That means making it look nice.
To make your resume presentable you should at the very least do the following:
- Make sure there are NO SPELLING MISTAKES
- Make sure there is white space—no one wants to look at a block page of text
- Make sure it is uniform—if you’re bolding company names, make sure you do it throughout, etc.
- Make your contact information prominent
- Make sure there aren’t any references to other applications you’ve made
Where can you find resume templates?
The good news about designing a resume is that you don’t have to do it from scratch. There are a ton of places where you can get resume templates to work from.
Free resume templates:
- Microsoft Office resume templates
- Google Docs resume templates
- Canva resume templates (Canva has both paid and free assets)
If you are a graphic designer that has access to InDesign, I highly recommend building a resume there (that’s where mine is built). You can get some great paid resume templates from a number of resources, including Adobe Stock where I purchased mine.
Paid resume templates:
Resume tips for students, new grads & career changes
If you’re a student, new grad or orchestrating a big career change, building a resume can be a bit of a challenge.
Chances are you have limited experience that you can directly apply to your desired role, and you’re looking for a way to illustrate your transferrable skills to potential employers.
Even if you’ve never done a certain job before, chances are you already have a ton of skills that can help you illustrate your capabilities.
Look at your volunteer experience (or get some if you don’t have any). Volunteer experience is my personal favourite way to get real experience to help you get a job.
There are a ton of great organizations out there that need someone with your passion and experience (no matter how limited) to operate, and they’re always looking for people.
Before I had my first full-time, “professional” job, I already sat on a non-profit board, had planned huge events and run a marketing team. All of which helped me land my first gig.
Use your personality
I’ll give you a secret about hiring new employees—as much as companies are looking for experience, they’re also looking for personality. People who fit into their corporate culture, believe in their values and will tow the company line.
When you’re applying for entry level jobs, they already know that you don’t have a ton of experience… or any at all. They’re looking for somebody who’s trainable and will fit in with their team. So show them that’s you!
Network your way to a new job
Networking is incredibly important, especially if you have little-to-no experience. Meet the people who make the hiring decisions, and show them how awesome you are so that when they get a copy of your resume, they remember you!
And get a referral from someone within a company. While it doesn’t mean you’ll get the job, it does help the hiring managers know that someone knows you. Just make sure the person who does the referral likes you because the people doing the hiring will definitely ask them about you.
Do you have any great resume tips? Share them in the comments below!