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How to write a resumé

Think of your resumé as a marketing tool for promoting yourself to a potential employer. Its main purpose is to get you an interview.

You will probably spend hours polishing your resumé, but an experienced human resources staffer will read it in about 30 seconds. So it’s important to craft an effective resumé that truly represents who you are.

In this article…

Resumé styles

  1. Chronological resumé:
    This is the most common type of resumé.

    If you have continuous experience in one field, the chronological resumé highlights your career development and increasing responsibilities. Your employment history is presented in reverse chronological order, working backwards from the most recent. It shows the length of time at each job, the employer’s name, your position and a brief description of your duties.

    However, this type of resumé may not be appropriate if your work experience is varied or if there are gaps in your employment history.

  2. Skills-based resumé:
    Use this type of resumé if your work experience is varied or if you are making a career change.

    This resumé highlights the skills you have acquired over the course of your career, underscoring those most relevant to the position.

    A skills based resumé is also recommended if you have little work experience; for example, if you have just graduated. Skills are grouped by type of activity and listed according to their relevance to the position being applied for. Someone applying for a position in human resources would emphasize skills such as staffing, supervision and drafting job descriptions.

    Include a short chronological employment history but without detailing duties.

  3. Functional resumé:
    This type of resumé is useful when your achievements are more impressive than the jobs you have held.

    This is often the case for employees with common duties, such as a grocery store clerk, or people in a very competitive field, such as sales. Achievements are grouped by type of activity, describing how each “feat” was accomplished. Someone in sales and marketing, for example, could mention that he or she had increased a former employer’s sales by 20% by introducing a new prospecting approach.

    Include a short chronological employment history but without detailing duties.

  4. Mixed resumé:
    Use a mixed resumé to highlight both achievements and work experience. Achievements are presented first, followed by a detailed chronological employment history. This classic, easy-to-understand format is ideal for bringing your successes to the attention of recruiters, including those achieved in jobs you held a long time ago.

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A resumé should be two to three pages at most. That said, an employer will continue reading as long as the resumé holds his or her interest. Therefore, it may be preferable to add a page than to leave out important information. Computer scientists, for example, often include a page describing all the computer platforms they have worked with.

Don’t pad your resumé by giving the names and addresses of your references. If necessary, you can give the recruiter a list of references during the interview.

The content should not be overwhelmed by the layout, the typeface, or originality of form. It’s enough for your resumé to be attractive, clear and easy to read. Human resources firms generally prefer simple resumés regardless of the position the candidate is applying for.

If you feel your potential employer would appreciate it, you might add a distinctive touch: a logo, a symbol, a different font. To someone plowing through 200 resumés, one that shows a little originality is like a breath of fresh air.

Originality is more likely to be welcomed if form follows function. For example, if you are applying for a job in computer graphics, this could be an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of desktop publishing software. An artistic director’s resumé should demonstrate his or her personality, creativity and sense of style.

As resumés are often photocopied or scanned, specialists recommend not to use dark paper. Thick or embossed paper is also to be avoided. A resumé jammed inside a photocopier won’t help you land the job.

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What to include

Your achievements are your greatest asset. You helped your former employer increase sales? Say it! Success speaks for itself.

If you worked for many years at one job, provide a list of work-related achievements. If, on the other hand, you have just finished your studies and have little work experience, include your extracurricular activities and any relevant summer employment.

Use action verbs to show your enthusiasm and dynamism. Above all, be clear and concise.

Your resumé should include a section on “training and professional development” and an “additional information” section listing talents or qualifications such as computer or language skills.

At the end of your resumé, you might add a section on your interests and hobbies. This will give an employer a clearer idea of your character, and it can be particularly helpful if your interests match the job. For example, if you are applying for a position with an international organization, having travelled around Africa or Asia could lift you above the crowd. It’s your call.

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What to avoid

Don’t include personal details such as age, marital status, height, weight, ethnic origin, etc. Nor should you give your social insurance number.

Don’t use family members and friends as references. Choose former employers or teachers.

Avoid impersonal, all-purpose resumés. A potential employer is far more impressed by a tailor-made resumé.

Don’t lie and don’t exaggerate your accomplishments. It always gets out in the end, and leaves a bad impression.

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