Make Your Resume Pop - Tips on writing resume and that all-important cover letter
One of the key tools required in a job application is a resume (accompanied by a well-crafted cover letter). Often cited as the ‘first impression’ a recruiter has about a job applicant, the resume must be able to convey to the employer or recruiter that “I have what it takes to get the job done.”. Like all first impressions, the resume often lays the foundation of how the hirer perceives the abilities of the job applicant.
Writing a good resume will help you stand out from other applicants, hence the resume must demonstrate the skills, traits, experience and know-how that you will bring to the job role. As each job criteria is different, it will help to tailor your resume accordingly – focusing on specific experience or skills for one role, and cutting back less relevant portions of your resume, for another role.
Many organizations use screening algorithms or ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) based on relevant keywords to shortlist candidates. Your resume must, therefore, contain these keywords to get past this initial screening stage.
Here are some tips on how you can write a resume that works:
1. Your resume must convey who you are and why you can do the job. Rather than be focussed on a specific type of format, look at which formats best matches your experience or the role you want to go into. The three most common resume formats are:
Reverse-chronological format - the most common and practical resume format. This format will list your work experiences and skills in reverse-chronological order.
Functional format – this format is sometimes called a skills-based resume, where only skills (with no chronological order) are highlighted. This is sometimes confusing for the recruiter.
Hybrid format – A combination of the other two formats, and it focuses on both skills and experiences.
Depending on the role you are applying to, you can choose the format that best matches the job advertisement requirements. You can also modify it in certain ways. For example, you may choose to reduce the amount of information in past work experience for your earliest jobs (especially if it has been many decades ago or it is not related to your more recent roles).
1. Keep your resume succinct
The reader of your resume, who is either the recruiter or the hiring manager receives numerous applications for each role. The more succinct your resume, the more likely the reader (hiring recruiter) will spend time reading it. Most recruiters recommend two pages as the ideal length, but it will also depend on how much content you want to include. The best guide of a resume length is to ask yourself – is the content you put in the resume relevant to the job? Are there too many unnecessary details?
2. Essential resume components
There are certain resume segments that ideally, should be included in your resume, regardless of the job position you are applying to:
a. Contact Information – state your name, contact email address and contact number. You may choose to include a link to your LinkedIn profile (which allows you to elaborate on certain projects or details which cannot be mentioned in your resume.). There is no requirement to put your home address in your resume. There is also no necessity to provide identification details, such as a passport or NRIC number.
b. Professional Summary – This section is usually about 50 to 150 words, providing a summary to describe your relevant experience and skills. This is the ‘sales pitch’ within your resume. In this section, highlight the value you can bring to the firm and how you are different from other applicants. This section should always be tailored to every role you apply for. It is in this section, that you should include keywords (in the form of competencies) from the job description so that an ATS can identify your resume as a match. For those who are career transitioning across different job roles, you might want to highlight competencies that you have, which are transferable to the new potential role that you are applying to.
c. Achievements – Rather than simply listing out your job duties, try to highlight areas where you went above and beyond your job and achieved success. For each achievement, try to support it with facts, statistics or even a link (to a project website). These details will serve as proof of your achievements, making your claim more credible.
d. Work experience – Your work history section should form the biggest portion of your resume. List past positions in reverse order, beginning with the most recent. Include employer names, your job positions and primary responsibilities. Be sure to focus on the value-add you brought to each role – rather than just your day-to-day job activities. This section should highlight your strengths and you can use action verbs such as “managed” or “led” or “started” to prove the value of your experience. Refrain from going into too many details, instead choose to highlight key points.
e. Education and qualifications – keep this section brief and only include qualifications that are recognised. You only need to bring up actual qualifications
3. You can choose to leave out certain components, or at least keep them brief:
References – there is no need to elaborate on this. You can simply add a line “References available upon request.”
Copies of your academic qualification – this is not needed and the company will ask for them if you are shortlisted
Courses taken – only include those that are relevant and would be valued by the employer
Hobbies and Other competencies – Language skills, especially those that are required for a job, should be included but kept brief (include the level of competency for each language). Hobbies can also be mentioned but concisely.
4. In general, keeping your resume in a PDF or MSWord format is ideal. You should also ensure that your file size is not too big (especially if you are required to attach it to an online site). Ensure that there is sufficient white space to enhance readability. Fonts recognised are usually Arial 10 or 12 point size and you can use bullet points to keep key points concise and organised. Always check for spelling and punctuation errors.
Cover letters are not always requested as part of the job application. However, if you have the opportunity to include it, you should. The cover letter is often tailored to (1) the job role (2) the company you are applying to and (3) your ‘unique selling proposition’. It is in the cover letter that you can show how your experience and current skills make you a right fit for the role. You can also use the cover letter to clearly explain why you are applying to the job role and this specific company. Do some prior research on the company’s culture, and you can reflect, via the cover letter, on how you are a good fit for the work culture of the firm.
The cover letter also allows you to share experiences outside of your work experience, that highlights personality traits or skills picked up, which will make you an ideal candidate for the role. For example, if you had successfully relocated overseas to work in a country that is very different from Singapore and you were able to adapt well, this would show a strong ability to manage and deal with changes.
Some recruiters request cover letters, as it can be a useful gauge of the job applicants written communication skills ability.
For career transitioners or individuals who are returning to work after a career gap, the cover letter is an excellent way to explain your change and also highlight areas of growth (and potential) that you picked up as a result of the change.
Ultimately, the resume, together with the cover letter is meant to brand you as a job applicant that is well-suited for the job function. Therefore, after crafting your resume, seek a third party’s opinion about it. Ask your proofreader to pick up areas in your resume that make you a suitable candidate. If there are sufficient points to tell your story, then you know that your resume (and cover letter) is good to go!
Looking for more tips for your career? Check out our other article on Leveraging Linkedin to Start and Build Your Career. Subscribe to our Digi-Fam e-newsletter and be part of Young NTUC's digital community.