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There's so much more to a resume than a chronological listing of your skills and experiences. An effective CV should not just win you an interview, it should boost your confidence, clarify what you want and help make the interview easy for both you and the recruiter.

Karalyn Brown of job search consultancy Interview IQ, and a former recruiter and HR professional, discusses how to make your resume work for you.

Secrets of a good resume

There's volumes on resumes, written on websites and in published in books. Library shelves are full of advice from experts and many companies make a tidy income from offering their services as resume professionals.

There's a good reason why there is such a thriving industry. Your resume is more than your advertisement, it's the compelling reason people should interview you. Putting a resume together can be a cathartic experience. It clarifies want you have done, what you would like to do and helps signpost the right career direction. In short it's a confidence building exercise.

Not only can a good resume win you an interview, it can also give you a competitive edge. An effective resume has already answered many of the recruiter's questions, meaning that in interview, you can have an in depth discussion about how you can contribute to the company's success.

Before you start typing

Put away the advertisement and create a mind map. Think about everything you are looking for from your next role. List your positions and your achievements in each position you've held. Write down what a company needs to offer you in order for you to perform at your best. Consider what you can bring to a company and where you would like to head with your career.

Then go back to the advertisement and see if you match the role, the requirements and what the organization can offer you.

This process gives you clarity, self confidence and ensures that you are applying for roles for which you truly believe you are suitable.

Tailoring your resume for the position

As a recruiter it is very easy to identify a standard mass application. If you are serious about finding the right role, then you need to invest time and energy into making every application meaningful. This means tailoring your resume for each position.

It's not enough to list your jobs in chronological order and summarise your responsibilities. To make it easy for the recruiter to quickly establish your suitability for the role, make sure you:

  • Pick out the key requirements from the advertisement and ensure they feature prominently in your list of responsibilities and achievements
  • Demonstrate the difference your skills, qualifications and training have made to the organizations for which you have worked

Compare the following examples of two candidates who describe one of their responsibilities as a Sales Manager.

Applicant 1

"Communicated with existing customers"

Applicant 2

"Maintained successful relationships with high value customers (billings over $50K) through regular sales visits. Increased yearly unit revenue by 14% and contributed to division exceeding growth targets by 6%."

The first applicant reveals very little about their level of responsibility and nothing about what contribution they made. The recruiter in this case would need to ask, "how did you communicate"; "for what purpose"; "who did you communicate with"; and "how did you measure your success in this role"?

In interviewing the second applicant the recruiter can go straight to the point to clarify whether the candidate's sales skills are transferable to the new environment.

Use of detail

Try to use more detail for your most recent positions. The recruiter needs to see the logic in your application rather than trying to second guess why you would be applying for this role. If you focus too much on an older job, even though it may have been your most satisfying and senior role, the recruiter may believe your career has peaked and may interview other candidates.

Use specific language and active words and keep it brief

The language you use should engage the audience and have an unambiguous meaning. Use action words to make your resume convincing. These are words that end in "ed". Examples are achieved, delivered and devised. Used in your responsibility and achievement section of your resume they convey a sense of power and influence and reveal your level of accountability.

A small but important point. Action words also are also brief, which means you can describe more with them and limit the size of your resume. Which leads to a critical point, keep your resume to four or five pages maximum.

Recruiters often see hundreds of resumes and are therefore busy people who do not have time to wade through volumes. Research says that an employer will spend approximately 40 seconds in the initial screening of a resume, perhaps even less. This means all the important information about you needs to be on the first page. All the more reason to tailor your resume to the position.

A final word on presentation

It may seem obvious, but clean presentation is essential as is perfect spelling and grammar.
Firstly to be short listed beyond the recruiters first screen, it needs to be easy for them to find information about you. Secondly, no matter how impressive your achievements are, it looks less than professional if your resume has spelling mistakes, poor punctuation and grammar. Most roles require written communication. What's on your resume is a quick way for the employer to assess your ability in this area.

An insider's tip

There are studies out there that suggest that many people are less than completely honest on their resumes, either by omission or exaggerating their level of responsibility or achievements. This is a risky practice easily exposed through detailed questioning or by a background and reference check.

If you are tempted to do this, you will not be doing yourself any favours if you are successful in interview and then find out you are unsuitable for the role.

Useful resources

For tips on resume writing and just about everything else you need to know about conducting a successful job search see the Riley Guide.

For a professional resume service see Successful Resumes Australia.

For a comprehensive listing of action words and other useful resources visit the Career Development and Employment section of RMIT's website.

About Karalyn Brown

Karalyn has over 10 years experience as a decision maker in recruitment, in a consultancy and in corporate HR. Karalyn owns and runs Interview IQ who provide personalised interview coaching and job search advice. For more information visit

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