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If you’re looking for a job through job boards, direct applications and via recruiters, a professional resume that clearly articulates your value is essential. This one document can make or break your chances of getting a job interview.
Most recruiters and hiring managers won’t consider your job application until they’ve seen your resume, and applicant tracking systems (ATS) typically won’t allow you to submit your application without one.
As tempting as it can be to open your current resume in Word and start chopping at it, I humbly suggest that you start by stepping back from the keyboard.
Spend 45 minutes reflecting on who you are, what you stand for and what your ideal next career move is.
Get present to:
- What drives you?
- What makes you different from other candidates in your industry?
- What’s your professional mantra?
After you’ve gained this clarity, follow my comprehensive guide below (as well as my Australian resume example), to build a professional resume that gets the attention of recruiters and hiring managers. If you need advice on choosing the best resume format, you’ll find it here.
(By the way, if you want to have a winning resume that will help you land a great role in Sydney, Melbourne and beyond, also consider using my resume writing service for professionals or my resume writing service for executives).
1. Don’t Copy The Job Description.
Borrowing sentences from the position description is a terrible idea.
Most job descriptions are tactical in their scope and task-driven in their language – because they are typically written by junior staff who don’t have a mature understanding of how roles contribute to the strategic priorities of an organisation.
If you embrace the job description as a departure point for your resume, you’ll imbue it with the same characteristics, thus pitching yourself at a lower level of seniority.
In other words, you’ll sell yourself short.
This will almost certainly mean less money, less responsibility and a less impressive career trajectory.
Rather than harvesting job descriptions for useful resume content, I suggest that you use this guide, as well as other guides on this website, to learn how to write your resume from scratch.
2. Delete Your Career Objective.
A modern professional resume should not contain an Objective Statement.
In case you’re wondering, this is the culprit that I’m talking about:
At some point in history, it was common practice to place these self-indulgent and meaningless ramblings at the very top of resumes. This train, however, has well and truly left the station – c. 2005.
While good recruiters and hiring managers should ultimately care about your career objectives, at the initial stage of the recruitment process they are a lot more preoccupied with ensuring that you’re capable of solving a certain set of commercial problems.
To help them see you as a fit, replace the Objective Statement with a Professional Summary which contains a couple of succinct and snappy paragraphs that clearly communicate how you, as a person in that role, can solve an organisation’s challenges.
Here’s my tongue-in-cheek take on what the Professional Summary on Elon Musk’s professional resume may look like:
3. Create A Power Summary For Each Role.
Let me share with you a secret trick used by top resume writers to increase the impact of your role descriptions. Before you begin listing your responsibilities and achievements, create Power Summary of each role, which includes:
- A high-level overview of the role.
- The mandate.
- The main target.
Here’s an example:
4. Quantify Your Achievements.
Recruiters already know what Accountants, General Managers and Sales Executives do in their day-to-day work, so your resume does not need to contain a laundry list of your duties.
What a professional resume needs to do is demonstrate scope – and that requires hard numbers. Recruiters and hiring managers want to know:
- Size of your budget and your P&L accountability.
- Exact number of your direct and dotted-line reports.
- Insight into reporting structures, organisational size and hierarchy.
They need all these to piece together a picture of you as a candidate.
Use numbers – and be as specific as possible. Consider this achievement for a Director of Sales for a large online e-commerce retailer:
“Achieved 110% to annual sales target in 2016.”
Does this impress you? Do you want to hire this person on the spot? Here’s what I’m thinking:
- Who cares? Wasn’t 2016 a good year for online retail, anyway?
- How did this brand perform that year compared with their main competitors?
- How did they perform the year before, under the previous Sales Director?
In other words, this method of phasing achievements raises more questions than answers.
To make your achievements stand out, I suggest that you use a method called ARTA (Achieved Result By Taking Action).
Taking the above example, and rewriting it to have more impact using the ARTA method, we get:
“Delivered 110% to 2016 sales target [Achieved Result] by developing a new-to-company strategy to target the underdeveloped Gen Y market [by Taking Action]“.
PRO TIP: I’ve published a detailed guide that will help you write outstanding resume achievements. You’ll find it here.
5. Don’t List Every Job You’ve Had.
I understand the desire to include your entire work history on your resume. After all, you want to look experienced.
However, top professional resume writers usually take the opposite approach.
I suggest that you showcase your greatest hits, detailing between 3 and 6 of the most recent and relevant roles from the last 15 years of your working history.
In most cases, this will result in a resume that snugly fits into (the expected) 3-5 pages:
PRO TIP: Note how the professional resume in the above example is structured using the Russian Doll approach, with most recent roles allocated more real estate than those further back in time.
6. Don’t Overuse Resume Templates.
At no stage should your resume contain blocks of text from an existing resume template that you downloaded from the internet.
A resume template should only be used to ensure that your resume’s layout looks professional, modern and clean. The text needs to be written either by you or by a professional resume writer.
7. Eliminate Ambiguity.
Resumes are notorious for being laden with generalised, sweeping statements which don’t mean anything.
Management professionals are often the worst offenders for relying on stale, high-level terms like “driving success.”
Replace non-specific generalisms with specific details, facts, figures and examples.
For example, instead of saying “worked to achieve positive commercial outcomes”, explain what “positive outcomes” really meant in that context by communicating what you did (leading with an action verb), and why you did it (demonstrating the positive impact your actions had):
“Allocated human, financial, and manufacturing assets [What] to increase factory output and profitability, enabling the business to meet sales demand, improve customer satisfaction, and capture increased market share from key competitors [Why].”
“Forged cross-functional partnerships with senior client stakeholders [What] to identify business requirements and ensure the project plan aligned with organisational priorities [Why]“.
Cull ruthlessly. To make your resume look professional, remove everything except what recruiters really want to know: your role mandate, strategic priorities and scope.
Also, describe how you met your targets, contributed to organisational objectives and applied strong commercial acumen to add value.
The result will be a professional resume that delivers a powerful, undiluted message that showcases your skills, experience, and demonstrates your ability to meet key performance indicators.