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Writing an Effective Résumé

Writing a résumé can be a daunting task. Quite often, the power of a résumé is underestimated, but of course, a résumé presents the first impression of you to your potential employer. Since it could be one among thousands of résumés sent to a company, it is really important that your résumé establishes your value as an employee and captures the attention of the prospective employer. While a top-notch résumé can enhance your chances of gaining an interview, a disorganised résumé can risk you being turned down at the very first glance. Overall, being able to produce an effective résumé is very important. Below we have listed a few guidelines to make your résumé appeal to employers:

  • Overview: Because the selection committee will receive so many applications for the job, it is important to make your résumé stand out from the crowd. A short overview at the top of the page, briefly outlining who you are and why you are the ideal candidate can help to catch the employer’s attention.
  • Details: Your résumé should document your employment history, education background, relevant skills and qualifications, professional and life experiences and accomplishments. Your résumé represents who you are and convinces a potential employer that you are the right candidate for the job.
  • Relevance: Relevance is an essential. The personal information, skills, qualifications and accomplishments listed in the résumé should specifically pertain to the position. If possible, choose them to respond to the selection criteria in the job advertisement. You can borrow wording here and there to ensure that your employers don’t miss how closely you match the criteria. It is unnecessary to include hobbies and personal interests unless these are directly relevant to the job description.
  • Length: Since most recruiters spend only a few minutes skimming through your résumé looking for potential and solid qualifications, it should neither be too long nor not too short. Although it is important that your skills are conveyed to the prospective employer, if listing all the projects and courses that you have been involved in excessively lengthens the résumé, you can summarise. It is better to state the most important information and notable accomplishments at the top. This can quickly draw the reader’s focus to what you do and what you are likely to contribute. Although the length of the résumé depends on your experience, preferably, it should not be longer than three pages. An ideal résumé is succinct, yet comprehensive.
  • Language: Avoid lengthy verbiage. To highlight your accomplishments, use strong and active language, for example, ‘supervised’ instead of the passive structure, ‘was responsible for supervising’, because this sounds more dynamic.
  • Word choice: Choose appropriate terms and words when providing information in résumés. Carefully choose words that precisely describe your skills and talents. Many people write ‘we [the team] did …’ without clearly stating their level of participation. Moreover, as much as you want to impress the employer, do not exaggerate your skills and experiences. Claiming that you possess a strong proficiency or a particular skillset when, in fact, you are barely at an intermediate level, might become an issue later on.
  • Editing: Before handing in your résumé, make sure you review it or have it reviewed very thoroughly. It is an excellent idea to have your résumé professionally edited. Any kind of error in your résumé should be avoided at all costs.

Updated 19 May 2023
Emily Finlay, PhD, AE (IPeD)