When I started looking for a new job, I wasn’t entirely sure where to start. I updated my resume with my recent work experience, and started applying for jobs. After four weeks, I’d had one interview for a job that wasn’t really suitable, and very few replies to my job applications. Agencies were keen to get me on their books, but a lot of them didn’t call me more than once.
I then went back to my resume and worked on some changes that generated more callbacks and helped me to stand out from the crowd. Here are some of the changes I made.
Building a resume is much like building a website – if you can’t get the reader interested at the very beginning, they won’t read to the end of the page.
I work in IT development. For an IT development job, the very first thing I need to say is what I can do and how much experience I have in each of the technologies I work in. This is the acid test; if the employer or agent sees that I have experience in PHP/MySQL but they’re recruiting for a Java position, I’m not going to be the best candidate for the role. That’s fine – it means I’m not wasting people’s time by being recommended for jobs that I won’t be able to take.
It’s also wise to review the requirements for the jobs you apply for before you put in your application. If they require a lot of skills that you don’t have, that’s probably not the job for you. However, if you have a lot of what the job requires but you’re missing just one or two points, you may find there is some flexibility.
This was one of the things I added to my resume that made a huge difference to the results I was getting. For instance, do you have a genuine interest in the work you do? If there are skills you don’t have, would you be able to learn them?
Try to be specific – don’t just say “reliable, team player, professional” … explain further. Chances are, you’ll be able to include more information in the work experience section.
Order is important
If you’re not applying for a technical role, then your personal strengths could be more important than your computer skills. If so, put your personal strengths first.
I used to put my work experience first and my technical skills last. This did not help with my applications as a lot of people didn’t bother to read to the end.
This is where you list your previous jobs and what each role required you to do. There is a lot of scope here, so don’t sell yourself short. Don’t just regurgitate your job description – show how you made a difference.
Education and qualifications
If you don’t have a lot of work experience but you achieved good grades at school, or you’ve got a degree, don’t bury that information at the bottom of your resume.
Once you’ve built up several years of work experience, your education should start to become something of a footnote. Sure, if you have excellent qualifications, don’t remove them completely – but as time goes on, your work experience will be much more recent.
Get a serious email address
Don’t put something like “firstname.lastname@example.org” on your resume. Ideally, what you want is something along the lines of email@example.com – though it’s acceptable to use the email address provided by your ISP.
Don’t want to include something? Leave it out!
There are some things that a lot of people put on their resume that are probably not going to make any difference to the application. You don’t want to waste valuable space with things that don’t matter. Some examples you can probably leave out include:
- date of birth
- marital status
- “references available on request” (this goes without saying – if they are needed, you’ll be asked for them)
You don’t need to list every job
If you’ve moved around a lot, you’ve done a lot of jobs that aren’t relevant to what you’re looking for right now, or you have various “odd jobs” that will just fill up a lot of space without adding any value, consider providing an abridged version of your work experience.
I don’t list anything prior to December 1998, because that’s when I started working in IT. I’ve been asked questions like “but what did you do before then?”, so make sure you are prepared to answer those questions at an interview – it’s a simple question to answer, but when it’s so long ago, I’m not sure if it’s all that relevant anymore. It’s certainly not going to improve my chances if I include irrelevant work experience that I didn’t really enjoy doing.
I used to have a resume containing over 10 years worth of job experience, condensed into just one page. Many of the agencies were quite impressed with this – I got straight to the point, and a potential agent or employer would know very quickly if I would be a good fit for the positions they were hiring for.
I had a suggestion to expand my resume quite considerably – one agent was used to candidates with resumes that were in excess of 3 pages. I strongly disagreed with this approach and quoted comments from the other agencies who said nobody reads a resume as long as that, unless you’re going for a very senior position (think of a director for a large company).
Although I stood my ground, I did decide to relax on the one page resume idea a little, and expanded to one and a half pages. This is because I looked over my freelance experience and I realised that while it was in a very prominent position on my resume, I hadn’t gone into much detail at all. So, I addressed this – and it made a huge difference to my job search.
Regular updates, and keeping track of things
During my job search, I kept finding things that I could improve on my resume. It’s never a finished document – you can keen on improving it.
There were a few instances where an agent wanted to put me forward for a job, and I was able to say that I had an updated copy of my resume that I wanted them to send. This pushed the agent to email me. I would then reply with my updated resume, and I would have a record of our conversation.
I’m more than happy to talk with agents on the phone (I spoke with approximately 50 different IT agencies over a period of 8 weeks), and I do keep a log of all the calls I exchange with them – but I find that email is a very convenient way to chase people up if you haven’t heard anything for a while.