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What Employers Look for in a Resume
Did you know that employers spend an average of only 10 to 20 seconds reading a
resume for the first time? Or that 85% of employers will stop reading a resume with
spelling or grammatical errors? With such a small margin for error, taking the time
to create a resume that employers want to read is definitely worth the effort.
Employers’ quick tips
Here is some of the most common advice from employers in our recent Employer Resume
and Cover Letter Survey (available in the Career Resource Library):
- "Target your resume to the job – don’t send me a generic resume!"
- "Be concise and clear"
- "Be honest"
- "Keep the format clean and simple with bulleted points – don’t be flashy!"
- "Include results in your descriptions of your experiences"
- "Spell-check and proofread!"
What Should My Resume Look Like?
Everyone has a different opinion of what a resume should look like — there is no
one right format. Some employers prefer the chronological format because it is clear
and easy to follow. However, the most important thing is to choose the right style
for you depending on how your experience matches up to the position requirements.
Below are the three basic types, followed by two variations:
Chronological - Sample
This works best when you have a clear career progression and recent career-related
experience. Information is presented in reverse chronological order, with the focus
on work experiences.
Functional or skills-based - Sample
This works best when you have little direct experience and want to emphasize transferable
skills and abilities. This style takes the attention away from your employment dates
and job titles by presenting your experiences under skill-based headings. This style
of resume is popular with career-changers and those with major gaps in their employment
history – otherwise it is not generally recommended.
Modified chronological or combination -
This works well when work experience is in several areas or there are minor gaps
in your employment history. As the name implies, this combines the best of both
the above types – generally starting with a skills-focused section and followed
by education and relevant experience. This style is very popular with current students
and recent graduates.
One-page resume - Sample
Certain industries in Canada (particularly the finance industry), as well as most
employers in the United States look for a one-page resume. This will require being
even more focused and concise than in a usual two-page resume.
International resumes for overseas work -
International resumes can vary considerably in format depending on the country.
The Global Resume and CV Guide, in the Career Resource Library, provides excellent
information on local standards and expectations for resumes and cover letters for
a range of countries.
What Goes in a Resume?
While there are wide variety of ways you can present your information in a
resume, there are standard sections that should always be included. Contact information
and objective generally appear first, but after that the order may vary depending
on the position to which you are applying — you will want to put the most relevant
information first when possible.
Make sure the employer has a clear way of contacting you or leaving a message. Include
your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and fax number (if available).
Your objective statement should be brief, specific, short-term, and honest. It should
relate to a specific career area or position.
In reverse chronological order — most recent first — list all your degrees and diplomas,
with dates of completion or expected dates of completion, program or area of study,
and educational institutions. You may want to include selected courses, G.P.A. (include
scale), awards, academic achievements, thesis or research topic if relevant to the
position to which you are applying.
This can include work experience, volunteer experience, extracurricular, or even
course projects if highly relevant. Experiences are listed in reverse chronological
order within each section (date, position, organization, city).
Think about highlighting career-related experiences by grouping them into relevant
and additional categories, or into areas of expertise such as teaching, public relations,
administrative, field work, laboratory, or programming.
Include volunteer and extracurricular experiences that demonstrate leadership,
communication, organizational, and other skills. In a chronological resume, they
are often listed in their own sections. Extracurricular activities can include
clubs, associations, and hobbies or sports.
For skills-based resumes, group your experiences into relevant categories like communication,
analytical, and computer. Include a brief work chronology toward the end of the
Looking for More Powerful Descriptions?
When describing your experiences be direct, assertive, honest, but not modest. Use
point-form statements, beginning with positive action words to describe your responsibilities
and accomplishments — include results if relevant. Accomplishment-based words include
terms like: achieved, attained, established, improved, motivated, refined, and spearheaded.
For help generating descriptions with more punch, read Your Skills and Your Accomplishments.
Need More Help Building Your Resume?
Sign up for the Resume and Cover Letter workshop
or try the resume builder tool in Career Cruising. Once you’ve got the rough version
complete you can make an appointment in the Resume Clinic to polish and target your application.