By Alexander Carbone

The extra free time you may have during the COVID-19 pandemic represents an opportunity to take a second look at your resume. Whether you are looking for a new job, refreshing your existing resume or trying to switch industries entirely, I have collected some facts and fiction on resume writing. Let’s get to it!

Fact: Know what’s required for your industry

Employers in different industries will have varying expectations for a resume and job application. For example, most business jobs typically have an expectation for a text-based resume and a cover letter. If you’re a graphic designer, however, you might be expected to provide a portfolio, or if you’re a developer, perhaps showcasing your work through a custom-built website is preferred. As well, you might be expected to include a link to your portfolio or LinkedIn profile on your resume.

You can visit websites like Vault, Glassdoor and other job-focused sites to find out more about what type of application file, including the resume, you are expected to submit. Be sure to follow industry standards but don’t be afraid to showcase your own personality.

Fact: White space is a good thing

Keep it light – there is no need to fill each line of your resume all the way until the end. White space can make your resume become significantly more readable, and it’s sometimes recommended you purposely create lines of different lengths to “break up” the visual appearance of your resume. If you can see white space on the page, that is a great thing. Also, remember that you don’t need to put down every award, accolade or GPA from every year!

Fiction: You should never explain your organization or job role on your resume; every bullet point should be “action-oriented”

If you are listing a professional or volunteer role with a household-name organization (e.g., Apple, Coca-Cola, Walmart, Boys and Girls Club, Heart and Stroke Foundation) then there is no need to provide an explanation. However, if you work (or volunteer) for a less known company, smaller company, or a company that is not well-known in the country you are applying in, putting a line in italics directly under the experience header before your bullets is completely OK – and even recommended. For example, I include a short line right below ACCESS on my resume that reads: “Toronto-based non-profit that provides micro-loans and business education to entrepreneurs facing financial barriers.” That way, everyone can understand the mission of the organization, and you can save your reader an extra Google search!

Fiction: Avoid all acronyms, jargon and other industry-specific language

Like many aspects of the resume-writing process, it depends. If you are applying to an industry where you have specific and extensive expertise, jargon might be no problem. For example, saying you “prepared tax returns for clients with a variety of financial account types, including RPPs, RRSP, RESPs, and LIRAs” is no problem if you’re applying for a job as a tax accountant. It might be, however, inappropriate if you’re looking to instead take your experience in tax and work for a startup in a finance role, where its founders reading the resume might not be familiar with those account types.

Sentences that even experts in your industry cannot make out due to the amount of jargon in them are never appropriate. However, you can certainly use industry-specific language if it makes sense to do so based on your audience.

Fiction: The education section must always come before job experience section

This is a common misconception, and the real answer is, it depends. For recent graduates (i.e., fewer than five years since graduation) or in professions where specialized education is required or highly valued (e.g., law or finance), having your education at the top makes sense. However, if you are an experienced applicant, or are in an industry where academic credentials matter less (which includes a lot of business professions!) you might instead focus on your experience first. It is all about your audience, industry and personal circumstances.

For example, when I was applying to summer jobs as a student, I would emphasize my education and related accomplishments – it would often take up more than half of my resume. This would not be the case now, given that I have more substantial work experience under my belt.

Fiction: Include a purpose statement at the top of your resume

Perhaps the biggest misconception is the purpose statement. Typically this will be a statement of what the application is looking for: “Experienced sales professional looking for full-time role in an enterprise software company.” In the vast majority of cases, this is not required – for some good reasons:

  • Your cover letter, which is required for many jobs, should include a statement of your interest
  • If you are submitting your resume to an employer for a specific job, they know what your purpose is – to get the job!

If you are submitting your resume to a general mailbox, the purpose statement could make sense. Once again, it comes down to one core concept – your audience.

The bottom line: Your resume needs to be tailored for your audience

This cannot be overstated – your resume should reflect the preferences, language, and needs of your audience. As you develop your resume, make sure you keep the following elements of your audience in mind:

  • What does my audience know? This will help you figure out what you should include on your resume. For example, if your audience generally understands specific certifications, types of education or job roles you are mentioning, these might not require further clarification. Otherwise, be prepared to explain – both on your resume and during your interview.
  • What does my audience care about? If you know your audience will care more about your education than your job experience, you need to tailor your resume format to this. In addition, if you believe your audience will care most about a specific position or accomplishment, make sure you highlight it. You might need to have different versions of your resume depending on where you apply.
  • What does my audience expect? If employers in the industry you are applying to have specific expectations around your resume format, types of qualifications or other types of application materials, make sure to anticipate these and provide what employers are seeking.

Time to get cracking on your resume – good luck!