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The Resume Project: How to stand out from the crowd

Grace has read and assessed thousands of résumés in her 12 year career as a talent manager. Here’s what we asked her.


Sam: For me, when I see someone’s resume and it lists their primary school, it’s a real collar tugger moment. What other details are awkward and irrelevant to include?

Grace: Star signs, street addresses, part time high school jobs – they are all unnecessary.  You also do not need to include every job you’ve ever had. Your résumé is a marketing document, not an exhaustive account of everything you’ve ever done in life. You’re allowed to pick and choose what to include, based on what will and won’t strengthen your candidacy.

Sam: What jobs wouldn’t you include?

Grace: Anywhere that you’ve worked for less than two months or a part-time job outside your industry that you picked up for extra cash.

Sam: Including a role that you’ve been fired from seems like a poor choice, too.

So what happens in the scenario if I cut all of those jobs out and then there is a huge gap of time in my work history, and the employer looks at it and thinks I was out of work for 8 – 9 months…

… I guess my question is, what do you do about gaps in resumes?

Grace: Tricky question. If you have been fired from a role and without including it you’ll have a large gap on your resume, than include it. Hopefully they won’t ask about your choice to transition into the next role.

If they do, you’ll need to be calm and not be defensive. For example you could say, “actually, I was let go. I reported to two different managers and was getting conflicting instructions from each, and I didn’t speak up about it when I should have. I ultimately I dropped some balls. It taught me a lot about needing to speak up early on when priorities aren’t clear so that never happens again. In my next role, I left on great terms, I am still on contact with my mangers today.”

And if you have lots of gaps in your resume that are full of 3 – 6 month stints in various, unrelated industries… this is a problem too.

If this is you than you really need to sit back and assess what you want and what kind of work suits you before jumping into another role blindly. Employers don’t take nicely to, “that job wasn’t what I thought it was,” if that’s an answer you’ll need to use on multiple occasions as they jump through your career.

Sam: Right, next. What are you meant to put underneath the title of your job? You’d have, for example: April 2019 – April 2020, Marketing Coordinator, Virgin Airlines.

Grace: This is where the real action is on any résumé, and it’s the part that separates great résumés from mediocre ones.

What did you actually accomplish at each job you listed? This is important: You should not just regurgitate your job description here. We’re looking for what results you achieved.

Sam: Give me an example?

Grace: Most people list things like “managed social media,” or “coordinated events,” or “managed client accounts.” These are just activities that they were assigned to do. All this does is tell me that you had a job description at your old job, I don’t know if you were any good at it.

Sam: So I want to include metrics or tangible measurements of what I did? (See some examples here)

Grace: Yes, “I conceptualised, developed and executed all social media posts; seeing a 127% increase in followers in a 12 month period. We went from 42,095 followers, to xyz followers.”

Sam: Why did you have to give me that analogy using xyz followers? Can you not do the maths on a 127% increase in followers from a base number of 42,095 in your head?

Grace: Real question?

Sam: No, but actually – let’s do a second Q&A piece soon that talks about how to tackle hard interview questions.

Grace: Anyone that’s asking that question in an interview is looking to assess your confidence in problem solving; it wouldn’t be an assessment of your maths ability. They’d be looking to see how you react to a hard question and how logical your approach to answering it is.

Sam: See, great intel – let’s do that second Q&A later. (Actually, readers – do you want this? Tell me in the comments section). Ok back to the resume. What if you’re having trouble thinking of your job in terms of accomplishments?

Grace: A lot of people struggle with this. Think about what you actually DID day to day, write that on a piece of paper. Then imagine a complete stranger going into that situation and trying to execute that task. Is there scope for them to mess it up? The gap between that scenario and your performance is what you want to capture on your résumé.

Sam: What do you put into the education section?

Grace: For most people, the education section will be just a line or two, listing where you went to university or studied in a tertiary capacity, and what you degree you obtained. If you’re a recent graduate, include your graduation year; it’s fine to leave it off and it’s actually very common for people to exclude it in order to avoid age discrimination.

Sam: What if I got HDs and did really well in my HSC? Is it ok to include your marks?

Grace: I say yes. If your marks are going to open a door for you, why not let them.

See Also

Sam: When I see the word “objective” at the top of a resume I barf. But I do like “about me” or “profile,” what do you think?

Grace: I recommend just a short list at the top of your résumé — like two to three sentences or bullet points — summing up who you are as a candidate and what differentiates you from other people.

Sam: Do you show personality in this?

Grace: It depends what the job is. I was doing some research on your site before this Q&A and really liked something that Zoe Foster Blake said in the interview you did with her, so I might steal it.

“I remember how many intern applications we would receive at Cosmo or Harpers that looked as if they were prepared for a law firm, and it just didn’t makes sense for me. If you are applying for a creative job – you think creative. If you are looking to work in advertising, maybe sell yourself as you would a product review; if you are applying for a job at a wine company, send your application in on a wine bottle label. So, while working in the magazine industry where you have two seconds to sell a magazine cover to a buyer, you need to do the same for yourself”.

Sam: That interview was so many years ago – literally when we started. She’s got a global brand under her belt now… wild.

Grace: Yeah, but the message rings true. Match your resume to the job you want. If you are looking for a job at a law firm, resist the impulse to play around with design. It’s not hard to understand the tone and the culture of where you are applying.

Sam: Any other tips?

Grace: I love, love, love examples of work and portfolio attachments.

Sam: Same. Ok, I would love some example resumes from you. I would also like some example one liners that people could use in their experience section. And would also like some examples of personal statements. Can you send these to me to include in our newsletter that goes out Thursday morning?

Grace: Yeah, sure – on top of the resume builder I am helping you finalise…

Sam: Yep, let’s talk about that. It’s a nice teaser. We are launching a CV builder for our Footnotes audience that will be live in a few weeks It’s part of a product we’ve been working on for about a year now.

Grace: I wish I had of had it in my 20s.

Sam: Exactly the feedback I want! Thank you for your time and for our readers, if you want those examples, sign up to our newsletter.

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