Writing resumes

You probably have more experience than you think. Your resume is a tool that lets you share who you are and what you're capable of. Unfortunately, most employers will only spend 20 seconds or less scanning your resume for the first time. In that brief time frame, your resume must clearly demonstrate how your skills, experience, education, and characteristics correspond with what they are looking for. You don’t have a lot of time to make a good impression. Here’s how to do it.

Using accomplishment statements

Using accomplishment statements in your resume is an effective way to stand out from other applicants. In the past, people simply listed the duties and responsibilities of their previous roles. Today’s employers expect to see skills and results. Highlighting your accomplishments will capture the employer’s attention, show what you are capable of and prove that you can bring value to the organization. It’s important that you provide examples to demonstrate that you have a specific skill.

An accomplishment describes the action you took and the result that came from it. Be honest when describing your accomplishments, provide specific examples and whenever possible, quantify them by using numbers (i.e. # of hours saved, amount of money raised). There are three key steps to creating effective accomplishment statements.

Step 1: Think of a time when you:

  • Made a difference in your school, job, or community. What was it and how did you make it happen?
  • Saved time or money for an organization, team or club; quantify your accomplishments
  • Received recognition or an award for a job well done
  • Organized an event which had a successful outcome

Step 2: Organize these experiences into accomplishment statements using the acronym STAR:

  • S – In what SITUATION did the experience happen? In what job, club, group or class did you make a difference and who else was involved?
  • T – Define the problem or TASK that needed to be solved.
  • A – What ACTION did you take? What did you do in response to the problem or issue? What skills did you use?
  • R – What RESULTS did you obtain? What was the benefit of your actions? Results can be qualitative (e.g. promoted to supervisor role) or quantitative (e.g. increased event participation by 36%).

Step 3: Transfer your accomplishments to your resume beginning with a Result/Action Verb (e.g. Improved, Decreased, Maximized).

Final tip: Try to vary the approach to your statements so that each bullet point is different. You can use your creativity but be sure to validate the skills you want to emphasize by showing results. Here are some examples.

  • Initiated and launched a campus-wide campaign for the Vancouver Food Bank, collecting and delivering 2,000 pounds of non-perishable goods for needy families in our community.
  • Maintained positive client relations and dealt with conflict in a highly professional manner when contacting companies regarding overdue accounts and recovering outstanding debts.
  • Graded papers of 60 undergraduate Commerce students, providing written feedback and opportunities for additional help at weekly drop-in sessions.

Targeting your application

Employers read resumes with a particular job in mind. When a student submits a generic resume, an employer may struggle to see a “fit” for their organization. By customizing your resume for each and every job, you’ll improve your chances of getting an interview and demonstrate that you are motivated by their specific opportunity.

As you read through the job description and do some research into the company, put yourself in the employer’s shoes. Think about what problem this role is solving for them. What would success look like? How do your unique skills, abilities, values and personal characteristics fit with the goals and culture of the company or firm? How are you going to highlight those with concrete examples from your past experiences? What is it about the company or role that really excites you enough to apply? Keep these thoughts in mind as you tailor your documents to the employer.

Organizing your content

There are no official rules for writing a resume - headings, formatting and content are up to you. Based on the feedback we receive from thousands of employers, we know that there are things that make a resume more readable, but the end result will always reflect a combination of personal style and the needs and expectations of a particular industry.

Remember that for many large organizations it’s not uncommon for hundreds of resumes to come in for a single posting. So while showing your personality is important, you don’t want to force employers to search for the information they need. To project a professional image, make sure that your resume is clean, well-organized and free of errors. Ask for feedback from family, friends and mentors to help polish your document.

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