Resume writing – the basics

Resume writing – the basics

The thought of writing a resume fills many people with dread. However, all you need is a plan that covers both lay out and content. CareerOne’s website editor and Ask Kate columnist, Kate Southam passes on the advice from the experts.

The plan below should help you produce a resume that is easy to read and packed with facts employers want to know.

Contact details

Centre contact details at the top of the page. Include name, address, phone number, mobile and email. Make sure your name and phone/email contacts are on each page just in case the pages get separated after being printed out in hard copy. Only use professional-sounding email addresses. Emails used by couples or zany nicknames like [email protected] should be replaced. This is a marketing document promoting you so use some variation of your name.

Birth date and marital status

You are not legally obliged to include either detail. Including marital status in this day and age just looks plain weird to me. As for age, MANY recruiters advise against it – there is just too much age prejudice out there. However, if you think displaying your birth date would be an advantage to you, then go ahead.

Lay out

Again, this is really open to debate but the best advice I’ve heard is “keep it simple”. Font style should be easy to read like 11 point Times New Roman or Arial. I’ve noticed many candidates use a table format but I find this wastes a lot of space and is hard to follow and ugly. Centring contact details and your Career history or Career summary (see next section) is fine and then placing the other information flush left.

Bold for headings is easier to read than bold and underline (overkill). Use dot points if you want, but just the one type. I have seen resumes with a variety of dot points. Also avoid colours. The content of the resume is the most important thing.

Summarising your strengths upfront

You can do this two ways, either via a list of Key Strengths represented as dot points or by creating a section under a heading like Career Profile.

Key Strengths

Based on my conversations with recruitment consultants, a key strengths area represented with dot points is the popular option. The aim of the section is to give the person reading your resume a quick snapshot of what you have to offer in the hope they instantly place you in the short list pile.

To maximise the opportunity

For example:

  • High level computer skills including Excel, Word and Powerpoint.
  • Five years experience in customer service both face to face and phone based.

And you fill in the rest. As a guide, six points is good but there is no real rule. Another tip, be specific. I see a lot of “Excellent Communication Skills” but what does that mean?

  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills acquired via study and customer service work.

Career Profile, Career Overview, Career Summary, Career Objective?

Many people start a resume with a Career Objective. I think this is fine for school leavers or recent uni grads. For the rest of us, a career overview or Career Overview might be better. Employers want to know what you are going to do for them. Putting your expectation of your next employer in the first line of your resume could be off putting. By all means conclude with a career objective eg – “While currently a product manager, my career goal is to move into general management”.

A Career Overview should provide the reader with a quick preview of what he or she will find in your resume. It should be a few sentences and written as one paragraph. It should include a smattering of your professional, academic and industry training. Some personal attributes are optional. As stated, your career goal could serve as the last sentence.

For example: Career Overview

A sales management professional with seven years’ experience in the media industry, I have worked on newspaper, web and television products. I have a proven track record of developing new business and motivating a team to consistently exceed targets. I’ve recently completed a Masters of Business Administration and am now seeking a new professional challenge.

By the way, the example above is totally made up, but you get what I mean.

Also, avoid airy, fairy statements. Ian Napier of Flexiforce says that if a sentence doesn’t contain factual information, ditch it.

For example, Ian has seen more than a few candidates describe their career goal as “to utilise my skills in a professional environment for the mutual benefit of myself and employer”.

“I hate that line,” Ian says. “Where is this sentence coming from? It is stating the obvious and tells me nothing.”

Professional history

Outline your career history in reverse chronological order.

The structure to follow for each role is:

Job title, employer, dates, what you did, for whom and when.

Description of employer

This is appropriate for those coming from overseas or in cases where the company might be largely unknown. Organisations like IBM, News Limited, Suncorp or the big banks, to name a few examples, will need no explanation.

I read a resume from a candidate with fabulous IT experience gained while working for the largest children’s hospital in India but he didn’t say that. The hospital name, without that description, might not ring any bells with an IT hiring manager in Australia.


People make the mistake of believing the more responsibilities listed the better. Include only the key things you were “responsible for” (accountable for). Don’t list every single thing you did. I have seen CVs where people include: “Attended a weekly team meeting”. So what? “Chairing” the weekly team meeting is a responsibility. See the difference?

Achievements (up to three per job is good).

This is where you list the things that you did that you were not paid to do. Items would include staff awards, special commendations, suggestions you put forward, scoped out or helped to implement that led to cost savings or an increase in revenue, access to new clients, higher levels of customer service, time efficiencies and so on.

Please note meeting a target is not an achievement – it’s doing what you are paid to do. Exceeding a monthly target by an average of 30 per cent with a top result of 56 percent is an achievement.

Achievements show potential hirers what you are made of – and what they can expect you will do for them.

Indent your achievements by one tab on your resume to make them stand out.

Example of a professional history item using the above lay out (again, purely made up):

Customer services manager, A-1 Clothing Care Service, October 1999 – present day

About A-1:

First opened for business in November 1999, the company provides a national telephone and email consumer service to the end users of its 35 fashion retail or design clients.


Manage a team of 30 call centre agents who advise consumers on garment care, product updates and where to purchase particular garments.

Update and distribute new research to call centre agents; manage technology suppliers.

Plan and project manage technology and service improvements.


  • Recruited, trained and established a start up team that was fully operational within a month – one week ahead of schedule
  • Introduced technical efficiencies that resulted in an improved customer response time of 150 percent.
  • Worked with the sales team to create new products and services that resulted in a 40 percent increase in our customer base in 2004-2005.
  • Named Employee of the Year 2004

Follow this format for at least your last two to three jobs.

Education and Training

Start with your highest qualification first. Unless you are fresh out of school, leave your secondary school history out.

Education and Training section can cover university, TAFE training, industry courses, in-house courses, and any other professional training.

Professional Memberships

Include only those relevant to your career as well as an indication of how active you are in the organisation.


References/Referees come at the end. Names and phone numbers (not mobiles) are the most acceptable presentation. Add a sentence: “Written references available upon request” if you wish.

Hobbies and interests

I have heard mixed views about the wisdom of including a “Hobbies and Interests” section. If you want to include it, place it before Referees.

Some career experts warn that the section could work against you if the reader dislikes or is threatened by the activities you list.

How long should my resume be?

For school leavers and those that have been in the workforce for a few years, two pages is fine but for everyone else three to five pages is advised. That is the advice from career experts like Amanda McCarthy of Brisbane who is currently writing Resumes for Dummies and from Geelong-based business consultant Steve Gray.

Both warn that hiring managers and recruiters want to see how your career has developed as well as some detail of your achievements, both what they were and how they added value to the business.

However, experts advising mature candidates say don’t go back more than 10 years on your resume. You can include a paragraph under the heading “Other professional experience” if you want so you can mention earlier work of particular interest or relevance. Or you can provide a full summary of your professional history. You can end with the sentence: “Full resume available upon request.”

My last word

The structure above provides the potential employer with the information that he or she wants – in the correct order – to help them make the decision to interview or not.

No one gets a job based on the resume alone. The purpose of the resume is to get the interview, no more, no less. Send further questions about resumes to me via the Ask Kate link.

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