The (not so Secret) Secret to Writing a Great Resume

By Kerry Chaplin

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CV templates and designs at Top Notch Resumes

The internet has a wealth of advice, but how do you sort through the noise and write a great resume? By making it obviously and unavoidably relevant.

Competition for jobs has always been a reality. Today job seekers have a lot on their plates with rising unemployment[1] and ever growing expectations of candidates. Like it or not, job-hunting has evolved into a holistic process.

Trying to put your finger on exactly how to write a resume can be difficult. Advice is mixed and aplenty. You hear: rewrite your resume to suit each application, have an online resume, make your LinkedIn and other social media platforms brilliant, etc. Once you’re suitably confused, you’re then bombarded with wildly creative ideas that can make you feel inferior, like Gleason’s resume-ale.[2] It’s good advice, but just wait a minute before you embark on your own beer-brewing journey. You have to consider if what you’re investing your energy in is relevant to the position you’re applying for. I’ve put together a checklist to help you draw out the consistency and relevance of your job hunt to produce a great resume.


Make sure you fit the job and vice versa

Let’s start at the end. When you find the job or jobs you want to apply for call the employers, ask more about the position and if they think you’ll be a good fit. Every job is different; they require different skills, qualifications and experience. There’s no point wasting your time applying if you’re not even going to be considered, or if it’s not what you thought it was.


Think like the employer and make a plan

Once you’ve established the role is for you, start planning your attack. The shape of your strategy will be dependent on the job, so think about what the employer wants. This is where you tease out your relevance to the job.


Define the Criteria

Research what the employer wants and take down dot points:

  • Read the position description
  • Check out the organisation’s website and candidate requirements
  • Ask someone already in the field. Call or speak to them in person, emailing is a time waster. You’d be surprised how nice people can be if you explain your situation. If you’re an introvert it’s time to push yourself – “…nobody gives you power, you have to take it.”[3]
  • Imagine yourself in the employer’s shoes and think about what type of person they’re after.


Prove your gusto

Are there any complimentary activities you could or should be doing to improve your application?

  • If you want to work for an organisation with a strong public outreach, make sure your social media profiles are kicking it
  • If you’re going for a creative job, come up with something creative
  • If you want to work for a non-government organisation, start volunteering
  • Other options: networking, write your own blog/guest blog, short courses, raise money for charity or help with a campaign.

Essentially, the plan you devise will be driven by the job, use your big brain to work out how to get from where you are to where you want to be.


Write your resume

Now it’s time to demonstrate how you fit the bill. But just because you’re using facts to tell your story doesn’t mean your resume has to be void of personality.


Lay the foundation

Set your resume out in a logical order (see example below):

  • Use clear guiding headings
  • The first paragraph should have a brief description of the course/job and with snippets of selected responsibilities
  • Followed by achievement dot points.

Browse our Resume Templates at Top Notch Resumes

Capitalise on the opportunity

Use strategic selection to show a rounded but relevant picture of yourself. Emphasise your achievements, skills and strengths throughout your resume. This doesn’t mean regurgitate past responsibilities – think about the impact you’ve had.

Use direct and context-laden sentences that answer the question “so what?” For example, you say you’ve done A, B and C – so what? How did you do it? What was the result? Use whatever proof you have to tell your story, this could be in the form of numbers, links to articles, reviews, testimonials or marks. Infuse these with your drive and interest in the job to create relevant (short!) stories.


Get to the point

A 2012 study by Ladder found that employers only spend 6 seconds looking at your resume.[4] While non-peer reviewed findings should be considered rationally (see Resume Genius for their interpretation),[5] by using eye-tracking technology on 30 recruiters they found some interesting points.

Will Evans, Ladders’ Head of User Experience, suggested resumes should be “minimalist” and avoid large chunks of text because they “aren’t read whatsoever.”[6] If you look at the heat map examples you can see where the recruiters looked and the parts they ignored.

Many of us tend to skim over content in the same way, make sure you:

  • Again, use clear guiding headings
  • Use nice short sentences
  • Use active prose where possible to sound interesting.

Don’t forget: make sure you consistently relate dot points to what the employer wants. Use their keywords to work this out!


Market yourself

Now that you’ve got your head around what you have to offer, consider the one statement about yourself that pulls you neatly into the job. It should encapsulate your main achievements without sounding arrogant. Does this sound hard? It is.

I suggest writing it without thinking as soon as you can and keep going back to edit it through the process. This statement will go at the top of your resume (under “Overview” in my example resume) and so will be one of the first things employers read. It must market you and your unique value.


Kerry Chaplin is a resume writer at Top Notch Resumes, providing professional resume services in Australia and abroad. Kerry welcomes feedback and questions, so please, send an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, get in touch via the website’s contact form or follow @top_notch_hq.


[1] Janda, M. 4014 ‘Unemployment Rate Rises to 6pc Despite Nearly 16,000 New Jobs’ ABC News 

[2] Gates, S. 2014 ‘This Genius Printed His Resume on Beer (And Got The Job)’ The Huffington Post

[3] Barr, R. 2014 ‘Quotes’ Good Reads

[4] Hoza, T. 2012 ‘You Have 6 Seconds to Make an Impression: How Recruiters See your Resume’ The Ladders; Direct link to the study

[5] “Mark” 2014 ‘5 Problems with the Ladders’ 6 Second Resume Study’ Resume Genius

[6] Wislon, M. 2012 ‘How to Redesign Your Resume for a Recruiter’s 6-Second Attention Span’ Fast Company Connection


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