Resume Writing Strategies adapted from Sharon Graham

Times have changed. Advancements in technology, globalization, politics, and economics are creating shifts in the Canadian labour market. Resume writing strategy must also change to meet the needs of a new labour market.  Consider these six progressive ideas that may seem contrary to current opinion. 

6 Intriguing Ideas in Canadian Resume Writing

1. Two resumes are better than one
Create one master version of your resume that can be tweaked for applications.
Many companies now use sophisticated Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to receive, sort, and select resumes.
Create two base resumes: one that captivates recruiters, employers, and other contacts; a separate one considering the strengths and limitations of an ATS that is able to read and parse a massive amount of information.

2. Shorten formatted resumes even more
People are increasingly inundated with written content on a daily basis, so preferences are shifting to brief resumes over lengthy ones.
In many cases, one page may be sufficient to give the reader a strong overview of strengths, but no more than two pages.
As the trend towards brevity continues, consider condensing every section of the resume. Shorten sentences and paragraphs, try to use fewer words, leave off anything that may not be of interest to the reader.
By including only what is crucial, you will have a tighter document. You will also increase the chance that the resume will be read and matched with an opportunity.

3. Emphasize unusual competencies
It is important to focus on the job posting to target your resume to directly match the needs listed by the employer, but if every applicant does the same, no candidate is likely to stand out.
In addition to generic competencies, add unusual ones, identify and feature special skills, talents, and strengths that the employer may want, but are not as easily discernible in the posting. Focus primarily on special value that others may not be able to offer.

4. Tone down the design and colour
There is nothing wrong with creating a distinctive document – if you don’t go overboard. Good design can do much more than make a document look nice – it can draw in and influence the reader.
Pay rigorous attention to every aspect of design and colour. Construct the “look and feel” of the resume judiciously to ensure that it is progressive and compelling, but not too unconventional.
Above all, the resume must make a professional representation of the candidate.

5. Include achievements in the highlights summary
Resume highlights sections typically include generic phrases that match the job target. It is good to ensure that strengths required by the employer are included, but if the profile is general and broad, the reader cannot distinguish one applicant from the next.
For the best results, this section should also illustrate, by example, what you bring to the table. For example, rather than saying “generates revenue” say “generated $2 million in the first year.

6. Leave some important details off
A strong resume typically includes all the important accomplishments that a client has attained, but there may be some value to leaving some details out completely. If done well, this tactic will encourage a reader to pick up the phone to call the applicant and ask for more information. If this happens, then the resume has done its job.

Canadian Resumes from the Employer’s Perspective

Independent recruiters and hiring managers see things differently from job seekers
A resume must be authentic to a candidate, but it must also address the specific needs and preferences of the recipients.
The resume must simultaneously match the job description while distinguishing the candidate from all other applicants. The goal is to develop a document that will market the job seeker by intentionally distinguishing the candidate from the rest of the applicants.
Many career development practitioners find that when employers see strong alternative versions of resumes, they often select those candidates.
The purpose of a resume is to feature a person’s value proposition -- the unique value that our client brings.

Employer’s preferences can be diverse
Paula Wischoff Yerama, Executive Director of the Career Development Association of Alberta, has worked extensively with employers. “The feedback I receive about what employers want from a resume has been somewhat contradictory to what career development practitioners consider to be best practice.” Employers tend to want resumes structured in a formulaic way. For example, an employer might want to see education first always – even if it is not relevant to the position that they are targeting. Or, an employer may feel that it is important to include duties and responsibilities.
With mid- to large-sized organizations increasingly using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), it is especially important to know what format and style the employer is looking for or at least makes sure that information is presented in a way that will get the candidate screened in rather than screened out.”

Take a tactical approach to resume writing
When it comes to resume formatting and style, employers’ preferences can be as diverse as the applicants they seek.
Take a tactical approach to developing each resume. Start by drawing out a great number of impact statements, incorporating duties, skills, and accomplishments. Once done, the list can then be ordered and the weakest statements disqualified before writing the resume.
Create instant rapport with the employer by reflecting his/her language in the resume. When employers can see themselves and their needs reflected in the resume they will be interested enough to continue reading and to eventually pursue this specific applicant.
Write with the job description and the company in mind -- pepper the resume with buzzwords and jargon to hook the employer. Use terminology that is relevant not only to the present, but also to the future of the industry. This will make the employer want to learn more in an “in-person” meeting.

Be authentic in your representation
Employers will discount a resume if they perceive that the information provided is not supported by tangible experience. Competencies and statements listed in the highlights need to be backed up.
If your resume states that you are able to work with people at all levels of an organization with excellent interpersonal skills, then make sure there is an example in the resume.

Address Elimination Factors
To ensure that the resume makes it through the initial scan, carefully review and proofread; spelling and grammar, in particular, need to be looked at closely.

Dealing with Employment Gaps in Resumes

Ideally, to effectively address a period of unemployment, the job seeker needs a face-to-face interview. However, it’s unlikely that an interview will even be offered if the resume emphasizes the employment gap. It is difficult to explain a gap fully in the resume; however a candidate can assuage some concerns and open a door to that interview.
It’s possible to write a resume that shifts the emphasis from an employment gap to the candidate’s value proposition. The goal is not to “trick” the recruiter, but to allow the candidate the opportunity to provide a clear picture of their strengths. Focus primarily on building a document that features the job candidate’s best attributes and not the employment gaps. By purposely sharing personal career successes, an applicant can open a door to the interview.

There is a compelling reason to stay away from a purely functional format.
Because the chronological structure tends to expose breaks in employment, many job seekers choose to incorporate their career details into a functional resume format. They categorize career history under key phrases – job functions or areas of expertise.
Most recruiters are aware that this tactic is used extensively to mitigate gaps, so they will immediately peruse the career history which is listed near the end of the resume. Because the functional format necessitates listing job titles and dates back-to-back, any gaps will clearly stand out.
The most effective way to mitigate an employment gap is to stay away from typical templates. Customize a hybrid document that includes a strong “accomplishments” section upfront, and both the functional and a reverse chronological piece. Incorporate your best attributes, personal career successes, and meaningful competencies in this section. Then, add a career history section which includes “meaty” content under each job title.

Beef up the highlights section with strong attributes and personal career successes
Paint a strong picture of the specific value offered to the employer by capturing important facts or accomplishments from the past. Avoid typical wording such as “results-oriented professional.” Instead, lead with a powerful statement that clarifies the target position and captures some historical experience “Administrative Assistant offers data entry expertise and practical experience preparing detailed management reports.”
To create interest include accomplishments -- for example “overhauled the filing system and organized 300 patient records within three months of hire,” or “refined the customer exchange process, cutting returns by 10%,” or “produced $12 million in sales in the first year.” You might even name-drop well-known employers: “Provided an optimal customer experience for top Canadian retailers including Reitmans and The Bay.”

List meaningful competencies upfront
Include competencies that are required by the employer. An inventory of skills can help readers learn about the candidate’s assets before they notice an employment gap.
It’s not good enough to select requirements from the job posting. To maintain the integrity of the resume, list only those competencies that are acquired through previous roles. Determine the talents and strengths that were developed out of each position held. Then, select those that will be directly applied to enhance the new role being filled.

Front-load the resume with accomplishments
If there are many meaningful accomplishments in the distant past, then list them in a series of bullet points before getting into the career chronology. This will ensure that they show up on the first page without harming the reverse chronological format that recruiters prefer.

Don’t eliminate the reverse chronological piece
Employers are likely to immediately disqualify any applicant who does not include work history in the resume. A reverse chronological piece will assuage recruiters. Separate each set of dates by including company information, responsibilities, and a few additional accomplishments under the respective job titles.

Take an authentic approach with integrity
Don’t include “fake employment” or “consulting gigs” if they never happened. A simple background check can uncover black and white concerns such as fudged dates or job titles.
It may be tempting to omit dates of employment to disguise career gaps, but don’t do this. Recruiters know that missing dates can only mean one of two things, either the candidate is trying to hide a poor career history or is just plain careless. Always include employment dates to pass the detailed resume review. To extend the longevity of the resume and minimize gaps, consider listing the year only, instead of month and year.

Use strategic positioning to deemphasize the gap
If the gap is recent, it might appear near the top of employment chronology. It might be beneficial to lead in with education rather than employment so that the gap is nearer to the end of the resume.
If the employment gap occurs in the distant past, consider eliminating all positions that occurred prior to the gap. If this is not possible because prior positions are relevant to the targeted role, beef up the more recent position with strong accomplishments that are connected to the target. By including a good chunk of valuable information in the most recent section, the career gap will be organically pushed down further in the resume.
If appropriate, consider splitting the employment gap between two pages. For example, list the position held immediately after the break at the bottom of page one. Start page two with the previous position. This structure naturally diminishes a glaring gap between positions. Of course, truthfulness is paramount, so keep the dates visible on both positions. This will allow the recruiter to read the content of each position before honing in on the gap.

Use strategic content to deemphasize the gap
It is best never to leave a “gaping hole” in the career chronology. But, before taking action to explain or fill an employment gap, thoroughly review the resume to determine if the gap is a potential disqualifying factor.
When appropriate, explain the interruption in employment with something useful. If you left the workforce for a period of time to care for an ailing family member, then include this information in the resume. Don’t discuss negative reasons for leaving a position such as being fired, having quit, recurring personal or medical problems, or any personal conflicts. Find a way to provide a brief, honest description of something positive that was accomplished while the candidate was away from the workforce.
There is nothing wrong with discussing any formal academic studies and/or informal learning that took place during the period of absence directly in the career chronology. For example, if you went back to school during a hiatus, then include the name of the academic institution, program, and associated dates where the gap would have occurred. Under that section add one line that says something like this: “Upgraded professional development and attained current skills credentials.” Fill the gap further by listing any credentials, certificates, or diplomas that were attained.

Here are some examples of sections that could be included within the career chronology:

Habitat for Humanity, Volunteer ReStore Truck Driver, 2012-2013
Appraised potential donations for suitability for resale, politely declined unsuitable donations.

Sabbatical, Compassionate Care Leave, 2005-2009
Embarked on a sabbatical for compassionate care leave to support an ailing parent.

University of Toronto, Masters of Business Administration (MBA), 2010-2011
Upgraded professional development through academic studies and attained current credentials.

There is always a way to position career history strategically to alleviate potential concerns. A strong, strategic resume will allow the individual to provide their prospective employer with a good understanding of the situation.
In addition to creating a strong resume, it is crucial that you also be prepared to address specific concerns in the interview. It’s best to develop a list of questions along with a script. Respond with the employer’s needs in mind and practice delivering the response authentically and professionally.

Every resume must include meaningful accomplishment statements

Many job seekers include a list of job duties and responsibilities in their resume, but for the typical employer, the candidate’s contact information followed by a simple compilation of job descriptions is meaningless. To find and select the best candidate, the employer needs to understand the differences between applicants. The best way to help an employer select a candidate is to include meaningful impact statements that feature individual strengths.

To create consistency within resume sections, group accomplishment types together. 
Start each statement in the list with a different past-tense action verb to add interest and distinguish accomplishments.
Prioritize the list in order of importance or significance to the employer. The first accomplishment in the list should have the most impact as it is the most likely to be read.
Bury weaker accomplishments within a lengthy list and make sure to end the list with a strong statement.

Use proven strategies to create SMART accomplishment statements
A familiar technique to help you extract and verbalize high impact accomplishment statements is to identify a Situation (or Challenge), Action, and Result. Then, to bring meaning and structure to the statement, apply a SMART formula. This strategy will help you convert personal accomplishments into high-impact statements that are Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Results-Oriented, and Time-Bound.
Employers prefer SMART statements because they provide a clear idea of what an individual is capable of accomplishing. Compare this task-based statement: “Accountable to oversee an HRIS implementation project.” with a SMART statement: “Led a six-month HR Information System (HRIS) implementation merging legacy systems from three divisions covering an overall staff complement of 1500; improved data accuracy 10%, enhanced management reporting detail, and reduced payroll processing time by three days.”

Try to validate accomplishments with dollars, percentages, and other values to show measurable results. Recruiters who are scanning resumes typically notice and hone in on those digits.
If you are unsure of an exact number, a good technique is to lead in with “more than” or “less than.” For example, a warranty adjudicator might expand on “processed claims” by indicating “processed more than 100 claims per day.” Adverbs such as “significantly,” “greatly” and “extensively” are helpful when the scope needs to be strengthened. “Significantly increased the number of claims processed per day.” Candidates must use these techniques judiciously and ethically to ensure that they never misrepresent their results.

Address the employer’s buying motivators
Employers are like customers with a shopping list. To fill a job opening, they go to market. They search for the candidate that best fits their shopping list -- “the job posting.” The employer’s job requirements are called “buying motivators.” Ideally, a candidate must pinpoint and fulfil all of the employer’s buying motivators.
Buying motivators usually address an employer’s base need – making money, saving money, fixing something, or building something. It’s easy to identify a strong buying motivator for a management-level employee: “Streamlined the department and strengthened internal controls, improving profit by 25%.” A junior candidate can do the same: “Answered telephone courteously, screened calls, and routed clients to the correct department saving managers valuable time in transferring calls.”

Add a good mix of accomplishment statements 
SMART statements tend to be most effective, but there are many different kinds of impact / accomplishment statements. Here are some other types of impact statements:
Results Statement. Use this type of impact statement when space is limited or there is a long list of powerful results to share. Results statements are short and to the point. They omit the actions and focus solely on results. “Reduced annual turnover from 45% to 5% saving tens of thousands in recruitment and training costs.”
Achievement Statement. An achievement is not exactly an accomplishment. It is something that you have earned or been awarded. An achievement is the acknowledgement that comes after a task or goal that has been reached. “Recipient of Costie Corporation’s Employee of the Month Award for outstanding teamwork and exceptional customer service delivery.”
Impact Statement. You can feature the most important (large or broad) accomplishments or achievements with impact statements within a profile or at the top of a list of accomplishments. An impact statement can also be a strong header for a subset of smaller accomplishments within the big statement. “Propelled the organization’s revenue to double each year for four consecutive years.”
Generalized Accomplishment. You can generalize some accomplishments and omit some particulars to encourage employers to contact you. For example: “Implemented a range of process improvements, analytical tools, and inventory management techniques to decrease turnaround time by 20%” or “Implemented three separate technology enhancements which directly improved output by 30%.”

Work in and around the employment history
The strongest resumes include accomplishments within all sections:
Introduction. A bookkeeper’s profile statement can include a phrase like this “Enhanced reconciliation process, cutting five days off month-end reporting time.”
Education. A business student might outline a project result “Developed a business identity, corporate logo, and advertising collateral from scratch as part of a branding assignment.”
Community. A fundraising volunteer might say, “Resolved problems with ticket distribution, contributing to a 20% increase in donations.”
Hobbies. An aspiring photographer’s hobby can be described this way, “Retouched a wide range of digital photography and uploaded over 20 online portfolios showcasing special events such as weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries.”

Adapted from:
Sharon Graham is CANADA’S CAREER STRATEGIST and author of the top-selling BEST CANADIAN RESUMES SERIES. Founder and executive director of CAREER PROFESSIONALS OF CANADA, Sharon is committed to setting the standard for excellence in the industry. A leading authority on resume, interview, employment and career transition, Sharon provides career practitioners with tools and resources to enable them to provide exemplary services to Canadians

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