CVs! What a minefield. We receive hundreds of requests monthly asking for advice on this hot topic, so we got in touch with one of our favourite Dubai-based careers expert, Samia Hasan (Founder of Direction Dose, ICF certified career coach, NLP Practitioner, trainer and speaker) to get her expert take on what goes into writing the best CV you could possibly muster.
Grab yourselves a cuppa and get stuck into this, it could totally change your approach...
"One question I always get is how to ace the resume, and I always answer this question by asking another question: do you know what the purpose of the resume is? The answers I typically get, are: to get a job, to showcase my skills, to present myself, to apply for the job at hand and so on. As is the case with almost everything in life, not knowing the purpose of doing something takes you further away from achieving it.
So here’s the deal. The resume is a tool with one specific purpose: to win an interview. Think of your resume as purely an advertisement to make it to the interview, nothing more, nothing less. 40% of a hiring decision is based on personality. And there’s only so much personality your resume can project. You’ve got to get to the interview to impress the manager with that X factor and hit the home run.
You would be surprised to know how much people undersell themselves in a resume. Some common pitfalls of understating or underrepresenting your skills and experience that I’ve come across, are:
- Listing down every single job you have taken. From lifting your finger to being a waiter in high school. (ever heard of ‘less is more’?)
- Sending the exact same resume to all the potential employers out there (Yes, people still do that)
- TMI – in fact too much irrelevant information such as: I love to eat double fudge chocolate brownies and I’m very good at baking them myself using Betty Crocker!
- Sprinkling vague and useless adjectives all over the document – innovative, problem solver, team player, analytical, creative thinker, collaborative etc. (and how exactly are you all of that, no clue?)
- Copy pasting the entire JD of all your jobs onto the resume. (Well, if I needed to see JDs, I’d go elsewhere, why do I need your resume?)
- Going font size 8 to fit your resume in 2 pages (I can’t tell you how many documents I’ve seen like that, no wonder I wear glasses now)
If you don’t want to end up with a good for nothing resume that gathers dust on the pile and doesn’t help you land any interview, here are my 10 killer tips for writing an unbeatable resume:
1. One resume for each employer
This is by far the most common yet the most lethal mistake that people make – making one standard resume and send it to all the job openings they can get their hands on. You think it will save you time, in reality it is counterproductive as it will also greatly decrease the chances of landing an interview. Tailor your resume and cover letter for each employer and each job role. Research the company and the role to work out exactly what skills you should point out to them. They will appreciate the obvious effort, trust me.
It all starts by understanding the job description. All the clues you need are in the job application, so read the details meticulously. Think about how to address the skills they require by matching them with the skills and experience you bring to the party. For example, if the job in question requires someone with additional project management experience, there’s nothing stopping you from highlighting your experience with project management – even if it was something you applied at only one project or experienced at university. It will demonstrate the skills you do have and show how they’re transferable.
2. Back up your qualities and strengths
Instead of inventing a long and dreadfully boring list with all your qualities under the sun (disciplined, creative, problem solver, organized, team player etc.) try to stand for a few and connect them with real work experiences. Without hard data, it is all fluff. Back up your strengths and qualities with tangible and concrete results and experience. E.g. To portray yourself as a problem solver, mention how you helped solve a particular problem in one of your jobs and the results you achieved for the company because of that.
3. Emphasize achievements instead of responsibilities
Focus on what you did in the job, NOT what your job was – there’s a difference. Hiring managers are looking for what you bring to the table. If all they see in your resume is generic JDs of your various roles, how will they know what you actually delivered? E.g. Don’t merely mention that you were ‘responsible’ for increasing the revenue for your division, say that you increased them by $100,000, by 30%, and so on. Increased profit by 28%. Optimized budget by 10%.
You could start each work experience by having one or two lines of job description first, then list your accomplishments. For each point ask yourself, what was the benefit of having done what I did? In that sense, accomplishments should be unique to you, not just a list of what someone else did. Even if you were working in a team, focus on what your specific role was and how it benefitted the project and the company.
e.g. Spear headed the growth of X product line by 15% via SKU optimization and in-store cost efficiencies.
4. Use action verbs to construct sentences
How many times do you stop and spare a thought on how you start each sentence stating your achievements? Do you start it with an action verb? Action verbs are words that bring your accomplishments alive. They highlight what specific action you undertook to achieve those awesome results you are so proud of. E.g. transformed, delivered, spearheaded, implemented, maximized, executed, managed, coached etc.
The sentence structure I use for stating accomplishments is: Action verb -> Quantifiable Result -> how you achieved it e.g. Transformed the inventory management process in record time of 4 months, reducing out of stock by 5% via end to end SAP implementation.
5. Replace your “Objective” with a “Career Summary”
I cannot stress enough on the fact that ‘vagueness does not get you anywhere’. Just as those ambiguous adjectives sound inflated, similarly a career objective that sounds like: ‘Seeking a challenging position in your prestigious organization’ is nothing short of vomit inducing talk for hiring managers. Believe it or not, six seconds is all you’ve got to tell your story. And if you are going to waste that time with elusive career objectives at the very top of the first page, then good luck landing that interview.
Career Summary on the other hand is highly useful because it is designed to give a brief overview of who you are and what you do. It provides you the opportunity to grab the hiring manager’s attention from the get-go and allows you to summarize in a few lines your key accomplishments, skills and experience which you will later build on throughout the rest of the document.
6. Use keywords to game the system
What do I mean by that? Most companies and recruitment firms (even smaller ones) are already using digital databases to search for candidates. This means they will run search queries based on specific keywords. Guess what, if your resume doesn’t have the keywords related to the job you are applying for, you will be out even before the game starts. These keywords will usually be nouns and present in the job description and related job ads. As you are going through the JD in detail to tailor your resume accordingly, mark the hot words that jump out and ensure you use them appropriately in your CV.
7. Be choosy. Less is more
If you have job experiences that you are not proud of, or that are not relevant to the current opportunity, you should just omit them. Mentioning that you used to provide tuition when you were 16 is probably not going to help you land that executive position. Capture immediate attention, prioritize the content and detail the most relevant information first.
8. Formatting. Formatting. Formatting
Do you ever consume food that does not look presentable? Why should a hiring manager, sitting with a pile of hundreds of CVs, even bother looking at yours when it is not pleasant to his eye? If you are not an expert in formatting, you can use the numerous readymade templates available online. Make sure your name appears loud and clear with your contact information, and it is at the top of every page, not just on the first page. Formatting should be neat, clean, aligned and easy to read. Don’t go too artsy on the resume though, unless you’re a creative director or an art person, because those scanning softwares are not designed to process too many images.
9. No scattered information
Your resume must have a clear focus. Don’t make a negative impression by mentioning that one year you were studying law, and the next you were working as an accountant. Have one unified story to come across decisive. Employers like that. A lot!
10. Keep your CV updated – always
Even if you’re not actively seeking a job, it’s crucial to review your CV on a regular basis and add any new skills or experience that’s missing. For example, if you’ve just done some volunteering or worked on a new project, make sure it’s there. It helps you send it off with the blink of an eye to potential employers, or if you want to pick up some side work or in case the worst happens and you are made redundant."