The Do’s and Don’ts of a Compelling Resume and Cover Letter

Is your resume up to speed?

do's and dont's of writing a great resume
If you thought you’d never have to write another resume as a contractor or self-employed business person, then think again.

STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS does not mean you’ll never need to write a resume or cover letter again. We’ve written about this topic before — indeed, when you first start your own business you’ll probably spend a lot of your time applying to work with other businesses directly or through a recruiter.

And the truth about being a freelancer or contractor is that you’ll most likely spend the rest of your working life applying for work. If you don’t like the idea of this, well then maybe being self-employed isn’t for you! Why? Because in order to find the best work; the kind that you’ll love, you need to be always looking for it — or always be closing, if there any fans of Glengarry Glen Ross in the house tonight.

The truth about being a freelancer or contractor is that you’ll most likely spend the rest of your working life applying for work. 

Do pay attention to design

I’m choosing to exclude the “grammar, spelling and punctuation” portion of this list, because if you don’t already know that’s important by now, then oh boy, I can’t help you. But formatting and design are important, whether you’re looking for work in a creative industry or not.

The key is to grab attention in less than half a minute. You can use different fonts, for instance, a larger plain font for headings and a smaller (perhaps serif) font for the body text. You can type your resume up in Word or use PowerPoint or some other design tool. But just don’t get ahead of yourself and use something too fancy that you don’t have a proper grasp of and end up with a resume that is hotchpotch and messy.

These days, some recruiters will even upload your resume into their own “system” which “parses” your content and basically re-formats it all into plain text. If this happens, your gorgeous CV will look very different on the screen of the employer. The simpler the design and layout of the original resume, the easier it will be for them to read if they indeed use this system for getting through the applications of hundreds of job applicants. But don’t feel disheartened, there are others ways to get spotted amongst the crowd.

Don’t use jargon

The next hurdle, once you’ve got the recruiter or hiring manager reading your resume or cover letter, is to urge them to call you. Do not, I repeat, do not use jargon of any kind in either your resume or cover letter. The minute someone reads a sentence that starts with or contains “experienced in”, “team player”, “responsible for”, etc, etc, they switch off.

These phrases mean literally nothing. Nothing. Telling someone you’re a team player: redundant. Everyone should be a team player, and there is no one, not a single person ever, who has written on their resume that they’re not one. Instead, tell the employer what you like about working in a team. (On a similar note, also avoid the term “able to work autonomously” by explaining the times you’ve had to and how that’s gone.)  

When you go to use the words “experienced in” try to remind yourself that this is something that happens to you — not something you proactively go out and do. Instead refer to your background in terms of achievements. Search “typical jargon to avoid on a resume” for more.

Do show your personality

Remember that employers are people too. Work culture is important to lots of businesses, so they need to know that any potential new hire, freelance or otherwise, will be able to fit in and work with them. And if you can make the person reading your resume laugh, oftentimes you’ll get a call back.

Don’t list silly interests

I should add a qualifier to that, which says that it’s okay to list a really silly interest if you know and make a point of noting that it’s a silly interest. This makes you seem thoughtful, and definitely not as dumb as a person who says they like reading or sports on their resume. Reading what? It implies novels, but it could also mean signposts, Aldi catalogues, Post It Notes. And if you like playing cricket more than once a year on Boxing Day, then for the love of all that is holy (cricket on Boxing Day), say that. Otherwise, put down interests that you actually are interested in — they reveal a lot about the type of person you are, which again, goes to help with the point above.

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If you’d like to learn how to create a resume in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, or if you’d like to learn more about starting your own business, you can be enrolling in our PowerPoint training courses or our online Word training courses, or our Business Start Up Course.


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Why the File Name of Your Resume is So Important

There are some very real practical reasons for not naming your resume file, "resume".
There are some very real practical reasons for not naming your resume file, “resume”.

When applying for a job, there are perhaps only two things most job seekers pay any attention to – the impressiveness of their CV and whether their cover letter is equally impressive, which is fine; CVs do have to be impressive, after all. In fact, if you’re looking for tips on crafting a good CV or cover letter, try reading our posts on both topics – one from the horse’s mouth, well actually that of a recruiter, who shares tips on what will get your CV noticed and another outlines the vital importance of covering letters. But the truth is, many people are still sloppy when it comes to their CVs.

Making a Good, Nay, Great First Impression

When you’re applying for a job, you’ve got to put your best foot forward. Most people know this, which is why they spend hours toiling over their resumes and then spend more hours laboriously constructing sentences that are neither ambiguous, nor too forthright, either; lest it leave the recruiter or hiring manager without any questions that could be answered in an interview.

Once we’re asked to come in for an interview, we make sure to wear our fancy interview threads and our best attitude – in short, we turn on the best version of ourselves. It’s about first impressions, after all, and everyone knows this. It’s so basic that all these things serve to do is weed out the tyre-kickers from the real contenders.

A Tougher Market

But in today’s job market the number of real contenders have increased markedly, while opportunities have remained the same, if not decreased in the years since the GFC. Standing out from your competition requires something extra – it could be something like showing a commitment to continuing professional development by taking a short course like many students of our MYOB training courses have done.

It could also be something as simple as demonstrating attention to detail – an important attribute to have if you’re applying for a job as a bookkeeper or an administration assistant, one would assume. Certainly, if I’m looking to hire a new staff member and I’ve had piles of CVs delivered to my inbox from Seek or Gumtree, finicky things like the filename of a person’s CV are things I look at.

If I receive a resume from someone simply saved as “resume” it’s generally safe to say that this person shows little attention to detail. More often than not, I open the file to find something off – poor formatting, spelling mistakes, terrible grammar, and the like. Sometimes this isn’t the case, and I certainly wouldn’t disregard a perfectly good candidate over something like this, but I’ve still made a note of it.

Think of the Interviewer

But there are practical considerations to this, too. Often, I’ll want to forward a couple of CVs onto another staff member to get their input, usually mentioning which candidate I think seems promising in my email. But emailing several CVs all saved as “resume” means the recipient will have to open each file to see if it corresponds to the applicant I was referring to – kind of annoying, particularly for the time-strapped recruiter.

It also makes saving the files on my computer difficult; plus there’s the chance that I could accidentally overwrite your CV with another candidate’s because they each have the same filename. Consequently, you’re not getting a phone call about an interview. All that time you spent on your CV was just negated in less than two seconds when I accidentally clicked ‘yes’ in response to the “‘resume.doc’ already exists. Do you want to replace it?” warning.

Saving your CV with your name and the job title you’re applying for doesn’t just show your attention to detail, it also makes it easy for recruiters and hiring managers – who are often advertising for more than one position – to identify who you are and the job you’re applying for, giving you a much great shot at being called in for an interview.

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Don’t risk your CV getting lost over something as simple as a filename – and if you’re not that attentive to detail, then start! It’s an important attribute to possess, because it means employers can trust that you’ll do your job right, which is why we’re hiring you in the first place. You might also consider getting some help writing your resume and learning how to use Microsoft Word to edit your resume if you need to. If you want to look at starting your own independent contracting business try the Small Business Management and StartUp Course.