Your resume and cover letter usually provide the first impression of you to a potential employer.  As such an important marketing tool, you must demonstrate the link between your skills and experience and the needs of the employer you want to work for.  Even though you may spend hours writing and adjusting your resume and cover letter, chances are that an employer will spend less than a minute reviewing it.  How do you get your message across in these circumstances?

You must know the product you are selling ... yourself. 

You must also know the needs of your audience ... the employer.  

Knowing how your skills and experiences will benefit the needs of an employer is essential before writing your cover letter and resume and cover letter. 

Your resume is your own personal marketing brochure.  It should stand out from the crowd so that the employer will want to invite you to an interview.  But most of us are not marketing geniuses.  So here's the deal.  Before preparing or updating your resume, it is important to: (#1) know what you have to offer; (#2) understand the needs of the employer; and (3) link point #1 and #2 - that is, relate your skills and experience with the needs of the employer.

(1) What do you have to offer? List your skills, interests, abilities and experiences.  Where did you develop and use these?  Include paid work experience, volunteer experience, extracurricular activities, education, etc.  Think about your skills in the following areas:   computers, research, written and oral  communication, creativity, analytical, project management, problem solving, etc.

(2) What needs does the employer have? Research trends in the industry, who their competitors are, their corporate culture/philosophy, what challenges they are  facing, what tasks are normally part of the position being sought, etc. Don't just create a form letter -- address the employer's needs!

(3) Link your skills and experiences with the needs of the employer.  Which items on the list you made of your skills match the needs of the employer?  Demonstrate to the employer that you have these matching skills and abilities by giving specific examples of when you developed and used them.  Make note of any specific accomplishments.

Resume Formats: Resumes usually contain most of the following information (not necessarily in this order): contact information, career objective (optional), education, skills, employment experience (sometimes also a section called related experience), activities, awards and scholarships and a statement about references. 

There are many formats you can choose for your resume.  The three formats which are most commonly used are:

Chronological format.   These are the most common format.  It often works well for those with a long and consistent work record, and you want your work experience to be front and centre.  Jobs should be listed in reverse chronological order (most recent first).  Many employers prefer this format.  

Functional resumes.   These are useful for those with little work experience, many short contract jobs, and for those changing careers.  This type of resume focuses on your skills and accomplishments, not your work history.  Also called skills-based resumes.

Combination resumes combines these two formats.   It combines your marketable skills with with your work experience and education, so that you can highlight related past experiences.  

A resume should be targetted, professional, and easy to read.  Tips and common mistakes:

  • Ensure your resume is free of spelling and grammatical mistakes. Repeat... this is essential.
  • Use action words to describe your accomplishments.  Show what you have accomplished - do not devalue your achievements.   Point form often works best for this.
  • Make sure that the most important and relevant information is listed near the top and clearly highlighted.
  • Make sure your resume looks professional.  It represents YOU to an employer.  Print on a laser printer and use good quality white or off-white paper.
  • Do not include irrelevant information, such as birth date, number of children, marital status, SIN, etc. 
  • In general, resumes should be no more than two pages in length.  Be concise.
  • Use white space liberally.  Your resume should be easy to read and uncluttered.
  • Use headings consistently, ie. same font, same size, etc.  Don't overuse design elements such as bold, fancy fonts, etc - it will make your resume hard to read.  Choose a standard font (ie. Arial or Times Roman).
  • Your resume should be individualized for each company/position you are applying for.  Resumes that are too generic and are without a clear career objective are likely to be tossed out.  Keep the needs of the employer in mind!  What can you contribute?
  • Always follow up a faxed resume by mailing an original; the quality of faxed copies may vary.

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