From a professional standpoint, you are a brand – a personality attached to a service with features that distinguish you from the competition. You have unique value, and in order to ensure your value gets discovered by your target audience, you need to market yourself effectively.

The most important marketing document you’ll ever possess when it comes to professional branding is your resume. Everyone can benefit from a compelling, creative resume, but most of us don’t even know where to begin when it comes to creating a powerful presentation of our assets.

What style should I use? What information should I include or omit? How long should it be, and in what format? Can I write it myself or should I use a service? Colors? Fonts? Bullet points? Iconography?

It may seem simple – put the details of your work history down on a piece of paper and be done with it. But when it means an opportunity to interview for your dream position, or a chance at that promotion you’ve been working for years to achieve, ensuring your resume is top notch can make or break your chances (and, potentially, your heart).

There is much debate as to what exactly identifies a resume as “perfect” – industry standards and personal taste of recruiters vary, and there are no hard fast rules. But following some guidelines can take your resume from blah to BLAM! Consider the following:


  1. Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

    In the world of marketing, identifying a product, service, company or individual’s USP is the first, and most crucial, step in the branding process. Each of us brings a unique set of skills and traits to the table, and understanding this gives direction not only to crafting a compelling resume, but pursuing a satisfying career. So how do you identify your own USP? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What specific activities do I enjoy doing the most (professionally or otherwise)?
  • What personality traits do I possess, or what traits in others do I resonate with?
  • What unique achievements have I had in my life or career? What do I feel most proud of?
  • What kinds of services or offerings do I bring to the table that others within my field may not have? What unique experiences or perspectives do I have?
  • What do others say about me? What am I known for?


  1. Format 

    There are 3 basic formats used in resume writing, each with its own pros and cons. Knowing which format serves you best can refine your presentation.

  • Chronological – The most popular of formats, chronological resumes focus on your career history, with the most recent job positions listed first and accomplishment statements or responsibilities organized under each job title. As it is the most common, employers are often the most familiar with this layout and may prefer this type of layout.
  • Functional – A functional resume takes the emphasis off of specific work experience and highlight abilities and transferable skills. Although not as preferred, they can mitigate challenges for some job seekers when presenting their qualifications. This includes those with gaps in their work history, frequent job changes, lack of direct experience within a certain role or a change of industries or professions.
  • Combination – A combination resume blends each approach from above, presenting job experience in a chronological format but emphasizing skills and abilities within each position to target the requirements of a potential job. Sub-headings allow the reader to quickly identify specific areas of expertise within each position that are of particular relevance.


  1. Sections/Content

    Each resume might require different information, and the order it is presented may be different depending on the audience or your experience. The general list of information that should be included is as follows:

  • Profile/Summary – A professional summary usually includes a few sentences explaining the general character and qualifications of the applicant, with bullets that highlight the most important accomplishments and areas of expertise relevant to the position.
  • Work History In a chronological resume, this section comes after the Profile, with each company, job title, dates of employment, location, and accomplishment statements under each listing. In a functional resume, this can be a simple list after the “Skills” section that includes the details without the statements.
  • Skills/Experience – If you are writing a functional resume, a “Skills” section presents your accomplishments and experience under organized categories or sub-headings, such as “Customer Service”, “Sales” or “Project Management”.
  • Education/Professional Development – Starting with any post-secondary degrees or diplomas, list any educational training or development that is relevant.
  • Volunteer/Community Involvement – Volunteer work can be just as demonstrative of your qualifications as paid employment, and should be presented as such if relevant.
  • Associations/Memberships – Many industries have important associations and memberships that show an applicant’s commitment, expertise, and connection within a culture.


  1. Maximizing Real Estate (on the Page) 

    Most recruiters will spend on average less than 30 seconds in their initial scan of your resume. That means maximizing the real estate on the page is crucial. Although there is room for debate, most resumes should be within 1-2 pages to ensure that the content is as concise as possible, and that the most valuable information is actually digested by the audience. The first third of the first page is your opportunity to impress. Try to get as much “meaty” details in this area as possible. Creating a “profile” section (as opposed to the traditional “objective” statement) allows you the chance to define your USP, highlight key accomplishments, and list crucial qualifications relevant to the position right off the bat, leaving the rest of the document to fill in the details. Consider leaving off information such as hobbies and interests unless it directly relates to the position or exemplifies a valuable qualification for the position. References should always be listed on a separate document, and only needs to be submitted is asked. “References available upon request” is also a given, so if it takes up valuable space to include this statement at the end of the document, it’s safe to leave it out.


  1. Aesthetics 

    Aesthetics are subjective. Some employers may prefer a clean, crisp black and white resume, while other recruiters might be drawn to splashes of color or graphics. As a matter of taste, it is often an intuitive process to decide whether or not to include colorful headlines or charts and graphs, but there are some things to consider:

  • Industry – Are you a creative professional? If it is crucial to standout out creatively against your competition, visual elements may be an essential consideration in your presentation. Executives or trade professionals, on the other hand, may want to lean away from color and graphic design that distract from the content.
  • Clutter – Yes, you want to make sure you get as many details about your qualifications as possible, but too much information can be intimidating or irrelevant and risks losing the attention of the reader. Also, using visual details such as fonts, white space, headlines and columns can help organize the information and make it much easier to digest.
  • Personality – Although most resume writers advise to keep things as simple as possible, you do want to make sure you stand out from the crowd. Adding a bit of personality can work in your favor if it’s not over the top, so if you love the color blue or a specific (but readable) font, work it in to your document.
  • “Modern” visuals – Charts, infographics, graphs or photos can have their place in the modern resume, but use these with discretion. We suggest creating a more text-rich document as your core marketing piece – the resume you send out as an application to a posting, for example. This would be your more traditional 1-2 page document outlined in one of the above formats. However, in our visual age it is becoming more and more valuable to present information quickly, and creating a second visual resume can be of great benefit, specifically for networking. This one-page document acts as a type of “brochure” – a hand out for your marketing efforts. This can be an excellent place to display your value in visual style.


  1. Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Friendly

    Technology has made it easier on employers to pre-screen applicants, but it has complicated the process for many job seekers that are unfamiliar with the system. In short, applicants submit their resumes and software designed to weed out candidates identifies value in each resume through targeted keywords and content. If the resume is relevant enough, it passes through the ATS and gets a second look from human eyes. Optimizing a resume for ATS not only includes keywords (often identified by reading the language in a job posting), but ensures that the format and layout of the resume doesn’t interfere with identification of the content. That means considering text boxes, images, and other features don’t “hide” the information on the page.


Even if you think an employer just needs to know “the basics” – yes I’ve done this job before and can do it again for you – there might be others out there who have done it, too. The key to a killer resume is showing you can do it the best, and making sure that this fact is communicated as efficiently and effectively as possible. Taking the time to craft an impeccable resume can make a huge difference in the success of your career and ultimately your confidence as a valuable professional. It’s an investment that pays back in dividends throughout your professional life.

Career Compositions

Career Compositions is a team of Certified Resume Strategists and writers offering expertise in personal branding and marketing documents for career professionals across Canada.

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