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I am considering a career change but have been out of the loop when it comes to résumé and cover letter writing. Any advice or suggestions?


Résumés and cover letters are essential for anyone who wants to successfully navigate their career path. Even if you aren't currently seeking a job, it's a good idea to keep your résumé up to date. Solid networking and interview skills are crucial for the job seeker. But without a solid résumé, you will find it much more difficult to land that interview.

I asked certified résumé professionals Martin Buckland of Elite Résumés in Oakville, Ont., and Maureen McCann of Ottawa-based My Promotion to offer some guidance.

Automated screening tools and large numbers of applicants mean that many résumés may not even be seen by a human being, making it doubly important to ensure your document hits all the key points, Mr. Buckland said. "If a résumé is read by a human, it is first viewed for less than 30 seconds. First impressions count," he added.

Whether staying within your field or making a career transition, Ms. McCann said the ability to promote yourself is more important than ever. "A poorly written résumé can be extremely costly – either in a lost opportunity, a lengthier time to land a job, or by ending up in a job that is poorly matched with your skills and aspirations."

Here are 11 tips to consider:

1. Customize your résumé

Customize your résumé and cover letter for the role you are seeking and make sure you speak directly to the needs of the organization. Identify and emphasize key strengths, areas of expertise and experience.

"Do your research. Google the company, check the websites, use LinkedIn and anything else that will help you learn about the company and the role you are applying for so you can appropriately customize your pitch," Ms. McCann said.

2. Answer the 'why hire me?' question

Your résumé and cover letter must convey clearly and quickly why the employer should consider hiring you. Do not make them guess or extrapolate from past experience. It's your job to articulate your value proposition succinctly.

3. Include transferable skills

This is true for all job seekers, but especially for career changers. Make sure your résumé and cover letter spell out how your past experience can be useful in serving the organization well.

4. Show results

While highlighting responsibilities is important, it is imperative you demonstrate the results of your efforts. Did you save the organization money? Expand a new area of the business? Include context. If you generated $125,000 in new business, say whether this exceeded sales targets, and if so, by how much.

5. Convey you who are

Your résumé must demonstrate who you are as a person, not just your technical, job-specific skills. "Think of yourself as a brand. What makes you stand out from others in your field?" Mr. Buckland said.

6. Remember we live in a technological era

Because automated tracking systems now scan résumés for key words, make sure you have included the relevant terms. Include appropriate social media contact details for LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, and other social media sites. Make sure you have a solid LinkedIn profile.

7. Include relevant unpaid experience

Volunteer and charitable work can be an important part of your story – especially if you are trying to change careers. Volunteer pursuits help convey your values, interests, skills and social responsibility commitments.

8. Make it easy to read

Make sure your résumé is easy to read. If it's not – it won't be read at all.

9. Proofread everything

There's no room for spelling errors. Proofread carefully. Then do it again and have someone else take another look with fresh eyes. Your résumé can be tossed out if it has errors.

10. Be prepared to refresh or redo your résumé

Sometimes a résumé just needs a bit of refreshing, but if it's been a long time since you updated it, it will probably need a complete redo. Tips and examples are available online if you search well. Additionally, some professional résumé writers show useful templates on their websites.

11. Get professional help

Many people can benefit from hiring a résumé-writing professional. If you go that route, makes sure you hire the right one. Career Professionals of Canada is one of several avenues to help you source résumé experts.

Such experts can help you to clarify and strengthen your message and improve your chances of being selected for an interview.

Eileen Chadnick (@Chadnick) is a work-life and career coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto. She is also the author of Ease, a new book offering strategies to cope when you're 'crazy busy.'

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