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WRITING A PROFESSIONAL RESUME :

VISUAL ARTISTRY (PART 1)


by Pang Su Woon ,Oct 2007

1. Understand what a resume is

It is a multidimensional marketing piece. Here are the 4 definitions of resumes:


 An advertisement that appeals to employers’ specific needs, such as the
need to generate income, save money, or solve a problem.

 A formal business communication that indicates your command of


vocabulary, grammar and punctuation.

 A key word index that represents your knowledge base, skills set, brand
names companies, university, degrees, software experience.

 A unique art form that combines font-work, layout and design principles
to create definitive visual appeal.

2. Understand that it’s often the Perception, not Reality that Determines Your
Job Search Success

You have heard of this too often - HR managers can form a perception of you
within a few seconds of your interview process.

How can they form perception of you so quickly ? It’s usually through the visuals
and the non-verbals. Much to the horrors of engineering students like you, your
application could be rejected because of seemingly trivial reasons :

- I think she doesn’t know how to present herself, did you see how she
coordinates her dressing?
- Did you look at his hair, it’s so unkempt, how can I trust him with our work ?
- I don’t think this candidate is confident, he didn’t give me a firm grasp on my
hands.

So, in the initial few seconds of your encounter with the HR person, he/she has
already formed a first impression/perception of you. This perception can be
improved if you answer sensibly and come across as being personable and
proactive in the interview. Again, this earlier made positive perception can be
negated by you not answering intelligently in your interview.

This brings me to the first point that I want to make about resumes. Many of you
do not quite how to make an initial good impression of your resumes.

How do you impress employers before they ever read your resume ? Just like the
marketing wizards and advertising gurus do – Use VISUAL APPEAL.

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Visual appeal is critical, yet some novice and even experienced writers often
disregard it. This visual artistry is frequently the missing link in a resume
evolution from average to outstanding.

3. Why Visual Appeal is so Important ?


If your experience and credentials are impressive, visual appeal will enhance
them. If you have some minor flaws or a gap in your background, visual appeal
can help overcome them. Without visual appeal, you will look homogeneous (at
best) amid the thick stack of your competitors. With visual appeal, HR managers
will be encouraged to read your resume as it seems “set apart” from the rest;
eventually, this may earn you an interview.

4. What Exactly is Visual Appeal ?


I would like to use an analogy in interior designing : Zen furnishing. Features of
Zen furnishing – no clutter, blank space, straight lines, balance and symmetry, and
restrained elegance. A resume with visual appeal is very pleasant, or pardon me
guys, “pretty to look at”. HR Managers perceives it as looking easy to read. It
extends an invitation and offers a measure of energy to help the reader start
reading.

Your Prof Comm. tutors, interestingly, though in a different industry from HR


mgrs, do have similar interests when it comes to resumes. We like our students’
resumes to be readable, with clear fonts. If you have used a font size less than 11,
please donate panadols to your tutors. Even we are not that old, we do find small
font sizes very difficult to read.

We also like a format where we can find information easily. Yes, your tutors are
also facing stacks and stacks of resumes, so we appreciate resumes that help us to
read easily. You may ask, what then is the first thing that comes to my mind when
I pick up my students’ resume to mark ? I look at the visual appeal of the letter
and resume first. If a student has taken the time and effort with the looks of
his/her work, I can tell it within a few seconds.

5. Visual Appeal Tips


 Be consistent in design treatments. Use the same tab spacing or amount of
vertical space between each category heading. If you apply bold and
underline to one position title, use these treatments consistently on all
position titles throughout the resume. The same idea holds for treatment of
company’s name, position title, space between paragraphs, or bulleted
accomplishments. It is important that you select a pattern and you stick
with it. You can be creative in your design, but you must be rigid in your
application of it.

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 Be perfect in all your alignments. A word out of alignment is akin to a hair
out of place at a job interview. Make sure that you don’t add an extra
space before a word or phrase, and vice versa.

 Add white space. Avoid having margins that are too narrow; somehow,
the look is “unclean” if students do not pay attention to the margins. Also,
balance is beautiful. Make sure that your left and right margins are
almost identical in width.

 Be consistent in font size. Understand that there is a hierarchy of font size


that one should adhere to make the resumes visually appealing. Your
name, as the header, should have big, bold fonts. You only need font size
10 for your address and contacts. For the body of your resumes, use font
size 11 or 12.

 Use consistent tab sets and bullet styles for all bulleted items within a
category heading. To create a pleasing visual pattern, limit your use of tab
stops. Depending on the design you choose, you might need only two or
three. Excessive tab stops erodes the sense of patterns.

 Break up lengthy paragraphs. Organize paragraphs into logical pieces of


information with a sub-heading.

 Balance the resume top-to-bottom and left-to-right. Avoid the Leaning-


Tower-of-Pisa look. This does not only refer to the margins. It also refers
to whether one has too much text lopsided on one side, too the extent it
doesn’t look visually pleasing.

 Use one font style, possibly two. You could reserve the second font for,
say your name, or category headings.

 Design within the “Food Chain”. Use a logical hierarchy of font-work


(bold, underline, point size of fonts) and case (all caps, small caps, upper
and lower case) to provide a sense of order and to control the reader’s eye
towards important information.

6. Consistency Counts
Design consistency can make a resume more visually palatable and give your
reader a sense of order, logic and purpose. Although readers are primarily
looking at the content of your resume, they also can tell certain things about
you from the appearance of your resume.

7. Visual Artistry Does Make a Difference in Perception


Many of you did not take the effort to make your resume header visually
appealing. This is very important in creating visual artistry in your resume :

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Sample One

Michael Heng
BLK 111, East Terrace #02-22
Singapore 133357
HP : 9055 7899
E-mail : Michael@ntu.edu.sg

Sample Two
MICHAEL HENG
Blk 111, East Terrace #02-22, Singapore 133357
9055 7899, Michael@ntu.edu.sg
___________________________________________________________________________

Notice that though minor changes have been made in sample two, it looks
significantly more professional than sample one. Sample two provides a visual
focus, which is your name. It looks more visually appealing to your eyes
because of the hierarchy of font sizes. In addition, the line in sample two,
which is know as the rule line, both sets off your name and guides your
readers’ eyes to start reading the resume. Notice for those of you who have
earlier adopted something like sample one, without a rule line, your eyes will
meander. There is no visual focus.

8. Conclusion
Do not underestimate the importance of visual artistry of your cover letters
and resumes. It is exactly the same logic as people telling you to dress
carefully for your job interviews. As I have mentioned, the first thing people
judge you at an interview are your visuals. Similarly, the first thing that HR
managers will notice about your resumes and cover letters before they read is
the visual artistry of your work. You have done many assignments and
project work in NTU. In fact, your resume and cover letter should represent
your best piece of work in your entire educational career in NTU. This is
because the quality of this piece of work affects whether it stays in the “to be
interview” pile or “reject” pile.

My advice to you is to conduct an unscientific experiment with the visual


appearance of your resume. Print out two versions and paste them on the wall,
without scrutinizing the words. Ask yourself which one looks visually more
appealing to you. If you really think you don’t have any artistic genes, ask
your friends for their opinion.

Your resume is akin to your interview suit. While one needs to be careful
with the interview attire, one also needs to pay attention to the visual
appearance of his/her resume; because it is a paper interview.
--- Ms
Pang

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WRITING A PROFESSIONAL RESUME
(MARKETING YOURSELF) – PART II
-Pang Su Woon, Oct 2007

1. Understanding How Employers and Job Candidates Usually View Resumes


Differently

Employers use resumes as a screening device to deal with the deluge of responses to job
postings. The slightest “error” – skills missing, disorganized content, a wrong use of
punctuation, a tiny typo – may be cause to disqualify and discard you. I know this may
sound very discouraging, but their mentality is to weed and winnow, until they get the
pile down to a manageable size. A mediocre or even average resume can knock you out
of running for positions for which you are wholly qualified.

I would like to remind you of the essence of what I said in part I – on how the hiring
process is usually based on perception, not on reality. In reality, you may be the smartest
and most capable engineering student, and you are wondering why you are not called for
interviews. As what I have mentioned the last time, there are HR managers who have
admitted that they don’t read resumes word-for-word, rather, they like the look of a
resume, or are able to locate key information important for the position being filled.

2. Understanding Where the Visual Centre Is

When you ask real estate agents what determines the prices of a property. It’s not
surprising that they will tell you, it “location, location and location”. In writing resumes,
we following the same concept, and remember that “position, position and position” is
very critical.

Just as the Singapore government wouldn’t waste our prime land and build a big Changi
prison on Orchard Road, you should learn to use prime space in your resumes
efficiently. Where exactly is your prime space ?

Visual Centre

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I have highlighted the visual centre for you in grey. You should put the most important
information about you in the visual centre. After reading your header, it’s naturally where
the eyes will be directed to next.

When marking some of my students’ resumes, I feel that many of you don’t understand
the concept of prime space. Some of you “wasted” your prime space by telling me your
personal particulars there, this to me is quite akin to the S’pore government building a
gigantic parking lot right in the middle of Orchard road. [At this juncture, I better type in
a statement to talk about exceptional cases]. There are some cases where it is critical for
students to tell me about their age, height, weight and so on. For instance, I do have some
students who want to be pilots – in cases like these, you should even put talk about your
vision in your prime space – simply because this is critical information for your
customers.

3. Seeing the Readers of Your Resumes as Your Customers

Why do you purchase a hamburger during your break ? Why do you buy a calculator?
Why do you buy a certain model of mobile phone? For us to part with our money, we
definitely have “buying motivators”. We may have different reasons why we buy certain
things – the need to eat? the need to use the calculator for my engineering exams ? the
need to communicate with my friends ? or the need for prestige?

Along the same line, we need to understand that companies will have “buying
motivators”. Below could be some reasons why companies would like to hire you :-

- to make money
built sales for a start-up company from zero to $2 million
promoted new products to customers by …
prepared proposals for tender

- to save money
cut purchasing cost through vendor partnership programme
identified obsolete inventory on contractual service agreements to cut equipment
maintenance costs by 28%

- to save time
introduced a new device to streamline manufacturing process
performed the work previously required of two full-time employees
introduced technology that took data transfer from two-day process to “real
time” mode

- to solve a specific problem


successfully resolved 25% of calls for service with telephone troubleshooting
skills
troubleshot recurring computer crashes for key customer

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Other buying motivators …
- To help the company be more competitive
- Build Relationships/ Image with Internal & External Customers, Vendors &
the Public
- Expand Business
- Attract New Customers
- Retain Existing Customers

In general, HR managers are impressed with candidates who are market savvy,
customer-focused and who care about the bottom-line.

3. Adopt the Mental Model of an Art Director, not Autobiographer


Art directors at advertising agencies pay careful attention to designing ad layouts, and
you should too. A common mistake people make in resume writing is waiting too late
to list their most impressive accomplishments.

Back to my point on “prime space”. Try positioning critical information (such as


keywords and accomplishments) in the first third of the page. When I gave feedback
to some of my students regarding their resumes, I asked them,” You are applying for
an engineering position, where is your section on your FYP and DIP; as this
information is directly relevant for an engineering post. Some students sheepishly told
me they forgot, or “it’s buried” somewhere at the end, or worse still, in the middle of
somewhere.

What do I mean by adopting a mental model of an art director? An art director will
know how to use space efficiently. In asking ourselves whether we are using space
efficiently, we have to ask ourselves basic questions like, “is it necessary for me to
include this piece of information”, “should I position this piece of information
about me in front or at the back? “ and also, “have I used space efficiently by being
concise with my words?”.

Why don’t I want you to write your resume like an autobiographer? In business, we
need to respect people’s time. A resume that tells your entire life story is boring.
Avoid boring the HR managers to tears by telling them your job descriptions, your
education from primary school to NTU.

So what shall I put in my prime space? Your unique selling point(s).

Some students have asked me, Is a summary of qualification really necessary? What
exactly is this mysterious thing called a “summary of qualifications”?

I will come back to the Summary of Qualifications later. I feel that it is important at
this point to tell you how I grade the students in my tutorial classes. Go back to my
comments in part I and refer to my 4 definitions of a resume. If a student understand
that a cover letter and a resume is a marketing tool, then he/she will understand that a

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resume is a “a multidimensional marketing piece”. I would like to recapitulate the
4 definitions of a resume.
They are :

 An advertisement that appeals to employers’ specific needs, such as the


need to generate income, save money, solve or investigate a problem etc.

 A formal business communication that indicates your command of


vocabulary, grammar and punctuation.

 A key word index that represents your knowledge base, skills set, brand
names companies, university, degrees, software experience.

 A unique art form that combines font-work, layout and design principles
to create definitive visual appeal.

As I might have explained to some of you, I don’t “deduct” or “add” marks


mathematically simply because you don’t have a section, or vice versa. What matters
to me is, for the job you are applying for, did you know how to put that piece, or
pieces of information that your customer would be most interested to know, at the
visual centre. In other words, do you know how to make use of “prime space”
efficiently. Also, I would penalize students if they make mistakes that lead to the
reader making a negative perception of the candidate [e.g. not knowing how to use
action statements, spelling or grammar mistakes, not paying attention to the visual
appearance].

In the talk by the Career & Attachment Office, Mr. Ng has told you about the
importance of packaging yourself and about using a summary of qualifications. I
would like to talk about this section by telling you first what a summary of
qualifications shouldn’t be :-

1) Some of you wrote a long list of skills and traits in your summary of
qualifications. Some of you have ignored the fact that a summary SHOULD BE
a summary. It should just be the highlights of your USPs. Please don’t wear out
HR managers’ patience.

2) Some students failed to back up their unique selling points with evidences (either
within the summary or in the body of the resume later). This shouldn’t be the
case. A resume is a persuasive document. For you to be able to convince the other
party that you are a worthy candidate, it is critical that you back up with
evidences. (e.g. through your IA, FYP, DIP, hostel activities, NTU education etc.)
A common employer pet peeve is baseless personality attributes. Common and
overused phrases such as “good oral and written communication skills”,
“excellent problem solving skills” create silent skepticism among employers,
accompanied by the thought, “right, what else is new?”. It is critical that you
substantiate ownership of important competencies/personality traits by backing up

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with hard, cold facts – just another secret to set you apart, and above the
competition.

3) If your summary of qualifications is simply a copy and paste job of your resume
body, that indicates to the reader that you are not doing your resume with utmost
care. Most likely, your tutor will tell you that you are better off without a
summary of qualifications.

What could be the ingredients of a summary of qualifications?


- title/functional area [the first 3 apply to you only when you have some working
experience]
- industry
- number of years of experience

- core competencies
- highlights of accomplishments
- advanced degree, certification, licenses
- language skills, international business skills, communication skills
- technical/computer skills
- personal profile
- employers or colleges with name recognition

I would like to highlight to you that it is NOT necessary for you to include all the
ingredients. I kept mentioning about your Unique Selling Points.

So, simply, a summary of qualifications is a highlight of your USP(s). To put in


layman’s term, if I were to give you 10 seconds to market yourself because
advertising time is very expensive, what would you put within that span of 10 secs ?

For a fresh grad, you can go heavy on your education or project experience because
we understand that you don’t have much working experience. In this case, it is
acceptable if you spend your “prime space” talking about your education, or project
experience.

But a few years later, when you have garnered much more working experience than
now, then we don’t expect you to dedicate your “prime space” to your education or
project experience [exceptional cases : universities and research institutes]. In this
case, a summary of qualifications of your working experience, competencies and
profile would be very important.

--- end of part 2 ---

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WRITING A PROFESSIONAL RESUME (PART III)
- THE LINGUISTICS OF WRITING
Pang Su Woon, Oct 2007

Words, like eyeglasses, blur everything that they do not make clear.
- Joseph Joubert

1. GENERAL COMMENTS
I would like to highlight some common mistakes first before I talk about what
good writing entails.

a. Understanding the Mental Models of HR Managers


To a large extent, your Prof Comm. tutors serve as a good acid test on
whether you have written a good resume. Do understand that the first
person reading your cover letter and your resume (a HR person for most
instances) has a mental model closer to your Prof Comm. tutor/lecturer
than to your Engineering professors.

HR persons, in general, could have an educational background in


Humanities or Business. Why I am I talking about this, you may ask?
When I marked some of my students’ assignment, I put question marks on
their piece of work because I don’t understand what they are trying to
express. There could be 2 reasons for this: sentence structure or
grammatical errors; or they lack clarity in the way they talk about their
engineering projects or research.

You may then think, “It’s not my fault. It’s my tutors’ or the HR persons’
fault for being “engineering idiots”. I would like to tell you that this is an
area that is within your control.

I shall give you personal examples of scientists or engineers around me


who have the ability to express things clearly. Despite my lack of
technical training, I still have a good grasp of what they are doing. One of
them is my Hwa Chong classmate. He is in Oxford University finding a
cure for AIDs. When he comes back from UK every year, he updates me
on what he is doing. This friend of mine has the ability to break down very
complicated concepts into very clear and simple explanations that even a
Linguistics trained person like me can understand what he is doing. My
very close colleague in NTU, Prof Tjin Swee Chuan, is another person.
When I meet him for lunch and we talk about our work, he is very
audience-centred and has the ability to talk about his Bioengineering,
Photonics and Optics research that even an “engineering idiot” like me can
understand.

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These 2 persons I have just mentioned show that they possess good
communication skills and also, intelligence. Some of my students who
have scored well for Assignment One have managed to talk about their IA,
FYP and DIP projects in a very succinct and clear manner that I can
understand.

b. Other Common Mistakes

E-mail address
I “chided” some students for giving me “whacky” e-mail addresses in their
assignment one, like surferboy@hotmail.com & blursotong@yahoo.com.
Do understand that HR manager can perceive that you are not a mature
and serious person simply by looking at your e-mail address. For your job
search, do create a more neutral e-mail address.

Contracted forms
Be more conservative in your use of English for your cover letter and
resume. Avoid contracted forms like “I’ve”, “I’m etc. Worse still, some of
you absent-mindedly used SMS languages in your assignment one.
Remember that the tone you want to adopt is a professional business tone.
Take all the words that project a very casual tone.

“This” versus “That”


This is a common mistake made by student. You use “this” to refer to
something in the present, and “that” to refer to something in the past. Let’s
say, you want to talk about how your IA has helped you gain some
transferable skills. You could say something along this line,

“In my IA at ABC Company, I had to liaise with engineers from other


department and complete my projects within a very short time frame. That
experience has taught me how interpersonal and project management
skills.

Setup versus Set Up


Strangely, this word is commonly used by students. More strangely,
students are confused about the meaning of setup and set up. A setup is a
noun, it’s a business operation. “Despite being a new setup, XXX
Company has managed to win a lot of market share than YYY Company.”
“Set up” in 2 words serves as a verb, it means to implement a system.

Do not waste words


Please take out canned phrases like “References available upon request”.
Would you reject a HR manager’s request for reference? Please do not
state the obvious. Firstly, you are wasting words, and thus, space.
Secondly, you are wearing out HR managers’ patience.

Avoid the use of personal pronoun

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“I” and “my” should not appear at all in your resume. Please avoid a
narrative style in your resume. Use sentence fragments, and start with
action verbs. Some students are unsure of whether you should be using the
plural or singular verb. For instance, in your summary of qualifications, if
you were to take out your first person pronouns, should you say “Possess
interpersonal skills”, or “possesses interpersonal skills”? Please use the
first version. You should be using the plural verb [1st person verb].

Active versus Passive Voice

In both your cover letter and resume, avoid the use of passive voice [e.g.
investigation on xxx was done and measures to address the issue were
suggested]. I understand that the use of passive voice is a convention in
Engineering and scientific writing. But in business writing, use the active
voice [exception: use the passive voice in negative situations to avoid
sounding personal].

Why the active voice? First, it’s shorter and hence, takes up less space.
Second, it’s punchier and projects more vibrancy and confidence in
writing.

Compare:

Version 1 (Passive Voice)


When I was doing my IA at XXX Company, research on ____ was done.
Measures to address the problems were proposed. In this process,
communication and project management skills were gained by me.

Version 2 (Active Voice)


During my IA at XXX Company, I investigated the root causes of _____
and proposed innovative ideas to address the problem of ____. In this
process, I have gained valuable communication and project management
skills.

Version 2 definitely sounds more proactive and confident than version 1. I


want to avoid using linguistic jargons. But if you were to study
psycholinguistics, version 2 is a more “efficient” sentence because the
brain takes a shorter time to process the meaning.

2. EDITING YOUR RESUMES

How do you make an average resume outstanding? Edit, edit, edit. Conversely,
when you disregard the details of style and punctuation, you can make the average
resume mediocre. Proper punctuation and word usage are akin to good grooming.
If you discount the importance of them, you’ll probably make quite a poor

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impression on your employer-to-be. If you have “mechanical offenses”,
intelligent readers will spot them and think less of you for not knowing better.

Resume Proofreading Tips

 Print out the resume (It’s easier to spot typos on a piece of paper than
it is on a computer screen.
 Read it slowly, one word at a time. Give special attention to these
items :
- dates of employment
- phone numbers and e-mail addresses
- spelling of names, employers, course names etc
- headings (if one category heading is boldfaced and underlines, are
all boldfaced and underlines?
- consistency of formatting (if one employer entry is indented by
half an inch, are all indented half an inch?
 mark any changes on the proof with a coloured pen
 make the changes of the document on the computer
 print it out again
 read it again
 compare the proof version with pen marks to the new
proof. Check that each correction was made.
 let it sit overnight (looking at it with fresh eyes can make
all the difference)
 ask one or two capable proof reader(s) to read it with a critical eye.

Prune, Prune, Prune

Spot and correct these common errors.


 Words that repeat themselves through the resumes – substitute with an
alternative word or eliminate them
 Words that repeat themselves within the same sentence – avoid using the same
word twice in a sentence
 Concepts that repeat themselves – avoid duplications

Parallel Construction

I keep emphasizing to my students in my tutorial classes the importance of


adopting parallel structures in writing. Parallel structure means when you are
listing a series of things, you make sure you are consistent in maintaining the
same grammatical form. Your job as a writer is to help speed up the
reading/scanning process of the reader. When we read, we anticipate
information and connect thoughts. However, when there is a lack of

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uniformity in grammatical patterns, it makes the processing of meaning more
complicated; hence, slowing down the sentence processing time.

Analyze the differences in these before & after examples.

Example 1

Incorrect Parallel Verbs (infinitive phrase and participial phrase)


Aiming at higher profits, our programmes have already begun to increase
efficiency on the production lines and controlling costs in purchasing.

Correct Parallel verbs (two infinitive phrases)


Aiming at higher profits, our programmes have begun to increase efficiency
on the production line and control costs in purchasing.

Example 2
Incorrect parallel adjectives (adjective and noun)
The company’s new products are exciting and a sensation.

Correct parallel adjectives


The company’s new products are exciting and sensational.

Example 3
Incorrect parallel nouns (nouns and progressive verb)
Colleagues describe me as an advocate of action and innovating.

Correct parallel nouns


Colleagues describe me as an advocate of action and innovation.

When presenting a list of bulleted sentences, aim for parallelism by making


the first word of each sentence the same type (all verbs, all nouns and so on).

Compare the before & after version. The “before” version is unsettling to read
because each line begins with a different form of verb or noun.

Before
Contributions
 Planned marketing strategies to increase market share.
 Securing new business with high-net-worth clients.
 Enhancement of asset value and revenue stream.

After
Contributions
 Planned marketing strategies to increase market share.

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 Secured new business with high-net-worth clients.
 Enhanced asset value and revenue stream.

Notice that the “after” version enhances readability.

USE ACTION STATEMENTS

Avoid talking about job responsibilities. You should be using action


words to describe your accomplishments. Words like “duties/
responsibilities included…”, or “involved in…” should not be in your resume.
Please don’t make your resume sound like a job advertisement, or a job
manual. Rather, use action statements to describe your accomplishments. This
will also make it easier for the HR person to speed-read, as it’s shorter. Also,
when you use statements like “responsibilities included…” you come across
as a reactive person. You were in that job, you had no choice and you were
“forced to” do certain tasks. Notice the difference psychological effect if you
were to list your project, work and ECA experience by using action
statements.

Compare the following:

Before
Job responsibilities included liaison with people about new contracts and after
sales service.

After
Liaised with customers regarding new contracts and provided after sales
service by resolving clients’ problems and answering their queries.

Notice that the “after” action statement sounds more proactive and confident.

Use of Tenses

When marking my students’ resumes, a common mistake made is the use of


past tense when you are talking about something you are doing at present
[your FYP for instant]. Please use either the present tense [e.g. investigate] or
the present continuous tense [e.g. investigating]. On the other hand, for past
experiences, use the past tense.

---The End---

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