Résumé Writing Tips from a Subcontract Writer

Contact Career Professionals of Canada

As a subcontract writer, I don’t meet with clients face-to-face. My client intake starts when my vendor asks me if I’m available to interview a client over the phone. To prepare for the interview, I ask the client to send me a few job advertisements that represent the position(s) he or she is seeking, and to think about the types of problems solved or challenges faced in former roles. Then, I work directly with the client to create an authentic and marketable résumé. Here are some of my strategies:

Generic Versus Customized Résumés

Clients sometimes ask me to write generic résumés because they don’t know what type of job they want. I don’t think this is a good strategy; if a client submits a résumé written for every potential employer, he or she ends up with a résumé that attracts no one.

I also avoid writing just a cover letter for a client interested in targeting another position. I advise the client that the résumé should be customized, too, otherwise there will be a disconnect between the cover letter and résumé.

Some people think that customizing the résumé and cover letter for each job application is unnecessary — it’s too much work or too expensive to pay a writer for multiple customizations. It’s actually not a lot of work if the client is applying to similar jobs. I customize both the résumé and cover letter so they “hang together” and send a cohesive message to the hiring manager.

My Résumé Writing Process

I don’t use an objective statement unless my client is changing careers, but I sometimes use a slogan if they have a very strong brand.

For the “Professional Profile,” I include the most common requirements listed in the job advertisements. I also look at the qualifications in the ads and make sure the relevant ones are included in my client’s résumé. I’ll include foreign language skills, too, especially if the client is applying for a job that requires working across international borders.

In the “Areas of Expertise” section, I list keywords from the job postings, but only if the client can support those keywords with actions and achievements. I include a section on technical skills for technical professionals or tradespeople. All of this improves Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and immediately shows the employer that my client is a strong contender for the position.

If my client has a lot of experience and achievements, I incorporate a “Top Achievements” section. This is especially important in sales positions since companies are always looking for candidates who can generate high sales. For other professions, I list projects or initiatives that helped the company solve problems, reach milestones, or address challenges.

For the “Professional Experience” section, I include a brief description of the company and the client’s accountabilities if they are applying for a manager, executive, or specialized position. When interviewing my client, I ask if he or she fulfilled responsibilities similar to those listed in the job posting. I encourage clients to discuss achievements — how they solved problems — so potential employers see them as relevant and skilled at understanding a company’s needs. I list achievements either as bullets or in a separate “Key Achievements” section in the same order as in the “Responsibilities” section of the advertisement, since employers usually list key responsibilities first.

“Education” is usually featured at the end of the résumé, unless it is critical to the targeted role. For example, I might put education close to the top of the résumé for university professors, lawyers, or doctors, as well as for new grads with no work experience, since education is their strongest point.

Other items I might include are professional development, professional affiliations, publications, presentations, public speaking, awards, and military service. I usually leave out personal interests, only including these if they are relevant to the job. For instance, if my client was applying for a job as a football coach, I would include her or his interest in sports.

Résumé Length

There is a lot of debate between experts and non-experts about résumé length. I don’t believe a résumé should be restricted to just two pages since jobs have become much more complex these days, and it takes more real estate to tell the client’s story. I do try to keep the résumé to no longer than one or two pages for an inexperienced candidate, but will go up to four pages for someone who is highly experienced.

The exception to this rule is a curriculum vitae (CV) for an academic placement or position. The CV is a different animal. It can be much longer than four pages because it usually includes a list of publications, presentations, conferences, studies, and other major projects. I just finished a nine page CV for a client applying for a master’s program.

Résumé Design

I like my résumé design to be crisp and clean, so I keep the following points in mind:

  • Don’t use too many CAPS since some people equate that with shouting.
  • Don’t use too many different fonts, excessive bolding, italics, garish colours, or loud bullets dancing all over the page. If you do, your client’s résumé may look like a “dog’s dinner” and end up getting ignored, tossed, or deleted.
  • Don’t use small fonts because you don’t want to turn off a tired, stressed-out recruiter by hurting his or her eyes. Include enough white space so the reader’s eyes can “rest.” Use 10 point to 12 point font size, depending on the font and / or  what you need to fit on the page.
  • Ensure formatting of dates, bullets, line spacing, etc. is consistent. Bullets and text should vertically align so that the reader’s eyes are able to follow a straight line.

Application Tracking Systems

A fancy résumé has its place if the client is using it as a “brochure” at networking events, or if he / she is going to hand a hard copy to an interviewer. However, when it comes to Application Tracking Systems (ATS), it’s best to follow some basic technology rules:

  • Name your résumé (the file name) as Client’s Name_Target Position.
  • Stick to common résumé headings like Summary, Work Experience, Education, and Skills. Present the client’s employment history in reverse chronological order and make sure all the positions are listed in the same way.
  • Use common and readable fonts such as Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, or Times New Roman. Place the client’s contact information in the body of the résumé and, in general, do not make use of headers and footers. (I have heard from experts that new ATS can handle headers and footers, but it is best to stick to a simple, formal structure if you don’t know which ATS the recruiter is using.)
  • Don’t use images, columns, tables, fields, text boxes, or graphics. (This also contradicts what I have heard about new ATS. There seems to be confusion in this area, so it might be best to stay conservative and simple in design.)

Helpful Resources

8 Applicant Tracking System Secrets You Need to Know

Résumé Strategy: Dealing with Multiple Job Targets

Why You Need A Strategy Before Writing Your Résumé

To learn more, register for CPC’s Advanced Résumé Development and/or Technology Optimized Résumés courses.

Giselle Mazurat is a Certified Résumé Strategist through Career Professionals of Canada. She specializes in helping technical and skilled trade professionals reach their career goals by creating industry-focused résumés and LinkedIn profiles. Giselle is also a gig worker who is never short of work writing technical documentation for Fortune 500 companies and government.

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