Resumes. They are the gateway to securing that initial job interview and yet, they are often the step that can cause the most confusion for candidates. Furthermore, easily avoidable mistakes on your resume could cost you a call back for that job you had your eye on. Today, Public Sector People have compiled a list of the most common questions our recruiters are asked about resumes, complete with answers.
Hopefully, they provide some added assistance to those currently job hunting!
Q: How long should my resume be?
A: For the majority of candidates, resumes should be limited to one or two pages. Recruiters and HR professionals have minimal time to read through the hundreds of resumes they receive for an active role and are consequently put off by applications that are more than a few pages. Therefore making sure your resume is easy-to-read and scannable is to your advantage, as it allows those who have to read it, to quickly make their mind up on whether they are interested in you.
Some can find it difficult to limit their relevant experience and achievements to one page, which is why utilising bullet points and subheadings can be a great way to minimise word length and help recruiters or hiring managers easily identify the necessary information they are looking for. There are also some great online resume templates, which can help you with layout and ensure you’ve utilised the space on the page effectively.
The exception for the one-page rule, is those applying for executive or senior-level positions, those in science or research fields or those in fields like construction, architecture or planning. Usually, these applicants will have a longer list of achievements, will be required to list multiple published works or list projects they have worked on and might have to include a portfolio of their work in their application.
Q: What are keywords and how can I utilise them in my resume?
A: Resume keywords and phrases are specific abilities, skills, expertise and traits recruiters and hiring managers have identified as crucial to the role that they are advertising and consequently will be looking for in the successful candidate. Keywords will consist of job-related nouns that describe your hard and soft skills and qualifications for a job. They’ll then often be paired with action verbs, which demonstrate your past accomplishments. Many bigger organisations have started using online systems that are built to scan the combination of both keywords and action verbs as they appear in a resume, to highlight relevant candidates more efficiently.
Consequently, including keywords within your resume (where relevant) can improve your chances of getting noticed. Doing some research and carefully looking through the job advertisement’s listed requirements and key selection criteria can give a good indication of the particular words HR professionals or recruiters will be looking for. Being able to match these keywords will demonstrate that you’ve taken the time to digest what the role will entail. It will also help to visually convey your suitability for the role in question.
Q: What is Key Selection Criteria and how does it differ from my resume?
A: Usually set by an organisation’s HR department and very common within the public sector, the key selection criteria outlines the qualities, knowledge and skills required for a candidate to perform a particular role. This criteria will often be presented as a number of specific questions or statements aimed at revealing a candidate’s background, knowledge in areas relevant to the position and traits identified as important to the organisation. The number of questions a candidate will have to answer can depend on the type of position they’re applying for and their level of experience however, they will usually be split into two categories: essential and desirable. Obviously, the essential criteria will be given more weight when looked over by the employer, but the ultimate aim for a candidate is to demonstrate how well they suit a particular role through their ‘answers’.
In relation to your resume, answering key selection criteria is usually done separately. While your answers should reflect and align with the same information in your resume, the majority of job advertisements will expect you to address the criteria directly in a separate document to your cover letter and resume. However, it’s important to read the requirements and instructions of the job application carefully. Government roles are often very specific on how they want candidates to apply and these instructions can vary depending on the organisation and role itself. And again, not being able to comply with these instructions can mean your application is automatically rejected. Read the provided instructions carefully. Check to see if the job position asks you to adhere to a word limit (either for each question or pages overall) and where and how they want you to address the criteria (in a separate document, within your cover letter etc.). They might have also specified a particular way they want you to format your answers- e.g. if there are any abbreviations for certain criteria that need to be included.
Q: How should I handle employment gaps on my resume?
A: It depends how long ago this employment gap occurred. If it was quite a few years ago, it will probably go unnoticed. However, if it was more recent, it may raise a red flag for your potential employer. Being open and transparent about any career gaps is also dependent on the reasons why. For example, if a career gap is due to a recent redundancy, it is important to mention this in your resume. Especially after 2020 -where the pandemic resulted in Australia’s unemployment rate peaking at 7.5% -, organisations understand that being made redundant during this time isn’t necessarily a reflection of your work ethic or skills, but of the unprecedented times we are living in. If you have been made redundant over the last year, mention it on your resume, rather than giving the impression you’re still working at your last place of employment. Otherwise, you have to explain the redundancy during your interview, which will come as a surprise to your interviewer and might raise questions about your honesty.
Similarly, if you’ve had a career gap due to study, or starting a family, it’s important to make this clear on your resume. Ensure your contractual start and end dates for each role listed on your resume are up-to-date. For any gap, you can then provide a short explanation in your cover letter to provide more context and prevent prospective employers from making their own assumptions as to why you’re no longer with a company- especially if you had been at that company for some time. Saying something short and simple will suffice- like ‘unfortunately in September 2020 myself and members of my finance team were made redundant due to X’ ( a company relocation, a merger, the impact of COVID-19).
It’s also encouraged to think of activities you got involved in during any employment gap, or any unpaid experience such as volunteering or community projects that are relevant to the role, which you can include.
Q: Should I tailor my resume?
A: The short answer is yes, absolutely. While you might be applying for similar-sounding roles during your job search, each job advertisement will have unique requirements or skills that are specific to their particular organisation and processes. Consequently, the most important thing when writing a resume is making sure that it’s relevant to the particular job you’re applying for. Organisations hiring are inundated with hundreds of resumes and only have a finite amount of time to scan each one; if your resume doesn’t include the key skills or attributes mentioned in the job advertised, it will automatically be dismissed. To ensure you’re catering to job requirements, it’s a good idea to make a checklist when giving your resume a onceover. Ask yourself the following questions: does my work experience and knowledge correspond with what has been highlighted in the job description? For example, if you’re applying for a financial administrator role, your part-time experience working at your local chicken shop isn’t necessary to include, but your experience with accounting software is. Does the job advertisement mention anything about company culture and is this reflected in your resume? For example, if a job advertisement states they are looking for a ‘team player who likes to collaborate’ but your resume mentions that you like to be ‘self-directed and independent’ in your work, those reading your resume might not consider you a good fit for the role.
Q: What shouldn’t be included on my resume?
A: Similar to tailoring your resume, the simple answer to this is avoiding anything that isn’t relevant to the job advertisement or getting you an interview. Consequently, there shouldn’t be a need for you to include anything additional to your contact information, relevant recent work history and relevant achievements and skills.
One area people can often get confused about is whether or not to include personal information, like their hobbies and interests. For the most part, this isn’t necessary unless it has been specifically requested in the job advertisement or the interest is relevant to the job. For example, listing recent volunteer experience or community projects that demonstrate transferable skills listed in the key selection criteria like leadership, emotional intelligence and collaboration could be of value, but you should avoid creating a laundry list of things you like to do in your spare time.
You also don’t need to include the following:
Physical attributes like your health or features
A photo of yourself – unless the job advertisement instructs you to.
Any negative statements about previous employers
Your marital status, whether you have children or any other personal information.
For more information on how to write a stand-out resume, you can read our top tips here:
Public Sector People specialise in helping candidates with their resumes and know what clients are looking for when hiring. If you’re wanting specific advice on your resume and how to ‘cut through’ within the current job market, reach out to our team of consultants at: email@example.com