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You will need a great resume to secure your first-ever job or land your dream role after years of working up the ladder.

If you’ve ever applied for a job you’re perfect for and failed to get an interview; it was for one reason and one reason only: your resume failed to communicate your skills, qualifications, and experience effectively — but what is a resume?

Note that a resume is different from a CV.

Who uses resumes?

Job applicants use a resume, the most commonly used document across almost all sectors in the US and Canada.

In the academic world, a CV, or curriculum vitae, is the preferred method of applying for fellowships, grants, postdoctoral positions, teaching or research positions in postsecondary institutions, and high-level research positions in industry. A CV is a complete history of your academic experience and is often much longer than a resume. 

This differs around the world.

CVs are used primarily in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, and most of Europe. The terms in Australia, South Africa, and India are interchangeable. Still, CVs are mainly used for the public sector, while resumes are used for applying for jobs in the private sector. 

Why are resumes important?

Your resume is your first opportunity to tell the person responsible for filling a vacancy that you’re suitable for the job. If you get it wrong, it’ll also be the last opportunity.

When an employer is looking for candidates to take through to the interview stage, they will have a formal or informal checklist of criteria they want to fill. A resume distills your skills, qualifications, and experience into an easy-to-digest list.

Remember that a resume isn’t always the only part of that initial application. If the job ad also calls for a cover letter, or you think your application would benefit from one, make sure you know how to write it.

What are resumes used for?

In the opening line of this article, we said that you need a great resume to secure a job at any stage of your career. This is true, but your resume doesn’t earn you the job — it only earns you the interview.

A resume tells an employer that you fit the profile of what they’re looking for based on skills and experience and that you’re someone worth discovering more about. However, it’s important to remember that a resume isn’t just used to identify promising candidates and weed out candidates. If you don’t meet the criteria they’re looking for, there’s not much you can do, but employers are also looking out for these common resume mistakes:

  •  Spelling mistakes — the odd typo is forgivable, but if your resume is littered with spelling and grammar errors, it will suggest that you don’t have good attention to detail or take care and pride in your work. Always proofread your resume a few times yourself, and it’s helpful to ask someone you know (preferably who has good spelling and grammar!) to check it too.
  • Not tailoring your resume to every job — employers can tell if you’ve sent the same resume to them as you have dozens of other companies. The job ad will call out for specific skills, so if your resume is leading with stuff they didn’t even ask for, they can tell that it wasn’t written with them in mind. Again, this shows a lack of care and effort, but it also shows you probably don’t care much about the job.

  • Including too much information — a resume isn’t a CV; it’s a summary of your work experience and education, emphasizing what’s most relevant to the job you’re applying for. Business owners and hiring managers have a lot of resumes to sift through, so resumes that stretch beyond three pages are sometimes discarded because they take too long to read. Focus on including everything most relevant to the role. Even if you have much relevant experience, include what’s most recent. Less is more!

  • Using unusual or non-web-friendly fonts — your resume shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to express your unique or zany personality. They need to be easy to read and understand, but nothing makes that unnecessarily harder than an ‘interesting’ font. Stick to the classic, digital-friendly fonts. These include Raleway, Roboto, Montserrat, and Latin. Sans-serif fonts are ideal, but Times New Roman is an acceptable serif option. 

Are there different formats of resumes?

Not sure where to start when it comes to laying out your resume? There are three standard formats of a resume:


This is the most common type of resume, so you’ve likely made one in this format before.

It lists your work and educational experience in reverse-chronological order — the newest job or qualification you earned going at the top. 

One of the best things about a reverse-chronological resume is that it’s easy to update with the details of your latest experience, but there are a couple of drawbacks:

  1. Because reverse-chronological order is so common, it’s harder to stand out.

  2. If you’ve had gaps in your work history, this format clarifies.

Remember, your resume isn’t an exhaustive list of everything you’ve ever done. For most job applications, you won’t have to go back further than 10-15 years, but every job is different, so use your judgment if you think you need to show more. For example, if you’ve spent the last decade in one role, it might be helpful to show what you did before.

Functional (skills-based)

Sometimes the reverse-chronological format won’t be the best option. For example, if your latest work history isn’t the most crucial factor as to why you’d be perfect for the job, leading with that would be a mistake. Functional resumes are also ideal if you’re starting your career and have limited real-world experience.

A functional (skills-based) resume can be a great alternative. It places your skills and abilities at the top of the page, which you can tailor for the job role. You should also categorize these skills under headers such as ‘Customer Service,’ ‘Technical,’ or ‘Management’ so the employer can focus on the most relevant ones. It also breaks up what could be a long list!

You will still need to list your work history, but leading with your skills and qualifications/certifications can take the emphasis off this.

One downside is that employers aren’t as familiar with functional resumes. This could mean they find it harder to quickly scan your resume for what they want. If the company uses a ‘resume robot,’ they could have the same problem.


As the name suggests, the hybrid resume combines reverse chronological and functional resumes. They are most suited to candidates with lots of work experience but also want to highlight expertise.

The main benefit of hybrid resumes is that they offer employers the traditional layout they’re used to seeing while including detailed information about your skills. They’re also more suitable for resume robots.

When choosing which resume format or template to use, the most important thing is always to consider the position you’re applying for.

A detailed but concise resume is essential at whatever stage you’re at in your career. Although, ultimately, your personality, energy, and passion for the role will win the day, you’re never going to get to wow an employer if you can’t get your foot in the door.

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