A résumé – your future on a piece of paper

Ah, the résumé, that little piece of paper that can literally change your career and your life.

The brilliant Tim McNamara wrote recently about résumés and the importance of being honest, both about your strengths and, just as importantly, about your areas for development on your résumé. I wanted to expand on that and hopefully guide anyone struggling with what other information you should present on your résumé, or rather, how to present it.

Your résumé is the first impression you make on your potential employer or recruiter.

I can’t speak as an employer, but as a recruiter, here are some general tips that we at Firebrand recommend.

If you’re a Creative, take a little time on design, construction and wording. Read Alex Kennings post on a designer’s portfolio for some great insights.

If you’re in Marketing, PR, Communications, Account Services or Digital you should be a little more corporate. Start with your personal details. Full name and contact details including all useable telephone numbers. Avoid superfluous details such as religious affiliation, children’s names etc. I appreciate this is important to you, but tell me in person, not on your résumé.

Then, give me your career goal – what do you hope to achieve by sending this résumé? Tell me what YOU want? “A brand strategist with 10 years of FMCG experience looking for a role in a similar industry that offers exposure to large brands and campaigns, opportunity to lead a team, and a strong career path”, or something like that. Now, that one was fluffy, but I know that this person wants to stay in the same industry, wants to lead a team, and wants to work on campaigns. This already helps me refine her search criteria right away.

You need to include educational history and professional qualifications somewhere. Some say first page, some say last. I personally prefer first, but I don’t think it matters, as long as it’s all there. Include the name of the institutions and dates attended in reverse order – university before high school. Include computer skills and (genuine) related skills there too. Include details on majors chosen or subject choices.

Then comes the full Career History. For most employers, they want to know what you’ve been doing most recently. So reverse date order starting with most recent job is the way to go. Be specific, not just 2011-CURRENT. That doesn’t tell me how long you were there, it could be 2 months or 2 years depending which month you started. Rather include months: Jan 2011 to Current; ABC Limited, Marketing Manager.

List all your responsibilities for that job and try to be specific. Everyone says they work on marketing campaigns and strategies, tell me more – what did you do. Give me an example, or an achievement for each responsibility. Tell me everything you do, not just your key performance area. Don’t assume I know what you do every day, I really don’t. For example — Wrote the 2012/12 marketing strategy for xxx business line and the following brands (A,B,C). This included a full promotional calendar, a digital strategy, PR and media plan and an advertising schedule. Budget was xxx and outlook/roi/result was xxx.

Achievements are key; they bring your role to life. Don’t be modest, and don’t be scared to tell me what you did well. If you launched a product, tell me. If your team did and you were involved, tell me. If you saved money against budget, tell me how. If you grew digital presence through Facebook by % increase, tell me. Each role has its KPAs, but I know you do more. Bring your role to life, and explain more about how you did it, why your campaign was a success. If you have facts and figures, include them.

Do this for each role you’ve had. If you’ve been working for 20 years, then you’ll need to be more detailed for the first role and start to edit down. There is nothing worse than a 10page résumé. Aim for 3-4 pages tops.

There is always a tricky moment when in an interview you’re asked why you left your job, and you were made redundant or you’re uncomfortable with talking about what really happened. To save the difficult questions, include your reasons for leaving a role under each employer. Not every recruiter wants you to include this, but I prefer it. It explains your motivations for changing roles up front. “Moved overseas”; “Made redundant”; “Resigned to pursue a better role with more exposure to big brands”; “Cultural differences”. Be honest, tell the truth, and list it on your résumé. It really does help.

Leave hobbies and interests to last if you feel you have to include them. References can simply be ‘Available on Request’.

Finally, decorative borders are not necessary, nor are photographs of yourself.

Hope that helps!


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(34) Readers Comments

  1. I love these tips, wish I’d had them when i was job searching!

    • Thanks Hannah. Are there any you’d add?

      • Not that i can think of!

        Maybe for young job seekers, when they want to include a lot of the work they did during high school/uni, to just write a short sentence of what they did. When I was applying for jobs after uni, I wanted to show that i’d been working since I was 15, but my job was at Woolworths so I wrote something like “From 2005 – 2008 I worked at Woolworths whilst studying” just so you show that you’ve been in the work force.

        But i’m no recruiter, so I don’t know if that’s right or wrong!

  2. Great piece.

    I personally appreciated the overt transparency when it comes to highlighting your motives and achievements. Already applied some of the tips to my current CV.

    Pippa, what’s you take on having a ‘Summary of Key Responsibilities’ and ‘Relevant Skills’ prior to the expanded ‘Work History’ section? Do they add or diminish to CV’s impact? I’ve always been unsure about these two.


    • Hi Danz
      Thanks for your comment,
      Re the Summary, personally, I dont use it to judge key criteria. I find it to be a mix of common “skills” and jargon about being “strategic” and “digital” which doesn’t tell me much about how much experience in those areas, and why?
      I don’t mind if it’s there, but for me personally I would rather have someone spend more time listing their “duties/ key responsibilities” in more detail and listing significant experience or achievements against each one.
      Hope that helps!
      ps. If you want me to “once over” your resume for you and give you any feedback, feel free to send through! :) pholland@firebrandtalent.com

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  4. Thank you for these tips. As a senior, I’m currently revamping my résumé to reflect what I did last semester and getting it ready to find a final internship and, hopefully, job. Any advice on how to contain a diverse skill set on a résumé? I’m wanting to go into advertising account management, so I’ve tried to pick up as many relevant skills as possible. Alas, they don’t always seem terribly related on paper.

    • Hi Justin, good question!
      Each industry looks for different things so my suggestion would be look at the common requirements for an account executive, what are the “key” criteria and make sure you have those listed in your resume, whether in your intro, or your skills, or under work experience.
      As a side note, I work more on the client side, so agencies’ are not my specialty, and therefore resume’s that suit that niche are slightly different to those in a client side marketing role. If you’d like to send me your resume to review, please do with pleasure. I can then also get a colleague of mine who specialises in agency account services roles to have a once over and give her thoughts. Pholland@Firebrandtalet.com
      Good luck!

  5. No it didn’t help thanks. You just told me what helps you to get your work done more quickly. Quite frankly I don’t care. What your blog says is “I work for myself and the employer” – which is true of course. As a job hunter I would love to see somehthing thinking about my side of the fence…

  6. These are very good tips! Thanks!
    Based in France, we have different ways of doing our résumés. However, I think the way you guys operate overseas is far more ‘enjoyable’ for the recruiter to review a résumé. I am currently looking for a job within the advertising / marketing / creative design industry and I think i have applied the main tips to my résumé but I never got any positive replies towards my CV yet… Could I ask for your help Pippa? Maybe there is something wrong with it…

    I have also favored direct mail as a way to send application and ‘expression of interest’ to employers. I used different ways of doing it: printing my CV on 350gr paper, to make it more appealing, and to stand out; as well as not sending my résumé at all but just a fake medication box with some skittles lollies in it with a note which stated something like: you suffer from a lack of creativity? This disease is curable with two methods – take 2 tablets a day of this medication, or simply go check my portfolio. I didn’t write it in that manner, but you can find the example of direct mail on my portfolio.
    Do you think direct mail offers a better impact when sending a résumé?

    • Hi Morgane,
      Thank you very much for your comment. I would love to help, please can you email me your resume and contact numbers, I can call you and we can talk through your resume and what I think – pholland@firebrandtalent.com

  7. Hello Pippa,
    All good reading until the end – ‘references on request’ ….and don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with this priniciple.
    However, in Qld they think they have the right to demand them UP FRONT and expect to see a list on your resume. Apparently the ‘thinking’ is why should they put in all the recruiting effort in advance only to get a ‘dodgy’ reference after all the pre-screening and interviewing.
    This is complete BS – who would give a dodgy reference? And the reality is that by putting them on yr resume in advance will be more likely to deliver a poor reference. After all, if you’re applying for more than one role ( and who isn’t ) , there’s a huge risk that your listed referee will be caught off guard (or get frustrated) by all the incoming calls.
    What’s more, how can you possibly prep your referee with pertinant role information so they can provide well balanced, accurate information?
    Yet if you don’t play ball, apparently yr CV gets binned immediately!

    This is complete nonsense and as usual Qld is operating in the dark ages. And yet the practice is rife – especially in the government eg council & Qd Heath.

    • Hi Mike,

      I didn’t realise this was practice in Qld! I agree with you – In my own career, depending on the role, I have chosen different referees who would be best positioned to give insights into a particular skill set of mine. And, to your point, yes the chances of your referee being subjected to several calls is very worrying. What if you’re in a senior marketing role at a massive corporate where privacy is key, both that of the candidate, but also the referee? You can’t have xxx client calling your referee, the CEO of a major brand business without this CEO’s prior knowledge/ consent?
      So, in essence, my reaction is wow!? Really, can’t believe you’ve had this experience, and I hope it does change. You don’t see referee’s on my CV – ever and I encourage talent to remove referee details too.

  8. I am working in marketing but currently maternity leave, I will be going back to the same job. I was wondering, do I have to put my maternity leave under Jon history including dates etc?

    • Hi Kelly,
      Thank you for your comment. Yes, I personally prefer to account for all gaps in a CV and this includes a maternity period. Don’t feel the need to include too much detail, simply state Feb 2011 – June 2012 – Maternity Leave. At least the employer knows that you haven’t been endlessly searching for a job, or unemployed for months.

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  10. Some great points. Thanks for posting this, Pippa. I’ve spent a long time in the U.S. PR business and am looking to move to the EU. Resume/CV formats are somewhat different there, but would you agree that the format doesn’t matter as long as someone has a good experience that’s communicated well? Or are there any major EU-format differences that you know of? Trying to get a feel… Thanks for your help.

    • Hi Viva,
      Unfortunately I’m not too familiar with EU resumes but we do have a Firebrand office in London and Paris. I can put you in touch with a colleague there, or you can search Emma Barette on our Firebrand website. She is the country manager for the London office and likely to provide more insights that I can.

      • Thanks for taking the time to respond anyway. I saw this on Twitter first and then, after reading it and posting a question, clicked on your bio to find out you are not in the EU, so I apologize. I might shoot Emma a message. Thanks again, and have a great week.

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  14. I’m a big believer in ‘the one-page résumé’. It takes some creative flair to get the key points across on only one page without using 8 point font! but I’ve received good feedback in the past for this reason.

    • Thanks Mark. I do like a one pager, IF (and a big if) you’re able to put all the detail on there. I normally find them too short and lacking in detail, or too busy and packed with detail. Personally, and only my opinion, I prefer 2 pages. :)

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  17. Hi Pippa,

    thanks so much for the great article. I am going through my resume to clean it up. This may be a stupid question, but I have all my duties listed as bullet points. How do you like to see resume laid out? In bullet format or with a brief description of the role? I am a graphic designer.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for your comment!
      Generally content rich, keyword heavy bullet points are much better, they’re eye catching and informative. Paragraphs tend to be harder to scan read for “skills”.

  18. Hi Pippa,

    I have paid for my resume from two separate people then I “fixed” it up, I don’t know. I have accomplished a lot, and been very successful, yet I can’t even get interviews.. I am baffled! Could you take a look and let me know what is the deal here.. Honestly when I left my last job I thought I would have a new one within two weeks… That’s how strong my work ethic and experience is.
    Please let me know if you could take a look and help a desperate soul out… :)

    It would be beyond appreciated, and of course if you have any further ideas beyond the resume please let me know…

    I hope to hear back!

    Kindest Regards,


  19. Hi Zak.
    Thanks for your comment. I’m not at Firebrand anymore, but I would still like you to send me your résumé. I can have a look, and I might then forward it onto a colleague who can assist you further.
    Email me: Pippa.holland@gmail.com and I will have a look at it and send you any thoughts!

  20. Hi Pippa,

    First off, great article. It definitely sounds like my resume might just be on the right track; however I’m still a tad uncomfortable of adding “made redundant” after a couple of conversations with friends. One major point raised that redundancies can be a way of removing someone that may not be doing too well. In my case my entire department was made redundant along with 500-600 other hard working folks.

    .. But to add that sort of explanation might be too wordy and come off sounding clumsy in a resume.

    Would the next best alternative be to mention redundancy in the cover letter?

  21. Hi Pippa,

    This is very helpful. Thankyou.

    A friend in Sydney gave me the details of Fire Brand as a possible recruiter. I am just re-doing my resume and I have a question.

    I would be applying for content development jobs. I am a trained journalist and have many publications, I am also experienced in photography and video which I believe is also helpful in such roles. The issue I have with my resume is that I have been working abroad for the past few years and most of my experience is gained through working with international NGOs and creating my own website. I do have work experience but I feel I have learned more through international work. How would you suggest I outline this on my resume?

    Thanks in advance,
    Natalie :)

    • Hi Natalie, Pippa is no longer working for Firebrand, so I’d like to recommend that you give one of our Firebrand Talent Agents a call in Sydney to have a chat about your question. Give Katie Beswick a call http://firebrandtalent.com/katie-beswick – I think you’ll find that as long as your international experience is relevant, it will be highly regarding on your résumé, rather than the opposite.

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