Writing Effective Resumés and Cover Letters

Resume/CV Apr 23, 2024 No Comments
Image by Q K from Pixabay

As trends change frequently, it’s helpful to review current guidelines.

Writing trends for resumés and cover letters change frequently, so it is advisable to keep up to date with current guidance. Requirements also differ between industries, with the largest variation regarding needs for industry-specific information on technical resumés.

The importance of professional LinkedIn profiles is growing, and you should make sure that your profile on LinkedIn.com is up to date and aligns with any resumé you send out. In several industries now, including IT and HR, it is a normal part of the application process for someone to search for an applicant on LinkedIn and see their details, as recruiters often use premium-access accounts. It can be very helpful to have a complete LinkedIn profile available in English. You can download your LinkedIn profile, as can recruiters, and you should check the output to see whether it is professional, or you need to amend or complete any sections.

A resumé is the most frequently requested type of application document, but many around the world still refer to it as a CV, or curriculum vitae. The terms are used interchangeably, and there is no accepted definition of the difference. The most important thing to know is that the employer’s requirement is paramount; that is, if the job advertisement indicates particular information is required on the resumé by the employer, you should comply with these requests.

  • While the length of a resumé varies considerably across industries and job types, a one-page resumé for a professional role would, in most cases, be seen as too brief; two pages is now considered the norm.
  • A length of up to four pages is still acknowledged as acceptable for someone with significant professional experience, or if including publications or other significant achievements, provided the information is fresh and maintains the reader’s interest.  

Finding widespread agreement over resumé preferences is virtually impossible, as style, format and size are very much viewed from a personal perspective. Recruiters often differ strongly in their opinions about what should appear on a resumé, so, in general, it is best to ensure that the resumé is formatted in a professional way.

  • The consensus is that margins of 2.54 cm (1 inch) are most pleasing to the eye.
  • A font size of around 10 to 12 points is most suitable.
  • Size A4 paper (8.27 inches by 11.69 inches) is used widely; it is slightly longer and narrower in size than US ‘letter-sized’ paper.
  • Your resumé should begin with your name in decent-sized but not huge print, followed by contact details, including address (this can be a postal address only, if necessary), telephone number(s) and email address.
  • If your name might cause gender confusion (i.e., it is not a common name or is a name that might identify with either gender), use a title, such as ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.’ before your name or alternatively you can also insert your pronouns below your name ‘She/Her/Hers’.

Contact Details

  • List the best contact telephone number, preferably one where a message can be left.
  • Cell phone numbers are acceptable; you need not include both a home and cell phone number.
  • If using an overseas number, indicate the time difference that exists.
  • Make sure the email address you use on your resumé is professional, preferably with your name in it (e.g., jane.doe@outlook.com or johnsmith81@hotmail.com).

Keywords or buzzwords

Keyworks or buzzwords can improve your ranking in recruitment databases, and should be included throughout the text of the resumé or in a skills section. These might relate to software packages you have used, such as NVivo (for a researcher) or Adobe Photoshop (for a graphic designer). Use full titles of the programs, and include your skill level and the frequency with which you used the programs. When talking about more generic abilities, such as presentation skills, provide an example of when you employed these skills. In every case, use of keywords should be in context and backed by solid examples. Be aware that technical skills or procedures of many professions are referenced by buzzwords; it is often helpful to use these terms in a resumé, so researching them will be very worthwhile.


If you are a recent graduate, the education section will follow the contact details section, as presumably your degree will be central in the transition to the next job. The education section is followed by notations of specialized training and any employment experiences. On the other hand, an experienced employee would more likely concentrate on jobs, with education appearing toward the end of the document. Both the ‘Education’ and the ‘Employment’ sections should be presented in reverse-chronological order, with the current or most recent activity highest on the list, going backward.

  • Your education section must indicate the most recent tertiary studies undertaken, including degrees earned, majors or specialties, institutions and start/finish dates.
  • The grade point average (GPA), classification or overall grade for the degree can be included, but is not always an important aspect to many employers, and could be omitted if it is not supportive of your application.
  • Do include any positive information, particularly any High Distinction (A or 4.0 and higher) grades, awards received, or positions of responsibility granted during university studies.

Additional training and qualifications are listed after the tertiary information, along with other certificates or professional training. If you took courses specifically relevant to the job or company, make note of a select few under education.

Skills and Attributes

In an increasingly competitive jobs market, employers place more value on generic soft/employability skills than disciplinary or technical skills. That is, employers often look for skills like initiative, organization and the ability to effectively communicate, rather than specific technical skills or years of experience. This is especially true in the graduate employment market. Include a section that highlights the key skills the employer is seeking. To complete this section well, read the job advertisement and position description carefully, and highlight any key skills or requirements mentioned. These skills are addressed in the skills section, with evidence and information as to where they were developed.

Other Skills

  • For foreign languages, specify levels of fluency in speaking, writing and reading. Do not overstate your abilities in this area, however, as the interviewer may know the designated language and try to test you.
  • Computer knowledge is demonstrated with a list of computer languages, certificates completed in professional development, hardware knowledge and software programs.
  • List relevant expertise in a specialist area — for example, ‘accountancy expertise,’ ‘graphic design skills’ or ‘engineering professional skills.’

Employment History

There are two ways to present an employment history. The first is to note all employment on a single list in reverse-chronological order (starting with the most recent), a method especially useful for people moving within the same industry, who have established careers and are hoping to secure a more senior role. It also might be useful for those without much employment history, or who have no employment experience relating to the desired job or industry.

The second method would be useful if some, but not all, of your experience were relevant to the position. In this case, you may choose to split your employment history into two sections: ‘Relevant Employment History’ and ‘Other Employment History.’ This allows all employment that relates to the job or industry to be grouped together at the start of the section, so the employer does not have to search for relevant skills. The ‘Other Employment History’ section may be important, however, because it allows the employer to determine whether skills developed in these jobs might be used in the desired job.

  • When listing previous jobs, clearly specify the employing company’s name, location, your position title and the period of employment (identifying the month and year of start and finish dates).
  • List various positions with a single employer separately with dates, if these positions were not simultaneous (if they were simultaneous, list the most senior).
  • For each employer and specific position, give the responsibilities and the scope of the position and achievements, listing the duties and responsibilities in bullet points to make it quick and easy for the employer to read.


If you have any awards, achievements, association memberships or anything else of relevance and importance to the job, this can be included after the employment section. A time frame of five years is probably applicable in the case of most awards, but if they are exceptional, statewide or national/international, they may be worth mentioning going back longer.

Hobbies and Interests

Including mention of hobbies, special interests and sports activities is not mandatory, but they commonly are included, especially if they show outstanding quality. This section primarily is used as soft interview questions, and can be particularly useful if you have little or no relevant recent work experience (as would be the case for a recent graduate). Interests often are used as a conversation starter in interviews. List personal interests in one or two lines only, using good judgment when deciding what to include in this section.


Finally, reference details are listed so the employer can contact them to discuss your skills and abilities. This section is often called references, but there is a difference between references and referees — referees are the people who can give written or oral references. The referees should relate to recent experiences, and you should obtain the permission of your referees before listing them on your resumé. Referees should be people with whom you have worked closely and who have held a senior position to yours or, if necessary, were significant colleagues on the same level.

In Conclusion

Resumés and cover letters are often a company’s first impression of you. You want to do all you can to stand out and make them take notice. Knowing the current guidance on resumé and cover letter presentation is one of the best ways to do that.

Using GoinGlobal’s Resources

For location specific resumé/CV guidelines, see GoinGlobal’s Country and City Career Guides*. You will find expert advice for creating a culturally correct resume/CV and cover letter in formats that meet local employers’ expectations.

On the GoinGlobal platform: Go to “Career Guides” in the main navigation, choose the country or city of your choice, hover over “Getting the Job” in the guide’s navigation and you will find everything you need to know, and more, about crafting a resumé/CV, interviewing and work permits/Visas.

*Access to GoinGlobal’s resource database is provided through subscribing institutions. Contact your college/university’s career center or library for access instructions.

Mary Anne Thompson

Mary Anne Thompson founded GoinGlobal, Inc. more than two decades ago as a result of her own experiences job hunting in Sweden. She believes that to uncover the real job opportunities, you need the experience and personal insights of trained local specialists. Mary Anne continues to be an active CEO who shares her strategies and insights directly with clients to help them strategically maximize GoinGlobal’s unique resources.