How to make your resume stand out amid tough job market during Covid-19 pandemic

Career coaches offer tips on how job seekers can make their skills and experience work for them.

A well-prepared document can help you stand out.
A well-prepared document can help you stand out.PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: UNSPLASH

Job seekers are facing tougher competition this year with unemployment on the rise.

Given that one of the first impressions a potential employer will have of you will be from your resume, a well-prepared document can help you stand out.

But what kind of resume works if you are a mid-careerist laid off from a sector like tourism where the jobs have dried up, and need to apply for a position in a totally different field, like e-commerce? Or what if you had spent the past few years studying for a qualification that no longer seems as cutting edge, as Covid-19 upends entire industries?

Here are some tips on making your skills and experience work for you, from career coaches Yeo Kia Li of NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute, and Zarina Abu Bakar of Workforce Singapore.

1. Start with a professional summary

This gives a brief overview - four to five lines - of your background, skills and experience, and should communicate your selling points and key strengths, says Ms Zarina.

An example would be "Regional operations and marketing professional with global brands for over a decade, driving go-to-market sales and successfully implementing business process design and workflow optimisation".

2. Have a "core competencies" section

This should highlight transferable and marketable skills relevant to the job you are applying for. These can be both hard skills specific to a job or industry (for example, proficiency with software or machinery) and soft skills (for example, communication, leadership and customer service).

It helps to get through the applicant tracking systems software used by some bigger companies, which search for keywords in resumes.

Ms Yeo also recommends using a Microsoft Word document unless the recruiter specifies otherwise, as some human resource tools have difficulties detecting keywords in PDF files.

3. Use a functional resume format

Especially useful for career switchers and fresh graduates, a functional resume format - instead of just a chronological list of previous employment - plays up your transferable skills and experience.

For working adults, draw these from your past jobs.

 

For fresh graduates, highlight knowledge and skills gained from your studies, any distinctive school projects, volunteer work, leadership positions and achievements, including awards or scholarships.

Ms Yeo says functional skills that employers look for in the current uncertain climate include being able to devise new money-making opportunities, preserve existing revenue streams and save the company money. Familiarity with project management systems and online workflow communication tools to hire, train and manage remote teams well is also in demand.

FOR CAREER SWITCHERS: EMPHASISE TRANSFERABLE SKILLS

If you are applying for a job in a new sector, Ms Zarina says you should state clearly in the summary your intention to make a career switch and explain how your transferable skills and experience from past jobs would contribute towards the new job and company.

Add a short descriptor after your job title to highlight your transferable skills, says Ms Yeo. For example, if you had been a software engineer and you now want to work in project management, you could write your job title as "software engineer (with a heavy emphasis on project management)".

Find keywords related to your desired job that match up with your previous experience and include them throughout your resume.

 

These keywords help you move past electronic filters. "A resume full of accounting keywords will have a hard time getting past filters for a job in marketing," says Ms Yeo.

You can also include non-work-related experience such as professional association memberships, volunteering, internships or part-time consulting, if they are relevant to the new sector or role.

Include any courses or professional certifications relevant to the new sector and job under an "education qualifications" section, even if the course is ongoing (indicate the year it will be completed), says Ms Zarina. "This is a strong signal to prospective employers that you are indeed serious in making the switch to the new job and sector."

You can include a chronological portion later in the resume to provide an overview of your past work experience.

FOR FRESH GRADS: PLAY UP WHAT YOU'VE LEARNT

Highlight the knowledge and skills gained from your studies, internships or work attachments.

 

Internships and attachments can be listed in a chronological portion of your resume. Include details such as the job scope, projects and any achievements made for the host employer, says Ms Zarina.

Ms Yeo says that it is also important to indicate how the skills and knowledge acquired through your extra-curricular experience will enable you to be a strong contributor or problem solver in the role you are applying for.

4. Quantify achievements

Indicate major career achievements from your previous jobs and explain how you can provide a similar impact for your future employer, says Ms Zarina.

These could include any quantifiable effort on your part to improve the productivity, quality or efficiency of work, or generate revenue for the company, for example.

But be selective. A resume should not be a dumping ground for every minor accomplishment in your career, she adds.

5. Include temporary roles

Ms Zarina says taking on temporary jobs or traineeships during the Covid-19 period can help bridge a gap in your resume and provide networking opportunities. Job seekers can also keep their skills sharp, especially soft skills such as time management, problem solving and communication.

For example, someone from the hotel industry who took on a temporary job in a supermarket can highlight his people skills as it is a people-facing job. Or he could have honed his attention to detail in an inventory-related role, and people management skills in a supervisory role.

Ms Yeo adds that you should demonstrate the value of the temporary experience and present these as strengths, a can-do spirit, and having no problem doing seemingly "humble" work.

6. Network in digital spaces

Findings have shown that a strong presence on LinkedIn and a resume that includes a link to a comprehensive and dynamic LinkedIn profile lead to far more interviews or callbacks, says Ms Yeo. "It is not difficult to imagine that hiring managers would be more impressed when applicants continue to be active in professional circles and are committed to networking in turbulent times like the current one."

She also suggests creating a video resume to further stand out. This means doing a professional and personal presentation in a video.