WRITING A CANADIAN
RESUME:
TIPS AND TRICKS

What's at stake and why it matters

Having a good resume is essential to getting a job in Canada. And writing a resume is a very useful exercise in itself, because it helps you define yourself as a professional.

Yes, you can send your basic information to someone and say, "Write my resume, please." The result will likely be a bad resume - generic, boring, with little in it that would encourage someone to hire you.

If you take a half-baked resume and fire it off to a thousand job postings, you are likely going to be ignored. And that will make you depressed about the Canadian job market, and your ability to succeed in it.

You have to do the work yourself, first, before getting someone else to edit the language. Because it's your story, and the only person who can do it justice is you.

And as a side benefit - in fact, the real reason you should take the time to do your resume properly - is that doing so will help you in many other ways to get your career on track. The writing process, as laid out here, will help you gain clarity on:

  • The unique skills and gifts that make you worth hiring

  • How to talk about your past accomplishments

  • Your future career plans

There's much at stake, if you're like most people, you may need to do their resume four, five, six, seven times before getting it right. And then do a new version for each major type of job you're applying for.

There are many good resume guides out there. But before you start the writing process, there are a few steps you should take.

The foundation

It's also important to know that a resume on its own will not likely get you a job. There are a bunch of other steps you should take before you send it.

They may include doing a ton of research into the local job market and what it needs (try out Career Cruising, which you can access with a Toronto library card), figuring out the required qualifications, and above all, networking! You should already have some kind of connection with the company or person who is receiving the resume.

If you have done the right preparation work, and are at the stage where there is someone who could possibly offer you a job, then yes, it's resume time. And yes, it better be good!

Deep dive: moments of pride

To get you in the right frame of mind, here's a useful exercise we learned at the 'jobs club' run by Community Matters Toronto. Each week, Chris Hallett or Dr. Nicodeme would ask someone in the class:

"Think of the time you were most proud of yourself, when you really made a difference. When you were at your very best. The time you made a real impact, or you felt alive with a sense of your own potential, your ability to make a difference."

And now it's your turn. The moment maybe happened while you were at work, or can come from your personal life, or volunteer activities. It could have happened anywhere!

Once you have the moment in mind, focus on it. Dig at it. Ask questions. What went into the moment? What did you do, and why did you feel so good about it? What does that say about your definition of success? Did other people tell you that you'd done something good, or did you just tell yourself this? What does this moment say about you?

Once you really understand this moment of pride, think of a few more. It's an exercise that will give you focus when it comes to figuring out what your strengths are, and the sort of work you like to do. It will also help in interviews, in elevator conversations - and in writing this resume!

Note: You have to know yourself well first - before you can get other people to know you, which is what a resume is all about.

The all-purpose resume

There are in fact many different resume styles, depending on the job or industry you're going for. A banking CV, for example, has to be only one page long, and there are specific rules about font sizes and spacing. Resumes for restaurants and service jobs also tend to be one page long, whereas academic CVs can run to dozens of pages.

Graphic design websites usually have a lot of bars and circles and (surprise!) other graphic elements.

What we're talking about here is a general purpose resume that will work for most other jobs. It tends to run two pages, and has enough space to include some of your own personality and personal accomplishments.

Note on strategy: the need for personality

Aside from rookie mistakes like crazy fonts or coloured paper, the most common error is is to use really boring or generic language. Maybe the hope is that employers (or the algorithms used by many employers) are looking for words like "goal oriented" or "team player".

They're not! Instead these rote terms will make you sound like a thousand other candidates. And why would anyone want to hire you over them?

A better approach is to be as specific as possible. Describe strengths and accomplishments that are uniquely yours, and that no other person could possibly claim. This will make you both more memorable and marketable.

Note: This personality-based approach is especially helpful for newcomers to Canada. The way this resume is structured, the employer falls in love with you before seeing that all your wonderful accomplishments actually took place in other countries. The focus is on your strengths and accomplishments, not the country where you lived and worked.

The video covers how to succeed in the Canadian job market. The topic of 'how to succeed in the Canadian market is covered from the 1 hour, 1 minute mark.

The header

Now that we are clear with the philosophy of this approach, let's break down the parts.

At the top of the page goes your name, location and contact info, including your LinkedIn profile. You don't need to put your actual address - just the city is enough. You definitely don't want to list your social insurance number, for confidentiality reasons.

If you're starting with a resume written for a non-Canadian job market (Middle East, India etc), you need to remove all the personal details like marital status or religion. Details like that are not needed, in part because they encourage the sorts of discrimination that are a huge 'no no' in the Canadian job market.

A thumbnail picture of you is also unlikely to appear on a resume, though it will appear on LinkedIn. Also remove all your diplomas and letters of reference, which can make a resume extend to 20 pages. In Canada, 1-2 pages is enough!

The profile statement

The profile statement the most important part of the resume, which is why it's probably the last thing you want to write. Only once you've defined the amazing stuff in your previous jobs, school and volunteer gigs do you want to sum it all up in the profile.

Because yes, it's hard to define yourself and your worth in just a few sentences!

The first sentence will likely define who you are, professionally: "Marketing expert with a depth of experience in retail sales".

The last sentence will likely state what you hope to get from your next job or jobs: "Having gained a holistic, cradle-to-grave command over sales and marketing functions, I am eager to apply my skills and knowledge to a start-up or early-stage business."

And in between, like the middle of a sandwich, is the most interesting sentence of all. Because that's where you can include an anecdote from your history of accomplishments.

Examples from recent resumes:

"From the time I took on a new role at PricewaterHouse Coopers and turned a skeptical boss into my strongest advocate, I’ve discovered my ability to..."

"Since the day I convinced a room of senior executives to rethink the marketing strategy of a multinational company, I have seen the positive results of research..."

Try to fit in one personal story into the profile (even if it's just half a sentence, like it is here). Note this is a slightly unusual approach, but it can really work. Your reader will remember you now and later: "Oh yeah, that's the guy who did x..."

In just half a sentence, you have set yourself apart from much of the other applicants. And you helped the person reading to fall in love with your abilities, before realizing that your job history is mostly from outside of the country.

Skills and achievements

The next section is almost important. This is where you list your skills or achievements - and ideally, a combination of both.

Instead of putting down a bunch of generic words ('team player' etc), try clustering your skills and achievements into three main categories. For example: Analysis and Consulting. Communication and Persuasion.

And then provide a sentence or two to prove you have this skill / achievement with evidence from your work history. A real accomplishment is what's needed here. Consider:

  1. A project you ideally started yourself, which

  2. Had a beginning, middle and an end, and

  3. Achieved results that you can quantify in numbers

Real recent examples:

Developed advertising and marketing presence for K-Mobile through the launch of 16 new store locations in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Working with the vice-president, corporate marketing and his team, launched more than 20 promotional campaigns.

Increased sales by 60% through the production of 25 advertising videos, segmented by consumer behaviour.

Increased annual sales by 40% through strategic marketing campaigns.

These are compelling examples because they include numbers that quantify the accomplishment. "Budget of $12 million, six staff, seven projects, nine weeks..." The numbers make the impact seem real.

List one or two of these accomplishments per strength. You'll probably be pulling these from the two next sections - employment and volunteer experience - so you may want to write those sections first, and this one afterward. That way you can grab the 'best of the best' of your accomplishments and put them here.

If the accomplishments do repeat, use slightly different wording, with the longer explanation in the employment section.

Employment experience

Typically the next section is you list your jobs and what you did in them. (If you haven't ever worked before, you might want to put education or volunteer experience here instead).

The first two lines will show the job title, employer, location and dates you worked. Below you will describe what you did - or even better, what you accomplished.

You should only list 3-4 lines of description per job, so keep only the best stuff. That means removing routine - stuff you would do it regularly, with no beginning and no end - or that anyone would do in that role.

For example, "Monitored company's online social presence" is not really strong and should be taken out. It's a junior function and anyone would do it. "Answered phone calls and emails" - NO! That describes every office job ever.

Don't cry, you will get a less-boring job after writing an amazing resume.

Note on strategy: the need to show initiative

What employers are looking for is evidence of initiative. You saw a problem, you came up with a solution (with the help of others), you got other people to agree with the plan, you saw the plan to a successful conclusion, and on the basis of that, you saw results.

Ideally you can attach numbers to all of these things: an x% increase in something (sales, customer retention, web views) in x number of weeks or months.

Look back at your own experience and try to remember something you started, and what the results were, preferably in numbers.

And believe it or not, you don't need to be CEO to make an impact. A superintendent who figures out a way to save on cleaning supplies has made a real and quantifiable impact.

Volunteer experience

After the work experience, you may list volunteer experience. The formatting for the two should be identical. That's because in Canada, volunteer experience is taken almost as seriously as real work - sometimes even more seriously, if it's really amazing stuff.

Bonus tip: If you're new to the Canadian job market, volunteer! It's the best way to connect with other motivated people, and get some local experience to put on the resume.

And volunteering doesn't need to be with a big organization. You can create your own opportunities. Starting your own initiative looks very impressive to employers.

You can also do volunteer work in exactly the field where you hope to work. For example, you could do a marketing plan for a friend's business. Who cares if you were actually paid for it in cash, or your friend just bought you a sandwich to thank you for the work. Experience is experience - and now you have Canadian experience in your field.

Education

Try to use the same font treatment as you did in the sections above, to keep the design simple. Only now, instead of jobs, you're listing your school, the city and country, the degree and the time you were in school.

You can and probably put list one or two lines under these bare boned facts to explain your degree (if it needs explanation), and state any extra activities you took on as a student. Such as:

  • Founded a marketing club that attracted 200 members

  • Earned a SSHRC grant worth $5,000 for...

  • Awarded the John Doe Award for...

Extra material

People sometimes list the languages they speak at the end. Personally I'd put this at the top, in the skills and achievements section. Also no need to waste time with "References available upon request" - that's assumed!

Space is tight in most resumes, so you don't want any of it on pointless text.

Which means... you're done! Done the writing, at least: there might be many more steps before you sign the job contract.

The most immediate thing to do: update your online profile! Much of what's here can be copied and pasted straight into websites like LinkedIn and Indeed. After that, take some time to fill out the extra sections, adding your skills and links to any work you've done.

These days, a good online profile is often more important than the paper version! But that's a story for another day... For now, take a rest and realize that you probably now know to talk exactly about who you are as a professional and why an employer should hire you.

And that's an accomplishment that sets you apart from 90% of other job hunters. So well done. Now you're on your way!