How to Boost Your Résumé in Ways that Work

June 3, 2021
Megan Perram (she/her), PhD Candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta 

Congress 2021 blog edition 

Positioning yourself as the best possible candidate for a job opening is a difficult but important skill to master. In an insightful lecture hosted by Mitacs, Catherine Maybrey, Career Coach at CM Coaching Services, offers valuable career-building tools, tips, and resources for enhancing your career.  

According to Maybrey, résumés are vital documents that are often misunderstood: “The résumé’s entire job is to get you to that interview stage and to keep you in the competition. That's it, the résumé is not going to get you a job.” We have to remember that our job applications must demonstrate our competence in the area being hired for and that we would be an asset to the organization. However, the interview is where we need to nuance our résumés and really stand out. 

A common misconception that people hold, Maybrey explains, is that your CV and résumé are interchangeable. This isn’t true. A CV and résumé should be distinct documents where the CV is a comprehensive outline of your career outputs and a résumé is a two-page, curated highlight reel. A CV can include jargon, acronyms, and special terms because it is expected that you’re presenting this document to a hiring committee that is familiar with your discipline or experience. A CV lists every career output, has no page limit, and avoids explanatory details. Here’s where your résumé comes in. Maybrey explains that this is the refined document to connect your experience to the job description. 

Maybrey reinforces with her audience the significance of clean and clear formatting: “Your layout and your formatting should not be hindering your ability to tell your story. The layout isn't the star, your content is.” Many people choose to incorporate stylistic elements such as columns, tables, boxes, graphics, and symbols. Maybrey says this is a mistake. If you’re applying to a large organization or perhaps the government, their human resource departments tend to utilize applicant tracking systems. Maybrey explains that these systems are algorithm based and are used to sort through large amounts of applicant data. There’s potential that these software systems are unable to read data hidden in unique stylistic formats. You want to make sure that all your content will be analysed properly. 

One of the most prominent topics that Maybrey continuously revisited was stressing the importance of using the active voice. Maybrey sees piles of applications that are littered in the passive voice, and this just weakens a candidate’s chances. For example, using language such as “I was responsible for” should always be avoided. Think about what you want to say and be direct. 

Maybrey’s final piece of advice is to pay attention to details. Think about how your résumé is actually a story about yourself. How do you want your story to be told?