How to write a resume

Everything on it, everything in it: a good resume is a door opener

All in, all out: a good resume is a door opener

Photo: Getty Images

The CV is still a central element in the application: what you have already done (and how you sell it) decides significantly what you can do in the future. How to write a resume that will convince recruiters and future bosses? Here are the most important tips.

"The only purpose of the resume in the application is to invite you to an interview", Jens Hohensee makes it clear "turn on the self-promotion machinery!" As Head of Career Services at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Hohensee looks after all departing colleagues. All alumni can also take advantage of his advice, because BCG wants to strengthen and maintain its alumni network of 3,000 members in Germany and Austria.

He starts by explaining to those seeking advice how important the curriculum vitae (CV – HR professionals usually say "the CV") is when applying for a job: "It is a business card, a marketing tool." Perhaps his most important tip is to be ready at all times. You should have your resume ready in your drawer – preferably as a PDF on a flash drive. Because it doesn’t look very casual if you are approached at a networking event or by a headhunter in a phase of professional reorientation – and then can only deliver the next day or the day after that.

But what should it look like, the resume? Let’s start with the external form:

Here’s how to make it work: clear, concise, page-perfect

Clear and concise: the form is important

Clear and concise: the form is important

Photo: Marius Becker/ picture-alliance/ dpa

What should the CV look like? "More and more often you hear: Send me your profile. This can be a classic CV or a modern one-pager", explains Hohensee. If you decide to use the detailed version, you should make sure that it is reader-friendly. Top rule: no typos, no comma errors, no mixing up fonts – the CV must be perfect. It is also good to design it carefully in a rested phase and to have it "in stock" instead of writing it under time pressure. This way, careless mistakes don’t stand a chance.

personnel managers usually do not take much time for individual applications. Top or flop – that can be decided in just a few minutes. Sometimes in seconds. The first impression is all the more important. "I’m a big fan of the cover page", says Hohensee. Here you can clearly show what is important. "If you want to dispel doubts about your linguistic aptitude, you can refer to your nationality or language skills on the cover page."

Again and again you read in guidebooks that a resume should not be longer than two pages. Hohensee doesn’t think much of this rule, however: "If you can’t get there with two pages, you need three." It’s important to always use the whole page and make sure it’s easy to read – eye-friendly line spacing, generous margins, and a good outline all help the reader.

If you’re unsure about what that might look like or what spacing looks best, you can take a look at the DIN 5008 standard – it lays down writing and layout rules for text processing. While no one is going to use a ruler to measure whether you’ve followed the norm, it can be a good idea to take familiar viewing and reading habits into consideration. DIN 5008 contains rules for typography, characters, spacing and number divisions – you’ll be on the safe side then. Use a font without serifs, this looks more professional. "Times New Roman" and similar typographies are better left to traditional daily newspapers.

Whether the dates are on the right or on the left is a matter of taste. You yourself must feel comfortable with the layout. There is a trend in America not to include a photo in the CV in order to avoid prejudices in advance. In Germany, a photo on the cover sheet of the CV is not necessarily mandatory. But: If, then also correctly. "You shouldn’t trust that all decision-makers will see it in the carefully composed color version", Hohensee gives to consider. "In case of doubt, it is printed on a bad printer in black and white in economy mode, possibly copied again."

It’s good if the dark blue blazer doesn’t blur with the dark background, but everything remains recognizable. "The recognition value is important: If you wear glasses in the photo, you should also wear them in the interview. The hairstyle and hair color should also be roughly the same. Otherwise, the impression that you are not the same person described in your CV, which is difficult to correct, will settle in subliminally."

The biggest no-goes in your resume: guaranteed not to get you invited

If you praise yourself too much, others will dislike you

If you praise yourself too much, you will displease others

Photo: Getty Images

Logically, a resume is absolutely no place for a confession about everything that went wrong. But he should not be too flowery, puffed up and self-congratulatory either. "You should not hide your light under a bushel, but rather plausibly, stringently and truthfully highlight things that have been achieved", says Hohensee. "Sentences such as: "My motto in life is: "I’m a good person" are not to be included in your CV . ""

It is an absolute no-go to speak of yourself in the third person: "Franz Meier is a dynamic manager . " In general, only mention things that can be proven – and that does not include character traits. Dynamic, competent, resilient – cross that out. Refrain from saying anything at all that you wish others would say about you – it does no good to do it yourself, it tends to have the opposite effect.

Who your parents are and what they did for a living should not be included in your resume – you can also omit elementary school.

From today to yesterday, the best at the end: This is how a good build-up succeeds

Eating, drinking, traveling are not interests that belong on a resume. But if you're a coach, race track, or play saxophone in a jazz band, that can be a connecting point

Eating, drinking, and traveling are not interests that belong on a resume. But if you are a coach, race track, or play saxophone in a jazz band, that can be a connecting point

Photo: Getty Images

You are a manager and have worked your way up to this position over decades? Congratulations. But that doesn’t mean that your CV has to be many pages long now. On the contrary: "Basically, the higher I climb the career ladder, the less room I need, Hohensee explains. If you’re a CEO, you really don’t need to list in detail how you made it from apprentice to department head and what training you did two decades ago. But: "I would mention the completion of the first education, so that people can see: Is this a lawyer or an engineer??", says Hohensee.

A good outline looks like this:

Professional career

You start with the most recent position. This is also documented in the most detail, because it is the one from which you bring yourself into the game.

Here you go back to secondary school. Elementary school is not important, but you can still mention your A-levels later in life if they were good. Mention the name of the school. "Common ground creates sympathy", says Hohensee. It’s a small world, and maybe one of the people attending the interview will know the Goethe High School in your hometown.

Scholarships and awards

You were on a scholarship abroad or won an inventor award? Summarize what you have accomplished.

Memberships, involvements and special skills

The so-called extracurricular activities are also important. You can also list special skills here. "But don’t mention that you have knowledge of Microsoft Office – that’s as much a requirement as the ability to "eat with a knife and fork", says Hohensee.

With your language skills, it’s best to include the level. And be honest. If you are "English: Business fluent" Write, ask yourself: could I really be sent to London or New York alone tomorrow, and I could make contracts or agreements watertight?

Extra-occupational interests

The points you list here are important for the small talk phase at the end of a personal interview. Don’t underestimate the effect: "The more you present yourself as an integrated personality, the better: We’re not just recruiting specialists, we’re recruiting people, says Hohensee. And just like the first impression, it also counts how you were remembered when you left – and whether something interesting came up again.

"Work out your unique selling points here too", advises Hohensee. "Traveling, cooking and running are not interesting, especially if the travel is only part of your annual vacation." Because everyone does that – that’s how you present yourself as a bore. If you don’t have anything exciting to offer because your life is really mostly work, then skip this point altogether. "Two things you should not mention: party memberships and student associations", advises Hohensee. But if you play in a jazz band, know all about silent movies, or race track, that rounds out your profile.

How to deal with gaps in your resume? And like with Xing and Linkedin?

Whether one would like to mention one’s children is a matter of consideration. But if children play an important role in your life, it’s okay to mention it – HR people and bosses are usually aware of this, too. This is where the normative power of the factual begins to take effect, says Hohensee: "The more normal it becomes to mention your children, the more normal it becomes to mention your children."

No one has to be ashamed of a sabbatical or parental leave - it's often part of a good life plan today

No one has to be ashamed of a sabbatical or parental leave – it’s often part of a good life plan today

Photo: Getty Images

"Basically, a CV should be characterized by openness and transparency. In the past, a lot of emphasis was placed on seamless transitions, but that’s not so strict anymore – after all, many people take a sabbatical or parental leave", Hohensee points out. So gaps in your resume don’t have to be a problem – unless you make one yourself.

The rule of thumb: You don’t have to explain anything less than three months old. And certainly not justify. But avoid negative terms. "If you’ve been unemployed, at least put it in positive terms – as a "career reorientation"", advises Hohensee. It depends on the point of view: Being able to master difficult phases is also a competence.

Check their profiles in networks for discrepancies

Before you send your CV to someone, make sure that it lists the same activities, job titles and time periods as your profiles on career networks such as Xing or Linkedin.

Compare carefully, because it would be quite embarrassing if you were a department manager there a year earlier or the spelling of the company name is different. As a rule, the resumes you post there are much shorter and more bullet-point-like compared to your application version (on Xing and Linkedin, there is usually only the company and the position you held). But the dates must match exactly, otherwise you will make a bad impression.

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