What a Good Resume Looks Like

Filed in Uncategorized by on March 1, 2016

Recently, a goodresumefriend of mine, who is a CAO, sent me his resume. He wanted my objective opinion about its content and appearance. Reading it over and thinking about what I could tell him made me wonder if more of my municipal friends would like to know what a good resume should look like. Whether you’re thinking of writing a resume, or you’re in a position where you have to read resumes, here are some tips you may find helpful:

For starters, a resume is a sales tool designed to get you the next job – nothing more and nothing less. The key is to show the potential employer that you have already done the job they are offering, or at least parts of it.

A resume should be a concise synopsis of your skills, education, goals, and experience. Municipal HR professionals and senior management may initially spend as little as 30 seconds looking at each resume, so yours needs to stand out. Here are some tips on writing a good one.

How it Looks and What it Says are equally important.

  • measureRemember if you are a Chief Administrative Officer and you want to make a move to another municipality it is elected officials who will hire you … and if you are anywhere else on the organizational chart it’s a combination of HR and senior management who handle the hiring so no matter what – always have the reader in mind as you write the resume. Research pays … find out what the municipality is looking for and tailor your resume accordingly.


  • In many cases your resume will be quickly scanned to determine if there is any interest in you as a candidate. So, bearing in mind that you need to make an immediate impact, your resume should be easy to read.
  • Use white space to present a pleasing appearance. Design your resume for easy skimming: emphasize important elements by using type elements such as boldface and italics; cluttered and/or densely packed resumes will not impress. Bullet points instead of paragraphs make it easier to read.
  • alphabetUse different fonts (type faces, highlights, and sizes) as a way to break up the material, but do not overdo it (too much variation can be distracting). You can also use colour as long as it is subtle. Burgundy and navy blue are appropriate. Bright red and lime green are probably not.
  • Remember that if it is elected officials who are reading your resume many of them are not young. That means they will probably be using reading glasses, and a small type font will not be helpful; so use a font which is relatively easy to read. Easy to read is best no matter who is reviewing your resume so we suggest for example, Times New Roman 12 point works well, while 10 point is too small.
  • spellingProofread carefully and have someone who you trust review your final draft.
  • Once your resume is final, convert it to a PDF file and email it as an attachment.


  • Provide some detail: When evaluating credentials, it is important for the reviewer to know, for example, how large the organization(s) is/were that you worked for (employees, budget, direct reports, span of control, etc.). Clarify your duties: Ideally you will have already done most or all of the duties expected in the job you are applying for. The more you have already done, the more comfortable the potential employer will be that you will be able to do the job. Then you become a lower risk for them to hire.
  • Show progression: Demonstrate that you have taken on more responsibility in each new position as your career progressed. If you have been promoted, point that out.
  • Show achievements: Duties only show what you were expected to have done. The person who gets the interview is the person who shows she/he has done the job well. Strong achievements help you get that interview.
  • hangingoutShow them you can hold onto a job: If as is most often the case you would be replacing someone who has left an organization, it is quite often unsettling for those who remain and who have to keep the organization running smoothly. High lighting your solid track record of experience will help to allay fears about who the next person will be and how easy it will be to work with them. Bear in mind they will be looking for someone who has demonstrated longevity in their prior positions.
  • Include some personal information: Show your human side – married, two kids, hobbies/interests.
  • Outline all your capabilities: Not only can you balance the budget and get projects done – but that you are also able to deal with individual citizens, citizen’s groups and the media. In most municipalities if you are able to do the latter very well, you help make the lives of senior staff and elected officials’ more pleasant.

Types of Resumes

  • Traditional. Experience in reverse chronological order.
  • Functional. Functional resumes highlight areas of expertise and list experience by functional areas rather than by employer. People generally use them when they are trying to change fields. I tend to think functional resumes are not particularly effective, at least in the public sector.
  • Long form. Long resumes should not be more than four pages – five if you have a summary page.
  • Short form. Short resumes are very useful when you see a job you know you could do but anticipate that there will likely be others who have a great deal more experience in that particular area than you do. The best way to handle these is to cut your resume to one page and only include particular experiences directly relevant to the position you are applying for. The reader will realize that you had to leave out a great deal of your experience. What he/she will not necessarily realize is that the “great deal more” is not specifically relevant to the job you are applying for. So, the short resume may get you the interview you would not have gotten otherwise. Of course, you still have to demonstrate you are capable of doing the job.

What the reviewer is looking for and wants to see

  • reviewThat you have included the right experience – that is, shown that you can do (or better yet, have already done) the job that I am offering.
  • That you have included relevant achievements. Demonstrate that you have not just done what was expected of you, but that you have excelled in doing your prior job(s).
  • That you have quantified the elements of your job and achievements whenever possible. This provides context. Numbers and how you present them are important. “Managed the Town of North Overshoe Saskatchewan, a town with a population of 10,000 and 100 employees,” means more than saying “Served as the Town Manager of North Overshoe.” Alternatively, “Cut the budget a lot,” does not mean much. “Cut the budget by 10% while maintaining the current level of service,” is much more impressive.

When presenting data, consider what looks more impressive and present it that way. Cutting $10,000 out of a $100,000 budget may require quite a bit of work and be quite an achievement, but it does not sound as impressive as saying you cut the budget by 10%. At the same time, if you cut $1,000,000 out of a   $10,000,000 budget, we recommend you say that you reduced the budget by $1,000,000.

Occasionally, you will find that it is difficult or impossible to know exactly what the number is. Did I reduce executive level customer complaints by 85% or was it 90%? In such cases, we suggest the numbers you quote be accurate (i.e., close to reality) but not absolutely precise. How do you know what is accurate? The test is, if someone were to call your boss for a reference and asked him if you really cut executive level complaints by 90%, would he be comfortable saying, “Yes that sounds about right.” If not, then the number is not accurate.

  • That you have shown examples of cases where you have worked with the public and/or individuals. It is impressive that you have overseen the construction of buildings and cut the budget, but if it’s elected officials who you are applying to they will also want to know you can work with residents and community groups to solve problems.
  • That you have shown longevity in your prior positions notwithstanding the communities and positions you have worked in.

Tricks of the Tradetrade

  • Never lie, but be creative in how you show your strengths.
  • Minimize or do not show your weaknesses.
  • The maximum length is four pages. At least subconsciously most reviewers assume if you write more, it just shows you do not know how to prioritize and/or you cannot separate the important from the unimportant.
  • Remember, too, that the potential employer will be focused on what you did most recently; so one way to reduce the length is not to include much detail from jobs early in your career (for example, when you were working your way through college as a part-time busboy or waitress).
  • List the most relevant material first. Reviewers want to know you can do their job!
  • You must show your years of employment but you do not have to show months. In this profession, you may have been fired or laid off and have gaps in employment. It happens and it is normal but, if you show the months, it will highlight those gaps.
  • If you have had several jobs with one employer, list them together under one heading. Otherwise someone giving a resume a quick read may think you are a job hopper when, in reality, you have been promoted regularly because of your outstanding work.
  • Remember most reviewers only spend a very short time on each  resume on their first pass through the stack of resumes … this is especially true if they have received a high volume of responses. Their goal is to reduce the stack to a reasonable number. So make it easy for them to find what you want them to see.
  • It is acceptable, under some circumstances to combine jobs and even employers, as long as all the information is shown.
  • You do not have to list all your experience – call the experience section, “detourRelevant Experience”. Then you can be completely truthful in leaving out things that will not help you get a job.

This approach may be particularly helpful to candidates who have taken a detour in their career. Say you went into the private sector for 10 years and now want to get back into the public sector. If you list your private sector experience first, many reviewers may never get to page 2 where your public sector experience is listed. So call it “Relevant Experience” and put the public sector experience first. Then call the next section, “Other Professional Experience”, and briefly outline your other employment. Some older candidates we know use this approach to avoid making their age readily apparent, risking age discrimination. After all, how relevant is something you did 40 years ago?

  • Find a good proof reader and have them go over your resume or if you can’t, read it backwards one section at a time. You would be surprised at the errors you will catch.
  • List no more than five professional organizations (on five lines). If you show more than five or six, you might appear to be a social butterfly instead of a person who is serious about doing the job.
  • Adding just a little personal information makes you more human.
  • For a younger person, just starting out, it is helpful to show you are well read. For example, you read the local newspaper (say the Sun) and a national paper (like the Financial Post).
  • Of course, if you say you read them, you had better read them because you need to be prepared if someone asks about a particular article.



resumebuttonFinally, if you send your resume electronically, it may end up in a resume database. Recruiters search these databases using specific keywords, so be sure you know the best keywords to include in your resume.

I have included a sample of a one-page resume. If you would like a sample of a two page resume or if you’d like a second opinion on yours send me an email bruce@ravenhillgroup.com 1-888-447-5910 EXT. 727


Bruce Malcolm

About the Author ()

Bruce's background includes 30+ years of human resource management experience covering all aspects of HR administration with a clear specialty in team building and recruiting. He created and developed the concept of “Ethical Head-Hunting™”. Bruce began his recruiting career in 1971 with Prudential Assurance.

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