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Returning to work: resumes and cover letters


If you are returning to work after an illness, or you want to switch jobs and try something different, one of the first things you need to do is update or change your résumé so it includes your most recent experience. A strong résumé will get you noticed.

Elements of a strong résumé

A good résumé, notes Bette Tetreault, a lecturer in the School of Business Administration at Dalhousie University, should answer five key questions.

  1. Who are you and how can you be contacted?
  2. What do you want?
  3. What can you do?
  4. What have you learned?
  5. What have you done?

Your résumé must show employers why they should hire you.

In particular, she says, a good résumé highlights information about your skills, experience and achievements. Your résumé should accomplish several things:

  • Open doors, create interest and sell you
  • Focus on your qualifications
  • Let you to present yourself in your own way - unlike a job application
  • Highlight what is best about you

In the end, says Bette, your résumé must show employers why they should hire you. They are most interested in key information that will tell them whether you are the right fit for the postion and the organization.

  • Can you do the work?
  • Do you have the necessary education and skills?
  • Will you do the work?
  • Have you been a reliable worker in the past?
  • Are you properly motivated?
  • Will you fit in?
  • Where have you worked in the past?

Creating your best résumé

An effective resume highlights the skills that meet the job requirements, and that make you stand out.  There are two main ways to do that, says Bette Tetreault, a lecturer in the School of Business Administration at Dalhousie University. You can create a chronological or a funtional résumé.

Chronological résumé

This type of résumé lists your experience in reverse order, starting with your most recent experience and moving back in time. “The emphasis is on the jobs you have held, how long you held them, and what you did,” says Bette.

It’s easily read by prospective employers and provides a quick and convenient way to see if someone has the qualifications a company is looking for. This may be why a chronological résumé is the most commonly used type of résumé.

A chronological résumé is the most commonly used type of résumé.

In addition to showing your work history, the résumé also includes information on your education, volunteer activity, and awards. It gives perspective employers a good sense of who you are, and what you’ve been doing professionally for the past few years.

Another advantage to the chronological résumé is that it shows how you have developed and advanced in your career. This includes how you have taken on more and different responsibilities over time.

Functional résumé

A skills or functional résumé doesn’t lfocus on the order in which you did things but the types of skills you bring to the job. “This type of résumé shows employers what you do well and the specific areas in which you have experience,” says Bette.

It is particularly useful, she says, for someone who may not have a lot of job experience or who has switched jobs. As well, if you have been out of the workforce for awhile, a skills résumé may better meet your needs.

Regardless of the type of résumé you need, certain information is standard. This includes:

  • Personal information - your name, address, phone number and email. 
  • Education - where you went to school, your degrees with majors, relevant courses and grade poiintaverage if it is high.
  • Honors and awards - include academic, athletic, work and volunteer related.
  • References