Future of Work | Build a CV or Resume that lands you that callback

Employers in Singapore tend to regard the terms ‘CV’ and ‘Resume’ as synonyms, but they’re not the same. Find out the differences between a CV and resume, and how you can craft a job-winning document that helps you get closer to landing your dream job.

Career Guides
Wong Wing Lum

A year has come and gone since Singapore was put on circuit breaker to stop the spread of COVID-19. The devastation of the pandemic is still very much evident today. Those who were rendered obsolete have been crippled by waves of retrenchment exercises. Meanwhile, the graduating class of 2020 and 2021 continue to struggle when it comes to securing a job.

While the Singapore government has worked tirelessly to support workers through expansionary fiscal policies (see the recent Budget 2021), whether an individual is able to bag the job is still up to them.

Let’s take you back to the basics of the job hunting process, starting with the resume.

Long gone are the days when job hunts involved the intense scouring of newspapers for advertisements, or handwritten applications painstakingly posted to every company.

On one hand, the digitalisation of talent acquisition has paved the way for the abundance of opportunities. Now, jobseekers can simply go on Google and type in the desired keywords. Almost instantly, the engine is able to churn out a selection of jobs matching their interests and competencies.

At the same time, competition has never been stiffer. We get how nerve-racking it can be to see the sheer number of applicants who are trying for the same job as you (Yes, we are talking about you, LinkedIn and MyCareersFuture).

Should I bother to apply? Will they even notice me?

They tell you to “never judge a book by its cover” but it really does boil down to how impressive your CV or Resume looks to even get to your first round of online interviews. To craft a stellar personal pitch and stand out in a sea of candidates is no easy feat, but let us do what we can to help.

The International Uses of CVs and Resumes

As of September 2020, there are 203,500 Singaporeans who are working overseas. If you’re planning to join them, it’s important to be well-acquainted with the different expectations foreign employers have when it comes to using the two sets of documents.

Where CVs and Resumes are Required Accordingly Around the World

In the UK, Ireland, most European countries, CVs are the default document to send for recruitment processes. In fact, most countries in the European Union require candidates to use the Europass CV template created in 2005 to provide a transparent and standardised framework for jobseekers to showcase their qualifications and competencies (though, there remains some contention as to its effectiveness).

In the US and Canada, resumes are most commonly requested. The only exception is when the nature of the job is geared towards academia or research roles.

In Asian Countries, Australia, and South Africa, the terms ‘CV’ and ‘Resume’ are used interchangeably. For the most part, they are similar in style to the US where resumes are more commonly requested, with CVs being exclusively requested for academic positions.

Japan prefers handwritten resumes, known as Rirekisho

Differences between a CV vs Resume

The most discerning difference is that while a CV is all-encompassing, a resume is customised for a specific job role.

For CVs, experiences and qualifications are incrementally added on as individuals acquire them – without the need for any alterations to the existing document. On the other hand, an individual can have multiple versions of a resume depending on the nature of the jobs or fields they are applying to.

Still confused? Here is a side-by-side comparison of the two documents:

Resumes CVs
Purpose: Emphasizes skills relevant to position Purpose: Construct a scholarly identity
A concise and targeted document An all-encompassing document
Has multiple versions that are tailored to different requirements and responsibilities for various job positions Has only one version that needs to be constantly updated to reflect the latest experiences
Short and brief - a maximum of 2 pages Can go up to 10 pages depending on the individual's experience
Needs to reflect experience and accomplishments that are aligned with an individual's career goals Needs to reflect the expert knowledge of a researcher, professor or publishing scholar within their discipline
Used for almost all positions across different industries (including non-profit and public sectors) Used most predominantly to apply for positions in academia, fellowships and grants

What is a CV?

Curriculum vitae, or more commonly referred to as CV, means ‘the course of one’s life’. As its Latin roots highlight, it’s an extensive piece of document that covers an individual’s complete professional and academic history. Though it does not have a stipulated number of pages, it usually runs over the course of 2-4 pages for entry-level applicants. CVs of more experienced personnel with richer experiences could go up to 10 pages.

Different uses of CVs require a range tactics to excel. In the context of this article, you will be taught how to write a successful non-academic CV.

CVs for academic roles

For who | CVs are usually used to screen candidates for jobs in academic positions or research fields (Ph.D., Masters, Professors, Researchers etc). This is because these roles often require deep expertise, hence requiring recruiters to verify an applicant’s specific knowledge and skills. Certain scholarship programs, grant applications and bursaries may request for your CVs as well. The role of CVs in this context is to help the review committee assess a student’s quality to be awarded through their exemplary standards in personal and academic achievements.

Different uses of CVs require a range of tactics to excel. In the context of this article, you will be taught how to write a successful non-academic CV.

CVs for non-academic roles

In Singapore, most employers are looking out for resumes even if they asked for your CVs. Besides its use for predominantly academic roles, CVs are also required to apply to accredited positions such as doctors and lawyers.

But even if you’re not planning to pursue these fields, building your own CV has its merits.

A CV is meant to be a comprehensive overview of your entire experience, regardless of its relevance to any job. Having a CV thus guides the process of crafting your tailored resume as you pick out the most relevant experiences for the specific job. If not for the thoroughly documented summary of all experiences, some competencies may have been long forgotten. Consequently, this allows you to present yourself in the most compelling light to prospective employers.

Writing a Successful CV

Let’s run through the key components of any CV, and tips on how you can turn every element into a persuasive pitch.

Components of a CV presented as a template

1. Personal Information

Do not include other details such as your age, gender, marital status, religion and photo. While employers in certain countries (some European countries, China and Japan) expect to see a photo attached, in Singapore, it’s safer to avoid information that might lead to any form of bias against your capabilities.

Add value to your CV by including a customised link to your online portfolio or LinkedIn profile. However, if your LinkedIn is simply regurgitating everything that’s already written on your CV, skip this. LinkedIn can be cringey sometimes, but if you’re able to optimise the platform to boost your personal brand, it might just give you that edge over your competitors.

Here’s a helpful read by Meg Guiseppi on how you can build an impressive LinkedIn personal brand using content.

2. Personal Statement

This section should be no longer than 200 words. A common pitfall for this segment is the tendency to flood it with big buzzwords and adjectives that do not necessarily show off your skills and abilities. Remember, simplicity is key. Think of this as a ten-second elevator pitch on paper on how you can convince your recruiter that you’re fit for the job.

3. Academic Background

If you’re a recent graduate, include any academic accolades and achievements you’ve received during your course of study. This includes the dean’s list or cum laude status. Include your GPA only if you’ve done well. That is, if it’s in the first class or highest distinction classification.

Once you have accumulated over 10 years of employment experience, you should remove the year of graduation. This prevents any form of age discrimination, driving the focus of your CV towards your skills and proven track record in your work.

4. Work Experience

Use this list of 185 strong action verbs to help your job description bullets pack a powerful punch. Whenever possible, quantify your accomplishments by incorporating numbers. This instantly paints an image for recruiters to see the level of responsibility you were assigned to and how you’ve succeeded in your role.

This could look something like this:

Led the project to digitalise and streamline the sales process, which increased the sales revenue by 30% in 6 months

A rule of thumb is that if you have over five years of work experience, you should lead in your CV with your employment history instead of your academic background. The more practical job experiences you’ve gained, the less crucial your educational history becomes. The only exception to this rule is for those who are going into academic or research fields.

5. Awards & Honours

Usually, for fresh graduates or those with little work experience, it may be worthwhile to include this segment as a standalone to help beef up the CV. As you start to bag more work experiences under your belt, you can do away with this segment completely by weaving in your accomplishments under the education and employment sections.  

6. Skills

Do not include skills that are too basic. In this day and age, it’s not particularly outstanding to be proficient in Microsoft Word. In fact, listing the skills you’re already expected to have could reflect poorly on your application.

“By adding [these] as a skill, candidates may appear to be trying to add ‘fluff’ to their resume, i.e., that they are grasping for anything to include because they don’t have enough relevant skills to list out.”

Peter Riccio, Founding Partner of recruiting firm Atlas Search

The most common mistake that job seekers commit is to list their soft skills here. Common examples that fall under this category include teamwork, problem-solving and leadership. While there’s no denying that more employers are keeping an eye out for soft skills, plainly stating them without substantiation does not add any value to your profile.

Instead, integrate your soft skills into past employment job descriptions. For example, instead of telling recruiters that you have “critical thinking”, it could look something like “assessed market trends and conducted competitor analysis to develop strategic acquisition tactics that suit the client’s needs”.  

7. Extra-curricular Activities

This segment is most helpful for those who may not have enough real-world exposure for an internship or entry-level position.

In Singapore, it's common to include co-curricular activities (CCAs) in the CVs for entry-level positions. CCA is a policy formally introduced by the Ministry of Education back in the 1960s. The goal was to provide a holistic education curriculum that can foster patriotism and social integration.

Since everyone in Singapore pretty much had a CCA, merely stating the activity, your responsibilities or SYF achievements will not do the magic and excite the hiring manager.

Instead, you should frame the CCA descriptions in a way that is unique to your experience. Write about how the experience has molded your soft skills, or how you’ve implemented positive change during your time there.  

As for other volunteer activities, be selective. As much as you want the hiring managers to learn something interesting about you, be intentional about highlighting only relevant activities that can compensate for potential shortfalls in other areas. By sharing your job-specific personal passions, you can enhance your employability by showcasing transferable skillsets.

8. References and Testimonials

Referees help recruiters get an unbiased opinion on your abilities. The best references are given by those who had a good working relationship with you. It goes unspoken that these individuals must be able to vouch for you, but there’s another criteria when it comes to selecting a good referee. They must be well-spoken enough to be able to clearly communicate your abilities and style of working. That said, referees should not be your friends or family members. A referee must be able to back up their claims with examples, hence they should understand how you operate in a work capacity reasonably well.

What is a Resume?

Originally represented with French accents as ‘Résumé’, the term is translated as “to sum up”. Today, the term is popularised simply as ‘resume’, which is a succinctly written document that summarises an individual’s most relevant skills, education and work experience.

The keywords here are ‘succinct’ and ‘relevance’. The purpose of a resume is to help recruiters get a concise yet comprehensive overview of an applicant’s professional suitability for a specific job. When hiring managers ask for a resume, they are only concerned about focus and brevity.

In contrast to CVs, resumes have to be tailored to include only the most pertinent information that builds a case on why someone is the best person for the job. Ideally, resumes are usually one-pagers. Unless you’re an expert with plenty of relevant experience, then two is the maximum it should go.

3 Types of Resumes

Three Main Types of Resumes

There are three main types of resumes.

1. Chronological Resume

The most commonly used and accepted format, this type of resume organises employment records and education according to its most recent date of completion. The main benefit of using this presentation is to distinctly highlight one’s continuous career progression in a specific field, or within a specific organisation.

For individuals who have limited achievements to showcase in each role, this format shows the breadth of an individual’s expertise via a job-by-job approach.

2. Functional (Skills-based) Resume

A much less frequented resume format, this style presents an individual’s acquired skills from professional and educational experience in descending order of importance, rather than chronological timestamps.

This form works best for entry-level candidates who may not have the most extensive employment history. This includes those who 1) are frequent job hoppers, 2) have held a string of unrelated jobs, 3) are changing industries, or 4) have unaccounted time lapses in their careers. By adopting a skills-based approach, it redirects recruiters' attention towards skills holistically rather than employment history.

3. Combination Resume

This format is a marriage between the best components of the abovementioned two resumes. The layout first leads in like a functional resume, capturing a recruiter’s immediate attention by featuring a skills section to showcase an individual’s most relevant skillsets and qualifications.

The second part sticks to the traditional chronological presentation of one’s work history.

This hybrid resume includes those who already have relevant work experience and are looking to apply to a position that demands higher levels of technical competencies and know-how.

Writing a Successful Resume

Many of the rules that apply to writing an effective CV can be transferred to writing a well-crafted resume.

Similar roles in different fields can demand drastically different skillsets. The objective of each resume is to articulate how an individual can bring value to a specific role. Because of this, applicants tailor their resumes to highlight distinct qualifications, skillsets and past work experiences that can capture the hiring manager’s attention.

But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you have to craft a new resume from scratch whenever you send out an application for a new job. Objectively speaking, unless you are applying for jobs in two drastically different roles or switching industries, your ‘base’ resume should form a credible foundation for any subsequent versions to be built around it.

Components of a resume presented in a template

1. Review the Job Description

Read the description of the job listing thoroughly. Grab a highlighter as you run through the list of responsibilities under the job scope. Mark out any specific keywords and phrases that reflect the skillsets or qualifications the role requires. Pay attention to the sequence of the various duties listed. Usually, hiring managers tend to list the most crucial requirements for the job first.

After you’re done picking out the keywords, take a step back and look at the posting holistically. Are there any recurring themes across the list of duties? Some examples could include leadership, project management, and problem-solving.

2. Revisit and Redraft your Resume

With a better understanding of what the job entails, ask yourself if you have sufficient experience to apply for the job. If the answer is yes, go ahead and sharpen your resume’s focus by highlighting relevant aspects of your experience that addresses the employers’ needs.

Start to reorder and rewrite description pointers under your resume’s education and work experience section. You can go ahead and remove irrelevant bullets if they do not value-add to your application.

Place the job listing and your resume side by side as you edit, checking off the markers once you’ve incorporated them into your resume. The goal here is to be as closely aligned with the demands of the advertised job as possible.

For various criteria that you have not met, think about the actionable steps you are planning to take in order to bridge the gaps – your interviewer might question you about it if you secure an interview!

The same advice for writing a stellar CV applies here:

  1. Use the right keywords and powerful verbs
  2. Quantify your accomplishments
  3. Show, don’t tell

The Conclusion – Creating an Exceptional CV or Resume

Think of resumes as film trailers – selected snippets of a film, spliced together to entice prospective audiences to catch the movie. Their power of persuasion lies in the most exciting bits of a movie. Interestingly, they give you just enough to keep you wanting more without revealing any spoilers.

Good trailers thread a fine line.

If you like what you see, go catch the movie.

The same goes for having a well-crafted resume. Let the best parts of you shine through. Give the hiring manager absolutely no choice but to book you for that interview. As for the CV, it’s pretty much the full movie in a screenplay. The full movie experience would be how you perform during the interview.

In retrospect, the most helpful advice is to think from your employer’s point of view. Imagine having to go through hundreds of applications. What makes you different? What makes you exceptional?

Now go, craft the resume and CV that lands you that callback.

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