A T-Bar Will Do More Than Take You Up the Mountain

Every time I update my resume or write a cover letter I have to admit that I’m surprised at the work involved. My mind goes blank on what to say and how to say it let alone what I’ve been doing in the last years. It feels like the first time I rode the Haul Back T-Bar… I’m a tad overwhelmed, feeling a bit self-conscious, and knowing I just need to dive in as the outcome is well worth it.

It is no small task to communicate what you have to offer and accomplished in a tidy two page package. This is complicated by the hard truth that resumes are first scanned for an initial assessment and then read if the employer’s interest peaked.

While conflicting advice abounds, a key message holds true across most forums: make it easy for the reader to know if you have what they are looking for and proactively address any potential red flags. This means that, when preparing your cover letter and resume, think of who will be reading it, and write it with them in mind. As well, remember: cover letters get you noticed, resumes get you through the door, and interviews get you the job.

What does a Canadian resume look like? Other than for a few select occupations, it is generally no more than two pages with a good balance of white space. It doesn’t include personal details such as your date of birth, nationality or photograph. Use formatting (bold, underline, tables, etc.) to organize your resume and make it visually inviting. List experience in chronological order (most recent first). How far you go back will depend on a variety of factors, but the last five to ten years usually will suffice. Focus on your accomplishments rather than job duties; and utilize action verbs. References are listed on a separate piece of paper and generally only included when requested. Be honest, concise and clear, humble and bold, and know that every resume and cover letter should be targeted to a specific audience or job.

There are two types of resumes that serve most people well: chronological and functional (also called combination). Chronological resumes are well suited for those who have a more linear career path that stays in one industry. It is a basic format that highlights job titles, locations and dates of employment. Use a chronological format when seeking a similar position in the same field and if you do not have long gaps in your work history… or if in your current position your achievements are outstanding. Functional resumes, on the other hand, are great if you are switching careers, have gaps or limited work history (e.g. recent graduate), or your current position does not reflect your skills. Functional resumes focus on your most marketable skills and attributes, but also include work history and other more traditional pieces of information.

Bringing it back to ascending mountains, one of the best tools that can help you prepare a cover letter and resume is called the T-Bar approach. Not to worry, it is much simpler to dominate than the other type of T-Bar that will literally take you up mountains. Using a T-Bar approach is a simple way to ensure that key data is included and you present yourself as exactly the person they are looking to hire. Drafting a T-Bar forces you to compare the job requirements to your qualifications; ideally, the two “tee” up. This is then used either directly in your cover letter or as a guide when revising your resume. First step is to construct a two column table. In the first column, detail their requirements (taken from a job advertisement (best) or occupational profile). In the second column, line up your qualifications with the noted requirements (ideally in slightly different words than found in the job advertisement). Third, use this when drafting your cover letter or revising your resume.

Your local employment centre has a lot of other tools, which can help you throughout the whole process. Everything from lists of common skill categories, to action verbs, and questionnaires designed to draw out your accomplishments. We are happy to help get you up your next mountain!