Did you know that the standards for resumes and cover letters are constantly changing? Although these updates are small, they may take you by surprise if you’ve been in your current role for a few years, coming back after a break or struggling to secure an interview after countless applications. Taking the next step in your career path begins with locking down how to write an effective resume in today’s market.

Resume vs. cover letter: what’s the difference?

A resume and cover letter serve different purposes in the job application process.

A resume is a clear, concise summary of your professional history, including essentials like where you’ve worked, what you’ve done, where you’ve studied and the courses or accolades you’ve achieved.

A cover letter, on the other hand, is a chance for you to go into more detail about your work experience, giving the hiring manager a feel for who you are, how your history applies and why you’re appearing in their inbox.

Exploring the different types of resumes

Crafting a resume that stands out from the pile is crucial… but where do you start? Learn a little more about each of the three dominant formats and create a compelling resume that highlights your skills and work history with clarity. Landing the next step begins before you hit send.

Reverse chronological resume

A chronological resume showcases your work history as a first impression, starting with your current or most recent position and cycling backwards. Use the chronological resume to highlight your growth and development after you complete your MBA. This is the perfect format to demonstrate how your education and experience translates into real-world skill areas. Avoid if you’re changing career direction, lack experience or entering a new field altogether.

A standard reverse chronological resume format follows this flow:

  • name and contact information
  • professional summary
  • relevant professional experience starting with your most recent position
  • educational history
  • relevant skills and abilities

Functional resume

A functional resume spotlights an applicant’s skills and abilities, focusing on what you’ve achieved over where you’ve worked. Suited to those without an extensive or consistent background, we wouldn’t recommend a functional resume to an MBA graduate, unless you have significant employment gaps or limited experience in your target role.

Create a convincing functional resume with this structure:

  • name and contact information
  • professional summary
  • skills and abilities grouped by theme
  • relevant professional experience
  • education

Combination resume

A combination resume features the best of both the functional and chronological resume types, lending weight to your skills and accomplishments while exploring your work history in relevant detail. Regarded as the most flexible format, the combination resume allows you to address what, where and who effectively. MBA graduates can leverage this dynamic, highlighting relevant skills like leadership, project management, problem solving and analysis, drawing direct connections to past roles and responsibilities.

Write an eye-catching combination resume with this tried-and-tested format:

  • name and contact information
  • professional summary
  • skills and abilities
  • professional experience
  • education
  • awards
  • notable extra curriculars

How to write a good resume

Your resume needs to:

  1. Guide readers through relevant information quickly
    Your resume should be easy to read, with a consistent colour palette and a clear information flow. Most resume templates feature a reverse chronological format (placing your current position first and then working backward), although both combination resumes and functional resumes can help make the right impression.
  2. Adapt to each position that makes your shortlist
    One size rarely fits all. Resumes need to be tailored to suit the roles and needs of hiring managers. Before diving into writing a resume, study the position description and look up the company, taking notes along the way to achieve greater resonance. If your skills align with those required for the role you’re applying for, highlight these skills in your resume.
  3. Highlight your contact details front and centre
    Include your mobile number, email and LinkedIn, covering all bases.
  4. Provide a resume summary
    Not everybody has time to read through a one, two or four page resume and digest the information therein. A resume summary should be added to the top of your resume and should be no more than five lines. Optimise your resume summary to feature the bottom line of your experience and aspirations, featuring one to two recent career highlights.
  5. List your work history and education
    Tell them where you’ve been, what you’ve done and all that you’ve achieved. Only include positions and qualifications that connect to your role, inviting the hiring manager to view the full breadth of your history on LinkedIn (if they’re curious). Save the little details and explanations for your cover letter, and let your resume stand alone as a statement of experience.
  6. Make your hard and soft skills shine
    The difference between hard and soft skills? Hard skills are measurable, soft skills are honed. Examples of hard skills include software proficiency and industry relevant capabilities, while soft skills relate to things like communication, teamwork and time management.
  7. Be grammatically correct
    Take multiple moments to ensure your first communication is correct, checking the final text for spelling and grammar errors, either visually or with the help of a tool like Grammarly. You can also ask a peer or mentor to review your resume.

What skills to list on a resume

You should list skills that are relevant to your desired role. Remote-first workers will often highlight their communication abilities, pairing teamwork and time management with things like Slack, Harvest or Everhour, Teams, Zoom and Microsoft Office. While an upcoming CEO may lean into change management, leadership and forecasting, featuring PowerBI, Excel and Salesforce. Some popular skills that fit across most industries and MBA graduate roles include:

  • communication
  • negotiation
  • leadership
  • strategic thinking
  • problem solving
  • teamwork
  • analysis
  • open-mindedness

How long should a resume be?

The short answer? It depends on your experience. If you have less than ten years experience under your belt, keep it clean at 1-2 pages, while those with over a decade in a relevant industry or list of roles can expand their resume to 2-3 pages. Keep in mind that some roles may require a one page snapshot, supported by a compelling cover letter, while others want three to four pages of in-depth information. These wants often depend on the type of role you’re applying for and the industry of interest.

What does a good resume look like?

Employers are busy and can only spend a short amount of time looking at applications. According to one study, 24 per cent of hiring managers spend 30 seconds or less looking at resumes.

To give your resume the best chance at being noticed, you should use:

  • clear, legible fonts
  • white space
  • logical layouts
  • bullet points
  • clear headings
  • PDF format (keep formatting foibles at bay)

4 tips for how to write a resume

We consulted CEOs, hiring managers and resume writers for their top tips on how to write a resume. Here’s what they said.

1. Choose a simple design

“A poorly organised resume will diminish your chances. Keeping it minimalist and well-organised is preferable,” advises Victor Anaya, CEO and co-founder of Serviap Global.

Simple can be interpreted in a number of ways, so we’ve prepared a list of elements to keep in mind when designing your resume:

  • use shapes and frames to emphasise important information
  • break up sections with ribbons, solid lines or dashed lines
  • create a cohesive colour scheme to imbue your resume and cover letter with personality
  • apply a bold colour to important dates and headings
  • choose scannable fonts like Garamond, Gill Sans, Cambria or Calibri
  • be selective with creative elements – when in doubt, opt for a clean, text-based resume
  • double check word spacing to ensure that it’s both consistent and readable

2. Tell a story

“When I’m looking over resumes, the first thing that can make an applicant stand out is their use of meaningful, verifiable specifics,” Barry Maher, business speaker and New York Times bestselling author, explains.

“For example, I’m thrilled that you graduated from university. That puts you firmly in line with every other applicant for the job. If the school has a great reputation, so much the better. But if you graduated in the top five per cent of your class while having to hold down a full-time job, then you’ve got a story.”

3. Include relevant information only

“Avoid personal details,” says resume writer Nicole Coggan. “Your name and contact details are fine, but skip your relationship status and date of birth. Both open you up to discrimination based on the employers’ prejudices. Don’t give them any ammunition to throw your resume in the bin.”

Finally, Nicole encourages candidates to remove old jobs from their resumes. “Scrap your McDonald’s job from when you were 15 (unless you are still a teenager). Remember that the trend is for a resume to get shorter — not longer. Stick to the past four to five roles unless they are particularly relevant to the job you are going for.”

4. A postgraduate degree can help your application stand out

Completing a postgraduate degree, such as an MBA from universities like Southern Cross University, James Cook University, Victoria University or RMIT, can help with career advancement by adding credibility to your skills and experience.

By studying a postgraduate degree, you will:

  • develop in-demand skills like problem-solving, the ability to deal with complexity and communication
  • learn how to improve management skills
  • build professional connections
  • have up-to-date knowledge of your field

Can you integrate your MBA into your resume… beyond the education section?

Yes. While we recommend listing your tertiary achievements in the designated spot on your resume, there are ways you can wrap your soon-to-be completed (or already attained) MBA into your application, showcasing your suitability for more senior roles.

  • Demonstrate skills often associated with MBA outcomes throughout your past roles, including critical thinking, problem solving, communication, analysis and examples of lateral thinking. While it’s great to have an attribute grid for keyword scanners, hiring managers need to see what you’ve achieved and where you’ve been at a glance. If you don’t have a lot of experience in one or two areas, emphasise how an MBA has developed your understanding and note your enthusiasm at the thought of putting it into practice.
  • Don’t be shy in advertising your degree. Include MBA after your name at the very top of your resume, making your qualifications apparent at first glance.
  • Include an in-progress degree. Highlight the start date, University or institution, areas of specialisation and projected completion date and close the circuit by mentioning it in your cover letter.

Now that you know how to write a resume, it’s time to take the next step

If you’re feeling stuck in your career, a postgraduate degree can help get you back on track. Speak to one of our friendly Student Enrolment Advisors today to discover which MBA is right for you.

Speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor

Whether you’re ready to enrol, or just have a quick question, simply fill out the enquiry form below to speak directly to the university’s enrolment team. They will be able to guide you through:

Course eligibility and recognition of prior learning

Course structure and what you will study

Next intakes and how to apply

Fees and time commitments