Resumés are hard. And they are even harder when it’s your first kick at the job application process. It’s hard to tease out your skills and abilities when you have little to no professional experience, hard to articulate the experience you do have with the correct catchy language, and for some, hard to boast about yourself.

But it’s also hard for potential employers to read them. Not only is it time consuming sorting through numerous applications to decide who rises to the top of the pile, but it is also discouraging to see easily avoidable mistakes sending others to the bottom.

To help your teen build a strong, effective resumé, sit down together and talk about their strengths and past experiences. Then have them consider the following tips:

1. Find your experience.
When you’re new to the workforce, finding content to fill the glaring white page is the toughest part. Reflect on skills you’ve gained through paid work, school, clubs, sports, volunteering, and other extracurricular activities. Emphasize your talents in leadership, teamwork, communication, and technology. Mention special achievements, accomplishments, certifications, and your ability to speak a second language. Self-reflection and teasing out your skills and experience can be a challenge. Enlist the help of those close to you; they have a front row seat to your strengths and accomplishments. When applying for a specific job, share the job posting with them so they have an understanding of the skills and qualities required for the role.

2. Words matter.
After brainstorming and uncovering your skills and abilities, reframe them with dynamic and active language. Countless lists and examples are available online. When you organize your resume into categories, pick headings that accurately reflect what is to follow. Research the business or organization’s website and social media accounts to learn their terminology and buzzwords. There may be a way to integrate them into your documents.

3. Layout and design.
There are an overwhelming number of resumé formats online; pick one and be consistent. Balance the white space; try to avoid large white gaps or the opposite, filling every line, top to bottom, margin to margin. Keep the font classic, professional, and no larger than a point size of 12—good options include Calibri, Arial and Verdana. Your first resumé may only be one page, future resumés should be no more than two. Don’t forget to include your contact information—phone number and email are required, physical address is optional.

4. Cover letter.
Unless specifically asked not to, always include a cover letter. It is daunting and definitely time-consuming but this highlights why you are the right person for the job. It draws attention to how specific resumé points link with the potential employer’s expectations. Cover letter samples can easily be found online. Remember a cover letter focuses on what you bring to the employer not what the job will provide you. If the posting clearly states the hiring employee’s name, use it. Avoid “to whom it may concern” and “Dear Sir/Madam.”

5. Add sparkle.
Within your cover letter, compliment the business or organization, but only if it is genuine. Is there something about them you admire? Do their values align with yours? Do you follow them on social media? Did a particular post resonate with you? Mention a positive personal experience you have had with a product, an employee, or customer service. On your resumé, add one line or a short list about your interests and hobbies; also keep this genuine—a common interest might intrigue an employer.

6. Spell check.
Even with technology helping us out by underlining spelling and grammar errors, relying on spell check is the most common mistake. Also keep in mind computers don’t account for unique people or company names. Double check; it’s awkward to receive an application with the business or employer’s name misspelled. Some employers may even be sticklers for Canadian/British spelling versus American.

7. Start a master resumé.
Start a chronological master resumé document to keep dates, work experience (including role, responsibilities, and skills), volunteer work, coursework, certifications, awards, and references together. As time progresses and your experience builds, this will be invaluable for jogging your memory and saving you time when tweaking applications for future job opportunities. Yes, you will need to tailor your cover letter and resumé to every single job you apply for.

8. Edit, spell check, and save.
Proofread again. Better yet, have a friend, family member, or teacher take a look. It is surprisingly easy to overlook your own errors.

Editing tip—read your cover letter and resumé out loud. When you are confident they are ready, save your cover letter and resume in one PDF document. A PDF maintains your format ensuring what you worked so hard to create and perfect is the same design they receive. Creating one document also saves the recipient an extra click in their likely already busy day and should they wish to print, it reduces the chance one will be missed. Give the PDF a relevant file name combining the job and your name.

9. Submission.
Have you checked and double checked grammar and spelling? Are you ready to submit? Follow the submission guidelines noted in the job posting. Double-check the email address, type a clear subject line referencing the position, type a few introductory sentences, and attach the PDF. To apply in person, staple your cover letter to your resumé, dress appropriately, and ask for the person listed on the application or the person in charge of hiring.

Some larger companies may require you to complete an online application. Online forms contain fields you are to populate; have an updated resumé and cover letter content on hand to easily transfer the information. It may also ask you to upload a copy of your resumé.

10. A little extra note.
Potential employers may check social media platforms, sometimes as a way to verify information or maybe out of simple curiosity. Do your social media profiles contain content you’re okay being seen by a prospective employer? The same goes for your email address and outgoing voicemail message—keep them professional.

“If you’re not hiring them to write, why does it matter?” someone once countered when it came to my nit-picky approach to reviewing job applications. Perhaps, but diligence and attention to detail are important work attributes and your resumé is your first impression so put in some time and demonstrate you really care.
Good luck and I hope you get the job.

Tina Kelly is the Director of Learning at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea.