Your Brilliant Career Podcast

The go-to resource for getting the most out of your career

This podcast provides an injection of energy and practical insights to women who are committed to their career. I share tactics, tools and stories that inspire capable women to think bigger and unapologetically achieve the success they deserve.

One of my early realisations was that there are many unwritten rules about career success that no one tells you. Smart women are tired of generic career tips. They want accessible, relevant and practical tips. Each episode includes content that inspires women to step up in their career and experience the energy and reward of being more.

Your Brilliant Career is a podcast that aims to help more women rise and reach new heights in their career.



Writing a compelling and eloquent CV takes skill. In this episode, I'm joined by Salam Akhnoukh, Australia's first and only nationally certified resume writer, who is incredibly generous with her insights on what it takes to make a great CV.

Whether you opt to invest in a professional resume writer or go down the DIY path, Salam has plenty of advice to offer so your CV stands out from the crowd. Beyond the pages of your CV, Salam also provides practical and achievable tips on making the most of your LinkedIn profile and how to strategically manage the job hunt so you are not overwhelmed by the process and, most importantly, you land the job you want!

In this slightly disrupted market, even if you're not actively looking for a new job, keeping your CV and profile current and relevant is never wasted time.

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Links we talked about on the podcast include:

Salam's website: Elevate Career Services

Salam on LinkedIn

RISE Accelerate program

FREE GUIDE: Confident, Not Cocky: The Executive Woman's Guide to Strategic Self-Promotion

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Your transcript

Gillian: There are times in your career when your CV becomes your pivotal focus. And then there are years, sometimes even decades when you barely think about it. But when that time does arrive, you obsess over getting it right. And you should, because your CV is how potential employees first experience you, determining whether you move forward in the recruitment process or not.
Writing a compelling and eloquent CV, it takes skill. And that's why I'm talking to Salam Akhnoukh today. Salam is Australia's first and only nationally certified resume writer with over 10 years of experience helping women land their dream jobs. Her journey to becoming a career branding expert is truly inspiring and one that I loved hearing about.
And I think you will too. Now, I bet you have questions about CV writing, like, do I need professional help to write my CV? Is it worth the investment? If I spruce up my CV DIY style, like what are the best tips? Is the cover letter really that important because they take so long to craft? Finding a job is exhausting.
[00:02:00] How can I be strategic? How can I stay on track? And what about the LinkedIn profile? And so much more, so much more. In our conversation, Salam answers all these burning questions. So whether you're dusting off your old CV or starting from scratch, Salam's insights will help you create a CV that truly represents you and stands out in today's competitive job market.
So let's jump right in.
Gillian: Salam, welcome to the podcast. It is such a pleasure to have you here today.
Salam: Thank you so much for having me. Super happy to be here.
Gillian: Yeah, well, I think we're going to have a very interesting conversation because CVs, they can be complex beasts, but today I feel like we've got a great opportunity to learn a lot more. Let's start from the beginning because you are a specialist in CV writing for women. So tell us a little bit more about that. Like, tell us what you do and why you do it because you haven't always done this. Have you?
Salam: No, I haven't. So I, I was actually an engineer for 10 years and I did resume writing on the side for quite some time as well, but , I am currently Australia's only nationally certified resume writer, and I'm the owner of Elevate Career Services. So at Elevate, we specialise in career branding, and that is essentially resume writing, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, and any other kind of job search related documents.
So I started exploring resume writing while I was actually studying an engineering degree at Sydney University. So I started off as a volunteer, working with refugees and it all kind of built from there. But along my 10-year engineering career, I never stopped working in career development alongside, all of that, and it built from there.
I became qualified. I contracted as a resume writer, and it all went from there. And I eventually launched my own business.
Gillian: So what do you see as the advantage of having someone like yourself, a professional CV expert to help you write your CV versus going it alone. If part of the power of that process is enabling women to understand what it is they bring to the party professionally, what their brand is, what their strengths are, how they articulate that. How do you extract that information from them? Like what, what does that process look like for you?
[00:04:23] Salam: Yeah, absolutely. So you know, the services that we offer at Elevate are very interactive. So we like to have video consultations with our clients. There are a lot of what I call resume factories, which are kind of, questionnaire based, you know, no interaction with your writers. It's just a kind of remote stock standard content, that kind of thing, which to me doesn't serve the job seeker.
And then there are the more kind of boutique personalised services like we offer. So it is very much about getting to know the person. It's really surprising what you can extract just having a casual conversation. And it actually, people do a lot better in those situations than being put on the spot and having the pressure of, you know, needing to provide specific information.
But just having a casual chat, people do tend to come out with the information that's needed unintentionally. So for us, it's really about the person, what is going on for them, what their doubts and concerns are, what their goals are, and initiating that conversation brings everything out. So we like to gather everything that we need in conversation, not in writing.
For us, it's about, our clients are at the front and centre of the documents and the profiles we create. It is about them. So it is essential that we understand the client, what is going on for them and what they offer. It's not just about your work experience for employers. It's not just about your work experience.
It's about who you are as a person, what characteristics you have, what your attributes and desires and passions are. So we're very much prioritised encompassing your full profile and your full value offering. So yeah, it's a very consultative kind of collaborative process.
Gillian: And can you give us an idea of what kind of service, what kind of costs that might be for people?
Salam: Absolutely. So I would say, you know, for a mid-career professional, let's say somebody with 10 plus years of experience who is not in senior management, anywhere from $400 to $900 for a resume writing service, is probably of a good quality service. It is not a regulated industry. That means you can get a resume service for $50 or $2,000.
So it is important to do your due diligence. You know, I would encourage your listeners to find a service that does offer comprehensive consultation, because that is a critical part of the process. So yeah, it could range, you know, for executive level, you're probably looking at closer to $1000 to $1,500.
Gillian: Yeah, I think that is such a decent investment. I thought you were going to say a lot more than that, to be quite honest, because I know there are some, you know, LinkedIn people that will work on and they, they charge quite a lot of money to reinvigorate your profile and do all of that. I think that is such a good investment, particularly for women who want to take themselves up to the next step.
And, you know, they haven't been for an interview for a long period of time. And, you know, you really have to be very thoughtful about the way that you do promote yourself and the way that CV comes through. So no, I think that sounds very reasonable.
Now, what if, and I think this might be the case for a lot of women listening, what if you just wanted to give you CV a bit of a refresh, maybe you're looking at the business market right now and you're like, oh, it's a bit disruptive.
Maybe I should have that. Ready to rock and roll, or maybe they are actually preparing to go to market and find a different role for themselves, but they don't have the funds or they just want to do it themselves. What are your top tips that you can share for, for people wanting to tackle and improve their CV themselves?
[00:08:02] Salam: Certainly. So, there's no one size fits all when it comes to resumes because you need to consider what your career story is, what your goal is, you know, who your reader, who your target audience is. Your resume is a marketing document. If you don't know who your audience is, you're not going to market yourself appropriately.
But in terms of kind of layout structure and how to present your profile overall, my number one tip would be really use your page one of your resume. You know, recruitment processes are quite hasty, let’s say, you know, recruiters and hiring managers are busy people. It is very much a scanning process and we really want to use page one as a kind of one page version of your resume.
So having a very clear value proposition, presenting your skills profile or expertise profile very clearly and a snapshot of your career journey, especially if you are say 10 plus years into your career. That page one overview really gives your reader the primary bits of information that they need very, very quickly, and otherwise, you know, if you think about it from their perspective, they are going in to your document blindly. We don't want them to have to dig for the information that they need. We want to give it to them very quickly and very clearly.
My second tip would be to be specific and that this is something that is a very, very common setback for a lot of professionals. When it comes to describing your experience and your roles, we do not want laundry lists of responsibilities.
We really need to focus on specific details, outcomes, achievements, and highlights, results that you've produced. That's the gold for your resume. The results, the outcomes you've produced is what gives your reader trust that you can repeat similar results for their organisation. It's the proof of your skills.
Anyone can say, I'm a great communicator, but how are you going to prove it? So that's how you kind of establish credibility, especially when it's online applications, blind applications, you don't have a referral or a foot in the door. Those specific details and outcomes are, are really the gold. That's what's unique in your career experience.
And the third key tip I would give is to be concise. Conciseness is key for an effective resume. Really straight to the point, crisp, you know, sentence structures, no fluff words, no repetition. You need to say what you need to say once and clearly. Those are my three top tips.
Gillian: What is the ideal length of a CV based on what you've just said? Is it like, it must be capped at a certain amount.
[00:10:43] Salam: I generally cap at four pages. As I said, there's no one size fits all. I have gone beyond four pages before, but I always say, you know, because there's a lot of conflicting advice and information out there. You know, you hear, never go beyond two pages, never go beyond three pages.
It's really not the priority. The priority is that everything that is within your resume is relevant for the reader. That's the number one priority. If you have four pages of value to provide your reader, then provide those four pages. But you don't need to kind of fill in an extra page just to get to the length and you don't need to chop out valuable information to bring it down to a certain length. The priority is that the content is value-adding and is relevant to the reader.
Gillian: That's great advice. You must see CVs in their raw firm before you get to work all your magic. Okay. And when they come through, like what, what's your biggest observation? Like what are the biggest mistakes that you see women in particular make? Like what are their pitfalls or, the easy go to solutions that you look at that and you're like, gosh, you know what I mean? We can really make great progress by tweaking those things.
Salam: So some of those tips that are provided are, are relevant to, you know, the key kind of issues that I see. So, we don't want the reader to dig for information, like I was saying. So you want to make sure that on page one, you're really clearly getting your key points across. But something that, jumped into my mind when you asked me that question is over information.
This is a really common issue for people as they move forward in their career to 10 plus years and they do have a lot of experience. We kind of have an inclination to put down every detail of everything we've ever done in our careers onto paper, and that it doesn't serve us in the actual job search process and recruitment screening process.
So over information is a big issue. Border to border text not going to be read. It's not going to be read. So you want a document that is really easy to scan. That's something that I find myself telling people over and over. It needs to be really easy to scan and really easy to digest.
You do not need to detail every single thing that you've ever done. What you need to detail is your key highlights and achievements that are relevant to the role that you're applying for. So being very kind of targeted with that is really important. Any kind of the basic things like spelling and grammar issues are a big no no.
And formatting is something that actually has a big impact, not for the reason people think, you know, it's not about having a prettied up resume that's, you know, aesthetically beautiful and graphic and colourful. No, it's about having a really clean layout that again, is easy to scan.
So we want kind of consistent formatting, consistent font types, consistent sizes, and consistent bullet points. So that, that scanning eye is drawn to those most important bits of information. And the third thing again is general information. You know, I mean, recruiters and hiring managers are probably reading on every single resume that you're a great communicator and you work well in a team, and you collaborate across departments. It's not going to help you stand out from other candidates applying for the same role.
So really kind of thinking about your skills profile and how you're going to present it without being general. This is my skillset and here is the proof of it. This is my primary expertise and here is the proof of it. So really kind of providing that evidence is really beneficial.
[0:14:46] Gillian: Now. You've said that a cover letter can be the make or break of an application. And yet, when I think about my career, be it in my own business here, and I've read hundreds and hundreds of cover letters, and in my corporate career, probably thousands, and I've snoozed through a lot of them, Salam. Out of any other writing piece that for in a business perspective, that would definitely be the most newsworthy collective examples. So, I'm with you all the way. I think cover letters are incredibly important and influential, but, but talk us through, why do you think crafting a good cover letter is worth the effort?
Because it is an effort. It really is an effort. And, and what do you deem as important? Like, what makes a cracking cover letter?
Salam: Yeah, look, that's not the first time I've heard of, you know, people snoozing through cover letters. And I think that a lot of the reason that hiring managers snooze through them is because they're not used very well, they're generally quite boring. There may be a, you know, repetition, just repeating your resume in paragraph form. Or just introducing your resume, you know, which is really not the purpose or, or how to leverage your cover letter for your job search and for your career. The cover letter is really valuable because it is an opportunity to bring your application to life.
You know, resumes are generally quite cold documents. You know, the cover letter is your opportunity to number one, articulate your character a little bit, you know, express your personality to a certain extent. Number two, it's an opportunity to talk about your career in aggregate, your career story.
You know, a resume is generally, a traditional resume is chronological, kind of section by section, like a mini portfolio. Cover letter is more a way to link your past, your present, and your future together for your reader. It’s an opportunity to project yourself into the role that you're applying for.
So what we really want to do is use the language to demonstrate what your character, what your personality is like. And, as I said, link your past, present and future together. So what has your past been? What are you doing at the moment? And why is this specific role, the role for you right now? The organisation has a position that they are trying to fill. Your reader is looking for the person to fill that specific function. So you need to present to them how you are the person or why you are the person for that specific function. It's also the place to present any specific motivations, for that role, whether it's value alignment with the company, whether it's an industry of passion, whether it's the job function that's specifically that's drawn you to the role, whatever your specific motivations are for that position needs to be expressed.
It's an opportunity to present a more complete picture of yourself and if it comes down to a point of comparing you with another candidate that has similar experience, the cover letter is what can really get you over the line.
[00:17:49] Gillian: You know, I've had an experience, you've just prompted this memory from me. We were recruiting for a metrics expert in this business because we measure a lot of the gender diversity pieces in our in organisation programs. So when they've gone through a program, we will measure the promotability or different behavioural things that the programs aligned to or pay rises, all of those sort of things.
So we're recruiting and I had a lot of applications, a lot of rogue applications. You know, sometimes you can get such a broad, diverse. You wonder, what job ad they actually read, but anyway, I had this collection and one of the applications had this incredible cover letter on the front and I didn't even read her CV in the end.
I just read the cover letter and I picked up the phone and I called her and she's been working with us ever since. And it was as simple as that. Her cover letter just linked it all to me. It sounded credible. And I was like, I'm calling her right now. I called her. It sounded good. She came in and the process was on the move.
So fascinating, right? The power of fast-tracking things when people feel connected to that, that cover note. But let's talk about LinkedIn. Which in itself is a beast and it can feel a little bit overwhelming, but it is a place where people go if they're looking for a job. You know what I mean? It's a given kind of inclusion of that whole process. But at that time, having your LinkedIn profile looking good, standing out is really critical. Yep. Because you're, you're wanting people to take notice of you. So what are your tips there? Like what are the first thing that grabs a recruiter or client's attention do you think when they look at the LinkedIn profile?
[00:19:33] Salam: Yes, it is. It is a very powerful platform, for your professional career in the long term. And one of the biggest mistakes that I see is people just copy pasting their resume into their LinkedIn profile. They have two very different purposes. Your LinkedIn profile is for a wider audience.
You know, it's kind of your ongoing professional presence. It's not so targeted and so focused. For recruiters and, and the audience that you might be targeting while you are job searching, the elements of a great profile are similar to what would be the elements of a great profile when you are not job searching as you go forward through your career. So you want to make sure your profile is complete, accurate, but also it is again, a, it's a branding piece, you know, so you need to market yourself and sell yourself.
So your profile photo, absolutely. We need one in there. It really boosts your profile visibility. I recommend semi-professional inviting and approachable. It's what's going to draw people to hit the connect button and actually connect with you and engage. Your headline, we do want some keywords in there, for your search visibility, but we also want your career message or mission, basically your value proposition in a very short form, in your headline as well, because that's, again, making your profile stand out and what's unique about you needs to come across quite clearly.
[00:20:51] Your about section, you know for job searching, specifically for recruiters and hiring managers, you really, again, want to get straight to the point of what is your offering? What is your professional ambition? Get that across very quickly. That's kind of generally the order in which people will view your profile – photo, headline about section, your experience we want to keep quite concise and limited as well, but then also use some of the other features in your profile for your visibility, for the algorithm, which is things like your skills profile, connecting skills to your roles within your profile, I'm requesting recommendations from your peers. And finally, the one that most people miss is actually engaging on the platform.
A lot of people have magnificent profiles set up and no connections and no engagement going on, and that's really the kind of final missing piece. That's going to actually give you the benefits of the platform.
[00:21:47] Gillian: most certainly it's a fat waste of time, isn't it? Not having any connections on a platform that is all about connections. But still sound advice because people do overlook that. I totally understand.
Do you think at the moment, because the market, in my view and feel free to disagree, it’s a little disrupted. I was organising a social post for Instagram and my husband works at News Corp. And I said, can you connect me all the articles at the moment that are about downsizing or companies creating restructures and change? And honestly, the number of articles that came through of large scale organisations in Australia making massive changes in that corporate landscape were phenomenal when you looked at them as a collective. There’s a lot of change and disruption, a lot of increased competition.
We've just had the budget released as well. Do you think with all of that going on, do we need to be doing anything differently if we're looking for a job right now?
[00:22:44] Salam: It is constantly changing. I mean, the job market is just constantly changing. COVID through things around. Now, as you're talking about the downsizing, the redundancies, it can be really difficult to navigate at times as well. So, what I find myself, talking to people about quite often is, is job search energy.
Job searching can be very exhausting, you know, it's kind of a common thing to say, you know, job searching is a full-time job in itself. It can be very exhausting, emotionally, mentally, even financially. You know, we have a kind of finite amount of energy to spend on job searching. We're all very busy people.
So the best thing that we can do in, in, you know, a market as it is now in this kind of climate is to be more strategic than we ever have been before in our job search. Being very tactful and strategic about how we conduct our job search is really important and you end up with much better results than you would otherwise.
So, this is a little bit about what I was talking about, initially, which was that career branding is such a barrier for people without them realising it. People start applying for roles, they're not getting a response. So they broaden and broaden and broaden their job search and end up in this situation where they're mass applying for roles that they don't even want with very generic documents.
[00:24:01] And, you know, either getting nowhere or landing roles that are left of centre and then find themselves job searching again in six months or a year's time. It is such an exhausting cycle. So having a very clear job search strategy really makes the process efficient, and less unpleasant, you know. Like let's be real job searching is not the most fun experience. You know, we want to be kind of as efficient in getting to where we want to get as quickly as possible and effectively as possible. So, quality of a quantity is what I tell people choose say five jobs on a weekly basis and invest your time in actually tailoring your resume, writing a new cover letter that is very focused for those specific roles rather than massifying with generic documents.
So what that does is number one, your interview hit rate will definitely increase. Number two, you can keep track of what you've been doing. You can keep track of closing dates. You can follow up with the contact person, ask for feedback.
And number three, you are likely to end up in a role that actually excites you and is actually what you are looking for rather than a role that doesn't.
[00:25:09] Gillian: Yeah, that is such great advice. That is such great advice. I always think, when I'm coaching people, Salam, around looking for their job, next job, and it may be a surprise moment as well. It could be redundancy or something like that. And they haven't been in that market for a long time.
And one of the things I will say to them, like in the first 15, 20 minutes. Allow a little bit of fat, it is going to be really hard. Like you're going to have to buckle up and be really focused and really disciplined about this process because it's actually harder than you're going to think. And you have to set yourself micro goals every week and stay on track and be really vigilant at managing your energy levels around all of this and, at the end, they always come back at the end going far out. That was so much harder than I expected. But, they land, right? They land. And I, and in so many cases, I have to say they land better professionals than they were before because of that incredible journey. But it definitely takes a bit of grit.
[00:26:09] Gillian: Salam, it's been so amazing chatting to you and thank you for your generous insights and everything today. Where can people find you?
Salam: Thanks so much for having me. I've really enjoyed it. So people can find me on my website or I am also on LinkedIn at Salam Akhnoukh or at Elevate Career Services. I have a big thing with never leaving anyone hanging. I'm always up for a chat, and if I don't have the services or support for you, I'll always point you in the right direction.
[00:26:42] Gillian: Yeah. Amazing. Amazing. Well, I'm sure you'll get lots of people reaching out on the back of today. You've been fantastic and we can see why you're so good at what you do. And thank you just for being so open with us and sharing your tips and insights. I think it's been, even for people who don't even have this on their mind right now, it’s still something that you want to put in your toolkit because if the moment comes you want to be ready and have strategies on how to get this CV off the ground and do it well. So, thank you so much. It's really been a pleasure.
Salam: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.