Mar 6, 2017 3:27:02 PM / by Cassandra Czech
Does this situation sound familiar? You’re out networking when one of your connections tells you about an open job that you’d be perfect for. As you excitedly list all the reasons you’d be great for the position, you suddenly freeze when she says, “Great! Send me your resume” That’s when you remember the state of your current resume. It’s been a while since you’ve made any updates and the thought of fixing it to fit this exciting new job suddenly seems too overwhelming and time-consuming. After all, you already have a job you’re comfortable in—why bother? The next thing you know, you’re feeling trapped in a position that you’ve long outgrown, wondering why you didn’t make a move sooner.
How do you avoid falling into this career standstill? By keeping your resume current and in line with your brand. Wondering how you can improve your resume without spending countless hours on the computer? Try this strategy to make sure you always have a cohesive, updated resume format ready to submit:
- Keep it simple
To start, look at your format. Is your resume easy to understand and does it have a clear flow? If not, see where you can make improvements. This can mean switching to a cleaner font, removing any distracting graphics or embellishments, and streamlining relevant information so everything matches.
Employers skim through resumes, so make sure to pinpoint what you want them to notice within a few seconds. Many people struggle with knowing what is the proper length for a resume. A good rule to follow is if you have been in your field for less than 3 years, keep it one page. If you have more than 3 years of relevant experience, it is okay to have a second page with applicable information.
- Focus on the job description
What do employers look for in a resume? Someone whose personal brand is in line with the job they are hiring for. Make sure to highlight your strengths according to your career goals and focus on the specifics of the job you’re applying for. Think about what attracted you to the job in the first place and try to highlight your accomplishments that best pertain to it.
Unsure of just how much detail to include or what jobs? Focus on the job description at hand and list your skill descriptions accordingly. Have some not-so-relevant jobs cluttering up your resume? Don’t omit them if doing so would cause a gap in your work history—that can be a “red flag” to a hiring manager. The details can be brief, but the work history should be included. Jobs prior to college graduation or entry into your chosen profession don’t need to be included, but once you start your professional career all jobs should be listed.
- Emphasize your accomplishments—and be specific
Being able to concisely state where you made a difference in your past roles is key. Give specific examples when you can and use numbers. For example, “cost savings of $2 million,” is much better than, “saved the company money.” Explain in a clear and concise bullet what you accomplished and leave out unnecessary details that won’t set you apart from other candidates.
If the role you’re applying for means a change in career or industry, make sure you highlight your transferrable skills. Where you can, find common ground between your skills and those outlined in the job description. For example, if you have a Marketing background but are looking to break into HR, focus on the times you mentored other employees.
- Don’t get overwhelmed by the details
Once you have your resume tailored to the position and your job experienced outlined, don’t forget other important aspects. The following are some of the most common areas job seekers struggle with on their resume:
- Technical skills: Highlight these in a clear concise way at the top of your resume, under your career summary or objective. Too often this step is left out, causing hiring managers to miss important details.
- Education & GPA: Where and how you display these depend on where you are in your career. Recent grads should highlight their education and GPA above their work experience. Anyone else should drop their education info below their work experience. Also, omit your GPA once you have been out of school for 5 years or more, unless it is 3.5 or higher. If you’re seriously considering a job change, it’s a good idea to get a copy of your transcripts. Most universities now make them available online.
- Professional certifications: Listing professional certifications on your resume will catch the eye of hiring authorities. Certifications should be listed with dates and any numerical representation for authentication. Be fully prepared to show verification of your certifications.
- Don’t have a degree? If you took classes but didn’t finish college, add the coursework that you did take. However, be honest—list the university you attended, the year and area of study, specifying “coursework” instead of “bachelor’s degree.” Many companies will accept equivalent experience in place of a degree as long as the experience gave you the knowledge and skills necessary to do the job. While timeframes may vary by company, below are some general guidelines for years of equivalent experience:
- 2 – 4 years: equivalent to an Associate’s Degree
- 4 – 8 years: equivalent to a Bachelor’s Degree
- 10+ years: equivalent to a Master’s Degree
- Foreign languages: While these are important to include, they are most appropriately placed at the bottom of the page after your work experience. Also, don’t exaggerate your proficiency. If you are unsure of how to properly explain your skill level, refer to this guide. Anything under Minimum Professional Proficiency is not worth including.
- References: Mentioning references on your resume is unnecessary and takes up valuable space. It is understood that you will be able to provide references should they be requested.
- Be consistent
After you have your structure and content in place, review your style and grammar. Pick a style and stick to it. Inconsistencies will make your updated resume format appear sloppy. Common areas of discrepancy include:
- Messy bullet points: Keep your use of bullets consistent and properly aligned. If you are going to put a period after your bullet points, make sure all your bullet points have them.
- Misuse of verb tenses: Use consistent verb tenses throughout your resume – if you’ve written in past tense, stick to past tense, except when describing your current position.
- Non-matching dates: When displaying dates, be sure to use a consistent format. Don’t use “01/2017” to describe one job and “January 2017” to describe another.
- Too many fonts: Keep your font consistent but feel free to utilize bold, italicized and ALL CAPS text to make key elements stand out. These will blend well with your simple font and add distinction where needed. Just make sure to not overdo it and keep their usage uniform to avoid looking sloppy.
- Honesty is the only policy
While it may be tempting to embellish your accomplishments to try to improve your chances, remember that getting away with a lie may not get you the job but getting caught in one will almost certainly cost you it. Not only is lying not worth the damage to your reputation, but it can also be more easily discovered today through social media and background checks.
- Don’t forget to proofread
Don’t let your hard work go to waste by not being thorough. If time allows, step away from your resume, do something else, and go back to it with fresh eyes. You might be surprised at the errors or awkward wording you missed the first time around. Don’t let your resume be one of the 58% that contains typos. Try our tips here to reduce your chance of an embarrassing resume mistake.
If possible, enlist the help of a friend or colleague to review your work. Better yet, connect with a trusted recruiter and get their feedback. They may even be able to offer you some valuable insight on the industry or company you are applying for. Remember, recruiters review resumes and talk with hiring managers for a living so their feedback is extremely valuable. If you are short on time, consider trying a free service like Grammarly that does a much more thorough job of picking up on errors than your spell-check tool.
- Treat your resume as a living document
Don’t let your resume lie dormant on your computer until you are ready for a job change. Decide on a plan that works for you to keep it current. For example, set a calendar reminder to review it once every quarter, with every new role you take on, or every time you add a new skill to your LinkedIn page. Whatever your strategy, find one that works for you and stick with it. You will be happy you did when the time comes for you to apply to a new position again.
Also, consider having a “working copy” of your resume on file, where you highlight the areas of your resume that need to be changed every time you tailor it to a new position. Or keep a list of your achievements and the category they fall under on file, and review it every time you are updating your resume for a new position. That way you will easily be able to reference your accomplishments and tailor them to the job you’re seeking.
Updating your resume can be stressful and time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. By following these tips, you will not only have a much easier time applying for jobs, but you will also have a much cleaner, accurate description of your achievements. Instead of looking at your resume with fear and dread, see it for what it really is – a summary of your best work and accomplishments. Now the next time you’re networking and someone asks you to send them your resume, you can say, “I’ll send it over tomorrow,” and actually mean it.
Still need resume help? View our downloadable Instant Resume Templates and Basic Resume Examples!