While 2020 was filled with unprecedented change, the new year brings unprecedented opportunity as employers adjust to new COVID-driven realities, such as a huge uptick in virtual recruitment and hiring. Get ready to take advantage of the evolving employment environment by rethinking your resume.
Many people find themselves in a rut when it comes updating their resumes. Styles change over time and how resumes are written is no exception. However, I notice a reluctance – particularly from women – to abandon traditional ways of presenting themselves professionally. But playing it safe isn’t safe; in an evolving job market, it’s critical to stand out from other job candidates. Rethinking your resume in order to differentiate yourself is a positive step toward achieving your career goals. Here’s where to start:
1. Is your resume merely a history of your employment? Think of it instead as a marketing tool. Marketers know that in order to sell a product or service, they need to explain how it addresses a need. You are the product; the employer has a need, and that need is to find the best candidate for the open position. Position yourself as the answer to that need, and you’ll increase your chances of being selected for an interview.
Begin your resume with a summary of your qualifications – not with an “objective.” Employers know what your objective is: to get hired. Be an effective marketer and consider the employer’s objective, which is to make the best hire. Therefore, you want to begin with a short summary that articulates your value proposition – the skills and experience you bring to the table. Use complete sentences and write it in the first person.
Here’s an example of a Summary of Qualifications I wrote for an IT professional:
I add value to biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device companies through a unique skill set that leverages my IT competencies with subject matter expertise in life sciences data. I lead initiatives enterprise-wide that provide best-in-class predictive analytic insights with intuitive visualizations and workflows that inform sales and marketing strategies. In keeping with a global environment, I am conversant in international regulatory compliance requirements for the life sciences industries. As a member the executive leadership team, I am a key decision maker for all strategic initiatives.
2. Focus on relevance. Don’t go back any further on your resume than 15 years at most. After all, everything about how a job was carried out has changed; in some industries, even more recently than 10 or 15 years, so referring to outdated processes or systems is pointless. Furthermore, the farther back you go, the more your resume opens you up to ageism in hiring. If you worked for a prestigious company early in your career, reference it in the summary section. One of my clients is a corporate communications professional who had served in the Clinton administration. Needless to say, we mentioned that impressive credential in the summary, even though we began the resume with a position in 2005.
3. Leave out details that distract from your professional brand. Just because you did something doesn’t mean it deserves space on your resume. I recommend leaving off employment that doesn’t align with the rest of your career trajectory. Often during periods of unemployment, many of us accept any job to tide us over. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if it doesn’t add to your value proposition, leave it out. However, if omitting it would create an employment gap of more than a year, I’d insert a parenthetical reference to Family Leave to explain the gap.
4. Put your educational credentials at the very end of your resume. One mistake I see primarily from recent graduates, but occasionally even from mid-career professionals is to lead with your education. If where you attended college is the most interesting thing about your candidacy, you haven’t given the employer a good reason to read further. Focus instead on what you’ve accomplished. And there’s no good reason to list the courses you took; all that tells me as an employer is that you occupied a chair in a lecture hall. Same goes for listing your GPA; I get that you were a good student; I want to know what you’re capable of doing in the business world.
Recent graduates can demonstrate this by talking about academic projects, such as the one below for a human resources candidate:
Conducted first-ever pay gap analysis for national retailer that provided actionable plan to eliminate gender pay gaps and foster a culture of pay transparency
Here’s another for an entry-level financial analyst:
Created financial valuation models to assess performance and future expectations based on quantitative analysis of leading technology and airline corporations
5. Rethink what to leave off and what to add to your resume.
- You can leave off your physical address since so many of us work remotely, and anyway, no one is going to snail mail you.
- Include the URL for your LinkedIn profile, and don’t forget to customize it to remove the random numbers the site will assign. It only takes a minute and makes your resume look more professional; just follow these simple steps.
- Don’t include professional credentials after your name, such as J.D., or CPA, or RN. A good rule of thumb is that unless the credential changes how you’re addressed, it belongs elsewhere on your resume. The same goes for academic degrees; your MA, MBA or PhD degrees go in the education section of your resume, not after your name. I also leave out your GPA; if employers want to know, they will ask.
- It’s unnecessary to include the city and state where your employers were located as this detail adds nothing to your candidacy.
Allow the reader to focus on what is important regarding your qualifications, rather than distracting and unimportant information. The goal of your resume is to motivate hiring managers to interview you, so rethink how your resume can market you as a candidate capable of success in their open position.