Re-vamping your resume

Your resume is your first marketing tool to present yourself to your potential future employer.  Sometimes, it’s your only tool, so it’s worth taking the time to make it great.  A great resume is the one that best reflects who you are and what you are looking for.  It is also a clear and fair representation of how your experience sizes up to the job that you are applying for.

First things first: What are you trying to achieve?
I love this question because it’s nice an open and yet forces you to focus on the result.  It’s not (always) hard to find a new job, but it’s often really hard the find the RIGHT job.  And everyone’s definition is a little different.

So, what do you want to achieve?  Write it down.  Stuck?  Try it in a question format.  For example, How do I find a role in the pharmaceutical industry that allows me to leverage my outside sales experience in my current industry but offers a better base salary than I currently have, has formal career development plans, and a will give me a chance to work with a team of people who are passionate about what they do and the clients they serve?

Go gather some data.
Now that you know what you’re looking for, hit the web and find a few examples of jobs that meet that need.  It doesn’t matter who, what or where, you’re looking for good job specs that reflect the roles and responsibilities that you want in that ideal next job.  Try to find 3 that really speak to you.  You’re not (necessarily) going to apply for these jobs; I just want to you have a visible goal in mind while you’re updating your resume.

Now, ask yourself, ‘why are they ideal’?  What’s makes you want to pickup the phone and call someone and say, ‘Hey, pick me!’ What motivates you in the job description?  Why does it appeal, at least on the surface?

OK.  Now that you’ve set the frame of reference, it’s time to switch gears a little and focus on you and your resume.

If you’re like most people, the last time you really updated your resume was the last time you looked for a job.  And that was how many years ago? Probably a few.  So, you’re going to need to set aside some time for this.

1. Review your existing resume in light of the next job you’re looking for.
Highlight the points you want to carry forward on the new version and cross out the stuff that just doesn’t make sense anymore.  For example, I don’t give details on my resume about the years I spent as a DB2 DBA.  It’s not what I do now or want to do in the future,  so there is no sense in highlighting them on the resume.

2. Gather content for the updates.
You’ll need to get the information that you can use to build the core of the resume.  Typical sources include current job descriptions, performance evaluations, project descriptions, company websites and even job postings that your current employer has posted for jobs similar to yours.  If all else fails, look at your calendar for the last 12 months.  What have you been working on?  If you are in a supporting role, who have you helped?  How have you made a difference in your current role and why?  What do you love about your job?

Start by writing little blurbs about the jobs, the roles, responsibilities, what you achieved. Did you manage others?  How many?  Were you responsible for budget?  Did you present to senior management?  Communicate on a large scale to internal or external audiences?  Did you deliver what you said you would?  What was the result?  The return on investment?  Is the company still using what you worked on?  Be specific and give metrics.  The person reading your resume has to understand the size and scope of your job and they have to be able to assess your fit to their vacancy very quickly.  Don’t waste your time being overly verbose; they won’t read it.

3. Stack the content.
Ok, you’ve got the information on your roles, achievements, key successes, awards, training, etc.  Now you have to set it up in a way that is clear, concise, and focused on metrics that will speak to what you specifically did and the result.  If you get stuck here, take a look at each position and write answers to the following questions:

  • What was my role?
  • What was the context?
  • What did I do?
  • What was the result?

4. Set the structure for the resume.
There are a ton of resume formats out there and you google them all you like to find one that suits your style and the structure of your work history.  What I want to share with you is more about the impact that you want to make when someone is reading your resume.

If you are applying for a job though a posting website, there are likely to be many other candidates who are also applying for the same job.  Sometimes hundreds.  At the end of the day there are a few hurdles that your resume will have to jump over before you get to the first interview.

  • Keywords.  If the company is using recruiting software to manage candidate applications, be sure to include any key words that accurately describe your work experience and that will match the key words identified for the job.  I sometimes recommend a separate section for this.
  • Readability.  At the first screening, the recruiter will spend less than 10 seconds reading your resume.  In this very short read-through, your resume needs to communicate key points: namely, do you have the knowledge, skills and qualifications to do the job that they’re looking to fill?  If your resume does not communicate that quickly and effectively, you will not make the first pass.  The recruiter will spend the most time looking at the top ⅓ of the first page.  Use this space wisely. You can use more than one page, but I’ve rarely seen a resume, regardless of experience, that needed more than 2. Academia can be a little different here, particularly if you are listing publications, however even here, it should be a reference or appendix, not embedded in the work experience.
  • Likeability.  They may not admit it, but recruiters will pick resumes of candidates that holds their attention: someone who has done something slightly different or interesting, someone who stands apart from other candidates – so long it’s something that also fits in with the company’s values and culture.  This is a chance to include some information on the resume that might not be exactly in line with the current job spec, but complements it somehow.  I once interviewed a candidate for an IT end-user support role.  I asked him to give me an example of how he handled stress on the job.  He told me about the 12 months he spent working as a medic for the Red Cross.  After giving me a few examples of his role and some of the situations he encountered.  He concluded his answer by saying that stress in the context of end user support ‘wasn’t really an issue for him’.  It was just a question of helping people solve their problems as best he could.  There have been very few times my mouth has been left hanging open in an interview.  This was one of them.  He got the job.

5. Write your ‘intro’ (again and again and again)
Job postings are questions.  It is the employer asking a question to the talent market.  “We have a problem.  Can you help us solve it?”  The job description or spec is the question.  Your job, in writing your resume, is to answer the question by telling them about how you can help solve their problem.

Given this, you should adapt the introduction section of your resume for each job that you apply for.  You may also revisit areas of key experience to highlight and flesh out areas that are directly related to job they are looking to fill.  The good news is that, the rest of your resume is so well structured by now that you will have no trouble adapting your objective or key qualifications section to hit key points on the job spec.

6. Review and edit.
Give the document one final review for clarity and to be sure that you answer the question, ‘why should we interview you?’  Have you ‘answered the question’ that they put in the job posting?

7. Finalize and save.
When you’re happy with the edits, save the file, preferably as a PDF with a file name that will allow you to easily recognise what it is, who you sent it to and when you sent it.  For example, John Doe applying for something at Acme in January 2014 would read: CV JD 2014 01 Acme.PDF.  With this file format, you can sort by file name and see what you’ve sent out when and to whom.

Congratulations you’ve got it!  My last bit of advice: get into the habit of updating your resume every time you change positions or once every year, just after your annual performance review.


This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be human resources consulting advice or specific advice for your business needs.

© 2015 Allium Consulting Group, LLC.  All rights reserved.

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