Dear Sam: I hate to admit it, but at 55 years old I needed to write my first résumé. I have worked since the age of 18 and have been employed continuously for the past 30+ years, but I have never really needed to develop a résumé. I suppose not needing a résumé was a good thing as it meant I was always referred for opportunities by my friends or co-workers, but now having been downsized as a Baby Boomer I find myself in unfamiliar territory.
I created what I thought was a good résumé, but having read your columns in recent months, and having put my résumé into the market without so much as one response, I’m beginning to realize that my résumé is outdated in style and format. Could you give me some tips to help me create an up-to-date résumé that can market my candidacy? – Jim
Dear Jim: I know it doesn’t make your situation any easier but you certainly are not alone Jim. You would not believe how many people I talk to each week that find themselves needing to write their first résumé at an age at which they expected to be planning their retirement. Some people I speak to are frustrated, confused, and sometimes even angry, not to mention feel completely lost as to where to begin when thinking of crafting a résumé to present their extensive career.
First, determine what direction you are going to take your career as this plays an absolutely vital role in what direction you must take your résumé. If you have not figured this out, it is time to do so, as without that key target you will not know where to aim your résumé and its content.
Second, start writing down the basics. Remember that hiring managers will want to know about the last 10-15 years or so of your career, so focus on your most recent roles. Think about your jobs not only in terms of what you did every day, but most importantly, what you did that added value to the company. If you have access to past job descriptions, performance reviews, letters of commendation, or anything else that will help jog your memory, now is the time to use those resources. Start talking to past co-workers, not only to build your job search network, but also to reach out to those that may have very valuable information on what you did that added value to your employer.
Once you have the basics drafted, carefully craft the content and design of your résumé, being sure to not fall victim to the often-committed Baby Boomer résumé faux pas…
Faux Pas: Don’t use an outdated résumé format
Be sure to follow best practices techniques in creating a résumé that is up-to-date in content, design, and prioritization of information. You will not believe how many résumés I see for seasoned professionals that open with an objective statement and an education section, sections that do little to differentiate their candidacy.
Fix: Do open your résumé with a strategically written qualifications summary
Up-to-date résumés open with qualifications summaries, serving as an executive summary of the information contained throughout the remainder of the résumé. As a seasoned professional you should have a 2 or maybe even a 3 page résumé, making the qualifications summary critical to the 4-7-second screening process. Take the time to make this summary market you well, conveying why a hiring manager cannot afford not to bring you in for an interview.
Faux Pas: Don’t present too much information
When reviewing your career, remember that hiring managers are much more interested in what you have done recently, so including information from 20 or 30 years ago will likely do more harm than good. Be sure to focus on the last 10-15 years of your career, particularly if you are applying for a position that does not necessitate more experience.
Fix: Do include early career data if it adds value to your candidacy
There is a technique in résumé writing called “bylining.” This simply means breaking format at the end of your professional experience section and presenting earlier experience(s) without dates. To do this well you must change the way the information is being presented in order to justify the omission of dates. For example, if you are presenting your career back to 1995 but held a job in the early 1980s that is directly related to your current career target, you may add a statement at the end of your résumé akin to: “Additional experience with ABC Company as a Sales Manager.” You can elaborate on this statement if you like, perhaps presenting some key accomplishments in the role, but the key is to not present dates. Bylining this early experience allows you, as a candidate, to pull from all your related experience, discuss the benefits of that role elsewhere in your résumé and cover letter, provide additional evidence of your qualifications at an interview, and do all of those things without unnecessarily aging your candidacy.
Faux Pas: Don’t use the same résumé format you used after high school
Think about it, if a résumé is unattractive—and it will be if you are using the same format you used previous to the past 5-7 years—it repels readership, however if you have a pleasing aesthetic it compels readership and goes a long way to extending the screening process.
Fix: Do create a compelling design to complement your content
Check out professional résumé writing websites like my own for ideas on attractive formatting, being sure to create your own look that doesn’t look like an overused Word template available to the masses. The look of your résumé says a lot about your candidacy, your attention to detail, and your ability to create an engaging document.
I really wish you much success as you embark on this new chapter in your professional career. I have many samples of résumés I have written available on my ‘Dear Sam’ blog, many of which feature candidates not unlike you Jim. Visit www.ladybug-design.com/blog for inspiration!