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Why You Should Give Your Résumé an Update

A few small changes in design could help you get noticed by job recruiters

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An experienced software engineer with a passion for computers and learning, Mark Jones (not his real name) built a solid career over the past 20-plus years. But his résumé didn't capture the confidence and skills he built during his career.

"Mark's résumé was screaming for a serious face-lift,” said Joe Szynkowski, the TopResume senior résumé writer who was assigned to Mark's project. AARP and TopResume recently began offering a Resume Advisor tool, which offers free, professional critiques of résumés along with discounted prices for résumé rewrites. “Lacking in design aesthetic, [Jones’ résumé] was failing to guide recruiters through a clear narrative of Mark's background,” Szynkowski said.

Jones agreed. “I think I have a lot to offer a company, but I don't know exactly how to explain it on my résumé,” he said.

To help Jones market himself to prospective employers, Szynkowski focused on standardizing the résumé's overall design. He added headers, page numbers and subheads to clearly define each section. He also gave the document more visual balance by separating Jones’ achievements from the routine tasks of his jobs throughout the work history section.

Below are some of the specific changes Szynkowski made to Jones’ résumé to ensure employers gave him the consideration his experience and qualifications deserved:

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1. The street address is not listed.

It's no longer necessary to include your full mailing address on your résumé. If you're seeking work close to home and you want employers to know you're a local candidate, include your city and state. However, leave your street address off to protect yourself from potential identity theft. If you're motivated to relocate for work, you may decide to remove the location information entirely or state your interest in relocating instead.

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2. The résumé includes a link to relevant online profiles.

LinkedIn can be a great platform for making connections, exchanging valuable information and finding job opportunities. It's also a place where recruiters expect to be able to find you. A study from Jobvite — a company that offers recruiting software to businesses — found that 90 percent of employers use LinkedIn to search for and evaluate job candidates. Make it easy for them to find you by including the link to your profile at the top of your résumé.

3. The goals — and value — are clear.

In addition to adding a professional title at the top of Jones’ résumé, Szynkowski added a line just above the professional summary to ensure readers would know exactly what type of position Jones is seeking. This line not only summarizes Mark's experience, it also sets the tone for the rest of the document. When crafting your résumé, make sure the top third provides recruiters with a snapshot of what they need to know about your career goals and qualifications.

4. Core skills are highlighted in a “snapshot."

Szynkowski included a summary of Jones’ core skills in an “Areas of Expertise” section. This section serves two purposes. First, it allows the reader to quickly understand the breadth of Jones’ experience, setting the stage for the rest of his career narrative. Second, these key terms help optimize Jones’ résumé for the hiring bots, which are notorious for eliminating nearly 75 percent of all online applications before a human ever sets eyes on them.

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5. Top achievements are summarized at the beginning of the résumé.

If you have many years of experience, you may find that some of your important projects and accomplishments are buried on the second page of your résumé. In those instances, adding a “Selected Achievements” or “Career Highlights” section just above your work history is a great way to ensure recruiters notice these noteworthy achievements and are enticed to read the rest of your résumé more thoroughly.

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6. Technology skills are organized into clear categories.

Professionals who work in nontechnical roles typically have a small section toward the end of their résumés that summarizes the types of platforms and tools they're comfortable using in their fields. However, tech professionals like Jones should prominently display their technology skills in the top portion of their résumé. Jones’ technical proficiencies are neatly categorized so that a recruiter can understand the extent of his expertise in one quick glance.

7. Bullets call attention to important details.

In Jones’ original résumé, each job was followed by an endless list of bullets detailing his work. Bullet points are a great technique for highlighting important pieces of information on the résumé, but when everything is bulleted, this format loses its effectiveness. To avoid having the reader's eyes glaze, Szynkowski separated each of Jones’ positions into routine tasks and key achievements. A short paragraph is used to explain Jones’ general responsibilities. Then, a list of bullets is used to highlight his most noteworthy contributions and accomplishments. Action verbs are used at the beginning of each bullet point to paint a more colorful picture of his career story. In addition, Jones’ responsibilities and achievements are quantified where possible to add context and further demonstrate his qualifications.

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8. Earlier experience is grouped together near the end.

The further along you are in your career, the less relevant your earlier work experience becomes. Employers are typically most interested in what you've been doing lately that's relevant to the roles they're filling, not what you may have done 15 or more years ago. As a result, the information for some of Jones’ earliest positions has been reduced to a short blurb. The dates of employment have also been removed from these earlier positions to downplay his age while still letting his stellar track record shine.

If you're running out of room and don't have the space for an entire “Earlier Professional Experience” section, then you can simply place a “Career Note” at the end of your work history section and mention the noteworthy titles and company names in a couple of lines.

9. Job references are not listed on the résumé.

Gone are the days when job seekers were expected to list job references — or even the phrase, “References available upon request” — on their résumé. This information isn't necessary until you've made it past the initial round of interviews. Once you've reached this stage of the interview process, hiring managers assume you'll provide references if asked. Save this valuable space on your résumé for more compelling information that will land you the interview.

10. The résumé is no more than two pages.

Studies have found that the average recruiter spends less than 10 seconds reviewing each job application before deciding if a candidate receives further consideration or is immediately eliminated from the pile. With so little time to make the right impression, it's important to streamline your résumé to two pages. Use that valuable space to emphasize recent work experience that supports your current career goals and pare down the information that is not as relevant to your job search.

The results

By the time TopResume was finished, Jones’ résumé had been transformed from sloppy to sleek.

"I didn't do anything too fancy” with the design, Szynkowski said. “I wanted Mark's new résumé to be straightforward, crisp and streamlined — just what recruiters and hiring managers are looking for in a résumé."

For Jones, the process was an eye-opening experience. “I learned a lot,” he said. “There are so many things [Synkowski] told me he considered when writing my résumé … I would have never thought to do it that way. I'm glad I had help from a professional like Joe."

Not sure if your résumé is highlighting your best self in your job search? Get a free résumé review today!

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