Q: I am starting a new job search and it’s been a while since I have updated my resume. How should I modernize it and position things like unpaid work i.e. family care, passion projects or gaps in employment i.e. family care, passion projects?
A: This is one of the most basic and fundamental parts of career development but people ask me about it all the time. And while I am not an HR specialist I can tell you what I’ve learned from writing my own resume as well as hiring tons of people over the years.
So much about how we work has changed, even before Covid-19, and so it makes sense that we’d also adapt our approach to resume writing along with it. The traditional thinking was that you had one vertical page that showed a linear progress of job growth with bulleted points to highlight responsibilities or achievements. Now, there is a shift towards a more narrative, storytelling approach and many people even get creative with design and layout to help tell their career story in a more visual way. Here are a few tips on how you can quickly and easily make a resume more contemporary.
Step One: Narrative Building
You’ll want to organize your resume to read as a cohesive story of the trajectory of your life’s work. Start by deciding what to include or leave out and how to present it and account for each experience. For example for mid-level careers, you don’t necessarily have to include every job you ever had. I generally think the past 10 years is adequate and should be more than enough to show your experience and expertise. Or, if you are just starting out and have had a lot of sporadic or freelance work experience, you may want to group all of these together under one role or the framing of your own company to streamline.
Once you have decided what to highlight and how to organize it, then for each role you’ll write the description by following a case study format. Answer these three questions — what was the companies business problem, what was the solution you came up with to solve said problem and finally what were the outcomes of that approach. This should be one short paragraph of about 3–4 sentences.
Step Two: Other Experiences
You’ll want to include an intro or “About Me” section which is a short bio or elevator pitch at the top to give a high level overview of who you are, what you’re passionate about and how you are positioning yourself. Make it is as clear and deliberate as possible. Essentially it should say, “I am a JOB TITLE” and insert the job title you are interviewing for.
You can handle “Education” on a case by case basis. If you went to an Ivy League School for example, I would give it some prominence but if you didn’t or haven’t been in college for 20 years, you can deprioritize it and format it at the bottom or to the side.
Also make sure to include a “Skills” section which would consist of a group of keywords which can be picked up by an algorithm based HR software. Make sure the keywords that are in the job descriptions for your search are included in this section.
Step Three: Spin & Brag
Turn anything that feels like it could be perceived as a negative and turn it into a positive. For example, you‘re not a stay at home parent you are on a sabbatical, or you are not an unemployed artist but an entrepreneur. When you give something a name and brand it as a role, your skills add value to your story as opposed to diminishing what you’ve accomplished.
Also, you don’t want to bury your leads. So if you volunteer, intern or mentor at any prestigious organizations or institutions or have received a grant, fellowship, press or award make sure you put those name and affiliations close to the top. You should assume that the recruiter won’t read your entire resume but skim looking for buzzwords to pop out. If you don’t have any prestigious names to include consider volunteering at something you are passionate about to add that pedigree recruiters are looking for.
And then finally, if you have design skills or work in a creative industry I’d also recommend updating the layout. I don’t recommend a lot of visual graphics but a nice layout and modern font along with some minimal visual branding can really elevate your document.