Best Practices for Updating Your Resume

When you haven’t thought about your resume in a while, it can be tough to update it. You may feel out of touch with new formats and wonder exactly what you should include. This can be complicated by not knowing exactly which direction you are going next in your career. Regardless of whether you have a position you are applying for or you’re getting your resume in order for a future job search, these five tips will make sure your updated resume attracts the attention of employers.

Do your research first
Before updating a single word on your resume, do some research on what kind of positions interest you and what skills and qualifications you need for those positions.

A great place to explore this is on LinkedIn. If you know you want to work in Public Relations but you aren’t sure what company you’d like to work for and you want to learn more about the industry, check out people’s profiles who are in positions you’d like. You can see what kind of education and past experience they have. That will give you a good frame of reference.

If you have a job announcement that interests you, you can bypass this step and dig into the details you see in the job announcement and on the organization’s website.

Now’s also a good time to talk to friends and acquaintances who work in your target industry or organization. You want to learn as much as you can before you sit down to update your resume.

Make a plan to get the experience you need
If your research reveals that you don’t have all the qualifications you need, make a plan. Do you need three to five years of experience and you don’t have any? Consider an unpaid internship or a volunteer position that would allow you to practice these skills and demonstrate your abilities.

Do all the positions seem to require a particular certificate or degree? Figure out how to enroll in a program now.

A word of caution here: many people don’t apply for positions because they are worried they don’t meet all of the qualifications. If you find a position that you truly think you would be great at and you are missing a few of the qualifications, apply anyway and address this directly in your cover letter.

For example, are they looking for someone with an MBA and you don’t have one? Does your experience make up for that? Are you currently earning your MBA? Do you have a particular background (in a certain country or region, with a certain organization, etc.) that makes you especially qualified? Highlight this.

Include a Key Qualifications section at the top
Let’s assume that you’ve done your research and you’ve decided to apply. The very first thing you should do is add in or change up your key qualifications section. This should be the first section on your resume (before professional experience) and be composed of about three or four phrases that will hook the reader and make them want to read more.

Your key qualifications section should tell your potential employer exactly what they need to know about you to make a decision as to whether you would be the right fit for the position or not.

Expect your potential employer to spend less than 30 seconds on the first round review of your resume. This means that they will read the key qualifications section and your job titles and take a look at your education. On the first round, they will never read all of your bullets under each position. If you need to highlight a particular accomplishment or you want to make sure they know exactly how many years of experience you have, you’ve got to include this in the key qualifications section.

If you get through the first review round (which you will if your key qualifications section convinces them that you meet the qualifications), on the second round they are likely to look at some of your bullets.

Add in results
Now that you’ve got a powerful key qualifications section, you’ll want take a good, hard look at the bullets under each position. If they are basic responsibilities you had at that position, consider updating them to include accomplishments and results.

For example, if you were in charge of updating the employee handbook do not simply write “Updated employee handbook.” Tell them why this project was important and what the impact was. Did it lead to fewer questions about particular benefits saving the HR department time? Did you receive an award or other commendation for your efforts? This helps to put your accomplishment into perspective.

If you can add numbers, it’s almost always a good idea to do so. If you say “Served as team leader” tell the reader how many people were on your team. If you improved a process which saved time or money, tell the reader how much. For example, “Revised the annual reporting process cutting the time required from the budget department by 30 percent.”

Create multiple versions
Once you’ve updated your resume and you’re content with the result, get ready to change it up. Adapt your resume for each position that you apply for using the language you see the in the job announcement and on the organization’s website. Make sure you address all of the skills and qualifications they are looking for in your resume. If you’re missing something, remember to address this head on in your cover letter.

At the very least, if you are pressed for time when applying for a job, update your key qualifications section to ensure that with this short paragraph you convince the potential employer to keep reading.

If this whole thing has you scrambling to remember what you’ve done over the last couple of years in your job (or outside of your professional life), you’ll believe me when I say it’s smart to update your resume annually whether you’ll need it that year or not. It’s easy to forget our accomplishments during the first year of employment at the end of a three-year tour. Similarly, if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, you may look back and forget some of the skills you’ve honed during this time.

Do you have more questions about how to update your resume? Post them here in the comments!

Anna Sparks is an international career coach and an Eligible Family Member (EFM) who has found fulfilling, paid employment in all four (so far!) tours with the State Department as well as launched her own business. She works with clients all over the world on their resumes, cover letters, interview skills, and networking strategies to ensure that they get the jobs they really want. She’s an expert at defining why gaps in professional experience and diverse work history are actually a plus for the employer. Want more? Get a copy of her free guide How to Edit Your Own Resume Like a Pro that will walk you through a checklist of all the details your updated resume should include. Or follow her on Facebook where you can find out about her free monthly webinars on all kinds of topics related to your international job search.

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