In preparation for a job search, you dust off your old resume and tack on your most recent job, new skills and training. But without editing or deleting old information, your resume becomes a hodgepodge of outdated accomplishments, awards and skills.
It's time to declutter your resume. To clean up your act, follow these five steps:
Step 1: Narrow Your Career Goal
Tom Kelly, president of Executive Recruiting Solutions, says many job seekers' biggest problem is not being sure of what they want to do, adding that it's particularly an issue for those branching out into new careers or industries. "The resume starts to lose focus," he says. "A whole bunch of extra stuff ends up in it in order to try to appeal to a wider range of employers or industries."
Kelly recommends limiting your resume's focus or creating more than one version if you have multiple target jobs. "It's best to declutter the resume by targeting one to three industries, max," Kelly says. This makes it easier to consolidate down to relevant content.
Step 2: Condense Your Opening Summary
Les Gore, managing partner of Executive Search International, recommends including a qualifications summary near the top of your resume. "Tell me a little about your background," he says. "Don't go overboard, and don't overdo the selling. Be succinct and descriptive in terms of your experience and collective knowledge."
And forget about crafting lofty mission statements or "me-focused" objectives that talk about wanting a fulfilling career with opportunity for growth, advises Harvey Band, managing partner of recruiting firm Band & Gainey Associates. "You're wasting page space with that, and you're wasting your time and mine," he says. "Use the top third of the page to communicate your most recent experience and your most impressive accomplishments. Get my attention. Then I'll keep reading."
Step 3: Edit Work Experience
Your resume's experience section should provide an overview of your career chronology and a few highlights of key accomplishments for your most recent work experience. For professionals on an established career track, this may mean summarizing experience more than 10 to 15 years old into an "early career" section.
"I like to see summaries of earlier careers versus long, detailed explanations," says Kelly, who recommends job seekers provide brief, one-line descriptions of earlier positions. "You don't have to list every job that you've had out of college on your resume."
Gore agrees. "Often, I see way too much information on responsibilities and not enough on the accomplishments," says Gore, who reviews hundreds of resumes each month. Although he finds it helpful for candidates to provide a brief overview of the range of their responsibilities, Gore recommends these details be summarized in just a few sentences.
When trying to weed accomplishments for space reasons, think numbers. "Take a hard look at what you're saying," Band says. "If you can't back it up with numbers, percentages or quantify it in some other way, then cut it."
Gore also likes the quantitative approach, as does Kelly, who suggests quantified statements have more value to an employer than more general, nonquantified accomplishments.
Step 4: Consolidate Education
The education section is another area where you can gain space when updating your resume. Although detailed information about internships, courses, academic honors and extracurricular activities can be important for new or recent graduates, professionals with four or more years of experience can omit or greatly condense this information, says Kelly.
Step 5: Select Your Skills
Many job seekers know the importance of keywords. But be careful not to go overboard, cautions Band.
Band says if your skills section resembles a laundry list of random terms, you need to do some serious editing. "The best resumes are custom-created for a specific opportunity," he says. "If you're targeting your resume, then you don't need to try to throw in every single skill set that you think might be important."
And now's a good time to dump outdated technology, too. "Fortran, Cobol and other outdated computer programs need to go," says Kelly. Not only can you gain some valuable space, but you'll avoid coming across as a dinosaur.
Think Like an Employer
Throughout each step of the resume-decluttering process, Band advises candidates to address the three key questions employers want your resume to answer: What can you do for me, what have you done before, and can you do it for me again?