A look at the resume questions and answers you care about most.
A big THANK YOU to everyone who participated in our first-ever #ResumeRefreshChat on Facebook. You asked a lot of great questions, and I was happy to provide some resume help and share what I've learned about resume writing and the job-search process over the past 10+ years.
Missed the event? No worries. Below are some of the most popular questions your fellow job seekers asked and a summary of my resume tips. My TopResume career advice team and I plan to write more articles to cover some of the resume help topics you brought up, so keep an eye on our career-advice blog for more resume help.
What resume advice do you suggest for job seekers in their 50's or older? How far back should you go in listing past job experience?
The rule of thumb is to limit the details of your resume to the past 15 years, and then summarize the positions you held outside of the 15-year window at the bottom. You might do this with a little blurb at the bottom of your “Professional Experience” section or create a short “Early Career History” section that simply lists the company names and titles of your earlier job roles, leaving off the dates. The idea is to demonstrate your career progress and/or name drop any noteworthy clients or employers that hold weight in your job industry while keeping the focus of your resume on your most recent experience (that's the part in which recruiters are most interested). Click on the following link for more resume tips for condensing your resume to the two-page standard.
In addition to restricting the details of your resume to the past 15 years and including a career note about your early career history, you may want to add a "Career Highlights" or “Selected Achievements” section. This would go below the professional summary in your resume to call attention to your most noteworthy career achievements. Keep in mind, this is completely optional and should only be used if it makes sense. I usually recommend this tactic for someone whose most brag-worthy career information is buried far down on the second page of their resume. A recruiter is more likely to notice these details during his or her initial 6-second resume scan when they're highlighted within the top third of the first page. You can view a sample “Career Highlights” section in this article I wrote with Business Insider.
Finally, remove the dates from any degrees or certifications that fall outside the 15-year timeframe from your resume.
I wish I had a magic bullet for overcoming age discrimination in the job search, but unfortunately, I haven't found one yet. That said, I have researched this topic quite a bit in the past and wrote a three-part series on how to combat age discrimination in the job market that's worth a read. For more advice on combating age discrimination on your resume and during the job search, please check out the following resume help links:
Are resume keywords really that important? How do I know what keywords to include in my resume?
Resume keywords are really important, actually. Many organizations use software known as applicant tracking systems (or ATS, for short) to pre-screen resume applications as they are submitted, rank them based on their contents, and send only the most qualified candidates over to HR for review.
If your professional resume contains the same keywords as your target job description, your application is in a better position to get past this digital gatekeeper. Click on the following link for a step-by-step plan to customize your resume for a job listing using resume keywords.
I want to stress that you shouldn't overhaul your resume for every single job application. Ideally, you should have a specific job goal, so most of the job listings for which you apply should contain similar keywords and requirements.
Gather a few job descriptions that reflect your current job goals and make a list of the terms that are repeated throughout these listings. Oftentimes, these keywords reflect the hard and soft job skills that are required to do the job well. It could also include technical proficiencies and industry-specific terms. It's safe to say that if these words and phrases are showing up on multiple job posts in which you're interested, then you should incorporate those keywords into your resume.
Think of the customization process more like an evolution of your resume, rather than a complete edit for every job application. You may swap out or add a few terms in the core competencies section of your resume (also commonly referred to as your “areas of expertise” or “key strengths” section) and tweak the language in your career summary and professional title at the top of the resume.
When you request a free resume review with TopResume, you'll receive a report that lets you know what the ATS reads when it scans your resume. If the results are really off, chances are your resume needs better keyword optimization to beat the bots.
I want to land a job working from home. What can I do to my resume to make me a better candidate for a remote job?
Writing a resume for a work-from-home job is not much different than writing a resume for a traditional, in-office position. You still need to summarize your qualifications for the position and demonstrate your value to employers. However, there are some details you'll want to highlight in your resume (if possible) that will help position you for that coveted work-in-your-pajamas type of job.
First, emphasize any past WFH (work from home) experience you have and be sure to include accomplishments for these telecommuting jobs to prove you can work on your own and manage your time effectively.
Second, let the reader know how much of your time (in hours or as a percentage of your time) was spent working from home.
For example, you may phrase one of your bulleted career accomplishments like this:
- Consistently exceeded sales quota by >10% for past two years (worked remotely 75% of the time).
- Winner of the Clio Gold Award for Brand Design (Environmental Category) as a member of a five-person, 100% virtual team.
Third, emphasize your self-direction, your above-average communication skills, and your technical skills within your resume to show employers that you have what it takes to successfully telecommute. In your cover letter, mention your access to the tools you'll need to get the job done working from home, including a reliable and fast internet connection and a newer computer model, as some employers will expect their telecommuters to supply their own equipment.
There are many sites, such as FlexJobs, that specialize in contract work, freelance opportunities, and other positions that allow you to work from home. Mom Corps, a division of Corps Team, is a national staffing and search company that focuses exclusively on placing experienced professionals in fractional, flexible, and virtual positions. Even a simple “telecommute jobs” Google search yields some great resources for securing a work-from-home job opportunity.
Once you find a position that interests you, customize your resume before submitting your job application.
Any job search tips for conducting a long-distance search? How can I position my resume if I want to relocate?
The first step would be to include the city, state, and zip code of your target location. If you haven't worked in this location before, remove the location information for your employers in the work history section. If you don't have it already, you may want to add a one-line company description that calls attention to the company size, industry, etc. — anything that it has in common with the employers on your target company list during the job search. There are also a few things you can add to your resume's professional summary that may help when applying for an out-of-state job.
Beyond that, it's all about building a network within your target city and leveraging your existing connections to help sidestep the ATS software and get your application directly into the hands of the recruiter or hiring manager. If there's a specific reason you're relocating, such as moving back to be closer to family, to join a spouse or partner who has relocated for work, or to live in a city where you previously lived and worked, I would incorporate this information into your cover letters and your LinkedIn profile summary. These personal details show that you're making this move with intention and are less likely to flake out on the employer, should they hire you. Click on the following link for more job-search tips on applying for an out-of-state job.
I think my resume is solid, but I'm still not getting any responses. What gives?
Without looking at the resume and knowing the details of someone's background, I can't say with 100 percent certainty what's going on, as the job search is not an exact science. However, there are a few things every job seeker should consider if their resume isn't getting the response they expect.
First, when your resume was last updated, did you have a clear goal in mind? Even a well-written resume won't get the job done if it's not positioned for a specific goal. If you weren't sure of your job goals then, but you have a clear idea now, it may simply be a matter of tweaking the content to customize your resume for each job application. Click on the following link for additional information on customizing your resume.
Second, make sure each job application is worth your time. Before you apply to another position, ask yourself these seven questions. You can learn more about this topic by listening to a podcast I did with Mac's List.
Third, your resume is only one piece of the job-search puzzle. If you want to land the job, you need to advertise your personal brand online, on paper, and in person. That means taking some time to monitor your online presence, flesh out your LinkedIn profile during the job search to support your goals, and incorporate networking into the mix.
And finally, your job-search strategy may simply need a reboot. Try downloading my free job-search action plan to help you organize your job search for the new season.
How do I handle the employment gaps on my resume?
Whenever there's a gap on your resume, you'll need to look for ways to fill it — with volunteer work, internships (at any age!), part-time jobs (even if they're not related to your field), coursework, and so on to show employers you've been doing something worthwhile with that time. Ideally, you participated in activities that helped keep your skills sharp or helped you gain new skills that are considered valuable for your target job.
The following article provides some options to help you supplement your work experience and lessen the gaps on your resume. Within the article, I've included a ton of resources to help you find skill-based volunteer opportunities (one of my favorite strategies) and free or low-cost professional development options to improve your job skills.
Also, check with your local library and town. Oftentimes, these local communities offer classes and support for those in need of some extra help during the job search.
If you're looking for part-time work, check out FlexJobs. They have a lot of telecommuting opportunities that might be helpful.
Last, but not least, don't underestimate the power of your professional and personal networks! Use them to help you meet new people, find relevant Meetup events and conferences to attend, learn about professional associations to join, and to discover new job openings that might not be published elsewhere.
I had a few short-lived jobs in a row. How do I get recruiters to see past this?
This is one of those situations where a professional resume writer might experiment with how they present your work experience, depending on what other information they have to work with. For instance, let's say you held a position for a good amount of time prior to these temporary jobs and that role was similar to the type of work for which you're looking today. Then, you should try to keep the amount of information about these recent short-term positions to a minimum and draw the employer's attention to the meatier part of your work history.
Depending on the focus of those short-term jobs and their length of time, there may be a way to even group them together under one role or omit one to cut down on the "job hopper" image. Again, it's hard to provide an exact approach without knowing all the details, but this should give you an idea of how the information may be presented in your resume.
Networking will be an important part of your job-search strategy. The connections you leverage should be able to help you bypass the initial gatekeepers who might dismiss your job application due to your recent job history and advocate for your candidacy.
When you get to the interview process, don't dwell on these roles. When you mention them, use them to help tell your career story. Explain how these positions helped you to better assess your job skills, understand your strengths in the workplace, and identify what you value most in a job, an employer, and a company culture. It's all about how you position these job experiences.
I have a very broad resume and companies seem to want to play it safe. How do I convince hiring managers to give me a chance?
No doubt, it's a challenge to get employers to notice your resume when you're not a cookie cutter fit for their job. However, there are a few things you can do to help your cause.
First, re-evaluate each job you've held and brainstorm how that experience helped prepare you for the role you're targeting today. Remember, a resume is your career story — you want to use your resume to show the reader how each job position has helped you gain a skill or experience that makes you a good candidate for their role. When you describe each of your positions on your resume, focus on detailing the parts of the job role that demonstrate your qualifications.
If you held a job title that doesn't really explain what you did (or doesn't make sense to anyone outside of that company), put a translation of sorts in parentheses next to the official title.
Second, depending on your work experience, you may want to consider a functional resume format. I say this with some hesitation because we professional resume writers try to avoid this format whenever possible. However, in some instances (and very few, I might add), a functional resume is your best option. Click on the following link for more help on your resume format.
And finally, networking will become your best friend. If you're targeting a new industry or line of work, you need to make friends with people who already work in that world. Not only will they be able to help you figure out what about your previous experience will be most desired, but they can identify what skill gaps you'll need to fill to be a more attractive candidate. And hopefully, they'll advocate on your behalf. You're 10 times more likely to land the job when an employee referral accompanies your job application. This also helps you bypass the ATS pre-screens and make it one step closer to the hiring manager.
What are your thoughts on highly graphic resumes?
Honestly, I'm anti-super graphic-y resumes for a few reasons. ATSs have trouble reading them (so your resume often gets tossed before the hiring manager ever sees it) and recruiters have difficulty finding the important pieces of information for which they're always looking. Save the creativity for your online portfolio. On your LinkedIn profile, add media to illustrate your work, the projects you've done, etc. But keep the resume a bit more cut and dry. Take a look at this video I did where Business Insider had me review resumes on the fly. There's a piece about graphic resumes in there.
If your heart is set on using a graphic resume, check out this article on graphic resume dos and don'ts. Bottom line: Your online portfolio is still the best place to showcase your creativity. Make sure your resume focuses more on content and less on pretty images.
I am over 50 and tired of the monotonous 9-5 routine and reporting to someone. I am thinking about consulting or working per diem. How do I find jobs like that?
There are a few ways you can approach this. If you're looking to leverage your existing work experience and take it to a consulting or per diem kind of arrangement, I recommend leveraging your network to feel out the marketplace. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is completely filled out and current, and you've connected like crazy to all your friends, family, colleagues, customers, etc. Your job summary on your LinkedIn profile and resume will need to be positioned for more of a consultant position, rather than a full-time corporate role.
Make a list of all the people with whom you've worked (vendors, former clients, former bosses, and colleagues, etc.) and see where they are today. There may be a way to connect with these people over lunch or after work and find out if there's a need for your talents at their organization on a contract basis. One of the selling points for this type of role is that you're offering years of expertise without the overhead costs of benefits, healthcare, etc.
You can also post your services and search for gigs on sites like UpWork, Outsourcely, WorkMarket, Freelancer.com, Guru, and PeoplePerHour. FlexJobs is also worth a look.
If you're interested in making a radical job change, you may want to consider pursuing an encore career. I wrote about this 'second career' change a while back for Ladders.
Have a different resume question?
The information above is only a sample of the questions I fielded during TopResume's #ResumeRefreshChat on Facebook. For more resume help, take a look at everyone's questions and my resume advice on TopResume's event page and in the #ResumeRefreshChat post on their Timeline and sign up for our weekly career advice newsletter.
Read all of this information, but don't know what your resume needs exactly? Our TopResume professional resume writers can help!
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