Is It Time for a Resume Makeover?

by Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., SPHR


When it comes to application materials, words matter! The words chosen to describe one’s background and experiences affect one’s job search success. If ‘call backs’ and invitations to interview are scarce, or it has been a while since a resume was updated, it may be time for a resume makeover. If the number and variety of cable television shows devoted to home renovations is an indicator, the periodic update process has some value. Homeowners take pain-staking efforts and expense to update their homes to increase both their value and livability. Like kitchens and bathrooms, the styles and content of resumes and curriculum vitae evolve over time.

There are at least four makeover tricks that can be used to add some punch and pizzazz to one’s materials. These include updating the format, content, and language in application materials and removing elements that are no longer in vogue.

Like everything else in the workplace, the format of resumes has changed over time. Today, an objective statement at the top of a resume is common, as are summary statements or sections. The objective succinctly describes a person’s goals, such as: “To obtain a director position in a progressive student life division of a college or university.” A collection of bullet points or a summary paragraph might highlight an applicant’s major skills and accomplishments to create a positive first impression. These sections are useful in creating an instant professional profile in the mind of the reader. Whether intentional or not, summary sections are good for modern application tracking systems that use keyword searches to rank applicants. Summary paragraphs often contain buzz words, discipline/profession specific language, or contemporary catch-phrases. Further acknowledging trends and the advantages of a periodic resume makeover, some experts are now recommending summary statements in lieu of objective statements.

Executive summaries represent a different trend towards brevity and clarity. They are essentially ‘Reader’s Digest’ versions — one page or less — of longer tomes. This kind of summary gets to the point and presents a synopsis of the most relevant and prominent parts of one’s background. They are useful introductions that entice the reader to actually read through a lengthy resume or CV. In addition to these and other formatting trends, updating one’s materials includes modifying the actual language used.

The language used to describe the very same thing can change over time. For this alone, one might need to freshen up their resume. Typically, one drafts a resume using the language of the day. When holding the next position, that experience is likewise recorded. It seems unnecessary years later to rewrite with a faded memory the description of work performed decades ago, but this might actually be wise. A couple of examples will explain the significance of doing so.

A computer operator or programmer was a typical position in the 1990s that required working with mainframes, peripherals, and software. Today, a similar position might mention big data, clouds, and systems integration. Updating the language to describe similar functions in a modern manner might be beneficial to the job seeker. Surely the curriculum vitae will list accomplishments in research, teaching, and service, but today what is said about these areas will differ. Emphasizing instructional methods that support students of all learning styles and abilities and service work with diverse populations are topics du jour. The expectation that university professors garner external support in the form of grants and other funding is more of an imperative than ever. To be competitive, past successes in this area must be highlighted for current positions.

Another example of how language evolves is the ways in which we talk about diversity, gender, and students. We should no longer refer to undergraduate students as ‘kids.’ This could be due to the fact that almost half of current college students are over 25 years old, or maybe just because more politically appropriate terms such as ‘students’ or ‘undergraduates’ might be more considerate.

Twenty-five years ago, resumes emphasized positions held, the prestige of institutional affiliations, and who an applicant had as a connection. Today, things are much more meritocratic and the focus is on competencies and accomplishments. The amount of space dedicated to contemporary subjects and patterns should reflect the times.

It is no longer appropriate to list certain kinds of biographic and demographic data such as one’s marital status, religion, number of children, and the like. These are not job-related factors and should not be included unless they are somehow position- or mission-related. Mentioning one’s faith can be advantageous if applying to a religiously affiliated institution. Surprisingly, another thing that has evolved is the use of one’s contact information. Once upon a time, one listed their home and work telephone numbers as basic elements at the top of a resume/CV. Today, a cell phone number is expected. The speed of business has changed and it is almost arcane to leave a message on a home phone and expect a return call the following business day. Additionally, some consider it a violation of protocol to use work email and phone numbers to conduct personal business. It is expected in today’s workplace that professionals have a cellular phone and their own e-mail account to conduct personal business.

Things change. If one is applying for positions in 2019, the resume or CV’s format, content, and language should reflect the times. Including the right information, describing it in contemporary terms, and presenting it in the appropriate format are all in the applicant’s best interest. The words chosen should help translate or match one’s skill set to the positions being pursued today. Our houses, cars, appliances, entertainment, pastimes, and everything else around us changes over time — so do our work experiences. To remain competitive, it might be time to dust off, reformat, and update one’s application materials through a resume makeover process when applying for position vacancies today.

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