Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Tale Of Two Resumes: To Update Or To Upgrade, What Is Your Best Solution?

Often, as an IT recruiter and career coach, I hear people say “I need to update my resume.” This usually pertains to embarking on a job search and means adding new job related information since their last search. Now other individuals, information technology employees or otherwise, take a different strategy and decide to upgrade their resume which usually involves a revision of large portions to reflect their goals and career growth from in the most careful and comprehensive manner possible. Furthermore, an upgrade can be better targeted to a specific opportunity, which is where it can have tremendous value here I will briefly discuss the two resume strategies, their pros and cons, and what may be best solution for you. Now before deciding which way to go it is important to remember that a resume is one of the most important documents you will ever own, so making your best presentation possible is essential for your career fortunes.

In the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of resumes I see in a year, I would say the majority are resume updates. They consist mainly of inserting, or tacking on, their current, or last, job into the existing structure of the resume they used in their previous search. This is a basic update; and often the least helpful. The next type of update may involve changing other parts of your resume other than just “tacking on” your last job. Here we may perhaps see additions to your skills or summary from your current job, and possibly, but least likely, going back to previous jobs to highlight those responsibilities that are most relevant to your current job.

I find if someone merely tacks on their current job to update their resume, then the resume may look like the writer either has little or no knowledge, or interest, in high quality of resume construction. Worse, this may give the impression that one is not serious about a job search or is disorganized or not detail oriented. Indications of this may be that the resume may give as much, or occasionally even more, space to jobs that were from five, ten or even fifteen plus years ago than they a give to their current position. Now, occasionally one might feel compelled to update their resume for an unforeseen, immediate need for a resume, by a recruiter…but resist this urge for a quick fix as much as possible.

Recently I received an example of such an update from a Network Engineer with excellent skills and a stable work background. .He had had one position for 6 years and then a previous position for 6 months and he gave half as much space to this somewhat outdated, from a technical perspective, prior position. Also, he described his current job in the first person, which is generally not considered the best approach, while his earlier positions were described without first, or third, person references. These inconsistencies detracted significantly from what would be a very desirable job candidate. It was obvious he merely tacked on his current position without much thought of how this might look to a resume screener.

In the above mentioned example a more carefully considered upgrade would offer more complete description of their current position which didn’t have that hasty “tacked on look, Also in updating the skills and the summary, and modifying the previous job description, my client would need to change the previous job descriptions reflect the current position and future interests. One thing I saw in this resume and frequently in other updates is that the tense of the verbs in the previous jobs needs to be changed from the present tense to the past tense (e.g.; from “is responsible” to “was responsible”). Luckily in this case, as the third party recruiter, I corrected all of these resume deficiencies, but often someone goes directly to the employer with a quick update they, unfortunately, think is good enough.

In an effective update or upgrade, whether it is for a secretary, software engineer, or CEO, length is always a critical consideration. Updates seldom address this issue; a good upgrade must! The content and format of the first page is most important, although two, and occasionally more, pages is acceptable to include all of your jobs. Here is where you have the greatest opportunity to attract, or repel, the hiring source. Skills, summaries, competencies, significant accomplishments, all need to be quickly accessible here on the first page. Whether your resume is scanned by software or a hiring authority, relevant skill placement and quantity can determine if your resume is acted on or discarded.

Also, in a good upgrade you should prune your previous job descriptions so that more current jobs are given more space and earlier positions display progressively less space. A good rule of thumb here is to try to think like the hiring authority, and try to impress him or her with what you have done lately not potentially loose there interest with overly verbose descriptions of what you did ten or twenty years ago. This fits into the spacing strategy, and additionally I would recommend targeting key elements of your background that, as much as possible, specifically relate to the jobs you are seeking. This may sound tedious; but it can give you a distinct advantage over competing candidates who favor an easy updating strategy. Remember, a resume is an advertisement for yourself, and the more you can draw the hiring authorities to your message the greater the probability they will buy!

For an optimum upgrade I would recommend you consider researching what the “best practices’ in your industry, area of expertise, experience level. Susan Whitcomb’s work “Resume Magic” and Martin Yate’s “Knock em Dead” series offer exceptional upgrading, or even rewriting, advice. . Also, I recommend you particularly pay attention to formats offered that best visually represent your background and the position you are applying for. Again Whitcomb and Yate give great advice and resume templates. What is most important is that the format, particularly if you add graphics, doesn’t distract, and hopefully enhances, the effectiveness of your resume. In my upgrade example the candidate paid almost no attention to critical format issues life font selection, white space, or the advantages of using a more contemporary bullet…format versus large blocks of text.

Now there are some occasions where you may need to do a total rewrite like if you are considering changing careers or you are from another country, like India, which has different resume standards. However, in these cases there are generally “chunks” of job descriptions you can transpose from the old resume to the new. Also, some of us just aren’t able to put together an appealing resume, even though we may excel at what we do. In these cases I recommend that you find a highly rated resume writing service. For a few hundred dollars this might be your best solution. However, before you hire a service ask them to show you a few samples of their work that relate directly to your background and aspirations.

In conclusion, it is essential that you put a lot of thought into what your resume says about you and your background. Generally this may be all the perspective employer may know about you, particularly in this age of on-line resume submission.
In most cases I favor an upgrade over an update, with an entire rewrite to be considered only as a last resort. An update can look “tacky,” or tacked on, unless the previous iterations of your resume are very well crafted and are cohesive and compatible with the limited new information you add. However, even then the pruning process that is a hallmark of upgrades needs to be considered. Upgrades have more strategic value than updates because you are more likely to look at the resume as a whole and how it fits into your entire job search strategy. I know it’s tempting to get a quick fix that some updates provide. However, prudence and patience is essential in writing a job winning resume.