Resume Writing Tips for Career Changers

When you’re not just looking for a new job but a new career, you need a new resume. Here are some crucial career change resume tips that will help you position yourself for your big leap.

Start with a relevant headline.

Write the job title of the  opening you’re applying for, such as “Marketing Consultant,” as a headline between your name and contact information and the rest of the resume. The top of your resume is a valuable spot for a first impression; don’t waste it on an empty word like “Summary.”

Build a compelling summary (just don’t bother labeling it as such).

If the first thing employers see is your Experience section, headed by a job that’s very different from the job you’re applying for, it’s easy for the employer to reject you, thinking “This person doesn’t have the right experience.” Instead, focus their attention first and foremost on your relevant qualifications. Here are some elements you might include in this summary.

Targeted introductory paragraph or bullet points: Here is where you summarize your key selling points or unique selling proposition. It might look like this:

  • BA in Business Administration with Marketing emphasis expected in May 2018.
  • Early experience as Marketing Coordinator, followed by accomplished sales career.
  • Extensive experience collaborating with Marketing as Sales Manager for top (industry) firms including X and Y.
  • Data-driven and highly analytical, as demonstrated by (very briefly mention an achievement or chunk of experience that proves this).

Keep this section very short, especially if you use a paragraph instead of bullets. Anything dense here is likely to be ignored.

Competencies block: List your skills and areas of knowledge using brief words and phrases such as “team leadership,” “project management,” “Salesforce,” and so on, so employers can see at a glance that you have the know-how. (Tip: A two-column or three-column arrangement saves space compared to a single-column list.)

“Translate” your Experience section to show how your skills are transferable.

Consider adding to your job title lines. Let’s say you’re seeking a position as a Human Resources Generalist, and your past job title was Office Manager – but half of the job really involved doing the work of a Human Resources Generalist. You can show that you were a de facto HR Generalist – without claiming you officially held that title – by writing it like this:

Office Manager (and Human Resources Generalist), Brown Educational Software, Inc.

Or if the HR duties were only a small part of the role, write this instead:

Office Manager (including Human Resources responsibilities), Brown Educational Software, Inc.

Either way, putting these important keywords in the job title will allow your resume to perform well in applicant tracking systems as well as in the eyes of the reader. (And you can do the same on LinkedIn, by the way.)

Emphasize what’s relevant. Describe your past job duties in terms familiar to the field you want to go into. For example, let’s say you used to do social media work and now you want to do grant writing for nonprofits. Some aspects of your previous job may not be transferable, but your ability to write concise, attention-getting content may be relevant and valuable.

The resume is just one component.

As important as your resume is, it isn’t going to get you into a new career by itself. More than other job seekers, career changers need to network effectively, get any additional training or experience they need, and so on. Plan a smart, up-to-date job search campaign in which your well-targeted career-change resume is one of many strong components.

5 More Reasons Your Resume Didn’t Get You an Interview

In last week’s post I pointed out five ways your resume can fall into that mysterious black hole in the HR department. Here are five more ways your resume can crash. Don’t let it happen!

Maybe you never heard back because…

…your resume wasn’t ATS-friendly. Many common types of formatting can cause your resume to be misread by applicant tracking systems, including: putting crucial information in headers and footers (which are ignored by the ATS), using a Word template, sending a PDF rather than a Word document (and .doc is still generally safer than .docx, by the way), putting a credential after your name, or using a “functional” format where job titles and companies are not immediately followed by descriptive content. Or maybe…

…it didn’t have the right key words. Both for the ATS and the human eye, it’s crucial to have the right keywords in your resume, especially in the job titles and descriptions. How do you know what they right keywords are? Look at the posting. Tip: The #1 most important keyword is often the job title, so if your company has given you a vague title like “Analyst II” but you’re applying for Data Analyst, write it like this: “Analyst II (Data Analyst)”.

…it didn’t fit the job. It’s usually not worth your time to apply online to jobs for which you don’t have at least 9/10 of the stated requirements, unless you have a connection.

…you don’t fit the mold. This one is painful to hear, I know. Even if you have all the qualifications, if your job history is unconventional you’re likely to be passed over. For example, if your most recent job isn’t similar to the job you’re applying for, or you’re applying at a large company when your experience is at small ones, or you’re self-employed (however successfully), employers may have a hard time imagining you in the role, and may simply move on to the next candidate.

…you didn’t have a connection (your job search strategy needs an overhaul). Any job seeker with a referral has a major advantage. In fact, all of the issues listed above can cease to be show-stoppers when you have a referral. This is why experts recommend that you spend most of your job search time cultivating referrals at the top 40 or 50 companies where you’d like to work. For tips on how to do this, read my post “How to Use Info Interviews to Get Hired Faster.”

Your resume doesn’t have to fall into a black hole. You can transform your job search practices to adapt to the realities of what works. If that feels like a huge challenge, don’t go it alone – work with a coach to plan and execute a cutting-edge search that gets your qualifications taken seriously.

Tips from the New Resume Writing Book I’m In!

Resume from Modernize Your Resume Resume bookBuild a more compelling resume by using the tips below from Modernize Your Resume, a new book of advice illustrated with resumes from noted resume writers including myself.

This image of the page featuring my resume for “Steven Sanchez” isn’t large enough for you to read. That’s okay, because the lessons it demonstrates are clear even from a distance.

One lesson this resume teaches is that even a professional publishing company can make a mistake. If you look very closely at three columns near the top, you may notice that the indenting is uneven.

You can believe this sent me running to my file to see if I had made that mistake in the original. Nope, this error was introduced in the editing of the book. The moral of the story is: proofread, proofread, proofread!

Now here are some words of wisdom from the book’s authors, Wendy Enelow and Louise Kursmark.

Start with the Wow!

Figure out what’s most impressive about your experience and skills – your key selling points – and make sure they appear prominently near the top.

This resume (used by the kind permission of my client, whose real name isn’t Steven Sanchez), starts with a concise headline, subhead and summary that immediately communicate his key strengths and skills. I wrapped up the summary with an rave recommendation from his LinkedIn profile. Wow!

Improve Readability and Skimmability

Avoid large blocks of text, which are daunting to the eye. Here there is no paragraph longer than four lines. Each bullet item is surrounded by white space.

Here’s how to do this in Microsoft Word:

  1. Select Paragraph in the Format menu.
  2. Under Spacing fill in “5 pt” or “6 pt” in the After field.
  3. You can quickly copy that format to other bullets by using the Format Painter function.

Integrate Your Critical Keywords

This resume is loaded with the important keywords from his target job postings – keywords like buyer, strategy, negotiation, team leadership and management. I front-loaded a lot of those in the “competencies block” (the section with the checkmark bullets) but didn’t stop there, making sure they appeared throughout.

These three tips above are especially significant, but the book describes many other ways to ensure your resume looks contemporary, savvy and powerful. You can buy it from Emerald Career Publishing.

Get Help from a Certified Resume Writer

Even the best resume books can’t talk to you, look at your experience, and strategize for your unique situation. Contact me for resume coaching or writing, if you want to ensure your resume helps you get a great job, sooner!

Using Testimonials in Your Resume

When writing your resume, it’s one thing to claim you’re terrific at teamwork, building great client relationships, or coaching others. But where’s the evidence?

It can be especially hard to make a compelling case for “soft skills” like those above; they can be hard to quantify or certify.

Rather than just asking the employer to take your word for it, why not have someone else vouch for you?

In an increasingly review-driven world, a new trend in resumes and cover letters is to include a short quote from your manager, a customer or client, or some other credible source.

It’s most effective when the quote can be verified, perhaps because it’s online as a recommendation in your LinkedIn profile. That’s a great reason – among many – to get LinkedIn recommendations.

You can also quote from a letter of recommendation, adding in parentheses that the full letter is available upon request. A customer kudo might be another good source, probably omitting the customer’s name to maintain confidentiality.

A glowing excerpt from a performance review can be very effective, including the manager’s title but perhaps omitting their name if you feel it might be distracting or inappropriate. Include the date, if recent.

Here’s an example, this one involving a LinkedIn recommendation. Let’s say Judith Jones wants her resume to communicate above all that she’s a team player, but she knows that just saying so won’t be very convincing.

Fortunately, Judith’s LinkedIn profile contains the following recommendation from a key internal customer:

“I had the pleasure of working with Judith in two different companies over the course of eight years. Judith is a consummate Human Resources professional and would be an asset to any company that hired her. She is always open to new processes and she partnered well with Payroll. She often came to me and asked ‘How can I make this process work better for you?’ She’s an incredibly collaborative colleague. I highly recommend Judith.”

– Steven Sanchez, Director of Payroll, The Green Company

For her resume, she should shorten this to something brief and punchy, such as:

“Judith is a consummate Human Resources professional … She often came to me and asked ‘How can I make this process work better for you?’ She’s an incredibly collaborative colleague. I highly recommend Judith.”

(Steven Sanchez, Director of Payroll, Multinational Marketing, Inc., excerpted from:

(Notice we are including Steven’s name. His comment has already been made public, so he obviously has no objection to being quoted by name.)

Where would you put this in your resume? Some good spots might be:

  • At the end of the Summary. This is a very powerful location, so reserve it for strong, extremely relevant praise from your direct manager, senior management or other high-profile source.
  • At the end of the resume.
  • In the Experience section, under the job in which you received the praise.

So my advice is: Get LinkedIn recommendations and hang onto your customer kudos. They can say a lot for you!

How to Get Useful Resume Feedback

How can you be sure your resume has the impact you intend?

Recruiters are usually too busy to give detailed feedback on resumes, and the compliments you may get from hiring managers at interviews don’t tell you much.

Actually asking for resume feedback at an interview is a faux pas. The employer isn’t there to help you with your next application!

Some major job search websites give free resume reviews, which can be somewhat formulaic. More customized reviews are available from individual resume writers. For example, I often provide a very brief resume review as part of the process of providing a quote for a resume rewrite.

It can also be useful to get feedback from a variety of people, to benefit from varied viewpoints. But this can backfire.

As another fine job search blogger has written, “Be careful not to ask too many UNQUALIFIED people their opinion of the resume you just got.  I asked people . . . and the information I got was misleading (making me think it was great, while it really kept me out of interviews).”

Here are some tips for getting resume input in a way that really works.

  • Select people who know your industry, if possible and appropriate. People with strong writing or editorial skills can also be very helpful.
  • Make sure your reviewers know the requirements of the job you’re targeting. Show them a written job posting if possible.
  • Ask them these questions: “If you take just 10 seconds to skim this resume, what’s your first impression? Then, after reading it more thoroughly, what impresses you most? And what could be better?”
  • Take all opinions with a grain of salt. If you show your resume to five people, you will hear five different viewpoints, some of which may directly contradict the others! Look for common themes and use your own judgment.
  • If you are working with a professional resume writer, be collaborative by telling her or him that you’ll be seeking feedback from others. Have this conversation before you even agree to work together. Discuss how best to bring the outside input into the agreed-upon writing process. If the process includes a draft before the final resume, it’s usually best to gather input at that point, rather than when the final product has been delivered.

Keep in mind that skilled resume writers study surveys of employers’ preferences in resumes, so they have a broad view of what employers look for in a resume. This broad view may be more useful than direct input from one recruiter or manager, who may have individual idiosyncrasies and preferences that are not typical.

There is no resume that will impress every employer in the world. With care, however, you can get one that will communicate powerfully to the vast majority of its readers – and open the right doors for you.

Resumes: Some Bad Advice!

Beware! Bad Advice Ahead!Recently I asked some colleagues in a LinkedIn group what bad advice they had heard for job seekers.

It was a very popular topic! There’s a lot of questionable guidance out there.

Next week I’ll look at misleading “wisdom” about job interviews. Now let’s start with resumes.

A resume should never be longer than one page.

Maybe this was once true, but times have changed. Recent surveys of employers show that while a substantial minority prefer a single page, few insist on it, and a two-page resume is preferred for highly experienced candidates, as long as the information is relevant and it’s easy to read.

(Readability comes from the document being well written and well formatted. Two pages crammed with big, unbroken blocks of poorly written text in a 9-point font won’t cut it.)

Following this bad advice could mean short-changing yourself on your resume. It could cost you interviews.

Use a “Functional Format” to conceal lack of experience or weaknesses in your career path.

In a functional resume the candidate’s experience is presented in categories according to job functions and skills, without dates. A brief work history follows, stating only job titles, companies and dates. Thus, the work history is downplayed and the skills are emphasized.

Unfortunately, hiring managers and HR professionals are hip to it. They know that job seekers use this format when they have something to hide. In rare cases, it may be the best strategy available, but more often these resumes end up in the recycling bin.

Take all the dates off your resume so they can’t tell how old you are.

Again, straight into the recycling bin.

You should lie on your resume if the truth doesn’t look good.

Most people reading this article would never do this, but I feel it needs a mention.

There’s a strong consensus among career coaches (including me) that lying is a mistake in job search – for reasons both ethical and practical. Yet we all occasionally hear that someone was advised to fudge dates of employment, for example, to prevent a gap. Don’t do it! The potential damage to your reputation is more costly than it’s worth.

Good resume writers know how to handle all kinds of resume challenges – lengthy unemployment, lack of key skills, a zigzag career path – honestly but persuasively. You’d be surprised how good your resume can look.

You should write your own resume.

You may have gotten good jobs using the resume you wrote for yourself. But with a better resume, you may have gotten even better jobs. And you would likely have spent less time and stress in the job-hunt jungle.

Admittedly, I have a bias here. But let me ask you, do you cut your own hair? Good resume writers study their craft for years, and know all the ins and outs. And let’s do a little cost-benefit analysis on this investment. The cost is in the hundreds (usually) and the benefit is likely to be in the thousands.

A top-notch professional resume is almost always better than a self-written one. The key is to hire the right person.

Hire a resume writer – from Craigslist.

I love to use Craigslist – for some things. But if you want an excellent, highly qualified resume writer, a better method is to look up certified professionals via the websites of professional associations like Career Directors International or the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. Or ask for recommendations, or look for reviews. Either way, talk to a few writers and ask a lot of questions before you decide.

Don’t bother with a resume – many people get jobs without one.

There’s a grain of truth to this, since networking is generally more powerful than sending in resumes “cold” to advertised job openings. But going into a job search without a resume is like going into the wilderness with just a knife, a blanket and a can of beans. It’s heroic, eccentric and likely to leave you cold and hungry.

In job search, as in anything, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Keep reading up on job search, and you’ll get better at separating the wheat from the chaff. And don’t hesitate to seek personalized counsel from someone who can consider all the aspects of your unique career path.

(Thanks for your ideas, members of Job-Hunt Help.)

The “Multi-Path” Resume

The "Multi-Target Resume"Does this sound a little like you?

Roger Willco (not a real person) says “I have experience as an underwriter, a financial analyst and an executive assistant. I’m not sure which direction I’m going now, so I need a resume that can work for all these jobs.”

“I need a job as soon as possible, so I want to be flexible.”

The thinking almost makes sense: Being open to a wider range of possibilities increases your chances, right? Wouldn’t a multi-goal job search give you more ways to succeed?

Usually the result is just the opposite. If your resume looks unfocused, the employer may have trouble picturing you in the role they’re hiring for, or may doubt your commitment to that specific job – leading to fewer opportunities, not more.

This is especially true when applying to jobs online, where you are competing with hundreds of other applicants. The more candidates, the more your resume needs to point straight at the job, like an arrow landing in the bull’s-eye of a target.

The best advice for Roger would be to narrow his search down to one type of job: the one that fits him best and/or is in strong demand by employers. Or, if he can at least narrow it down to two target job titles, to prepare two different versions of the resume. That approach can be tricky, though. Some job seekers have found that both versions turned up on the same hiring manager’s desk – or in an Internet search – making a very inconsistent first impression!

Another danger of the “multiple resumes” approach is spreading yourself too thin. If you have two types of job you’re pursuing, how much energy and commitment can you put into pursuing each one? And how will you brand yourself on LinkedIn, etc.?

If you’re not getting interviews, a buckshot approach is not the answer. Step back and rethink not only your resume but your overall strategy. For example, if you’re spending more than a quarter of your job search time answering online postings, you probably need to do far more networking.

Usually the answer isn’t multiple goals, but a well targeted resume and a comprehensive job search strategy.

Great Resumes Are Made from Great Questions

resume, resume writingIf you’re writing your own resume, do what a professional resume writer would do: Ask yourself lots of good questions.

If your work history reads like a series of HR job descriptions, ask yourself these questions about each position:

  • Was it a new position?
  • If so, why was it created? What was the need that justified the salary?
  • If it was an existing position, how did you do things differently than your predecessors?
  • What was the climate in your department when you arrived? How did it change during the time you were there?
  • What obstacles did you face? How did you overcome them?
  • What other impacts did you have?
  • Did the job evolve, even if there was no formal promotion? Did that evolution increase your value to the organization?

Then ask yourself questions about the individual bullet items in your resume.

  • For each bullet item, ask yourself, “So what?”

Let’s say you’re an HR trainer, and you developed a career advancement program for managers. So what? Well, maybe that resulted in 90% of managers being promoted in your division, compared to 80% in other divisions. Now you have the makings of a much more impressive bullet point.

Don’t be daunted if not every question leads to material you can add to the resume. When I write resumes for clients, I ask maybe 50 questions or more, and if half of them lead to great material we’re doing really well!

Here are some other great questions to ask yourself:

  • What unique strengths and skills make me a better candidate than others?
  • Do those show up in my resume?
  • Do they show up in the first 20 seconds, or only if I patiently read the whole thing?
  • What’s the first impression my resume makes, and why?

If you’re shopping for a resume writer, find out how they will ask questions. Will their work be entirely based on a written questionnaire, or will they interview you and discuss your answers? Many people find that a more conversational process leads to better communication and better results.

Great resumes are made from great questions!