How To Modernize Your Resume

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by Amy Phipps

Some things never change about resumes: correct spelling, bullet points, and good use of white space never seem to go out of style. That said, some things have gone out of style, and if you have the sense that your resume looks and feels old school, it probably is. Here are a few ideas for transforming a dated resume into a modern one.

Create a Memorable “Highlights of Qualifications” Section

If you don’t have a highlights section at the top of your resume, you should get one. A good highlights section should be 4-7 bullet points which capture your most impressive and appealing qualifications. This section should be customized to each job, or to position type and sector at the very least. Use this section as a sort of dynamic check-list, helping the employer to see how you’re the right candidate in convenient bullet point at the very top of your resume.

A couple of tips when crafting your bullets:

  • Let the job description guide you – look for the key qualifications the employer wants, and use this section to address them in a couple of succinct, well written points that reflect you and your experience
  • Try to focus on facts, quantifiable qualifications, and hard skills up front – things like certifications, education, and number of years of experience in the industry are a great start
  • Avoid clichés: Works well independently and as part of a team? Strong communication skills? Employers have seen these countless times before and are bored by them. Try supporting your claims by providing more detail, for example: demonstrated ability to prioritize teamwork in fast-paced, high pressure environments.

Here’s an example of what a solid highlights section for the food services industry might look like:

Highlights of Skills and Qualifications

  • 5+ years front-line customer service experience; 2 years supervisory experience as Team Lead
  • Food Safe, First Aid, and Serving it Right Certified
  • Experience working with various POS systems (Squirrel and Sunrise), balancing tills and performing basic payroll duties
  • Professional reputation for providing exceptional customer service; consistently receive positive feedback from customers about quality of service

Cut The Fat

You probably have some items on your resume that have always been there – it might be time to examine whether they’re actually worth the space they take up. Here are a few space-fillers that probably aren’t advancing your case as a qualified candidate:

  • Objective Statements: Objectives used to be standard practice back in the day (you may have heard how necessary they are in Grade 11 Career Planning class), but they are no longer standard or necessary. There are two main issues with objective statements: they typically tell employers what you want (instead of telling them how you can provide what they want) and they also state the obvious (the employer already knows you’re interested in x position because you have applied for it…). As an alternative, consider crafting a snappy profile statement or jump straight into your “Highlights of Qualifications” section.
  • References: Save valuable space on your resume by listing professional references on a separate sheet which you can provide when requested. This way you can ensure the privacy of your references is protected and that the employer won’t contact references before checking in with you (an unusual practice, but it happens). Instead of listing references, add “references available upon request” or, better yet, put nothing at all – employers expect that you will provide references if requested. The exception to this would be in a minority of industries, like food services and some trades, where employers often have a preference for seeing references on the resume – in these case, use your judgement
  • Ancient Experience/Qualifications: Did you graduate from high school 20 years ago? Did your First Aid training expire 7 years ago? Worked on and off in food services before launching your now 10 year career in commercial sales? Take it all off. Old and irrelevant experience hurts your resume because it distracts employers from your recent and relevant qualifications, don’t make them wade through pages of your life history, show them what they want to see and cut the rest. Which leads us to our next point…

Make It a Marketing Document, Not a Biography

Resumes that read as a chronology are not only boring but they typically don’t address the employer’s key concern: why should they hire you over anyone else?  Instead of listing what you’ve done in each job, instead focus on how you worked, what you did well, and what you accomplished. Make your points specific, measurable, and results-focussed.

For example, instead of a bullet point like this:

  • supervised volunteers

Try:

  • led the recruitment, training and supervision of a team of 12 volunteers, successfully provided complete staffing coverage over 3 day conference

Transitioning your resume from historical record to accomplishment-focussed is probably the single most important improvement the average job seeker can make to their resume. Check out this blog article on accomplishment statements for more details.

Pick a Clean, Fresh Format

Generally, as long as your formatting is legible, spaced out appropriately, and clean looking you won’t have any problems. Here are a few basics to keep in mind when formatting:

  • Ditch the Times New Roman: Times New Roman was the default Microsoft Word font from the 90s and it’s starting to look a little dated. Try Calibri or Arial for a standard but more modern look. As always, unusual fonts should be avoided and font size should be between 10 and 12.
  • Edit to an appropriate length: The rule that resumes should be kept to one page no longer holds, so don’t be afraid of starting a second page if your experience warrants it. It is exceptionally rare that a resume should be three pages or longer (mostly reserved for Academia and European-style CVs) so make sure you are cutting experience and details that are old or irrelevant.
  • Ask for help: Not everyone is a whiz at formatting and for most job seekers, getting resume formatting just so is often an exercise in frustration. Visit your nearest Work BC Centre where Resource Centre staff are available to help with resume editing and formatting on a drop-in basis. If you’re looking for a computer to do the formatting for you, try cvmkr.com (remember that using templates can make editing in the future more difficult).

And finally, if you’ve done all of the above, consider going the extra mile and add interactive links to your existing resume or create an online resume.

Need help with your updates? Come talk to us.

Amy works for our Vancouver Island ESCs as a Resource Room Coordinator and Administrative Assistant.

5 Replies to “How To Modernize Your Resume”

  1. Great article Amy! I agree with highlighting accomplishments. A great way of doing that on a resume would be to include a Selected Accomplishments section and use relevant accomplishment statements.

  2. Amy,
    I enjoyed your articles, and have started modifying my CV.
    Any tips for professionals who are returning to work after a while, ex. gaps due to going back to school, or some personal reasons?

    • Hi Elham,

      Thanks for your comment.
      Gaps on resumes are pretty common these days, and if education was part of the reason for it then that’s pretty clearly explained if listed in the resume.
      Otherwise, it could be addressed in the cover letter if necessary.

  3. Any suggestions for women who have been at home moms with little or no volunteer experience, let alone paid work experience? How can their life experience be reflected in a resume?

    • Hi Francine,

      First off, if you can start volunteering somewhere that’s close to what you’d like to do for paid work, start ASAP.
      Second, depending on the kind of work you’re looking for you may have a lot of the skills the job requires. You may want to start with a functional resume, that stresses skills over experience, and that way you can lead with your strengths.

      Hope that helps!

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