You know you’re supposed to tailor your resume for every job you apply to. But while that’s true, there are a few changes you can make to your resume depending on your current career stage or the one you’re on the cusp of breaking into. Before making smaller adjustments to suit a given job description, these are a few tips worth considering to update your resume according to your career stage.
Entry-Level (New To The Workforce)
Tip 1: Write an strong career objective. Some resume experts advise jobseekers to steer clear of objective statements, but it’s more likely to help than hurt you when you’re just starting out and might be short on professional experience. The key is to write a new one for each resume you send out. They’re meant to be directed at your target company; a general one can sound vague and meaningless, and shows the hiring manager you’re just sending out applications in bulk and hoping one sticks. A thought-out, personalized career objective makes you look like an applicant who’s serious about the opportunity to work there. Your career objective should be three sentences max:
- a self-introduction that highlights your strongest attributes
- a clear statement about the position you’re applying for (can be taken directly from the job listing)
- a sentence that highlights how your skills (and experience if you have any that’s relevant to the job) make you a great fit for the company
Tip 2: Put your education section first–particularly if you’re straight out of school and don’t have much relevant work experience. It should also be more comprehensive than someone with significant professional experience, because you’re using academic prowess to market yourself. However, if you think your work experience is a stronger selling point than your educational background, list that first instead. It’s important to remember that an employer won’t necessarily read your entire resume– so do not save the best for last.
Why it works: The first tip works because it shows a willingness to go the extra mile, something that many entry-level applicants won’t dare to do. And the second tip is great early training in a crucial lesson that many candidates don’t learn until later in their careers: resumes are malleable–there’s no set formula–so you need to construct them in a way that shows off your strongest qualities.
Associate-Level (3–5 Years)
Tip 1: Use a “professional profile” to introduce yourself. Riffing on the objective statement, this short, introductory section is a bit more targeted and outcome-driven. It should include four sentences or bullet points highlighting the following:
- your most relevant experience
- your area of expertise
- your most relevant skill sets
- one significant career achievement
Tip 2: Next, add an abbreviated education section, followed by a “core competencies” section. Your education is still worthy of note if you’re applying for an associate-level role, but it should be a surface description: your degree, university, year, and maybe a small highlight (Dean’s list, magna cum laude, etc.) right below it. But that’s it–don’t get fancy.
Why it works: The professional profile is a solid option for an associate-level resume because it immediately highlights concrete, quantifiable data on what you’ve done so far in your career. That gives the hiring manager a better idea of what you’re bringing to the table before even scanning through your job experience at individual companies. And the reason the “core competencies” section works is because it makes you seem highly qualified, even though you may lack significant amounts of experience. It also makes your resume stand out because these key bullets are easy to remember, giving the hiring manager multiple positives to take with them into the interview stage.
Tip 1: Add a summary of qualifications. You can’t go wrong with either a professional profile or a summary of qualifications to kick off your resume if you have adequate experience. However, the latter is great if you have a decorated career in a particular field. It’s a six-bulleted resume introduction that gives you a chance to quickly reveal the following:
- your authority in a certain area (experience and major skills in a field)
- your creativity/problem-solving abilities (using your best relevant example)
- your productivity (an example of how you boosted efficiency or saved time or money)
- your ability to succeed (list a relevant, notable award or career milestone)
- your management skills (the number of people you’ve trained or managed, or any examples of leadership prowess)
- your communication skills (with customers/clients or within your own company/team)
This is an effective tool because it quickly creates the image of a multifaceted candidate who can succeed in a variety of ways. It makes you appear dynamic, and quickly conveys a degree of competence that isn’t always discernible from a career objective. Plus, by mid-career you might be considering a larger career change, so putting the emphasis on your skills and expertise, rather than just the last role you held, is a smart way to appear adaptable.
Tip 2: Fine-tune your professional experience section. All the previous tips and templates focus on sections to add to the top of your resume before you get to your work experience. But at mid-career, you’ve built up enough expertise that hiring managers will likely scrutinize it more carefully. These are a few things to do:
- Use three to five bullets for each position. This will force you to think of your most impressive accomplishments and handled tasks)
- Start each bullet with a strong action verb like “implemented,” “coordinated,” etc.
- Put your current job in the present tense and your past jobs in the past tense. You should really do this on every resume, but lots of people forget to, and it just looks sloppy not to nail this by mid-career.
- Quantify, quantify, quantify! Be specific and use as many numbers as possible.
Why it works: At this point in your career, your experience section needs to be beefed up. You’re not new to the workforce, so you can’t afford to leave your resume bare or boring. Unlike an entry- or associate-level candidate, candidates at this level are expected to have concrete skills they’ve spent a while developing, so both of these tips help you put those on display.
Tip 1: Establish your leadership credentials. If you’re applying for a senior-level position, it’s important that your experience and effectiveness as a leader are apparent early on. This is a good time to refurbish that “professional profile” section–just keep it brief. In just a sentence or two, you should mention:
- two key adjectives that explain your key work competencies (try to align them with what you think your target company is looking for)
- the position you’ve been working in
- how long (in years) you’ve been in that role
- your most impressive quantifiable accomplishment
Tip 2: Then add a “demonstrated achievements” right underneath it. As someone applying for a leadership role, you want to be able to quantify your experience clearly. Using percentages, dollar totals, and time frames (in months or years) will help you make your case. Check out how this executive used 10 numbers in only two bullet points–if you can achieve this type of quantification, your senior-level resume will make an impact:
Why it works: Both of these sections can help you avoid getting carried away with your resume’s length. A two-page resume is okay for a senior-level applicant, but only if they have adequate relevant experience. Three pages can be fine under some circumstances for executive roles, but they better be a great three pages filled with quantifiable information, concrete skills, and super-relevant details. Otherwise, err on the side of one page, quickly framing your leadership chops followed by your data-backed accomplishments–all before a hiring managers digs into the details of your work history.
Geoff Scott is a career adviser and resume expert at ResumeCompanion, where he provides thorough advice to help aspiring job seekers gain an edge in the competitive American job market.