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5 résumé refresh tips to land a job during an uncertain year

Show recruiters your strongest side with a redesigned résumé.

5 résumé refresh tips to land a job during an uncertain year
[Photo: Cytonn Photography/Pexels]
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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, some industries are thriving, while others are reeling. For many, January marks a refresh period that is ideal for job-searching. The longer and colder winter months can be an optimal time to hunker down and devote your energy to landing a new gig.

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If you’re a recent job-hunter wondering where to begin, it may be a good idea to start with refreshing your résumé, which you probably haven’t looked at since the last time you searched for a job. Ask yourself which elements are still serving their purpose and which are not.

In a difficult job market, you must be inventive. Use this unique moment in 2021 to carve out a résumé that shows you are prepared for a new opportunity—and have the skills to make the transition.

1. Elevate your pandemic pursuits

The last 11 months have been a whirlwind. Some of us felt motivated to check off every possible project on our to-do list, while others—faced with financial, caregiving, and/or health concerns—tried our best to maintain our well-being.

If you have been able to gain a tangible skill from this unusual year, make sure to add it to your résumé. Did you take up an intricate new hobby that requires great attention to detail? Hobbies that show off your strengths, newly acquired or otherwise, will help set you apart in this novel job-search environment.

If you used time during the pandemic to volunteer or care for family, accentuate what you accomplished. Keep the descriptions short and straightforward, so you describe your general responsibilities but don’t divulge too many personal details.

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For volunteer activities, describe how your work helped you build new skills—especially soft ones. You can always provide more details about the significance of these experiences, drawing connections to the role you’re hoping to land, in a follow-up interview.

Leverage these displays of grit and endurance to your advantage. A pandemic-born entrepreneurial venture or a new certificate from an online course can count toward transferable skills. And as Fast Company contributor Andrew Fennell writes, “You may find that taking a relevant short course or even a voluntary role is a great selling point to highlight at the top of your résumé.”

2. Surpass the robots

Applicant-tracking systems are intended to find the most qualified candidates and place them in front of recruiters. Of course, this isn’t always what happens.

If your résumé doesn’t follow certain formatting guidelines, your résumé may get passed over—even if you’re qualified for the role. To get past these finicky mechanisms, one easy step is to drop keywords into your résumé directly from the hirer’s job description.

As staff writer Pavithra Mohan writes, these broadly marketed hiring systems, which rely on algorithms and AI, can inadvertently discriminate against certain groups, such as disabled job searchers and/or parents with gaps in their résumés, thereby deepening inequalities.

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3. Explain any gaps

When explaining a gap on a résumé, such as one caused by the pandemic, be honest. If you are forthcoming about stepping back from a role because of caregiving responsibilities, or getting laid off because you worked in a struggling industry, a hiring manager will likely be understanding.

Also consider that gaps in your résumé were common even prior to the pandemic. A gap can easily emerge if your company went through a merger and acquisition and your role suddenly became redundant. As Thom Kleiner, a director at a workforce development board, explains to Fast Company, doubt “is the worst thing” you can insert into a recruiter’s mind. By explaining your circumstances clearly, you can avoid this.

4. Show off secondary sources

Enhance your résumé by pointing to skills that show off your value off the paper.

If you’re a professional cinematographer, attach a file of your reel. If you’re a writer, share clips of your recent work. A résumé can operate as a signpost to your other accomplishments, but it cannot explicitly provide these receipts of your achievements.

Think of these extra additions as “proof of skill,” akin to completing an assignment during an interview—except you’re already set to hand your work in. This evidence of career accomplishments can be sent along with a résumé or indicated on your CV through a shortened link.

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5. Guide a recruiter’s eye through focused design

Simplicity is key when trying to draw a recruiter’s eye to your résumé. To improve your chances of getting noticed—go for a minimalist design and keep everything well organized.

Cut out distracting font types and visual flourishes. You may assume these equivalents of flashing neon lights will set you apart; but in reality, too much embellishment makes for a poor first impression.

Inevitably, you’re putting yourself in harm’s way with overcomplicated design. Fennell calls hampered design “one of the most common and damaging mistakes” candidates can make.

About the author

Diana is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. Previously, she was an editor at Vice and an editorial assistant at Entrepreneur

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