There is only one rule in writing a resume: Don’t lie. Everything else is strategy. For example, when a client has good work experience, I put education near the bottom of the resume. However, if a client has obtained a recent degree or certification that an employer will care about, education will move to the top of the document.
Here are two more complicated examples. A client is trying to get a position in clinical research. Her education is recent, so I put it first on the resume. Most people would say that professional experience should be the next element. The problem is that this client’s experience is not as relevant as volunteer work she has done for more than six years. In this case, I put volunteer experience before professional work because it was more relevant to what potential employers need to know.
Similarly, another client wants to return to the type of work he did 15 years ago. Rather than discuss this client’s work history in a simple most recent to least recent format, I put the work that matters most first even if it is 15 years old. It is this person’s best claim to be able to perform the kind of work he wants to do. Some employers might say that this experience is dated. Others, however, might see it as relevant to the position they need to fill.
Everyone agrees that employers don’t have time to read resumes carefully and figure out what you want to do. Make it easy for them. Put the elements first that show why you are qualified. Don’t hide your selling points.
I’m currently working with two clients whose resumes do not follow a chronological order. In both cases, they worked in a field that they want to go back to. If we followed a chronological order, the first thing a prospective employer would see is experience that has nothing to do with the job they are seeking.
In one example, a client worked for 8 years in marketing and communications. Over the last six years he has held three jobs in sales and management. If we had put the most recent experience first, many employers would not read down and find the relevant experience. In another case, a client had worked for a leader in the hair care industry before she opened a retail store that she managed for five years. Again, if we started the resume with her retail experience many employers would stop reading. They would miss that she had spent more than ten years in senior management with the leader in her industry.
What’s the solution? Play your strongest hand. If it makes sense, break chronology and put your earlier experience first on your resume. Some employers might be turned off and push the resume to the recycle pile. More, however, will quickly see how you have the experience and skills they are looking for. Lead with your strengths.
I’m currently working with a client in IT who began his career working in software design (database side – It’s complicated!). He wants to find that kind of job again. However, he’s been working as a System Administrator, somebody who keeps networks running and maintains back up and anti-virus systems, for the past four years.
If we follow the chronology of his career, a prospective employer would have to read over three irrelevant jobs before getting to a position that dealt with design. What did we do? We went out of chronological order. We put the jobs up front that were most relevant and put the others below, labeling them as “Related Experience.”
Don’t trap yourself with chronology. Put whatever is most relevant in the beginning of the resume. That’s what the employer wants to see. If she is interested in your skills, she’ll piece together your work history. Put your selling points first.
I recently met with a client who was seeking jobs in training. Her experience in the field was listed on the resume in an odd way. She followed a strict chronology in which her current position in training was followed by two short term, unrelated positions. Next, she listed another strong training position. In revising her resume, I loosened the chronology, putting the two training positions one after the other and listing the other jobs below as “Related Experience.”
The key to writing a good resume is to put the most relevant information first. Follow this test: What does the employer care most about? Those elements should be near the top of your resume.
Some people might say that your resume has to follow a strict chronology. Ask them to explain why. Is the purpose of your resume to follow a certain order, or to present your skills and experience in a way that will make an employer want to interview you?
Functional resumes emphasize categories of broad skills and experience. They do not present a traditional work history or chronology. Some career experts recommend this format when a job seeker is making a career change or if there is a gap in a resume.
I am not a fan of functional resumes. First, managers and screeners in human resources don’t like them. A functional resume makes broad claims, and usually offers very little to back up those claims. A second reason not to like functional resumes is that they hide positive qualities and leave gaps unexplained. For example, rather than list a few broad soft skills (organization, communication), a career changer needs to present transferable skills and achievements that will convince an employer that the career change is possible. Similarly, a gap (out of work for a year or more) can be explained in one simple line. such as, “Child care 2006-2010.”
A good resume will sell your strong points, the reasons why an employer should bring you in for an interview. A functional resume does not do this. It also leaves too many questions unanswered. In a very competitive job market, you need to go beyond general claims of “I can do the job.” Employers want to see why you’re the best candidate. Sell your strengths.