Dear Sam: I read your column each week and have learned so much from reading about others’ resume dilemmas, but I have never seen a question like mine.
I’ve worked in the public sector for 20 years. What I once found exciting and challenging is no longer the case. I have enclosed my resume hoping you can tell me how to make it look as fantastic as the others you have done. I’ve never really needed a resume and have no idea how to highlight anything. I am beyond afraid that while working with grant- and taxpayer-funded programs, I have fallen behind in all areas and no one in the private sector will want my skill set. — Anonymous
Dear Anonymous: Thank you for your question and sending your resume so I can diagnose the issues. Let me paint a picture of your resume for readers.
Your resume opens with your heading (contact information) including a link to the agency where you work. Your Professional Experience section contains four paragraphs, one explaining each of your four roles with a state agency. You then present the reason for a two-year absence from the workforce — caring for an ill relative — and your earlier five-year role taking us back to 1987. Your resume ends with your education where you present three schools including two degree-granting institutions and one in which it looks like you transferred before completing your bachelor’s degree. Your resume closes with publications, awards and references.
The biggest problem I see is that your resume is constructed using an antiquated and government-friendly approach. Instead you must follow best practices-based approaches:
1. Open with a Qualifications Summary that communicates succinctly and effectively who you are as a professional and why you are the No. 1 choice for an interview. Nothing on your resume positions your candidacy, which leaves the reader to discern who you are based on past experience only. When you do this, especially when seeking a different career path, you will never be successful at engaging your target audience as they do not have time to figure out who you are and where you will fit.
While a Qualifications Summary can be difficult to write, you must pay attention to this section of your resume. If you can’t position yourself and therefore do not know who you really are as a professional, you can’t expect a hiring manager — with five seconds to screen your resume — to figure it out either.
2. Build a Professional Experience section complete with an overview of each position’s responsibilities and achievements. Present responsibilities in a brief paragraph and your accomplishments or highlights as bullets to draw the reader’s attention to the most important information.
3. Present only education that is important to the reader. If your associate’s degree is no longer relevant, you don’t need to present it since you have a bachelor’s degree. Do not present non-degree granting institutions.
4. Present only relevant additional value-added information when considering inclusion or omission of publications and awards. Think about how to showcase certain awards up front — not on page three — to provide evidence of your ability to go above and beyond expectations. Present only relevant publications as some of them will reinforce your subject-matter expertise in areas from which you wish to transition.
5. Create an engaging design that adds interest in your candidacy. Your resume reads and looks like an instruction manual or plain-text resume. You must engage your reader through keyword-rich content and an inviting design, ensuring you do not present your target hiring manager — in the private sector — with a resume that looks like it was made for a government role.
Once you address each of these areas, you will emerge with a best practices-based resume, one that will open the right doors. Best of luck.
Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a leading résumé-writing firm. Do you have a résumé or job-search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Sam’s résumé-writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.comor call
(614) 570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).