"It's been YEARS since I had to write a resume, and they've changed all the rules!" It's true, resume writing has changed a lot since the days when typewriters roamed the earth. I'm 46; I know whereof I speak. Employers expect different kinds of information, presented in different ways. (What? No more watermarked stationery in a classic ivory color with Wite-Out® to match?) A resume used to be a fairly simple listing of former job responsibilities. Now it's a customized personal marketing document. It used to say, "Here's what I've done." Now it has to say, "Here's what I can do for you, and here's why I'm the one to do it."
For an overview of the many changes in resume advice, check out this great article from Employment Digest. It's aimed at the over-50 crowd, but I think it will resonate with anyone who's got questions about the mysterious hiring processes of today.
Meanwhile, here's a sampling of some of the biggest changes to hit resume writing in the past 20 or so years.
Generic vs. Custom
Then – You had one generic resume, and you paid to have lots of copies made on expensive resume stationery. Every employer got the same version.
Now – You customize a new version of your resume with exact keywords and phrases for every job, It's so easy to submit a resume electronically that companies (especially big companies) might get hundreds of resumes per opening. In order to screen out poor resumes quickly, they use resume-scanning software. That's why it's so important to include specific keywords for each job. If you don't match their keywords, no "human" will ever see your resume. Small and medium-sized companies may be less harsh, but you still want to customize your wording so it's obvious that you meet their needs.
Postal Mail vs. Electronic Submission
Then – You mailed it on Monday morning (because the job ads came out in the Sunday paper), and by Friday you could assume it was in its recipient's hands. Mailing a resume was kind of a hassle, so hiring managers might get only five or 10 resumes for an advertised position. They had time to scrutinize each one to determine who had the best skills for the job.
Now – In most cases, you submit your resume electronically in the employer's specified format, which might be an email attachment, or plain text copied and pasted into the body of an email or an online application. Once you have a basic resume created and saved, it takes just minutes to customize it and send it to each employer.
Past Duties vs. Current Value
Then – You listed all of the skills and duties you performed at all of your past jobs.
Now – You emphasize the significant accomplishments and results you've produced for your employers, with enough details to provide context. You include duties only if they're important differentiators. For example, "Checked patients' blood pressure" does nothing to differentiate a nurse, but "Facilitated training program for care partners of newly diagnosed Alzheimer's patients" does. Leave out jobs that are more than about 15 years old, unless they're still highly relevant to the position you're applying for. (Face it: Nobody cares anymore what you did in the '80s.)
Personal Details vs. Strictly Business
Then – It was common practice to add a personal summary in your resume or cover letter, stating things like your age, marital status, number and ages of your children, hobbies, religious affiliations, maybe even your Social Security number. Some people even sent photos.
Now – Don't include ANY personal information, unless it's directly related to the job qualifications. For example, being an experienced skydiver is relevant if you're applying to be a skydiving instructor, but not if you want to be a bank teller. Employers would rather not know personal details, so they can't be accused of discriminating based on those details.
Some Things Never Change
Your resume still needs to be grammatically correct and 100% error-free. Spell-checkers are great, but they can't help you if you type "manger" instead of "manager." So ask a friend or two to do your proofreading the old-fashioned way!
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