When It's Time to Refresh Your Résumé

To keep it from getting stale, update your c.v at least once a year, even if you aren't looking. Here are some pros' tips

Q: I graduated from college and went to work for a large oil company, then was recruited by another major corporation to work in its IT management organization. My job luck means that I haven't had to write a résumé in more than seven years, and certainly not for an executive position. I think I should have an updated résumé on hand. Where could I go to get advice on how to put one together? Also, I'd like someone to look over my résumé. Is there such a person?

--A.P., Houston

A:First, congratulate yourself for heeding the impulse to refresh your résumé. An up-to-date c.v. is a necessity in a market where a job can vanish in the time it takes to tell investors "lower earnings this quarter." Even if you aren't actively job-hunting, you never know when an opportunity will fall in your lap or you'll be asked to provide a biography for that speech you've been asked to give.

Update your résumé at least once a year, and try to do it shortly before your performance review, says Susan Chadick, president and chief executive of Gould, McCoy & Chadick, an executive search firm in New York City. That way, you'll remind yourself of your accomplishments since your last review, something handy to know when you meet with your current boss -- or anyone who's considering hiring you.

Your next step is to tear up the résumé you've been carrying around since graduation. Your old résumé is likely to have been written in recent-grad style, with education credentials listed prominently. An up-and-coming executive should have accumulated enough work experience that the academic degrees can fade into the background.


  A popular résumé format these days contains the usual reverse chronological listing of job titles and work experiences, preceded by a brief "profile," according to Steven A. Provenzano, author of six books on résumés, including Top Secret Executive Résumés: What It Takes to Create the Perfect Résumé for the Best Top-Level Positions. The profile, which often lists accomplishments in bullets, tells the reader about your skills, your qualifications, and, by extension, what talents you could bring to your new employer.

Format is one thing, content another. You need to make clear your skills, accomplishments, and potential while avoiding off-putting self-promotion. How do you do that? By being straightforward and specific. "I think that the No. 1 mistake that laypeople make when writing résumés is only including responsibilities rather than achievements," Kirsten Dixson, executive director of Bronxville (N.Y.)-based résumé and career counseling company New Leaf Career Solutions, told us in an e-mail message. "Achievements are necessary to communicate the results of performing those responsibilities. Hiring managers want to know how the candidate is going to increase profits, decrease costs, and/or impact productivity."

She offers an example to make her point. A "responsibility-based" statement reads:

"Managed trade-show presence to promote brand awareness."

An "achievement-oriented" statement says:

"Reduced trade-show costs by 25% without compromising marketing presence."


  Putting together a document that's this pithy requires a lot of thinking about what you've done in your career and what you've learned. It also requires thought about the future: What do you want to do, and what experiences qualify you for this?

Thankfully, you can forget about a once-unbreakable rule -- that résumés should be only one page, says Dale Winston, chairman and CEO of Battalia Winston International, an executive recruiting firm. If the candidate's background warrants it, she'll read even a five-page résumé, Winston says. The consensus among recruiters and résumé writers is two pages, perhaps more for someone in a high senior position or for a scholar or researcher who needs to list publications.

Make the document clean, simple, and easy to follow. Margaretta Noonan, senior vice-president for human resources for TMP Worldwide, a recruiter and parent company of Monster.com, gets annoyed when job candidates want to stand out so badly they present a c.v. that requires time to figure out. Such "creative" résumés are more likely to end up in her "no" or "maybe" than her "yes" pile, she says.


  Therefore, use conservative white or ivory-colored paper (high quality) and an easy-to-read type style. Don't try to save space by reducing the font size. Keep it at about 11 or 12 points, says Janice Worthington, executive director of Fortune 500 Communications, a résumé and job-search company in Columbus, Ohio. She recommends this test: "Can it be read if I can't find my reading glasses?"

Before you sit down with pencil and legal pad, you might want to check out some books on résumé writing. A quick search of the bookseller Web sites will yield a number. Dixson's favorites include Building a Great Résumé (by Kate Wendleton and Mark Gonska) and Résumé Magic: Trade Secrets of a Professional Résumé Writer (by Susan Britton Whitcomb).

You could also go the route of hiring a professional résumé writer. Fees vary widely. Businesses we spoke to charged from $50 for a simple résumé for a blue-collar worker to $800-plus. You'll find many résumé writers through a quick Web search. But caveat emptor, says Provenzano, the résumé book writer and president of A-Advanced Résumé Service outside of Chicago.

He warns that a higher fee does not necessarily mean a higher-quality résumé. The best way to find a good writer, he and Dixson say, is to examine credentials. Several different groups certify résumé writers. Also, find out if the writer has any background in business. Shakespeare is fine, but you also want your adviser to know what hiring managers look for.


  Here are a few miscellaneous tips from the pros. Avoid jargon. The acronym understood by everyone in your department may as well be Etruscan to the outsider who has five seconds to scan a résumé. Forget the hobbies and interests, unless they say something that would jolt a potential employer -- like you made the Olympics or you pilot airplanes in your spare time.

If you were "downsized" but are still collecting severance pay, don't try to disguise that you were laid off by the following ploy: listing your most recent dates of employment as from date of hire "to the present." Chadick, for one, considers this an unacceptable shading of the truth -- and the real story is bound to come out in a job interview, anyway.

Finally, the obvious has to be repeated: Check your spelling. Just one little typo can doom a job candidate, Provenzano says. So use your spell-check and remember that it isn't infallible -- you yourself should know the difference between their, they're, and there. The tried-and-true method is to have several friends or colleagues, preferably ones who are literate, read the résumé carefully. Then, read it again.

Have a question about your career or workplace issues? E-mail us at askcareers@businessweek.com, or write to Ask Careers, BusinessWeek Online, 6th Floor, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information. Only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

By Pamela Mendels in New York

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.