Back in 2002 when I was fishing around for a new entrepreneurial idea, I thought about the number of women I met who told me, with great chagrin, “I’d love to work again but I don’t know who would want me now after so many years out of the workforce”. Hmmmmm….I would think as I stared at attractive, totally put together, well educated women who told me, in the next sentence, some variation of “I went to Princeton, got an MBA and used to be a VP at a major Wall Street bank”.
So many returning professional women have SO MUCH to offer, and as I’ve told Jane, it’s just a matter of packaging a lifetime of interesting skills and experience. Jane is just like all the others—she has a master’s degree from a top-tier school and a resume filled with interesting work—including a pretty cool job at a major magazine and many years as a mega-volunteer.
To make sure that potential employers also think Jane is an attractive candidate, her resume needs to be in top-notch condition. Here are some action steps I gave Jane that may apply to your resume as well…
KEEP IT SHORT AND SWEET. Currently Jane’s resume is three pages, and the maximum is two pages in a clean 10-point font. The idea that a resume must be only one page is so 1982. One of the ways to shorten a resume is to get rid of bullet points. If you write succinct paragraphs, you don’t need the bullet point emphasis.
KNOCK ‘EM OVER THE HEAD WITH A COMPELLING SUMMARY STATEMENT. The tops of resumes no longer have “Objectives”. Now what you need is a summary statement: who you are and what you have to offer written in the third person. Don’t pigeonhole yourself by saying you’re looking for a specific kind of job. Instead, talk about your major skills, experience and accomplishments in about four sentences. Jane’s resume does have a summary statement, but it is blah and bland. She mentions, for example, that she has worked for “a diverse range of publications”—not revealing at least one very high profile name. She also does not zero in on the fact that she is a Baby Boomer with significant online publication experience or that the focus of her writing has been many CEOs and other household names.
ELEVATE YOUR VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE. Rather than relegating very significant, high-level volunteer work to “second cousin” status, I advised Jane to create a “Non-Profit Experience” heading. Under this heading she will include her major volunteer posts (not the small things like room mother) which all were, in fact, at non-profit organizations. In the job descriptions she can indicate that the roles were volunteer, but the non-profit heading gives the work a lift in importance.
DESCRIBE YOUR VOLUNTEER WORK IN BUSINESS TERMS. Any volunteer role worthy of listing on your resume should be described in the same way you would describe professional paid work. You didn’t just “chair the book fair”, you managed 50 volunteers, 10 committees, a budget of X, etc.
SHOW THE SIZE AND SCOPE OF YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES. For both volunteer and professional roles Jane needs to provide all the facts and figures that show that she had significant responsibilities. Who you reported to and who reported to you. The size of the budget you managed, the frequency of publications, the number of events you planned, the number of people who attended events, the number of articles you wrote weekly on which complex topics, etc.
PROVE IT. An important part of your resume detail is the outcome of your efforts. Jane has phrases in her resume like “increased audience interest” and “penned a well-received article”. She needs to prove these statements. Increased audience interest by how much over what period of time? What accolades exactly did you receive for that article? If you can’t remember the exact metrics, just estimate with your best recollection without obviously overstating or fibbing.
ADD COLOR. Jane “copyedited a non-fiction book manuscript”. On what? She wrote “daily online features”. What kind? “Authored timely articles” on what range of topics? She “investigated and leveraged new ideas, technologies and tools”. Like what? Maybe those innovations could be applied to other companies…but they won’t know it unless you give them some details.
ACTIVATE YOUR LANGUAGE. Every sentence in your position descriptions should start with a strong, active verb that clearly emphasizes the work you did. Jane, for example, started one sentence: “contracted to create and deliver communications”. The important point is not that she was contracted; the point to emphasize is that she created the communications. The sentence should be: “created and delivered communications…”
REMEMBER THE PAST, BUT FOCUS ON THE PRESENT. Most employers will be most interested in the last 10 to 15 years of your resume. For space reasons you can create a heading “Early Professional Experience” that describes early career work in a catchall paragraph. This is especially effective if you have several junior-level or training positions. In Jane’s case, however, one of her biggest marquis-value positions ended 20 years ago. She should keep the detail for this important position, but shorten (or just list the company and position) for another job that does not relate to her current professional aspirations.
Keep watching for more on Jane’s Journey Back to Work. In the meantime, what questions do you have about your own back-to-work resume? Use the comments section below or contact me about individual resume coaching. And if you like this post, please share by using the social media buttons also below.