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 am in my 20th year of public service and find that what was once exciting and challenging is no longer such. I have enclosed my resume hoping you will discuss how to make it look as fantastic. I have never really needed a resume and have no idea how to highlight anything. I am afraid that while working with grant- and taxpayer-funded programs, I have fallen sorely 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 for sending your resume so I could 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 your current agency. 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—while you were 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 with your resume is that it is constructed using an antiquated and government-friendly approach. Government and civilian resumes are very different in that government resumes are typically tailored to each role and include a lot of supplemental information that would never have a place on a civilian resume. Civilian resumes are much more marketing oriented and are actual promotional pieces allowing you to deliver key messages to your target audience based on what best qualifies you for your next role. Transform your government-style resume by following these best practices:
1. Open with a qualifications summary, which communicates succinctly and effectively, who you are as a professional and why you are a #1 choice for an interview. Currently, you have nothing positioning your candidacy, which leaves the reader to discern who you are based on past experience alone. When you do this, especially when you are seeking to do something different in your career, you will never be successful engaging your target audience as they will not have time to “figure out” who you are and where you fit. You must pay attention to this section of your resume. While a qualifications summary can be difficult to write, think about it, 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. This is why identifying your target is so critically important before you even begin to craft the content of your resume. The more time you spend defining where you want to go, the stronger and more impactful content you will be able to develop.
2. Build a professional experience section complete with an overview of each position’s responsibilities and achievements. Present responsibilities in a brief paragraph and accomplishments or highlight as bullets so that the reader is drawn to the most important information. Government resumes tend to only focus on the responsibilities of the role, leaving minimal opportunity to showcase how you may have gone above and beyond to add value to a position. Civilian resumes, however, focus on precisely that—what you did that was outside of or beyond the expectation, helping you differentiate your candidacy in a crowded job market.
3. Present only education which is important to the reader, meaning that if your associate’s degree isn’t relevant anymore, you do not need to present it as you do 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 upfront—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. Currently, 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.