Dear Sam: I was recently laid off after approximately 33 years of employment at the same firm. Unfortunately, I do not have a college degree. I have been unable to get to the interview stage even if the position does not have an education requirement. I receive a standard rejection letter or get no response at all. I have had my resume reviewed by the local state job board, and they said they do not see anything wrong with it and reassure me that the process takes time. I admit it has only been about two months since I was laid off. Can you take a look at my resume and let me know if there are any issues other than my lack of education? — Craig
Dear Craig: A quick look at any best practices-based resumes, and you will see that your presentation is not up to par. You have completed a lot of professional development, so I do not think that the lack of a degree will hurt you unless, of course, it is a steadfast requirement for the role. Let’s look at what you can do to improve the picture of your candidacy.
Allow me to describe your resume for readers. You open with your ‘Career Focus’, which includes two sentences about your experience. You follow with a ‘Summary of Skills’ section with 13 skills listed, 9 of which are software applications. Next, you present five bulleted accomplishments without the context of where they occurred. Next, within your Professional Experience section, you list your three jobs dating back to the mid-1980s with each including overly concise bullet points. Your most recent position of 9 years is presented in 15 bullet points totaling fewer than 150 words. Lastly, you close your resume with a Professional Development and Affiliations section.
Let’s look at your resume from a best practices perspective. Let me outline the things I would have told you were hindering your chances of getting noticed:
1. No qualifications summary. You are missing a qualifications summary, which is the most vital element to your resume as it facilitates the 4- to 7-second screening process. While your Career Focus section contains one sentence about what you have experience doing, you must develop a more robust overview of your candidacy to position your brand in the mind of each reader.
2. Lackluster skills listed. Your skills list focuses on non-differentiating qualifications. Instead of using the majority of this area to communicate that you know your way around a computer (I would argue that most do), use this section to dig deep into the functional areas of your expertise that position you for what you want to do next.
3. Outdated accomplishments. Your accomplishments, from the ones that are dated, seem to be several years old. This leaves me thinking, “What has this candidate done recently?” If your most recent experience is not your most relevant, try to highlight some of the more dated accomplishments in the summary section. I believe, however, based on your career chronology, that you will have plenty of recent and relevant accomplishments to highlight within your professional experience section.
4. Fragmented professional experience section. Your professional experience section requires significant work to develop further content that not only shows what you were paid to do daily but also how you added value above and beyond your job description. Your bullet points are so incredibly brief and fragmented; they are only telling half of the story. Also, I talk about doing the ‘show and tell’ when you are developing the content for your resume, meaning you can tell someone what you did, but you also have to provide an illustration of how you did it. None of the content in your professional experience section talks about ways you added value, such as improving processes, motivating and retaining your teams, or achieving organizational goals. Dig deeper to connect with each position and develop a message that shows not just the scope of your roles but also how you added value.
5. Consider how much experience you are presenting. The norm these days is to present about 10 to 15 years of professional experience. Hence, going back to the 1980s is likely unnecessarily aging your candidacy. I realize you held a long-term position from the late 1980s until 2010, so you may have to include all of that experience, but think about ways you may be able to break up that 21-year track by only presenting the later roles you held during that tenure.
The bottom line is, I feel you were given poor advice with someone telling you that your resume was up to par and you should just wait for the market to respond. Instead, I would look at the items I have listed and begin reengineering your brand to ensure you generate maximum conversion on the opportunities you apply for. I wish you tremendous success!