From a number of roles and perspectives, I encounter a lot of questions about resumes. From students of the Resume Writing Academy, I field questions every week of the year. Many of them have to do with so-called “resume rules” that have emerged over time as “the” way to do things. And questions arise when resume writers question whether those “rules” really apply.
When I respond to these questions – regardless of the rule, the complexity of the situation, the client’s profession or level, or any other factor – the answer is always the same: “It depends. It depends on what the client wants to be and the best way to position him or her to achieve that goal.”
The client’s current goals – not his or her experience, education, credentials, accomplishments, or any resume “rule” – must be the litmus test for every resume decision. There is never any one right answer or absolutely wrong approach. What works for one person will be entirely the wrong strategy for another person.
Let’s look at a few examples and I think you’ll see what I mean.
Resume “Rule”: Go back 10 or 15 years and then stop.
Scenario 1: Client has 10 years of relevant professional experience preceded by 5 years of unrelated, short-term, non-professional jobs. She is looking for the next step up in her professional career. Recommendation: Include only the last 10 years.
- Scenario 2: Client has 25 years of progressive corporate experience leading to his current role as Vice President. He is looking for a President or CEO position. Recommendation: Include all of his experience, although trim the earliest positions to include just the relevant highlights.
Resume “Rule”: Write a one-page resume for new graduates.
Scenario 1: Client has three highly relevant co-op jobs with measurable achievements in each; she is looking for her first professional job in a competitive technical field. She has held leadership roles in several campus organizations, won numerous service and academic awards, and has been active in professional associations and charitable endeavors. Recommendation: Limiting her to one page will shortchange her and force you to omit information that will establish her as a leader and valuable employee.
- Scenario 2: Client returned to school to get his degree in elementary education after a 10-year career as a laboratory researcher (which he hated). Recommendation: Eliminate or just briefly list his prior career; by doing so, you can probably keep this resume to one page.
Resume “Rule”: Write a functional resume for a career-changer.
Scenario 1: Client spent 20 years in accounting and finance, now wants to transition to nonprofit management. Recommendation: Use a chronological format to present him as an experienced and accomplished manager. “Mine” his corporate experience to uncover relevant examples that go beyond finance and accounting activities. Enhance the resume with volunteer leadership experience, and lead off with a strong summary that clearly conveys his value.
- Scenario 2: Client has been a stay-at-home parent for five years and now wants to return to work, but not as a nurse (her former career); she wants to work at an organization that provides after-school and vacation activities for children. Recommendation: Use a functional format for front-and-center presentation of her relevant experiences, accomplishments, and qualifications, culled from her recent activities as well as her prior nursing career.
Resume “Rule”: Explain gaps in employment.
Scenario 1: Client has a strong work history with two gaps of a year or more that occurred more than 5 years (2 jobs) ago due to extended maternity leave. She is looking for a job similar to her current position, just at a higher level and/or with a larger company. Recommendation: Don’t worry about the gaps. Uses years (not months and years) to minimize them as much as possible, but count on her strong experience and accomplishments to earn at least a phone call.
- Scenario 2: Client has not worked for three years, after taking a buy-out and seizing the opportunity to volunteer, write, and spend time with his family. Now he wants to return to work as a senior executive for a company similar to his prior employers. Recommendation: Include at least a brief mention of a “sabbatical” and concisely explain what he’s been up to, to answer employers’ and recruiter’s first concern: What have you been doing and why haven’t you been working for the past three years?
The above advice and discussion probably seem elementary to those of you who have been writing resumes for a long time! Yet if you are new to the field or work essentially in isolation, without the opportunity to run ideas by colleagues, you might find yourself going by the “rules” rather than assessing each situation according to your client’s scenario. I want to encourage you to break all the rules… or follow them, if that is most beneficial to your client!
Looking for best practices for other client scenarios? See the full list of our E-Summit training sessions.