Make your resume work for you

One of the toughest parts of job hunting can be putting your career on paper — especially when it’s a long one. Information overload isn’t the only challenge facing older workers. If you’re switching careers, re-entering the workforce or concerned about age discrimination, it’s even more important to make sure your resume is in top form.

You know your priorities and values, you know your industry and you’ve found some potential employers — but how can you craft your resume to land an interview? Here are some tips to help:

Focus on the future.

Think your resume is a record of the past? Not so, warns Mary Eileen Williams, veteran career counsellor and author of Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50. Instead, approach your resume as a future-oriented document to support your career goals. Consider: what do you want to do and how do your skills and experiences make you a good candidate?

Consider doing a little de-cluttering too. Some skills and experiences that were useful 20 years ago may not be so valuable now. Instead, you’ll want to emphasize skills that meet the demands of today’s job market. Also, be sure to highlight what you enjoy doing the most. Playing up skills and tasks you’d rather not do in the future could land you a job you might not enjoy as much.

Learn the lingo.

No, we’re not talking about overused buzzwords like “prioritize” or “synergize” that offer little substance. Every industry has its own specialized terminology, and your choice of words can show you’re current on the latest trends and terms. For instance, many tech companies now offer “solutions” rather than “products”, and teachers may be focused on “learning expectations” rather than “outcomes” or “goals”. Get comfortable with the latest trends and philosophies so you’ll be comfortable discussing them on paper and in person.

Use the job description.

The days of sending out generic resumes are long gone. Today, it’s all about customization, and carefully reading job postings can tell you what employers want. Copying and pasting their exact wording is a no-no, but you can learn which skills and requirements are most important — then match your offerings with their needs.

Pay attention to the wording so you can pick up on the keywords — especially if you’re applying online. Many resumes end up in an electronic databases where keywords are used to search for relevant applications. Even if a person is handling applications, screening is usually done by recruiters with a checklist of must-haves — not by hiring managers.


Choose the right format.

Will you use a functional resume or chronological resume — or a mixture of both? In her book, Williams recommends finding the best format to represent your background. In some cases, the conventional chronological resume could hurt you — like if you’re switching careers (and don’t have a lot of relevant, recent experience) or you have obvious gaps.

A hybrid or combination resume is often a good fit for mature candidates because it gives them a chance to put their skills and accomplishments first — like leading with a “career highlights” section to get the reader’s attention. Read up on the various types of resumes and look for exemplars online. The key is to find the best fit for your information rather than being tied to constraints.

Focus on accomplishments.

Yes, it’s okay to get into details. Employers don’t just want to know what your duties were, they want to know what you accomplished — and they want to see examples. Experts recommend taking a Challenge-Actions-Results (CAR) approach. Think about a challenge or problem you had to solve, how you did it and what the results were. For instance, did you save your company money? Increase revenue? Improve customer satisfaction? Find ways to make things easier and improve efficiency? (See for examples.)

It’s helpful if you can provide numbers, but not all careers lend themselves to quantifiable results. The key is to show employers that what you do matters, not walk them through your day.

Use action verbs.

How you say it is as important as what you say, and action verbs have become the standard for resumes. Not only do they tighten up points, they also show ownership of a skill or responsibility. (If you did it in the past, you can do it again.) Consistently using action verbs to start your points also makes your resume flow better thanks to parallel structure.

For instance, rather than saying “was responsible for creating x, y and x”, you might say “created x, y and z.” Action verbs like managed, developed, produced, improved and organized add a little extra “oomph” to your writing. (Want to see more? Try this list of action verbs.)

Know when to set limits.

Your abilities matter, not your age — yet sometimes resumes give away a little too much. For instance, Williams notes your resume shouldn’t go too far back. Remember, it’s most recent and more relevant experience that counts — so work experience dating back more than 20 years likely doesn’t need a mention.

Also, it’s okay to be a little vague when you’re listing your career highlights or accomplishments. For instance, you might say you have “over 20 years experience in…” rather than give the actual number, or say “extensive experience in…” and leave the number out altogether. You’re still showing you’re a seasoned candidate, but you aren’t revealing too much about your age.

What about your education? It isn’t always necessary to put a graduation date with your degree. Don’t forget to include ongoing professional development — it shows you’re willing and able to learn.

Edit to perfection.

Unfortunately, when employers receive hundreds of applications even little things can get your resume tossed out. Three things you want to look at:

1) Content: Are you using the right terminology? Did you tailor your resume to the job posting? Is it clear and concise — and honest?

2) Formatting: Are headings, abbreviations, capital letters, punctuation and dates used consistently? Is there enough white space or too little? Is the text easy to read or do fonts cause unnecessary clutter?

3) Spelling, grammar and style. Are all names and addresses properly spelled? Is your tone of voice consistent?

Try reading it out loud to be sure — your tone should sound professional, and you shouldn’t stumble over words or punctuation.

Get feedback.

Unfortunately, we can’t spot all of our own errors. If possible, have someone in your field review your application — but don’t underestimate the value of a friend or family member’s opinion. Your resume may end up with a recruiter who isn’t an expert in your field, and he or she should still be able to understand what you’re saying.

Want to know how well your resume will be received? Here’s another tip from Williams: Hand it to someone who hasn’t seen it before and set your watch for 30 seconds — that’s how long the average recruiter will look at it. When the time is up, ask your reader for his or her impression.

Think beyond the resume.

Here’s a tip to take some of the pressure off: consider your resume as part of your job search package. It doesn’t have to include everything — remember, you’ve got a cover letter as backup. You can also sneak in some extra info by including links to your professional social media accounts like your LinkedIn profile, online portfolio or professional Twitter account.

Research indicates that an increasing number of employers are using internet searches and social media to check out their candidates, so it pays to clean up your online image as well. (See 10 career-damaging online mistakes and LinkedIn for your career for tips on crafting your online presence.)

And one last word of advice: honesty is still the best policy. Everything about your resume from its format to its word choice should be a fair representation of your skills and experience. Not sure if you’re crossing a line? Get an honest second or third opinion to see if you’re on track — you might be erring on the side of modesty too.


For more information and tips, visit Williams’ website at