How to write a stellar resume after a career pause

There are strategic and tactical ways to make your resume stand out among the rest.

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Whether you've taken several months off for maternity leave, an enforced COVID break to care for your family, or you've been away for several years taking care of your kids, the job search process has changed radically in the past few years. We are the authors of Back to Business and are so excited to share our insights about how to get back to business after a break.

Like you, we are juggling kids, home, school and work all at the same time. We've assisted hundreds of women in career transition through our company, The Swing Shift.

Let's talk about resumes.

Whether you're looking to get back to work, changing roles or changing industries, the job search game has changed. You need a strategy, a marketing toolkit, a personal brand, a network and a social media presence. And yes—you need a resume. We're here to help you refresh yours.

Resumes are the first thing people think about when they consider returning to the workplace. And you need one! Your resume is there to show your work history and accomplishments and you can make small but effective formatting changes to help look more relevant.

It needs to be "good enough" to make it past the 7.4-second scan a recruiter takes, on average, to review a resume before moving on. And remember: Good enough does not mean perfect! It's just a record of your work. Freeing up that mental space means you can spend your precious job search time focusing on more impactful tasks like expanding your network and connecting with others.

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View your resume as just one of many tools you need. As you put your resume together, you want to put it in the context of your larger job search strategy and toolkit. Many people put so much emphasis and time into this one document. It's good to have it look polished but other elements will be more effective in getting you a job.

So yes—while it's not the most important tool you have to aid your job search, you do still need a resume; and to make sure that when a recruiter looks at your resume, it'll stand out and make them want to talk with you. We like to think about these as including some strategic changes, as well as more tactical elements.

Here are our top tips to get your resume refreshed and ready to go.


Strategic change to your resume

1. Remove objective—use headlines and a summary statement instead.

A LinkedIn style headline and summary are best practices in resumes in place of an objective. It's not what you're looking for, or what type of team you want to join, but who you are and what you have to offer. It's a positioning statement about what sets you apart and makes you uniquely qualified for this role.

For example, your headline could say: "Experienced Customer Service Professional with Online Retail Experience." Whatever this introductory section is called, make sure it's consistent with what you've said in LinkedIn, and keep it succinct.

2. Quantify your experience.

When we talk about quantifying, we mean talking about what you achieved, rather than just the tasks you did. This implies measurements, data points and how performance was measured. It also can cover less quantifiable but still valid impacts like what you recommended, created or improved at a job, including the time frame completed and potentially outlining core challenges.

Don't think about what you did in your past roles but focus instead on what outcome you achieved in your past roles. A good starting point is to ask yourself the question, "What was the biggest difference I made?

3. Use keyword and action words judiciously.

It's tricky: You need the keywords in there so the applicant tracking systems and bots can find you. At the same time, repeating the same work over and over again gets repetitious, and begs a lack of imagination or understanding of a role. Use the action-oriented verbs that are used in the job descriptions sparingly. Look for other ways to state the same thing. An online thesaurus is your friend here!

4. Update your resume every six months.

Resume refreshes are right up there with cleaning out the garage and that messy junk drawer in the kitchen. There's never a good time to do it until you need it. Keep your resume updated and revisit it every six months. Any time you have an accomplishment or complete a certification or training, move roles or win an award, include those elements on your resume. Opportunity knocks at inopportune times—you want to be ready when it does. Making a note to update every January and July or every Daylight Savings is a nice way to remember.

Tactical changes to your resume

In addition to these strategic actions, there are also some block and tackle elements that need to be addressed to ensure you have the most modern and up-to-date reflection of your work experience.

1. Pay attention to format (including fonts and special formats).

Simple formats and fonts are recommended, especially for industries that rely on online applications. Work in design and want to show off your work? Have two resumes: use one for online, and one for in person.

2. Check spelling and grammar.

Turn on the spell and grammar checkers in your editing tool of choice, and ask someone smart in your circle of acquaintance to proofread it for you. There are increasing numbers of online writing and grammar tools (Grammarly comes to mind) that will check your writing for you.

3. List education last.

You can call out your alma mater in your headline or summary, especially if it's well known in your profession. Otherwise, list it last and delete school graduation years if it's been more than 10 years. The years will date you and age bias exists.

4. Update experience, certifications and courses.

Taken any relevant training? Include in the bottom half. The same goes for certifications: PMP for project managers is popular and many project management jobs use it as a requirement for application. Have you worked part-time as a consultant, paid or pro bono? Include that.

5. Remove references.

When you start to look, reach out to your 2 to 4 key references and let them know you're looking and to confirm that it's okay to use them as a reference. If they agree to be used, let them know when they may hear from recruiters or hiring managers. This said: remove them from the resume—don't waste the space. Many recruiters WILL ask at some point during the interview loop. When they do, you want to have them ready to send. Or, create a separate leave-behind document with references and their contact information included.

6. Consider your email address.

Move to Gmail or Outlook, or ProtonMail if you're extra security conscious. You wouldn't think that an email address could date you, but it does. If you've had your email since the internet began, you probably still have an AOL (Hotmail or Yahoo) and it's time to update!

7. Replace your street address with your LinkedIn address.

In addition to switching out your street address for a LinkedIn address, add relevant social media links. If you've recently relocated, you may include the city or region (e.g. Greater Boston) as an indicator that you're local.

And update your LinkedIn URL address to your name.

You can also find more about resumes and how to play the job search game at BacktoBusinessBook.com.

Remember that your resume is an important reflection of your work history and accomplishments. BUT, it's part of a larger approach to the modern job search. You've got this!

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