Resume Writing: When to Call in the Big Guns
Updated: Jul 31
When I decided to return to work, I immediately pulled out my resume, hopeful it would've somehow stood the test of time after a decade in the vault.
Instead, it looked like something an 80-year-old man wrote during the Great War.
Clearly, my affinity for Times New Roman was an attempt to convey the notion that I was a rugged journalist, someone who could hold my liquor and not freak out if a gun was pulled, neither of which is true.
I’m sure I was emulating my best Hemingway by keeping my wording curt and concise. But 10 years later, it just sounded dry and brittle, my entire career condensed into a handful of mechanical sentences. There was no warmth or even the idea that there was a real person on the other side.
So I set about trying to resuscitate my resume, confident it would be easy since I’m, after all, a writer. I refuse to pay a resume writer, I told myself. That’s what the Internet’s for!
Efforts to solicit Facebook friends to review my work of art (for free, of course) resulted in only one useful response other than, “Let me know what you find out”: a referral to a resume designer.
Begrudgingly, I contacted the designer, coughed up some money, and listened as she downloaded what was what in the job search world.
Resumes, it seemed, had evolved over the past decade away from a single piece of 32-pound paper. Now there were portfolio websites, personal blogs, brand colors, and logos. Plus, everyone had a robust presence on LinkedIn. (I did not.) And they all tied in and worked together to promote you as an amazing brand. It felt like I had even more work to do.
While I picked up my slacked jaw, she redesigned the look of my resume into three unique versions. One was a professional, all-business design. Another had a snappy, hipster vibe. And the third was a blend of the two. Each felt fresh, modern, and confident.
Honestly, I felt like I’d just stepped out of the hair salon. Look out world! It put a little wind in my sails and a spring in my step.
It also taught me my first lesson in resume writing: Invest in good advice.
Professional advice is a worthy investment because it gives you the straightest shot from A to B in the least amount of time. And when you are looking for a job, time is usually of the essence. Poking around on your own and experimenting is akin to walking in circles.
That said, it's always been hard for me to justify spending money to make money, especially when you're looking for a job because you need the money. But the truth is, I probably lost money on missed opportunities by not doing it sooner.
Eventually, I found Pam Farone, a career coach I discovered through EM Marketing, a digital marketing agency I belong to. She'd hosted a resume event months prior, and I eagerly scrolled through her positive reviews. Before I could chicken out, I signed up for a session with her.
The first thing she did was prod me to take a proper inventory of my skills. As much as I hate “take out a piece of paper and... ” assignments, I dutifully sat down and wrote it ALL down. All of my education, every Coursera class I took (even if I didn’t do the homework.) Every job detailed in rich paragraphs. Every fact and figure.
Suddenly, my scrawny one-page resume was a robust Mama Jama, struttin’ her stuff and spilling out over her ample two-page bosom. It was an important exercise in laying it all out on the table. She made me see that I had waay more skills than I gave myself credit. And that gave me a badly needed boost of confidence.
Here are some other nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from her:
Don’t say you “helped” do something. For example, “I helped manage staff.” If you had anything to do managing then just say it, “I managed staff.”
Don’t do anything for free. You and your time are valuable.
Figure out your pricing strategy now. Because that’s the first thing people will ask for. It’ll come quicker than you think, and you’d better have an answer.
Pam further cemented the lesson that you don't have to go it alone. Looking for a job can be a lonely experience. The longer it goes on, the more you run the risk of slipping into a mindset of anonymity. Maybe I'm not good enough. Maybe I really don't have anything to offer. Maybe I'm not special enough to stand out.
But that is hardly ever the case. Sometimes you just need a person like Pam to remind you that "you're SO money!"
But that’s not to say you can’t get good resume advice for free.
I discovered Pam because she gave a free resume presentation for a group I belonged to. These are awesome — and you can find them everywhere — because they allow me to "bottom feed" for free advice. Something I absolutely adore. And while it’s an effective way for her to attract clients, it's also a great way to “shop” around for the right coach if/when you're ready to take the plunge.
In fact, my resume really came together around the end of the 2020 when every job-oriented website was busy hosting resume workshops to help you “start the new year off right.” This year more than ever, it seemed, people were eager to make a fresh start.
“Think like a business owner,” she said plainly, which I honestly had never thought of before.
She suggested imagining what business owners experience when parsing through countless resumes and cover letters. They just want to figure out – quickly – who you are and whether you can help them.
So, make their job – and the decision to hire you – easy by CLEARLY answering these three questions on your resume:
Who you are
How you can help them
And why they should trust you
I’d heard versions of the same advice since August, but for some reason, Jackie’s straightforward, no-nonsense, “this isn’t rocket science, people” message really resonated with me.
She emphasized – repeatedly, it seemed, for my benefit – that the best resume/cover letter serves to make a business owner’s decision to hire you a no-brainer. You do this by directly answering and addressing what the job description is asking for.
This could also mean sprinkling in some of the ad's keywords throughout the resume, a subtle way of reflecting back to the reader what they want to hear. And it's a good way to attract the attention of applicant tracking systems (ATS.)
Jackie went on to encourage us to condense a statement of what we do into just one sentence. Strip down the unnecessary verbiage and just get to the point. “I am a _____ who _______ for ________. Everything flows from that.
What I've learned through my journey of career self-discovery is that the most successful resumes and cover letters are the ones that make the reader feel as though you are talking right to them.
I will also say that building the perfect resume is a process that requires you to make mistakes and bumble through. It's a necessary life experience that allows you to learn who you are and express that to the world.
It’s an ever-evolving process that will never be entirely satisfied. If you’re like me, you’ll constantly adjust and nervously tweak your resume. At least until you find work. Then you’ll slap it a high-five and immediately throw it back into the vault to collect dust.