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Updating Your Professional Résumé in 7 Steps

Updating your professional resume is more than just revising it to include places where you've been employed since the last time you revised your resume.


When seeking a new position, many nurses, lactation consultants, dietitians, and countless others rely on an “updated” version of their original years-old (or decades-old) résumé. When I say “updated” I mean that they have taken their old résumé and added any jobs they’ve had since creating it. The result is a resume that often looks dated – but not “updated.” I’ve seen hundreds of résumés from job applicants, friends, and colleagues. These dated-not-updated résumés never speak well for the applicant. Updating your professional résumé – not just revising the dated one – is a critical action for getting an interview.

As I was reviewing a friend’s résumé the other day, I came up with seven recommendations for her – and maybe for you!

Be careful with font and formatting

Stick with a consistent and clear font and format. Often, cutting-and-pasting, dragging-and-dropping, and other maneuvers can cause the fonts and formats to become messy or inconsistent. If the font/format you use for the first header differs from that of the next – or one later in the text – then your document looks messy and inconsistent. That implies that YOU will be messy or inconsistent.

Also, don’t use underlining; this old-school thing from the typewriter days has been replaced by the bold feature. When you are updating your professional résumé, be sure to use a classic, professional-looking font. When a job-seeker’s résumé uses Comic Sans or some other fun or fad font, I toss it immediately.

Move education to the bottom

For an entry-level position, having your education at the top of the résumé page is great; it’s likely your only formal claim to fame. But after your first job, frankly, no one cares where you attended college. As an employer, I often see 50 résumés for one open position; I quickly skim the first page. If your educational history takes up the top half of the first page, I might not see something important on the second page.

Clearly state your professional goals

When updating your professional résumé, you and everyone else seems to have been told to write a goal. But few if any have been told how to write one (or more). In both my hospital work and my own business, I have seen the same goal in slightly different words from hundreds of applicants: “To get a challenging position where I can use my passion and skills.” First of all, this sounds like a line out of a book that is being delivered by a person with no ambition whatsoever.

Just as importantly, this “goal” implies that getting a job – including this job – is your only goal. As an employer, I’m attracted to an applicant who has a bigger goal than the job I’m offering. As a young nurse, I had five professional goals, and my job was just one stepping stone to achieving them. (By the way, one of my professional goals was to write a book! It’s not about the job. It’s about the goal.)

Clearly state your professional accomplishments

Call out your professional accomplishments on the first page. Now I can just hear you saying, “Oh, but Marie, I’m not like you! I wasn’t the president of Baby-Friendly USA, I didn’t sit on the NCLEX panel, or write a book!” Okay, but that doesn’t mean you are lacking in accomplishments!

Did you start a new and innovative outpatient clinic? Did you develop an orientation for new staff? Did you serve on a community task force that put breastfeeding posters on city buses? All of these examples – and many more – are worth noting. As an employer, I want to know that the applicant can do something other than just show up and collect a paycheck. Think about how you have helped your organization, its employees, or the surrounding community to be better through your efforts.

Skip “skills”; address competencies and characteristics

Listing your “skills” (i.e., typing 90 words a minute, starting an IV) is unlikely to be noteworthy in a lactation-focused job. Instead, call out your competencies and characteristics. Do you have an ability to communicate with others, especially with multi-ethnic populations? What about your ability to lead or coordinate a team? How about your ability to read and be a good consumer of published research papers? (As a boss, you can bet I’d be looking for that!)

What about personal characteristics? If you are especially patient, persistent, or calm in a crisis, mention that – if it’s critical to the job. Beware, though, that if you tout such competencies and characteristics on your résumé, you must be prepared to give examples to back up your claims in an interview.

Slim down details of your past jobs

Skip the details of your job as a staff nurse or charge nurse. If you’re looking for a related position, the employer already knows all of that.

Instead, describe what patient population you worked with (i.e., newborns, postpartum mothers, underprivileged teens, or whatever) and anything else you did that others in the same role might not have done (i.e., precepting orientees or contributing to the hospital newsletter, or blog).

When updating your professional résumé, don’t worry about gaps in time

Women often worry about gaps in their résumés. Don’t give this a second thought. Nearly all of the résumés I’ve read from women have gaps. If you feel you must fill that gap, mention volunteer work you did for the school, the church, or other groups while you were at home raising your children.

Honestly, revising your résumé is not a task that anyone looks forward to, but if you do it, make sure it’s an “update” and not just a revision of the “dated” original. And, if you know someone who needs to update their résumé, forward this post!

When did you last update your résumé? Did you follow these tips? Tell me in the comments below!

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