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How to Update Your Professional Résumé in 7 Steps

Laptop computer open on tesk with open pen and blurred foreground.

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. But how, exactly, can you effectively update your professional résumé?

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

Do more than adding jobs – truly update your professional résumé

Don’t fall into the trap I’ve seen others caught in after they’ve “updated” their résumé.

So many people take their old resume and just add 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.

Be careful with font and formatting

Stick with a consistent and clear font and format.

Consistency: 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.

Choose wisely. When you’re updating your professional résumé, 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 because it says “amateur” to me.

Formatting: Don’t use underlining; this old-school thing from the typewriter days has been replaced by the bold feature.

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 more than 50 résumés for one open position; I quickly skim the first page. If the candidate’s 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 you update your professional résumé, you may remember you’ve been advised to write a professional goal. But few if any of us 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, 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.

Ask yourself this question: If you landed this job, what would it do for your career?

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’re lacking in accomplishments!

Did you ever …

  • start a new and innovative outpatient clinic?
  • develop an orientation program for new staff?
  • 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” and 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 the 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, etc.) 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, updating your professional résumé is probably not a task you look 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 professional résumé? Did you follow these tips? Tell me in the comments below!

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