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One Foot Out the Door? How to Write Your Resume in 2021

Make your resume stand out.

​Once the pandemic subsides, experts predict a "turnover tsunami," with one survey finding more than half of employed workers plan to look for another position. Another fourth will quit outright. If you're a manager who's already in that itchy foot crowd and you haven't job-hunted in a while, updating your resume should be high on your to-do list. According to professional resume writers, the art of presenting yourself as a job applicant has changed much in just the past few years. Here's how to give your new resume a 2021 look and feel.

Ditch outdated formats and content. Common practice used to be that resumes always started with the bold headline: "Objective." No more. Instead, list a brief, one-paragraph summary of your background and skills, with your target audience and your target position in mind, said Sandy Spencer, career strategist and chief innovation officer at, a resume writing service in the Miami area. One to two pages is the ideal resume length, Spencer and other experts agreed. Rarely, three pages might be needed. Don't include information on marital status, kids or hobbies. Of course, there are exceptions. "If you are in sales and a good golfer, I might throw that in," said Greg Faherty, who owns a professional resume writing service in New York City and is the author of The New Guide to Writing the Perfect Resume (self-published, 2016).

Know about the first "screener" of your resume. Forget the scenario of a hassled potential boss at a desk surrounded by piles of applications. The first "person" to "see" your resume is likely to be an applicant tracking system (ATS), software used by a majority of companies to whittle down a mountain of applicants. "It's a fancy HR word for database," Faherty said. And because of it, the words you use on your resume matter—a lot. "These databases are pretty specific," he said. If the potential employer is looking for a business manager or operations manager, for instance, anyone with those words on their resume comes up. "Let's say you worked somewhere as a district manager," Faherty said, and list that prominently. You may not pass the ATS screen for the business manager or operations manager jobs.

After reading the resume, the ATS assigns a score about how good a fit it is, said Amanda Augustine, a certified professional career coach and professional resume writer at TopResume, a global resume writing service in New York City. "That determines where you are in the pecking order. If your resume isn't engineered to pass that gatekeeper, you won't move on to a human."

Some of these tracking systems are extremely sophisticated, Spencer said. "ATS not only can score words, but some advanced intelligence can detect how soon those keywords appear or how often they appear." The quicker your resume gives the ATS what it's looking for, the better your chances that a human will read your resume. Optimize your resume to pass the ATS by reading the job description and tailoring your resume to that, using the same keywords.

Think of your resume as a marketing tool, not a transcript. "You do not need to provide every detail about every role," Augustine said. When deciding which skills to list, ''relevancy is the name of the game," and recent relevancy is best. Focus on the last few years, she said, and ask yourself: "What have you done that has made a difference?"

Spencer advises clients to list only the last 10 or 15 years of experience; in rare instances, 20. "It's the last three to five years that people [who hire] really focus on," Spencer said. The information on the resume should explain how you got to where you are today, she added, especially for managers, and you can do that by focusing on recent accomplishments. Spencer discourages clients who insist on listing an accomplishment from decades ago. If they persist, she tells them that "we have to figure out how to incorporate it without pinpointing the date." That's to avoid the possibility of age discrimination, but also to avoid relying so much on long-ago accomplishments that recent ones are overshadowed, she said.    

[Related SHRM resource: Your Career Q&A]

Focus on current, crucial skills. "Two or three years ago, you wouldn't say that you conduct meetings via Skype," Faherty said. Now, the ability to manage a remote team well via Microsoft Teams or Skype is a plus, he said, and should be listed.

Mention your technology skills, including MS Office, Acrobat and other applications, Faherty said. "Between working remotely and companies cutting back on staff, it's important that managers can do their own document and spreadsheet work and create signable forms or PowerPoint presentations without an admin to help."

Crisis and risk management skills are also more important than ever, he noted. Focus on what you did right during the pandemic and downplay the fallout. Don't talk about a decline in sales due to the pandemic, Faherty said. Talk about how your team maintained 100 percent of your clients throughout the pandemic, even when reps couldn't meet clients in person.

Sell yourself as a manager, Augustine advised, by listing specific examples of your skills, especially during the pandemic. "Did you have to reconfigure your sales floor overnight to meet state guidelines, quickly source a vendor to create partitions at your cash registers, or develop an e-commerce component to your business?" List those accomplishments, with details about how you reduced downtime or saved the company money.

Explain how you achieve success as a manager. When listing accomplishments, don't just focus on numbers, Spencer said. You can list that your sales went from $400,000 to $1 million in five years, for instance, but also tell how you did it—more training of sales staff, more one-on-one help in closing deals?

Pay attention to the details. Follow all requirements about submitting your resume. Does the listing ask for a resume submitted as a PDF? In Word? "If it doesn't specify, it's best to use Word," Augustine said. Stick to common fonts in typeface big enough to be read easily by most people, figuring a human will eventually read it. Keep bullet points simple. Don't include images. "ATS cannot read images," Augustine said.

Know when to get help. If callbacks lag, hiring a pro might be a good investment. Several organizations certify professional resume writers after they demonstrate competence. Many without the certification also do good work. Check their websites and client reviews. Basic resumes can be produced for less than $100, but others can cost up to $2,000 or $3,000, depending on how much back and forth and revisions are needed, experts said.

Kathleen Doheny is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. 


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