When you lose your job, your instinct might be to quickly update your resume. While there's a benefit to being the early bird to the job market, you shouldn't simply haphazardly tweak your current employment dates and call it a day.
In fact, a layoff is a great opportunity for a full-scale resume revamp.
"The reality is we're well beyond the business landscape where people work at companies for 20 years and that employers expect everyone's resume to reflect a long tenure," Nick Walker, an executive director at the employment agency Michael Page, says. "It's not a career killer if somebody's caught up in a layoff."
Take a moment to revisit your resume and cover letter so you can dive back into the job market with confidence.
Consider your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile an orchestrated ad campaign
A resume is more than a formal document, says Walker. "It's not about just putting dates and numbers [down on paper]. It's an advertisement."
Coca Cola, Walker points out, doesn't just put out its signature sugary beverage. It releases advertisements with cool graphics, giving you the most tantalizing information up front and, if successful, creates a desire for a Coke within the consumer.
That doesn't mean you have to make your resume flashy. Walker points to Apple's ad campaigns as a counterexample. "It's pretty bland, in a certain way, but it's consistent. It always has a certain feel."
It's not uncommon to see mistakes, such as typos and formatting issues, on resumes, Walker says. These are "really basic errors that matter almost as much as the content."
Walker suggests that resumes first and foremost need to look nice. What that means could vary depending on the industry you're in, he says, but the common thread is your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile should be clear, concise and consistent.
Don't be afraid to go longer than a page
While opinions differ on resume length, the general rule that resumes must be no longer than a single page isn't ironclad, with most career experts agreeing that up to two pages is fine.
"Honestly, what happens is most of the time these resumes get dumped in a system where the formatting gets scrubbed," Walker says. "It never ends up looking the same way, so you spend all your time worrying about getting it to one page and then it leads onto a second page anyway in some recruiting system. You spent all that effort for naught."
Of course, in some fields, such as academia, where you're dealing with curriculum vitae (or a CV) rather than a resume, different expectations apply.
Refocus it on the right things
People who haven't searched for a new job in a while often weight their resume in the wrong direction, Walker says.
In a layoff scenario, people might panic and hastily revamp their resume by updating employment dates and tossing in a few bullet points about their most recent job. However, Walker says, "The job that's going to get you the interview is probably the last job that you had." So, do your best to make that entry in your work history shine.
Consider the 80-20 rule. The last five years should make up about 80 percent of your resume; everything before that should take up 20 percent.
Walker says he's seen resumes where the applicant's most recent job – one in which the applicant was in a leadership role – only had a few bullet points, while much older and less impressive roles listed far more information.
What are the robots looking for?
More than ever, the first person who reviews your resume may not be a person at all. Recruiters increasingly rely on applicant tracking software (ATS) to weed out unqualified candidates and identify the strongest applications. This is accomplished by running resumes through the software, which then scans them for keywords and phrases. Thus, it's important to understand which keywords the hiring manager has asked the ATS to look for.
Sherrie Dvorak, senior vice president of Frontline Source Group, advises clients to intelligently employ keywords. "I always encourage people to go back and review the types of jobs that they're applying for," Dvorak says. "If you don't know what to be looking for, they're not going to know how to find you."
For additional guidance in employing keywords, consider using an online resume builder. These tools can help job seekers identify and incorporate industry-specific keywords into their resume, which improved their chances of getting past an ATS.
If you're fortunate enough to get your resume in front of human eyes, you'll want them to understand what you'll bring to the table. Accomplish this by showing the impact your work has had in your past roles by including bullet points that utilize numbers and metrics whenever possible.
Again, thinking in terms of advertising. An effective ad will lead with how X product is going to make your life better. Your resume should offer an employer a glimpse into how hiring you will make the company better.
Cut the jargon
If you've been in your industry for a while, you've probably become accustomed to an alphabet soup of industry-specific acronyms that mean little to those outside of your field.
When Walker worked in Boston recruiting in accounting and finance, he often looked over resumes from government employees, a field particularly rife with acronyms.
"It was almost like reading a separate language," he says. "If you're applying for another government job, that's the perfect resume. If you're applying to work at Gillette, you'll never get an interview because they won't understand what the hell you do."
Walker suggests job seekers hand their resume to a friend with no knowledge of their industry. If they don't know what an acronym means, spell it out.
Use it to change direction
Ultimately, a layoff could be an opportunity for reinvention. Use your resume to signal your new path.
Dvorak sees a layoff as an opportunity to reformat your resume in a way that will lead you to your next great opportunity. For example, if you have some management experience and you'd like to acquire more in the future, bolster that portion of your work history.
Most importantly, make sure your resume feels relevant to the job you're applying for.
Kendra Stellar of Stellar Life Coaching says, "If at the end of the day you have a five-page resume and only two jobs are relevant to the job you're going for, then you have a problem. That would be a red flag for me."