Resume Makeover: How to Emphasize Your Career Highlights

In this month's Resume Makeover, career expert and certified professional resume writer Laura Smith-Proulx unearths highlights from under a mountain of detail.

Ryan Jones (not his real name) had invested a great deal of time developing two separate resumes -- one to cover his experience supporting broadcast systems and another for his time in IT operations. But while both resumes included an incredible amount of detail, neither one adequately focused on the next step in his career, says Laura Smith-Proulx, certified professional resume writer and career management coach with An Expert Resume.

Resume Makeover

"From my first glance, I could tell that Ryan had worked hard to incorporate a lot of detail in his resume. It was obvious that he'd worked in some fast-paced environments requiring him to support both IT operations and broadcast systems, while delivering major projects," she says.

However, the lack of an overall focus, and the use of mostly single-line bullets made Jones' resume difficult to read and even harder to decipher which efforts were the most important in his career, Smith-Proulx says.

Adding Career Context

Though Jones had meticulously detailed the many upgrades, network designs and new-systems launches he'd spearheaded for employers, what was missing was the context of his achievements and a focus on the direction he wanted his career to go, she says.

"He wants to pursue an engineering management position," says Smith-Proulx. But that goal wasn't clearly articulated in either of Jones' resumes, nor had Jones tracked or maintained metrics on his accomplishments, which made his resumes seem disjointed and vague, she says.

[Related: Resume Makeover: How to Clear Out the Career Clutter]

During the course of several phone meetings, Jones and Smith-Proulx worked to identify the most important highlights of Jones' career and incorporate project budgets, technology skills, time and money savings, and the volume of team members he'd managed to better focus the resume, Smith-Proulx says.

"Recruiters often look for quantifiable figures and results in a resume, as these metrics speak volumes about achievement and ROI to an employer," Smith-Proulx says. She and Jones also worked together to add a professional summary profile and the title of the job Jones wanted to better help potential employees see his potential, she says.

"Like many professionals, Ryan didn't add a title to his resume, making it difficult to see what position he was targeting," Smith-Proulx says. Jones also failed to include employment dates in one version of his resume, which is never a good idea, she says.

[View Original Resume -- IT Version]

[View Original Resume -- Broadcast Version]

"The original resume failed to make any one achievement or position stand out, and that made it difficult for him to differentiate himself among similar candidates," Smith-Proulx says.

Most employers want to quickly see dates, the scope of an applicant's responsibility, the types of projects managed, and other pertinent details, but there's a fine line between including just enough detail to intrigue a hiring manager or recruiter and using too much detail, which can become overwhelming to a reader, she says.

Applicant Tracking Systems

In some areas, Jones didn't include enough detail, which could lead readers to believe he lacked skills or experience in certain areas when, in fact, the opposite was true, Smith-Proulx says. Leaving out key dates, titles and/or metrics can also cause a larger problem -- being rejected by automated Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), which are programmed to scan resumes for certain keywords, phrases and/or metrics, Smith-Proulx says.

"He'd become so accustomed to proposing and designing effective networks that his original resume didn't outline these steps in sufficient detail," she says. "The number of people he had managed or delegated tasks to were also missing from many of his original statements," so one of Smith-Proulx's major tasks was making sure the right amount and type of detail was present in Jones' resume.

"I began by setting off various elements of Ryan's contact information, career goals, and his ROI to employers by using color and formatting elements," Smith-Proulx says.

"With a tight space to fit these details, these elements aren't just for show, but aid the reader in navigating top-to-bottom through the relevant highlights of his career. I added his city, state,and zip code back in to allow the resume to pass through an ATS scan," Smith-Proulx says. Along with some other formatting tweaks, Jones should be able to avoid issues with applicant tracking systems, Smith-Proulx says.

[Related: How to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems]

Smith-Proulx also expanded his summary section and combined keywords with a short paragraph on his industry background and reputation for follow-through in his work. This allows a reader to quickly see what he offers an employer, and also helps to satisfy ATS scanners that look for specific skills, she says.

Smith-Proulx was able to pull many of Jones' career "greatest hits" onto the first page of his resume by creating a summary of his accomplishments (entitled Examples of Technology Leadership Value), and a listing of the results of his project, technical design and support efforts.

Smith-Proulx also made sure to include as many metrics as possible, along with a list of the major high-definition networks launched as a result of his participation on a major TV company project, she says.

"A snapshot area under each job title was used to provide an overview of the skills and scope of responsibility for each position," Smith-Proulx says. "Keywords were added at the beginning of each bulleted sentence, providing more content that's both desirable to the ATS engines and serving as an introduction to each achievement. I also more clearly explained areas where he'd taken a leadership role in collaborating with executives and working closely with stakeholders," she says.

By adding emphasis on the size, scope, budget, and impact of the high-profile projects in Ryan's background, the final document showcased his value to each of his past employers, and hinted at the possible value he'd have in a new position with a future employer, Smith-Proulx says.

[Related: Resume Makeover: How to Write to Your Audience]

"Ryan had frequently risen to the challenge of delivering major projects that allowed these companies to offer new services to their customers; yet, his original resume had buried these details in the bullets. These metrics, as well as contextual descriptions of his effectiveness in both leading and working within a team, were emphasized in various areas - repeating the message to reinforce his fit as both a senior engineer and team manager," Smith-Proulx says.

Attention to Detail

Jones says he was most surprised at Smith-Proulx's ability to sift through the incredible amount of detail and accurately pinpoint the accomplishments that best demonstrated his abilities.

With the new resume, Jones says he feels he'll have greater opportunities to pursue a career as an engineering manager now that his resume reflects his skills as well as his goals.

[View Resume Makeover]

"Laura was able to get right to the heart of what I wanted," says Jones. "Now, my resume shows my potential value to a company instead of just endless details about tasks I performed," he says. "I know I'll have many opportunities to take my career in a new direction," he says.

Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.

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