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Advice / Job Search / Resumes

3 Times a Traditional Resume Simply Won't Work for You

If you’re in the process of job searching in a new field, it’s likely that your biggest concern is a lack of experience. This is normal—it may even be the “new” normal. I think we can agree the “job-for-life” model is finished as more and more of us change not just companies but entire industries.

When you consider that more hiring is done based on skill sets than job titles, you can see a clear trend emerging. Hiring managers want people who have kept up with the speed of changing technologies and platforms; so what becomes more important than degrees and job titles is what you can do.

Enter the skills-based resume.

Your resume is not just a place to keep track of your traditional professional experience, it’s where you can showcase your skills, no matter what capacity you’ve used them. Remember, a great one answers questions like, “What can this person do for me?” and “What problem can she solve?”

Let’s take a look at three real-life situations in which this is the route you’ll want to take:

1. You’ve Recently Graduated and Are Looking for Your First Job

There are three types of experiences new grads can bring to the table, and all are perfectly valid: volunteer experience, internship experience, and entrepreneurial experience.

The first two are rather obvious, but it’s the last one that tends to confuse people, especially if you don’t think of yourself as boasting entrepreneurial competence.

One woman I was working with, Viv, wrote to me as she was trying to put together her first resume. She said, “I don’t have any ‘professional’ experience. I started a few little businesses when I was in school, making and selling T-shirts and jewelry to friends and family. I even created a website so they could view my work and make requests. But other than that—nothing. Does that count?”

My answer to her was, “Yes!  Double-Yes!”

One of the hardest things in the world is to become a successful entrepreneur—only one in 10 businesses actually survive, according to Steve Tobiak, a managing partner at Advisor Consulting. Thus, building a business while you’re still in school is impressive to say the least. Viv’s “little” business immediately characterizes her as someone who’s self-motivated, self-sufficient, and organized, with excellent time management skills and a strong work ethic.

How she’d get this across in a resume:

  • Designed and developed original product lines that resulted in $12,000 in sales over 11 months
  • Created e-commerce website using WordPress that had an average of 500 unique visitors a month

To create skills-based bullets, consider what you’ve done that you can either teach or that fills a gap or solves a problem.

If you’re not sure what kind of stats are important for a particular skill or topic, Google it. In the example above, Viv knew sales numbers were important, but she didn’t know about website statistics. To find out which were important, she typed, “Which website statistics are most important?” The number one result was visitors.

2. You Want to Change Careers

Leon sought out my advice because, after many years of supporting his family with a “safe” job, it was his turn to do something that he liked. His background was working in a local safety equipment store, but he wanted to do something that was a little more fast-paced and challenging. I asked him to list out every single thing he was good at. To my surprise, he said, “herding kids at youth camps, managing four different after-school activities, and publishing e-books—but those were all personal or volunteer activities for my church.”

That’s the great part about the world we live in now—it doesn’t matter that your skills (possibly your best ones) are those you’ve acquired naturally throughout the course of your life. After a bit more discussion, a few of Leon’s bullets looked like this:

  • Developed an e-book publication process for a nonprofit organization that allowed it to distribute materials for free on platforms such as Kindle, Nook, and Goodreads.
  • Trained and managed a team of counselors of a nonprofit youth camp annually for 5 years that grew by 10% each year.
  • Promoted through a series of positions for a local high-end safety equipment distribution center over a period of 12 years, ultimately managing the inventory with over a million dollars in assets.

As a hiring manager, I would look at those types of activities and see someone who’s not only a good project manager, but who’s also good at managing people in general. The best part? It’s a natural talent.

If you are seeking a career change, make a list of those skills or particular expertise that you’ve acquired through life or on-the-job experience. Ask yourself these questions: What types of organizations benefitted from this expertise? What problem did you solve for someone using this experience? What kind of measurable change occurred? How long have you been able to do this?

Remember, it’s not necessary to link your skills to a specific industry; identify an overarching skill that can be applied to many industries.

3. You’re Applying to a New Field

There will be entire careers 10 years from now that don't exist today. Graeme Codrington, a futurist at TomorrowToday Global says, “some of the hottest jobs today could be obsolete by 2025,” but also that, “history tells us that somehow the [labor market creates new jobs] whenever it destroys some ones.” Employers are aware of changing landscape, and more and more, talent acquisition folks are looking for people who have the ability to figure things out on their own. This is a skill in and of itself: self-learner.

Moreover, many people have degrees they don’t use because their training has become obsolete, and learning on the job actually proves to be the best experience. You want to position yourself as someone who solves problems that are both theoretical or potential, and you can do this by offering examples of how you’ve done it in the past.

In certain situations, testimonials can be a great addition, too! We are a society of reviews, and your resume (or cover letter) is an excellent place to showcase the praise others have bestowed upon you. This won’t be appropriate for all industries, companies, or jobs, so adopt this approach only if you’re 100% sure it would go over well with the hiring manager.

If you do decide to include this information, a word of advice: Don’t just copy and paste your recommendations from LinkedIn (though those are important too). Here’s an example blurb:

“Jackson’s ability to pivot to an entirely new marketing platform in a matter of a quarter literally saved our margin. I don't know where we would be right now had it not been for his ability to keep pace with the current trends and apply them to our business.”

Traditionally, the reverse chronological resume has been the way to go for most people, but with the pace of technology and changing workplace needs, it might be time for something different. We live in a world where a twelve-year-old can create an app on the weekends. It’s time we start giving ourselves credit for our skills and demonstrate that collective experience matters more than a great job title.

Again, it’s what you can do that matters, and making those skills crystal clear while de-emphasizing your title if it doesn’t give you an edge is not only smart, but may just be the resume of the future. If you’ve got the skills to get it done—go for it! If you can solve a burning need, your “traditional” experience will be the last thing on the hiring manager's mind.

Photo of man reviewing his resume courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.