Let’s start with the good news: You just bumped into a well-connected person and impressed the heck out of them. So much so, in fact, that they asked you to follow up with your resume, because they know someone who’s hiring.
You’re feeling pretty great. But before you decide which dancing animal GIF accurately sums up your networking victory, you have some work to do. Because the last time you even thought about your resume was before you got your current job four years ago or started your side gig, and it’s seriously out of date.
Or maybe you’re getting ready to begin a new job hunt and you want to broadly update your old resume before tailoring it for each position. Perhaps you’re attending a networking event where having an up-to-date resume ready to go will help you capitalize on any opportunity.
Regardless of your reasons for updating, it’s time to open that old document, save it under a new name, and get typing. Here are some steps to take to easily update your resume. (And if you’re short on time, you could get through all 16 in about 30 minutes.)
1. Add new and relevant skills and experiences.
Add the qualifications that are most important for where you want to go next. Think about your current job, as well as related extracurriculars—such as a side gig or volunteer work. What skills and experiences from these speak most to the type of position you’re pursuing? If you’re submitting your resume to a specific person who asked for it, a good starting point is to remember how you were just pitching yourself to them. If the discussion centered around your interest in design, the last thing you’d want to do is leave that off just so that you can list every single task you did in your first gig out of college.
2. Describe your current job thoughtfully.
When it comes to your position now, you don’t need to go through your daily to-do list and add every little task to your resume. Instead think about what would matter most to anyone reading. Are there things you do that people wouldn’t know from your job title? Are there tasks specific to what you want to do moving forward? Is there some impressive company initiative you were a part of?
3. Add numbers.
Quantify as many bullet points on your resume as possible. Write down any numbers that go with your experiences. How many people did you manage? How much money did you save? How often did you deliver on a certain task?
4. Get it all down first—make it pretty later.
Instead of trying to write the most elegant bullet points possible right out of the gate, just write out all the info you think you should add. Don’t second-guess if you start to run a little over a page or if you’re starting every line with “assisted.” Write first, edit later.
5. Check your section order.
Are your resume sections organized in a way that makes sense? Make sure the most important and relevant info is at the top of the page. For example, if the resume you’ve been adding to is the one you submitted right after graduation, you may have your education listed at the top. But now that you have some post-grad experience, you’re going to want to lead with your professional history and most recent job. Along similar lines, if you’ve changed fields (or want to), you’ll also be doing some cutting and pasting to put the most relevant information—which might not be your current role—first.
6. Ditch old and irrelevant entries.
You squeezed and cut all you could to get your resume down the last time—and now you’re trying to add more information! It’s time to face the facts: You have one (or more) too many positions to fit on one page. So drill down to what you’re trying to emphasize in your resume. If you want to be seen as a people-oriented marketer, you’ll keep jobs that relate to PR and connecting with others. But consider cutting that bullet about tracking inventory or that job you worked in a lab back in college.
In general, you want your resume to go back no more than 10 to 15 years, but you can make exceptions for especially relevant or impressive positions. For example, when I was in school, I interned for a prestigious political figure. And if I wanted to work inside the beltway, I would absolutely include it on my resume to this day. But many years later, applying to editorial jobs, that’s valuable real estate better spent discussing writing experience. By asking myself, “Does this relate?” I can keep working through my old job history and decide to cut marketing for a small business to make room to discuss recent freelance work.
7. Cut down on bullet points for older jobs.
Out with the old, in with the new. The further back (and less relevant) a position is, the fewer bullet points you need to describe it. Take a look at any jobs more than two positions back and see what bullet points you can trim. Are there any bullet points that are repetitive with more recent accomplishments? Are there any that describe job duties you don’t want to do in the future or that don’t add to your candidacy for your next job? Delete them to make room for more recent bullet points.
8. Start each bullet point with a different action verb.
First, let’s look at the words you chose: If all your bullets start with the same verb, check out our list of action verbs for your resume. While you don’t need to come off like a professional writer, you should make sure that there’s a little variety.
9. Include relevant keywords.
If you have a specific job in mind, pull up the job description. If you’re doing a more general update, pull up a few descriptions for the kinds of jobs you plan to apply to. Look for any words that seem especially important—usually these words are specific skills, pieces of technology, experiences, or other qualifications that are mentioned repeatedly or near the top of a job description. These are your keywords and you want to work them into your resume (using the same phrasing) wherever it makes sense. This helps readers easily pick out that you have key qualifications for the job and it also helps your resume get through applicant tracking systems (ATSs) and into the hands of human recruiters and hiring managers.
10. Strengthen your bullet points.
Now that you have your strong verbs and your keywords, you can tighten up and edit those bullet points you wrote back in phase one. Frame your bullet points as accomplishments and don’t forget to include the results of your work.
11. Add new skills to your skills section.
Much like your experience bullet points, your skills section likely needs a refresh. Start by adding new skills you’ve developed that are relevant to the job you’re after (using those job description keywords when possible). Don’t worry if they’re already in your bullet points—in fact, that’s preferable. Then trim irrelevant or basic skills to keep your resume tight.
12. Double check your contact info.
13. Check for “little inconsistencies.”
Muse career writer Lily Zhang suggests “getting into the nitty-gritty details and deciding whether or not you’re going to have periods at the end of your bullets or how you’re going to format various elements. Yep, that means not switching back and forth between dates that feature months, just years, or seasons.”
14. Make last-minute cuts.
If your resume is still longer than one page (or two if you’re further along in your career), now’s the time to cut it down. Simply remove the last (usually the furthest back) position on there. If it’s at the bottom, it’s probably the least important to the story you’re trying to tell.
15. Check grammar and spelling.
Start by running it through a spellchecker. Then, read it out loud to make sure you’re not missing any words or errors. Pro tip: Try starting with your bottommost section and reading your resume from bottom to top (sentence by sentence, not word by word!) to help you catch any errors you may have overlooked.
16. Get another set of eyes on it.
If time permits, it’s always helpful to get someone else to read over your resume and check for typos and other mistakes.
While you should strive to keep an updated resume on hand, there’s no need to panic if you’re caught off guard. Use the steps above to get your resume up to speed right now—and maybe check back in on it every couple of months so you’ll be more prepared next time.
Regina Borsellino contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.