The logic behind updating your resume is a bit of a riddle. Unless you’re actively sending out applications, you’ll put off revising it until tomorrow. But all too often, great opportunities appear unexpectedly, and you’ll wish you’d edited it yesterday.
That’s because you might not be consciously looking for a new job, but then you see an amazing opening (with a fast-approaching application deadline). Or, you’re invited to join a panel or connect over email with a prestigious contact, and you need to attach your resume. And your heart sinks a bit as you realize you haven’t even opened it since you landed your last position over a year ago.
So, you set out to update it in a hurry, accepting that you’ll have no time to adjust how it’s organized, or even to send it to a friend for proofreading. The best you can do is try to see if there’s anything major you should add (like a new side gig or volunteer role), but otherwise you leave it pretty much as is. Sure, that’s not the worst thing in the world, but there’s a better way.
The trick is to spend a few minutes each month making sure your resume is up to date. I’m not suggesting you overhaul it every four weeks: Seriously, you’ll drive yourself crazy! Instead, I’m suggesting a line here or there and then reading it out loud. By making these three updates each month, you’ll be 100% prepared the next time some great opportunity comes along.
1. Add New Roles
Most people update their resume when they’re looking for a new position—and then let it lie dormant until the next job search. It makes sense in that you can’t really start editing as soon as you accept an offer, because who knows how closely the role will mimic the position description.
But, you could probably go ahead and update it starting after a month. Begin by adding the company, position title, and your start date. The next month, add a few main responsibilities. Should a cool networking, publishing, or presentation opportunity come along, you’ll have a starting point.
This goes for volunteer positions, side projects, and post-graduate internships too. Even a title and a couple of lines will give you a skeleton so you could update your resume much faster in a pinch—and be sure you’re not forgetting anything.
2. Update Your Impact
Once you have all your current positions listed, take a few minutes each month to consider if they’re up to date. This goes for big things like if your title or primary responsibilities change, but also for things like adding new projects.
In her article, Three Ways to Make Sure Your Bullet Points Will Impress Recruiters Muse writer Lily Zhang says:
Simply put, did you make something better? Maybe you saved time and money on a project or created something all new that your team sorely needed. The idea here is that you didn’t just up the head count at your company, you solved problems…To really highlight the impact you made, use numbers—think, ‘cut processing time down by 3 days,’ or ‘designed and implemented new interface, improving employee efficiency by 30%.’
Naturally, you’ll be better able to recall the results of your latest project the month you did it—as opposed to six months from now. So, if you spearheaded a website redesign or hit a major sales goal, add that bullet point. (You can always go back later and cut it off it it’s no longer relevant or add long-term impact.) But for now, you’ll be sure this selling point is on your resume!
3. Double Check the Details
Anytime you make a change, you want to check your resume is still in top form. So, set aside a few minutes each month for proofreading. If you restated your work in a prior position, check the verbs are still in past tense. Add something to a new role? Check that the verbs are in present tense.
Look for consistency across what may seem like minor details: Either all bullets should end with periods, or none should. Similarly, the month for all employment dates should be spelled out, abbreviated, or listed as a number; not some mixture of all three. Headings like “Experience,” “Education,” and “Skills” should have standardized formatting—either they’re all in caps, or emphasized with an underline, or they’re all not.
Next time a cool opportunity comes along—whether it’s to throw your hat in the ring for a new job or consulting opportunity, to speak at event, or just to attach your resume to an email, you’ll be able to feel confident. You won’t have to worry if it really reflects what you’ve been up to you, because you’ll have been updating it all along.