• Margaret Gerety

Why is revising your resume so hard?

A good resume really comes down to having a tight, compelling, and authentic narrative that tells a potential employer you’re the right person for the job. Sounds easy, right? It’s your story, after all. You were there when you were promoted three times in two years, established that innovative program, and closed that major deal. Then why is revising your resume always such a chore? Even if it’s easy for you to chat about your job at the playground and dinner parties, when asked to write down what you do, who you are, and what makes your story unique, you’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed and uncomfortable.


In addition to the fact that self-reflection (and writing!) can be challenging work, I think there are a few externalities at play here:


You often do it under duress.

Revising your resume is often something you find yourself facing when your back is up against the wall. Maybe you lost your job or you learned you’re being passed over for a promotion. Maybe you’re realizing, in your new work-from-home reality, that your job doesn’t make you that happy. You’re worried and the stakes are high, which can add a distorting layer of panic to your resume writing process. Maybe it puts you in such a state of paralysis that it’s all you can do to add your new title, dates, and a few general descriptors of what you do all day. You haven’t convinced anyone, least of all yourself, that you’re a rockstar.


You can feel constrained by convention.

Even if you’re not revising your resume under these stressful circumstances, there is something disconcerting about squashing your professional life into a resume template. When I start with a new client, I typically begin by asking them to tell me stories about their professional lives -- the specific experiences they would want to raise in an interview to showcase their skills and expertise. The hard work isn’t necessarily identifying these stories or providing detail and dimension (although it can take a little digging). What’s challenging is distilling all of those words and experiences into pithy bullet points that fit on two pages (max!). Add to that the fear you should be using one of those new gussied-up resume templates full of infographics and skills bars (like the example above). A resume is a specialized document, one that puts a very bright spotlight on each word and activity you decide to include. And while you should ignore those fussy templates, formatting and white space do matter because they make your resume easier to read.


It has an important audience.

This takes me to my last and arguably most important point. Resumes have live audiences and real consequences. Your resume is a marketing tool that should quickly and effectively show a potential employer why you’re right for the job. Unless you get that first round interview, you won’t have the opportunity to clarify points of confusion, or highlight the most important details that capture who you are and what you will bring to the role. So it matters, deeply, what words you put in that document.


So I’ve told you why you might be feeling a bit paralyzed when revising your resume. How do you get over the fear and inertia? Here are a few ways to unstick yourself:


#1. It’s a really really good idea to talk to other people. You need good listeners, cheerleaders, experts, and editors in life in general, and resume writing is no different. You’re working with very important, very personal content. You need to spend time describing your work and accomplishments to make sure it sounds authentic out loud and in writing. You need people asking you questions so you can hone in on what’s lost or confused when you tell your story. Experts and advisors can take you to the finish line by making sure you’re choosing the right words and format so your story is tailored and compelling.


#2. Keep a running list of what you’ve done. You’ll feel a lot less stressed when you go to rewrite your resume if you have a lot of raw material to work with. To create an arsenal of resume-worthy professional achievements, keep a professional log or journal. Had a big win at work? Write down what happened, the people involved, and the impact you had. As you collect these examples, you’ll develop a kind of informal, long-form CV. When you go to write your resume, you’ll be able to select from these examples and craft powerful sentences that showcase the specific, quantifiable results of your work. Those are the kind of bullet points that make a resume sing.


#3. Look at job listings and other people’s LinkedIn Profiles. Still don’t have the right words to describe what you do? Don’t know how your industry talks about people in your role? Try finding people on LinkedIn with similar jobs as yours. How do they describe themselves in their About and Experiences sections? Do a cursory job search of your current job title as well as those future jobs you’re eyeing, and locate core skills and repeating words. These can help you build out your resume content while increasing keyword density (which helps you get noticed in the application process).


#4. Remind yourself that you cannot fit your entire professional story in 1 to 2 pages! It’s simply not possible. To my earlier point, your resume is a marketing tool, not some kind of insane puzzle where you have to describe every career twist and turn in 1,000 words or less. Focus on what the potential employer wants and needs to know. And remember, you should only include things that you are excited to talk about!


One final reminder.

Resumes are living documents. They evolve as you evolve. You gain new skills and passions, you take new positions, and have new experiences that impact not only your career but how you see yourself professionally. Your resume needs to reflect those changes and describe your professional life honestly and effectively. You should return to your resume again and again. Try to turn this dreaded task into something empowering. Remind yourself of all of the things you’ve achieved in your career.


Need help revising your resume or updating your LinkedIn profile? Contact me at www.margaretgerety.com/contact.

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