Traditional resumes are a disservice to mid-career professionals. Let’s change that.

By the time we’ve hit our stride in mid-career, we should all know how to put together a great resume that really makes us shine… right?

As I help mid-career professionals with exciting career shifts, I find that their resumes do not tell a very good story. I get much better context of a client’s work history by talking to them over reading their resumes. That’s pretty normal, you might think. Well, this is a big problem if the resume is the first impression recruiters, hiring managers, and potential collaborators get regarding who you are and what you bring to the table.

Many clients chalk it up to, “Well, that’s just how it is!” Sometimes I hear, “I’ve just got to try to get in front of hiring managers to give them a fuller picture.” But what if that standard resume you circulate never really gives you the chance?

I’ve got some sobering news for you: the traditional resume format you see recommended online and through many resume agencies are for amateurs.

About half of my mid-career professional clients have paid good money to have resume reviewers tweak and adjust and reformat… and not fundamentally address the shortcomings that keep clients in the “overlooked” pile.

I’m not suggesting wild changes like including a charming photo or submitting a resume in purple, curlicue font with side bars illustrating how great you are in power words. However, if you are following the traditional standard, then your resume is probably a disservice to you.

The problem for mid-career professionals is that the traditional format assumes you demonstrate value through action verbs describing the duties and responsibilities you performed at every job you had. The traditional resume format also favors description of experience over demonstration of expertise. (The difference is critically important.)

If you are not an amateur, if you have 10+ years of work under your belt, if you have real expertise to bring the table… listen, you need a different resume format.

I’ll break down how the traditional, standard resume doesn’t serve a mid-career professional, and what you can do to turn your resume around.

Problem 1. It’s not easy to see what sets you apart.

If you’re applying for a job — even if you leveraged your network to get on a company’s radar — you can safely assume there are other applicants who have done the same things you have. In fact, the bullets on applicant resumes tend to blur from the ever-loving sameness. Even attempts at originality come across as forced and reaching.

Solution: Start your resume with what sets you apart.

Use a phrase or collection of words in bold print that describe who you are as a leader and contributor. Follow this with a few lines that paint a picture to recruiters, hiring managers, potential partners or collaborators. In other words, in 4 lines, tell me what, then tell me how.

Policy geek | Strategy guru | Momager

15+ years analyzing policy, publishing impact editorials for specialty groups.

Headed up strategy teams in 3 of the top 5 firms in the industry.

And I still make it to every one of my kid’s dance recitals.

What are the key words and phrases that perfectly capture who you are and what you bring? How can you show it?

Problem 2. Chronology over relevance.

What do you do when the perfectly relevant expertise for an opportunity is buried under the fourth bullet of a position you had two companies ago?

Say you managed people for 7 years, taught them how to be great leaders, and launched them into exciting projects that expanded their careers. You’d like to stress your management expertise, but it wasn’t the most recent thing you did. How do you bring it forward?

Solution: Bring your greatest accomplishments and achievements to the forefront. And use numbers.

After your four lines demonstrating who you are, add another 3–5 lines of what you’ve accomplished. This is very common in sales, operations, or business development, but this works even if you are not in those types of roles.

Despite the initial pushback some clients give at how a numbers-focused list of accomplishments “isn’t really possible” for them, I have yet to find a professional industry where this can’t be done.

Never, ever make stuff up, and I do not even recommend that any of my clients “embellish,” but in some ways, being concerned about absolutes can be the enemy here.

Fair and justifiable number ranges will do quite well, especially if there was variation over time. Avoid “a considerable amount” or “many” by using the “+” sign after a specific number. Even “hundreds of” or “thousands of” can work in a pinch.

After all, you were there — go ahead and provide an accounting in numbers of what you witnessed and performed, even if you do not have it down to a decimal point.

Problem 3. You did a thing… and so what?

The biggest trouble I have with traditional resumes are the flashy power verbs that start every sentence. You optimized this, and maximized that.

Oh… you orchestrated, did you?

All that flashy language is used to communicate that you did a thing… that everyone else applying has also done (but apparently they pioneered instead of orchestrated). So what?

Solution: Note the impact of your work activities.

What is more interesting is not just what activity you performed, but rather the impact it had. If something you did is important enough to warrant a separate bullet on a sheet of paper with some very limited real estate, you should be able to communicate the “so what?”

Go ahead and start the bullet with the impact of your work, and follow the impact with “by [performing activity].”

If you presented research findings and fielded questions in presentations to leadership… so what?

Ah, but if you supported leadership’s decision-making about the direction of products (impact) by presenting research findings and conducting objection-handling (activity), you give others an understanding of the context and relevance of your work.

The key is to not take the amateur route and transfer duties from your job descriptions onto your resume. Think about outcomes, results, and impact of your work. Think about what you ultimately helped make happen in a larger context, then work backwards to demonstrate how your activity made a difference.

Rumor has it that people take only three seconds to look at a resume. Their eyes go from the top of the page to scan the left-hand side of the page. Give a clear picture of who you are up front, and the impact you have had over the years. Do that, and you are no longer a mid-career leader in an amateur’s clothing. You then show up on paper as the real deal.


For innovative strategies specifically for the mid-career professional who wants to manage his or her career more proactively, sign up at https://aureliancoaching.com/email

Nicole Coustier | Aurelian Coaching

Written by

Founder of Aurelian Coaching (aureliancoaching.com), focused on job repositioning and leadership development for mid-career professionals.

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