Dear Sam: I look forward to reading your column in the paper each week and now find myself needing some advice. I have more than 30 years of human resources, engineering and project-management experience with a Fortune 500 company. I retired and moved on to a position with a nonprofit trade association. I was very successful, however, due to a difference of opinion with my employer, I resigned from that position.
Since then, over the past two years, I have been trying to get back into nonprofit trade-association management without much luck. Because I’m applying for association-management positions, should I forget about mentioning my 30 years of HR experience? And, how should I frame my reason for leaving my last employer? — Tom
Dear Tom: I’m so sorry to hear of the lack of response you have received during your search. While this economy is tough, great résumés are still getting great results, so it is wonderful that you are open to feedback to see how your résumé can be improved upon.
There are a number of strategies you can employ as a seasoned professional to avoid unnecessarily aging your candidacy on a résumé while minimizing potentially disqualifying factors.
One of the main reasons your résumé is not generating results is that you have removed all dates of employment. This is a huge ‘no-no’ in résumé writing as it is sure to imply a story that is far worse than reality. Instead, build a substantial Qualifications Summary where you can highlight key achievements. This will allow you to push most of your employment dates to page two of your résumé.
Other tips that can help improve the effectiveness of your résumé include:
When reviewing your career, remember that hiring managers are more interested in what you have done recently, so including information from 20 or 30 years ago may do more harm than good.
Focus on the last 15 years of your career, particularly if you are applying for a position that does not necessitate more experience. As you are seeking a senior-level role, you certainly can bring in earlier experiences, but be careful how far back you date your candidacy.
Early experiences can be bylined. I start to question the benefits of including a candidate’s experience when exploring work in the 1980s. With the byline strategy, you can date experience from titles you held during the past two decades, while making only a brief mention of earlier positions without dates.
As you are a senior-level executive, it is likely that the hiring manager will be looking for a seasoned candidate with 20-plus years of experience. But, because I don’t know when you worked where, or when you held each title (as you have omitted that key data from your résumé), you may have to use the combination-résumé format.
If your earlier experience is difficult to break into pieces as you held one title for a considerable amount of time, then the combination format could help you present highlights of your career before the Professional Experience section is presented. This format allows you the opportunity to focus the reader’s attention on your qualifiers (type of experience) vs. potential disqualifiers (dates of experience).
You will also want to make sure the jargon used within your résumé is up-to-date with today’s vernacular in the nonprofit field. Antiquated or unrelated terms and even job titles can serve to immediately disqualify a candidate.
If you found your HR background a major plus in your recent role, then you would not want to omit it, nor could you when presenting an accurate picture of your background. I recommend reviewing all of your experience — HR, engineering and project management — to ensure you are selling the transferability of the functions you performed in terms that resonate with your new target audience.
If you are using a résumé format you used in the 80s or 90s, it will not only show your age but not utilize some of the key strategies of a 21st-century job search. Be sure your résumé is in line with today’s formatting standards: open with a Qualifications Summary and not an Objective Statement, focus on accomplishments and not responsibilities and utilize an engaging style of action-oriented content.
Think about it, if a résumé is unattractive, it repels readership. However, if you have a pleasing aesthetic, it compels readership and goes a long way to extending the screening process. Your résumé certainly could use a makeover to ensure it not only reads well but also attracts attention.
Regarding your question about how to frame the reason for leaving your last employer, this of course will not come into play until your interview. At that point honesty is always the best policy, but be sure to steer away from any negativity. Instead, focus on what the experience taught you about what you want in your next nonprofit engagement and employer, and how the employer in front of you fits the bill.
With a review of these tips to modernize your résumé, your experience will shine and potential disqualifiers related to the fears of aging your candidacy will be removed from your résumé. I wish you great success!
Because I work with a lot of clients with 20-30 years of experience, my Web site and ‘Dear Sam’ archive contain a number of samples that will reinforce the strategies presented above. View samples on www.ladybug-design.com/ blog.
Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Do you have a résumé or job-search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at email@example.com. For more about Sam’s résumé-writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.com or call (614) 570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).