Resume Update OR Resume Rewrite?
This guide is designed to help you decide when it’s time to update — and when it’s time to rewrite it entirely.
When you’ve got a great resume — especially one created by a professional resume writer — it can be difficult to decide to throw it out and start over again. But even the best formats can become outdated as technology changes. And what worked in one profession may not be appropriate in another.
So, how do we know when is the right time for resume update or resume rewrite?
When To Update and When To Rewrite Your Resume
How long ago was your resume created?
- If your resume was created within the last year to 18 months, and you’re seeking a similar role to your current position, the answer is easy: Update your existing document.
- If the resume was created 18 months ago up to 3 years ago, and you’re seeking a similar role, the right answer is probably to update the existing resume.
- The more difficult choice is if the resume was created between 3-5 years ago. In that case, examine the resume format. If the structure is still modern in appearance, and adding the new information doesn’t substantially affect the format, a refresh is most likely the right choice.
- If the resume was created more than five years ago, 99 times out of 100, the right answer is to start over. Trends change — for example, the use of color on resumes, or removing physical addresses. Neither of those things alone makes a document look outdated, but a fresh format can make the resume even more effective.
How long ago was your resume last updated?
- If your resume was updated in the last 12 months, another update is probably appropriate. There probably isn’t a whole lot that has changed in terms of format or technology.
- Has it been up to three years since your most recent update? The answer whether to update or rewrite will depend. Like with a new resume, consider whether the format is still relevant and whether the new content you’re adding will fit into the existing structure.
- If it’s been more than three years since your resume was last updated, consider an overhaul. A resume that was created three years ago will often be substantially more modern in content and appearance than one that was simply updated three years ago. Thus, rewriting is probably the right approach.
Are you seeking a new role in the same profession, or are you changing professions?
- If you are pursuing a new role in a different field, whether to update or rewrite depends on if the industry you are targeting has different standards for resumes than your current industry. If you are a sales representative for a creative company (a children’s toy manufacturer, for example) and you’re pursuing a sales representative position in the financial services industry, you may want to take a fresh approach to your resume’s format and appearance. If, however, you’re an accountant for a large school district and you’re seeking an accounting position for a midsize private company, you may be able to keep the same content and format.
- If you are changing careers entirely, you will want to rewrite. You can’t use the same resume for substantially different positions. If you’re a teacher and you want to pursue a role in outside sales, your education-focused resume probably won’t work. If you’re a former trial lawyer who is seeking a role in nonprofit administration, you’ll want a new format that showcases your transferable skills.
- There’s a middle ground. If you’re pursuing a similar career, but not exactly, you may be able to retarget your existing resume without starting entirely from scratch. In this situation, rely on your resume writer to guide you to the right path.
Is there an “Objective” statement at the top of your resume?
- If the answer is yes, you need an overhaul. Even removing the objective statement probably won’t be enough to meet the standards of a modern resume, since the content in the top 1/3 of the resume is so critical. (It needs to be replaced with branding statements and content that showcases your qualifications.)
Is your resume font Times New Roman – or does the resume have Comic Sans anywhere on it?
- While both of these might indicate a “dated” look, the answer may be as simple as selecting all the text and choosing a more modern body font (Calibri, Tahoma). But having one of these fonts on your resume may also be a sign that the whole document needs a fresh approach.
- Font choice can be a sign that your resume may need an overhaul. Dated fonts may be a symptom that you need to do more than simply selecting new fonts.
Are you using a functional resume format?
- Functional resumes — which use a format that focuses more on skills than on chronological work experience — have lost favor in recent years because they are not often compatible with how applicant tracking systems (ATS) parse (or organize) data. Because the format often omits employment dates — and may not even list specific jobs or employers — the resume data may not populate the fields correctly in some ATS software. In addition, many recruiters and hiring managers don’t like functional formats.
- Even a chrono-functional, hybrid, or combination format may not work with some ATS software. But more important, a resume using one of these formats may be deemed to be “out of date” or “not modern.” There are more appropriate ways to highlight skills and accomplishments even when the work history may not be very appealing in a strictly chronological sense.
Has your existing resume gotten too long?
- Resume length isn’t cut-and-dry. Resumes in some professions run 3-4 pages on the low end. But if your resume is three pages because it includes 25 years of work experience in excruciating detail, it may be time to start completely from scratch. The reason is: If you’ve just constantly added new positions without thinking through the strategy of what you’re including on your resume, it may be best to reinvent it.
Does your resume have an “out-of-balance” or “outdated” appearance?
- This is common if you had your resume professionally written and designed, but you’ve since tried to keep it up to date yourself. Especially for beautiful, modern designs, it can be difficult to add information without affecting the formatting. In this case, you may only need a simple update, but you should probably return to the original creator to ensure that the integrity of the content and formatting remain intact.
How often should you update your resume?
- Anytime you take on a new role (new job or promotion), update your resume. (You may wait 30-90 days to add it to make sure that the position is a good fit and you’re going to stay in the role, but three months is usually a sufficient time to make that decision.)
- You should review your resume at a minimum at least once a year. Evaluate your current roles and responsibilities, update any accomplishments, list new skills, and add in any new education, training, or volunteer activities.
- Update the resume when something significant happens — even if it’s only been a few months since your last update. That could be completing a certification, adding a new skill to your repertoire, or finishing a big project. Add information while it’s fresh in your mind so you don’t forget to include all the important details.
- When you’re laid off or fired, you’ll need to include the ending date of your last position on your resume. You can take advantage of a very short window (30 days or less) to apply for roles while your current position still says it is “to present,” but much beyond that could turn off prospective hiring managers when they learn you’re currently out of work and you didn’t update your resume accordingly.
- If you’re ready for something new, and if you want to stand out in your field, having a fresh, modern resume ready to go is important. You never know when the right opportunity might open up and if you don’t have a resume ready, you might miss out on it.
When in doubt about anything related to your resume or job search, ask your professional resume writer! Career industry professionals stay up to date about trends in resumes and hiring technology and will be able to advise you about the best solution for your specific needs.
About the Author
Mandy Fard is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW, CMRW) and Recruiter with decades of experience in assisting job seekers, working directly with employers in multiple industries, and writing proven-effective resumes.
Feel free to connect with Mandy Fard on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mandyfard/
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