When you’re not actively looking for a job (whew-right?!), it’s easy to overlook that you might have to again someday (bummer-right?!). So as you happily move past the job search the last version of your résumé collects dust on the shelf. All the while, you may forget important accomplishments you’ve made in your current role. It’s a lot harder to try to remember every persuasive detail on the fly when you’re stressed from actively applying for the next job.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for updating résumé content or knowing when you should. However, you can keep it current by thinking about what you’re accomplishing, how your responsibilities change, and tracking the deliverables you submit.
During the Passive Job Search
Anyone with more than one job under the belt will tell you that you’re always in the job market. Today, you’re already employed and not looking leave anytime soon, so you’re considered “passively” in the job market. You’re not entirely out of the game because, well, things happen. You might get laid off or fired. Your boss may retire, leaving you stuck with a troll. You may want a promotion, a higher salary, a change in career, or to switch from contract work for full-time.
Whatever situation puts you back in the job market, you need a résumé, and not the one you submitted last time. So it pays to be proactive by updating elements of your résumé before you need another job, instead of just when you’re scrambling to hustle for a new role. You save a lot of time and have a lot less stress when you update regularly (while also delivering a more complete, persuasive, meaningful resume to potential employers).
When you’re assigned a new project or task (ad hoc)
Whenever you’re assigned a new task, project, or management responsibility, jot down some notes about what you expect to do. You can write down the explanation you get from your manager or grab some tasks/milestones from the project plan.
As the work moves along, you may receive new direction or take on other responsibilities. As you recognize these changes, add or revise the role expectations, successful deliverables, or challenges you had to overcome. Don’t worry about perfecting the quality of the details at this point. You just need to jot these items down to get the ball rolling (so you don’t forget about what you really did six months later). Include anything from the desired outcome to the process methodology you used.
When you receive praise or go beyond assigned job duties
If you’re a registered nurse, you know that any job role you take requires compassion toward patients and strict adherence to cleanliness and safety codes. When you receive positive feedback or a former patient sends you a thank you letter, make sure you write down exactly what they said about your service. If you create your own sanitation checklist that your team uses to make sure all instruments and rooms are free from contaminants, you’ve successfully created a system the organization uses to improve service and safety.
If your work involves event planning, you can list the number of attendees and budget at an event, but also incorporate the feedback you receive from the client and guests. You can start with the exact feedback, such as “best use of natural flowers in centerpieces that I’ve seen” and “so much attention to detail that every ounce of the space matched the event.” Later on, you can revise the details to fit résumé language. For example, if you see a pattern of compliments indicating you’re the best at filling a space with themed elements, write that you continually receive exemplary feedback on the overall quality of events related to intricate theming details.
If you’re in personal finance, list non-personal details about new clients and how your personal approach helps them get out of debt five years sooner than they expect or how you help them allcate their money into the right investment accounts to maximize potential earnings . Again, if you start to see a pattern, such as being the best at maximizing investment opportunities and return, list it as a focal point when you refine the details on your résumé.
When you think about that promotion, raise, or dream job
You do want to stand out from the crowd of potential applicants when the time comes, right? Then you’ll need a good record of what you’ve accomplished, and not just a listing matter-of-fact tasks that make up a minimum job requirement. You don’t want to just list what you did to fill each hour, but how it made a positive impact on your employer.
Reviewing your work as you do it (or soon after completing it) not only helps identify accomplishments and patterns of value-add work, it helps demonstrate your ability to consistently provide strategic direction to help the company meet its target sales or production goals (even when you’re not a manager). And it shows your willingness to continue to seek educational opportunities to hone your skills and acquire new ones.
Don’t sell yourself short here. Just because something is easy for you or you feel it should cover the bare minimum, you likely accomplish more than you even realize. Did you help gather requirements for a new HR system or save your personal clients at least 5% compared to similar real estate agents or by selling a house on their own?
An example from my experience was when I was doing some freelance writing (or ghost writing since my name was never in the by line) for a content technology company. When I started the writing projects, I created a quick entry in my résumé listing the company, start date, and high-level statement that I was a freelance writer. At that point, I knew very little about what I’d need to learn to do the writing, how often I’d join briefing meetings, or what the high quality of my work would mean to the company.
So when I went back six months later, I realized I had a lot more to say than that I was just a freelance writer. I’d written a majority of their featured and most popular content. I also had a 100% success rate with the bylined magazine article opportunities they submitted to various publications. I made note of these accomplishments in my résumé, so that when I went back to refine it, I didn’t just say, “Wrote article content for a technology company.” It’s much more persuasive and inspiring to a hiring manager to read that my content was what my clients and their audiences viewed as their best, and that I knew how to research publication guidelines to get my work accepted (helping to get their company name and brand out there for more visibility and customer generation).
When you complete a milestone or certification
When you complete a major milestone, blast through a roadblock, pass all your required certifications, or successfully mentor a new trainee, make sure you list the accomplishment and provide details you can verify with samples or that your personal references can back up. Make sure the details measurable when possible and explain how your work benefits your customers/patients/clients/team members, and the organization’s bottom line.
Take a little time to turn a “soft accomplishment” into hard numbers. A friend of mine once worked as a marketing specialist where she handled all the logistics around the company’s trade show participation. With a little advance planning and cajoling of the various sales executives, she was able to collect and ship all the required collateral in advance on a single pallet, saving the company hundreds in shipping costs. To the tune of a 10 percent reduction in overall trade show expenses. A note about making the execs pay attention to deadlines turned into an eye-opening résumé item.
Update Your Resume Quarterly (at least)
With all these high-level notes you make about your assignments and responsibilities, how much money your efforts made or saved, and compliments/awards you received, you still need to go through and put the information into better reflections and action statements. Add a recurring appointment (at least quarterly) to your calendar, and turn these notes into the types of statements a recruiter or hiring manager would find persuasive within the résumé itself. Revise your professional summary to incorporate the extra experience and achievements. Add line items to the specific role in your experience section to bulk up the number of accomplishments you’ve made (whether your strategic approach solved a problem or your requirements gathering unearthed key functionality that would’ve been missing otherwise). In the special awards and recognitions section, show how your compassion for those you serve won you an award or earned you a promotion in record time.
When you get done refining these details, go through all the standard spot checks before you submit your résumé for another role. Proofread to catch typos (read backwards to catch those that spell and grammar check won’t catch), edit to omit extra words and to make the statements clearer, and verify information (contact information, employment dates).
Although the last thing you want to think about when you’re happily employed is eventually being on the job hunt again, it’s a great idea to keep that resume updated so that you don’t forget key items that will make you stand out and don’t have to scramble when you’re stressed applying for jobs.