Resumes need to be fluid documents now, carefully crafted for specific purposes. I was applying for an adjunct teaching position at a local college. My full-time job was intact—thank God—but I wanted to broaden my marketability, and my options for a second career in the future. In the short term, it was just going to be a part-time gig, but the process for getting it required no less than a full-on effort.
I hadn’t taught in years, so I emphasized the fact that I had a master’s degree and was a published author. Colleges love that stuff. I made a lot of my speaking engagements at conferences and schools, as well as any volunteer work that involved some instruction, even if it was just helping friends and family with their college application essays. I wouldn’t have dreamed of including anything like that back in the day.
Which brings up another point: The fact that I even have a “back in the day.” In this market, age is a sore point—but only if you fail to make it a winning one. If you’re 50 or over, the rule of thumb is to minimize, by removing your graduation dates and even the exact dates of any position prior to your most recent one.
If you’re under 30, you want to max out your depth of knowledge and experience, including everything you’ve done of relevance and value dating back to junior high, if necessary. Of course, you don’t want potential employers to realize you were only 12 when you scored “record sales” as the “marketing director” of your BFF’s Girl Scout Cookie “business.” So use common sense, and be honest. If you started a not-for-profit in 10th grade that’s still a thriving entity, put it out there; it shows leadership and commitment.
If, like me, you’re a tweener on the age front, you want to be as aware as possible of your likely competition. If you skew older than the average person in that field, lean toward the over-50 rules; if you’re younger, enjoy what could in today’s market be an advantage, but adopt the under-30 approach, just to be safe.
At all times, keep in mind that jobs and what it takes to get them may be distinct, but the goal of every resume is the same: To get you an interview. Toward that end, certain rules remain unchanged in spite of our upside-down world. Visual appeal is key; it should be concise and to the point; experience comes first, education last; all basic contact info should be clear and accurate (that phone number had better be one that gets answered); and there should be no errors. None. Not grammatical, spelling, typos, or tenses. You need not give a potential employer the easiest reason of all to trash your resume and, by extension, you: Carelessness.
As for me, I got offered the job but it paid so little relative to the amount of time and energy it would require, that I didn’t take it. But the process yielded me an updated resume (something we should all have at all times—another basic rule that never changes) and a serious workout in terms of what today’s market requires of us in this area. It was humbling, for sure, but well worth it.