Is Your Resume a Time Capsule?

In a competitive job market, you’re only as current as your resume. Don’t let sentimentality lose you opportunities.

When is the last time you had to write a resume? Three years ago? Five years ago? Most people don’t give much thought to their resume until they need it.

When dealing with job loss, many people find themselves trying to write their resume for the first time in decades. They pull it out of a drawer or a file, and it is as dated and out of touch with modern times as a time capsule would be. When we dig up a time capsule, we are amazed at how far things have advanced – how “ancient” those inclusions are. The same is true for a resume. It’s interesting to read, but that content is often comparatively ancient in today’s world.

The trick is letting go of those treasured bits of history and thinking about your resume as today’s news.

A resume is a marketing document for your career. It is akin to a billboard or a movie trailer – it has to communicate intriguing and important information about your career quickly. Many people pull out their old “time capsule” and just add the newer information to it. They don’t think about relevance or value of the older information. A resume can’t include everything you’ve ever done, and it shouldn’t try. Employers are simply interested in what you can do for them today.

What to keep? What to toss?
Executives’ experience may stretch back to the Nixon era, when the world was different: Business was different, technology was different, and economics were different. The experience gained in the early years of an executive career is foundational in nature and does not need to be detailed on a resume. Employers are interested in the most recent 10 to 15 years of experience because that is what is relevant to their needs.

Indeed, all information included on a resume should be evaluated for relevance. For example, three accounting classes taken in 1981 are not going to be a factor that sways a recruiter or hiring manager in 2009. Many people have emotional attachments to achievements or bits of their past and have a hard time letting go of that information when it is time to update a resume. Even asking the question “Is it relevant?” does not always help make a wise decision on inclusion/exclusion of information because everything is relevant for the person to whom that information belongs.

A few simple guidelines to help you keep your resume a lean, mean marketing machine:

  • How old is it? If the information is older than 15 years, scrutinize it carefully for relevance. It may have played a large role in building your career but is it relative now?
  • Is it in a different industry? People change entire career fields during their lifetimes. Is past experience in a different industry going to help you with your career target of today?
  • Is it fairly common or something that is “understood”? There is no need to list basic information like “attended biweekly meetings.” Including such information is just a waste of space.
  • Is the technology in use today? Most people at advanced career levels worked with earlier versions of software, but is it really necessary to include that you have background in Windows 3.0?

There are hundreds of “what-if” scenarios for deciding to include or exclude information, and often you will find conflicting opinions.

Let’s say you were an Eagle Scout in your youth. You may ask 10 recruiters whether they find such a nugget of information useful; five might say yes, and five might say no. Since this piece of information would often have a high emotional value to you if you held it, it may be difficult to decide to include it or not. Generally, if in doubt, leave it out. You can always bring it up in an interview or conversation if it would be relevant.

Employers and recruiters do not want to read time capsules. They want to read billboards and news releases about your career. They want to know what you can do that will help them meet objectives and improve processes today. Don’t let your emotional ties drag down your job search.