Ready for the next step in your career? Whether you are seeking an internal promotion or seeking career advancement opportunities outside of your current company, your resume will be an important indicator of your ability to excel at the next level. It might be the only chance you have to convey the achievements and qualifications that make you a great fit for your dream job, so be sure you are putting your best foot forward with a targeted, modern resume and crystal-clear personal brand.
Great Resumes Fast has had tremendous success in helping our clients reach their goals. Take, for instance, Carlos L., who had incredible career growth, skyrocketing from mid-level manager to operations executive in a few short years and more than tripling his annual salary. He noted that his resume was praised, not only for its conciseness and clarity but for also being reflective of his voice and personality. Between a strong, accurate, targeted resume and an active job search, he was equipped to impress potential employers and land the job he wanted.
So where do you start when it comes to writing a resume for internal promotion or external opportunities to advance your career?
Have Specific Career Goals – Know Your Next Step
Before sitting down to craft your resume and cover letter for promotion, there is prep work that needs to be completed. First and foremost, be sure to define and write down your target job. If you don’t have a specific objective or career advancement plan in mind, it is very difficult to write an effective resume or cover letter. Career planning is important at all stages of your career.
Questions to ask yourself to help determine your short-term and long-term goals:
– Where do you want to be (in your career) next year? And in five years?
– What aspects of your current job do you love the most?
– What are your priorities for your next position? (Salary, location, work/life balance?)
– What skills / work experience / credentials are standard for the position you are pursuing?
Job Search Prep – Informational Interviews Help Bring Clarity
If you know you are looking for career advancement, but aren’t sure about your target job, or if you are waffling between a few potential career advancement paths, sitting down for an informational interview with someone currently in one of your target jobs is a wonderful way to learn more about the day-to-day responsibilities and overall fit of a role. This is also a wonderful way to expand your network.
Questions to ask in an informational interview:
– Tell me about your career path. How did you get into and excel in this line of work?
– What would you say are the most key qualifications for someone in your position?
– What personal qualities or skills and abilities are important to being successful in this role?
– What professional associations do you participate in, if any? What journals do you read? What professional development or training experiences have you found useful?
– Who are some of your career role models? Did you have a mentor who helped you advance in your career?
– How do you see jobs like yours changing in the future?
Keep Track of Your Achievements – It’s Hard to Remember Details from 10 Years Ago
A standard executive resume typically goes back 10-15 years. Sitting down and trying to recall accomplishments from even a few years back is often a challenge. Going back eight or more years to remember specific projects and contributions that you have made as an employee is next to impossible unless you have an incredible memory! To avoid hitting a wall while working on your resume and professional cover letter, track your accomplishments on a weekly or monthly basis. Keeping notes in a Word document or journal is all you need to be prepared.
Key information to note down for future resume fodder can include:
– What projects/initiatives you are involved in
– The goals and results of your efforts
– Any quantifiable outcomes related to cost savings, revenue growth, client retention, etc.
– Performance improvements/promotions of employees tied to your coaching/mentorship
– Feedback on your own performance from employees, peers, supervisors
– Any achievements or contributions that relate to the position you are interested in
Bring Clarity to The Direction of Your Resume – Being Concise is Important
A common mistake when it comes to resume writing is to try to include everything you have ever done. But including every responsibility, every technology, your full education history, and all skills and abilities you can claim will quickly turn your resume into an unreadable, overwhelming document.
If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, your resume needs some revamping:
1.) Is there a lot of redundant information?
2.) Is the resume more than the standard two to three pages?
3.) Could the career summary be copied and pasted into someone else’s resume without many changes? (As in, could it apply to multiple people?)
4.) Are you listing skills rather than focusing on results?
5.) Are there relevant experiences or skills that are not conveyed on page one?
The best approach to a high-impact resume to help you move up the career ladder is to keep it laser-focused on the most relevant skills, experience, and qualifications that will show your ability to succeed in a higher-level position than you currently hold.
For example, Janet Gaines was a recent client of Great Resumes Fast who wanted to move from her position as a Registered Nurse (RN) to a home health services manager. While her nursing experience and strong knowledge base of patient care and healthcare, in general, were obviously important, the management position also called for a leadership and budget management skill set that she did not have the opportunity to gain through her prior nursing jobs.
During the course of the phone consultation with her resume writer, it came out that Janet had not included the small janitorial business that she had founded while completing her nursing degree because she assumed it would not matter for a healthcare resume. But in that leadership role, not only had she hired, trained, and supervised a small team, but she had also managed the company’s budget and grown the revenue 25% YOY for several years. Highlighting these relevant accomplishments helped to align her resume with the required qualifications of the job posting far more than her nursing experience alone could have.
In her new resume as seen in the sample above, the information about her business is front and center in the career summary to ensure that hiring managers don’t overlook her leadership or budget management successes. If it were not highlighted there, the reader would not find it until the end of the second page of her resume. Never trust that your reader will do such a careful review, especially for a first impression! Often during a first pass to narrow the number of candidates being considered your resume will get no more than a cursory glance, so make sure all of the key info is included on the first page.
Ideally, all of the information in the career summary should speak directly to the job posting for the target position, whether an internal position or an external position. In this case, the home health services manager position emphasized patient care, budget management, team leadership, and a focus on continuous improvement. It is no accident that these are all of the major points of the summary section. If the reader isn’t already convinced that you are a great candidate by looking at the first page, your summary isn’t doing enough to emphasize and align your value proposition with their requirements.
Career Summary Tips – Avoid Vague Phrases and Passive Language
You’ll also notice that in Janet’s new resume, the summary includes specific, concrete milestones and results with quantifiable results in lieu of the more typical vague or generic summary content.
Does your resume read as vague or generic as this example?
“Energetic team player and multitasker with exceptional attention to detail, people skills, and solid experience in telecommunications industry across accounting, finance, turnaround management, and investment decisions. Strong ability to build and lead teams that meet and exceed established goals and standards. Demonstrated skills in developing and executing programs that enhance operations.”
This sample summary belongs to a finance manager named Richard Wilde who is looking to move into an executive-level finance role. There are a few problems with this summary that I see often:
1.) Passive phrasing: the passivity of this language will negatively impact how the applicant is perceived, particularly when targeting leadership roles. “Strong ability to…” and “Demonstrated skills in…” should both be swapped out for more active, take-charge verbiage. For example: “Champions development and execution of programs that enhance operational efficiencies” is a much stronger statement.
2.) Even more importantly, this content is focused on soft skills and what the applicant “can do.” But the problem with “can do” statements like “strong ability to lead teams” is that there is no evidence provided from Richard’s career, making it a very vague declaration.
A better approach is to focus the summary on relevant achievements, particularly those that can be quantified. Richard and his resume writer worked together to determine that the key themes of his new resume would be leadership, turnaround management, C-level advising, and cost controls. These themes were drawn from the career opportunities that Richard wants to target such as FP&A director and CFO of a startup.
In his new resume, these key themes are emphasized in the summary and then reinforced throughout the experience section:
As you can see in the resume example above, the vague content touching on Richard’s experience has been replaced with specific entries for turnaround management/leadership, C-level advising, and cost savings. The inclusion of the chart of cost savings across his last three organizations makes his resume format more eye-catching and executive in nature. It also makes his cost savings impact unmissable.
Compared to his original entry, this summary looks and reads as more modern, achievement-focused, and targeted to the executive roles he is pursuing. It is also very specific and concrete, which for the reader translates into a far more memorable candidate.
Charts/Graphs in Resumes – It’s OK to Use a Modern Design
Including a visual can really make a resume stand out! I’m a big fan of a visually distinctive resume that uses charts/graphs to draw the reader in, break up the text, and emphasize important quantifiable accomplishments. Don’t be afraid to format a resume a bit creatively to help in marketing yourself.
You can find more inspiration for fresh, modern formats using charts and graphs by reviewing resume samples from the team at Great Resumes Fast.
Other formatting/layout ideas:
– Strategic use of color
– Bolded numbers
– Endorsement quotes (highlighted to stand out)
– Bulleted list of statements
– Text boxes
– Vertical text
Tip: Avoid overdoing it and/or focusing entirely on the resume format. It is important to have an attention-grabbing resume, but the content is the first priority. You don’t want to go overboard and create something chaotic and confusing to read, so be sure the design is helping to guide the reader to key achievements. Finally, if you are looking to advance in a more conservative industry or targeting companies with a traditional culture, you should think twice about a super-creative format.
Reweighting Experience – Emphasize the Important Details
When it comes to the Professional Experience section of a resume geared towards career advancement, it can often help to reweight the responsibilities and overall positioning. By this I simply mean emphasizing the most appropriate aspects of your current and past roles. For example, Richard Wilde’s leadership roles were somewhat limited, so highlighting his abilities as a change manager, coach, and trainer helped to preemptively overcome any concerns a reader might have.
Another great example is Creighton James, a healthcare operations executive targeting COO positions. He knew that his background was somewhat light on operational outcomes, since his background was largely in the area of patient safety. He spent seven out of nine years at XYZ Hospital as a patient safety officer / safety officer. While certainly relevant to his current COO objective, it made sense to omit many of his patient safety achievements to better emphasize the other work he did such as reducing labor costs and capturing profit gains. His original resume had 11 bullets for this hospital dedicated to patient safety duties. As a result, the other duties and achievements were completely lost in the lengthy entry.
As you can see, this entry excludes all but one bullet directly related to patient safety (with two focused on compliance) in order to better highlight the other accomplishments and package Creighton as well-rounded and well-prepared for the C-level.
It also groups all of the positions he held together rather than listing them separately. This is a perfectly standard approach, and in this case, it helped to de-emphasize the duration of his patient safety roles.
Resumes For Internal Promotions
If you are specifically targeting an internal promotion, you already have a major leg up on the external competition. Make sure to leverage your advantage! As an internal candidate, you can ask supervisors, clients, employees, and/or peers for a letter of recommendation; talk to people in the know about the qualifications the new job will require; and spend some time thinking about how you can help with the obstacles your company is currently facing. A format for a resume for promotion within the same company is also easier to come up with because you know your company culture.
When it comes to crafting your resume for internal professional advancement opportunities, be sure to avoid exaggerating your achievements or taking more credit than you can honestly claim for team accomplishments. In general, this is the best practice, but it is particularly key when the people reading your resume are familiar with your work in your current position. No one benefits from coming across as arrogant. It is much better to cushion your language to indicate collaboration.
Helpful phrasing for team achievements for use in internal resumes:
“Played a key role in…”
“Contributed xyz to project involving…”
“Partnered with executive leadership team to capture…”
Job Seeking – Understand the Benefits and Realities of Certain Methods
Job seekers looking to step into a higher-level role, whether outside or within their current company, should keep in mind that job boards and human resources departments are not necessarily going to be their best bet for landing a dream position. HR is mainly interested in finding a person who has already held and succeeded in an identical role to the open position, so anyone without the exact experience they are looking for won’t usually be the top choice.
Instead, think about the people you know and the companies you would be most excited to work for. I highly recommend making a list of everyone in your network as well as a target company list that you can use to start reaching out to people and companies directly. Talk to your friends, your family, and your colleagues about your job target and ask if they know of anyone at a company you are interested in that they would be willing to introduce you to.
The success rates for landing a job through a job board like Indeed, LinkedIn, or Monster is much lower than most people think, accounting for only about 5%-15% of hiring. Networking is still the best way to land your next job, especially when navigating career advancement.
If you are hoping to be promoted internally, keep your ears open for opportunities and keep an eye on internal job listings if your company sends them out. It’s almost certain that you will have the advantage of knowing when positions are open as an internal applicant, but you still need to be vigilant to ensure you do not miss out on opportunities for internal promotion within your same company.
Targeting Growth Companies – Who You Want to Work for is a Good Question
If you have already exhausted your existing contacts, think about targeting growth companies in your geographic location. You can use Google News Alerts to do your research for you. All you need to do is plug in keywords. For example, say you are searching for a position in the pharmaceutical industry in Toledo, Ohio. Pull up Google News Alerts and start plugging in search terms like these:
1.) Ohio + pharma + growth companies
2.) Toledo + pharma + corporate expansion
3.) Ohio + pharma + mergers/acquisitions
You can set up batched alerts so that Google sends you a weekly batch of news articles containing the keywords you selected. From there, it is a simple matter of wading through the articles to look for interesting opportunities. Once you have found something you want to pursue, the person quoted in the article can serve as your contact person. This is a highly flattering way to approach someone and it really shows initiative, passion for the company in question, and knowledge of the industry trends. It also eliminates the competition if you reach out to an employer about a job before they are even thinking about hiring for it.
Most of our clients come to us because of a lack of professional advancement opportunity with their current employer. Unfortunately, because they haven’t written a resume in several years, they struggle to create a resume that interests a prospective employer. At Great Resumes Fast, we’ve invested the last ten years helping executives just like you to craft a professional resume that not only attracts the attention of hiring managers, but also gets through the dreaded applicant tracking systems so many companies use today. And if you are seeking an internal promotion, we have the expertise to assist with that as well. After going through our resume writing process, our clients have gone on to new leadership and management positions where they earn more money, contribute at a higher level, and make a real and measurable impact on their company and their career. If you are ready for a more fulfilling and financially rewarding position, find out more here.
Thanks for reading! Want more job search and resume tips? Check out these 6 free resources on my website that have helped more than 25,000 job seekers land their next job.
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About the author
Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast
Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.
What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.
You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!
I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!
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