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Job Hunting During COVID? Here’s How to Update Your Resume

By Jessica Militare

Updating your resume can be a painstaking process, even without the stress of job hunting during a pandemic. And the stakes are high to make your resume stand out: Recruiters spend an average of 7.4 seconds reading them, and many companies use software—known as an Applicant Tracking System, or ATS— to automate the hiring process, which means your resume’s first reader could be a bot. How to level up your CV now? Consider these expert tips. 

Keep the Format Simple and Optimize for Artificial Intelligence

In a competitive job market, it’s smart to set yourself up with all of the important resume basics. Marli Crowe, founder and CEO of Crowe Career Services and workwear line C. Suite, says to follow a clean and simple format. Under your name header at the top, include your phone number, email, and a short, customized LinkedIn URL followed by a summary (a one or two line introduction highlighting your top skills and experiences); a skills section; and then professional experience. “If you’re applying for something different than the field you’re in, under that you can put a relevant experience section,” she says. Include pertinent older jobs you had like a cashier or stock clerk role if you’re looking for frontline work. Finish with education at the bottom.

Crowe says that if you’re applying for jobs at larger companies (and through most major job search platforms), you can assume your resume is going through an automated system before it reaches a hiring manager. Luckily, there are ways to optimize your resume so that it will end up seen by a human. Some expert-approved tips include using standard fonts like Arial and Calibri, uploading your resume as a regular document rather than a PDF, mirroring keywords from job descriptions throughout, and avoiding columns, graphics, and bright colors. Crowe also suggests using Jobscan, a tool that lets you upload your resume and job descriptions to see how likely your resume will get through an ATS. 

Examine How Your Career Has Shifted

But before updating your resume, do a little mental homework to see how the pandemic has changed your job or career, suggests Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill, career coach and founder of Avenir Careers. Make a bulleted list of new projects you took on or how your duties evolved. Then when reflecting those changes in your professional section or summary, “demonstrate the accomplishments that took place, and how you responded through innovation and adaptation,” he says. In other words: show, don’t tell. 

If you lost your job and have picked up part-time work or freelance projects, that’s worth highlighting too, says executive resume writer Wendi Weiner. “That’s really important to include because it shows a great amount of resilience,” she says. And if you’ve taken an online course or learned something new, add that to your skills section.  

Before COVID, there may have been more of a stigma attached to having gaps on your resume. But Weiner says it’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially with nearly 4 in 10 U.S. adults reporting that they or someone in their household lost a job due to the pandemic. It’s about flipping that script: “Think about ways in which you’ve shown adaptability and versatility in your skill sets,” she says. 

Prioritize transferable skills  

With companies streamlining operations or cutting budgets, you may have been laid off during COVID. “Your role might not be necessary right now because the world is changing,” says Crowe. That doesn’t mean your career is on hold. Transferable skills like organization, communication, and leadership are industry-agnostic, and Crowe says to include them in your  summary and professional experience. “Women second-guess themselves—like, I don’t have the skills for that,” says Crowe. “But more often than not, we do.”  

Weiner adds that people wanting to pivot careers often think if they’ve worked in one field, then they’re stuck. But that’s not the case. “If you’re a restaurant server, for example, you’re focused on customer experience, sales, and operational efficiencies to increase productivity and profitability,” she says. “If you want to go into, let’s say, public relations, HR, or operations in another industry, you can easily transfer those skills.”

And remember to make your resume understandable for someone outside of your current field. Bentsi-Enchill says to remove industry jargon and to spell out acronyms at first mention to more clearly convey your accomplishments.

Align Your Resume and LinkedIn 

It might sound obvious, but whenever you update your resume, make sure to reflect those changes on your LinkedIn profile as well. “LinkedIn gets you noticed for opportunities when you’re not actively pursuing them, and recruiters and hiring managers are on the platform daily,” says Weiner. By keeping your profile updated and optimized, she adds, you’re being proactive about potential job opportunities coming your way.

With these pointers and a positive attitude, you’ve got this. Good luck!