Dear Sam: I have read several of your columns and was intrigued with your ability to improve a resume. I was recently informed that, after 12 years with my current company, my position would be eliminated in January. Having not updated a resume or interviewed during that time, your thoughts on how to modernize a resume are of great interest. I saw you have mentioned several times that the resumes you receive are often outdated in format. Could you share what a current resume format looks like? I want to try to get this correct the first time and get back in the workforce. – Paul

Dear Paul: Thank you for your readership; I would be happy to share more about the structure of a best practices-based resume and I am sorry to hear of your impending layoff.

First, determine what direction you are going to take your career as this plays an absolutely vital role in what direction you must take your resume. If you have not figured this out, it is time to do so, as without that key target you will not know where to aim your resume and its content.

Next, start writing down the basics. Remember that hiring managers will want to know about the last 10-15 years or so of your career, so focus on your most recent roles. Think about your jobs not only in terms of what you did every day, but most importantly, what you did that added value to the company. If you have access to past job descriptions, performance reviews, letters of recommendation, or anything else that will help jog your memory, now is the time to use those resources, preferably before you leave in January. Start talking to current and past co-workers, not only to build your job search network, but also to reach out to those that may have very valuable information on what you did that added value to your employer.

Once you have the basics drafted, carefully craft the content and design of your resume, being sure to not fall victim to the often-committed resume faux pas. Your resume should be structured as follows…

Heading: Include your name, cell phone number, and personal email address. We often omit physical addresses these days and just list the city and state of residence. Home phone numbers are increasingly rare so if you have a mobile number only list that as a preferred method of contact. Be sure your email address does not contain numbers that look like birth years nor uses what could be seen as an “older” carrier (sorry AOL and Hotmail).

Qualifications Summary: Up-to-date resumes open with qualifications summaries, serving as an executive summary of the information contained throughout the remainder of the resume. As an experienced professional you should have a two-page resume, making the qualifications summary critical to the four-to-seven-second screening process. Take the time to make this summary market you well, conveying why a hiring manager cannot afford not to bring you in for an interview.

Professional Experience: When reviewing your career, remember that hiring managers are much more interested in what you have done recently, and of course what most relates to their needs. Be sure to focus on the last 10-15 years of your career, particularly if you are applying for a position that does not necessitate more experience. Structure your content with more focus paid to accomplishments versus responsibilities, realizing that many of your competitors may be coming from similar roles with identical job descriptions. Your accomplishments or key contributions are what are unique about your candidacy.

Education: Present your college degree (if you have one) and never include your high school diploma unless you are pursuing a blue-collar job. It is assumed you possess a diploma, so if you do not have a degree including a high school diploma only highlights the lack of a college education.

Value-Added Information: End your resume with any other value-added details such as affiliations, certifications, training, volunteer work, and anything else that brings credence to your professional candidacy.

Check out professional resume writing websites like my own for ideas on attractive formatting, being sure to create your own look that doesn’t look like an overused Word template available to the masses. The look of your resume says a lot about your candidacy, your attention to detail, and your ability to create an engaging document.

Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume-writing firm. Do you have a resume or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at dearsam@ladybug-design.com. For more about Sam’s resume writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.com or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).