Career Advice, Resumes

 “Ask a Resume Writer: Should I Update My Resume, or Start from Scratch?”

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“At what point do you stop just tacking on new information to the resume and start over? I can’t tell whether what I have now is helping or hurting my chances.”

Think of your resume as a personal “hype man” who is going to help you secure new opportunities. 

Do you have him present a perfected version of an old pitch, or a bold NEW vision?

The answer can be totally different depending on your situation. 

So let’s run through them to see what works best:

You Need a New Resume If….

1. You’re Pursuing a Totally Different Type of Job

Let’s say you’re a physician who is looking to transition into a physician executive role. The resume you’ve built up over the years will not help you make this change. That’s because a physician’s resume is all about establishing credibility in that role: what institutions you’ve worked at, what your specializations are, etc. Its primary goal is to help you secure further physician opportunities. 

However, what makes for a great physician executive resume is vision. How will you effect change? How will you move things forward? And most crucially, how will your past experiences fuel success in this role?

From a practical POV, a surgeon’s resume might well be a dry and lengthy document that goes through the entire work history. Whereas a physician exec’s resume could start with addressing some major pain points, and structuring the work experience section to highlight transferable skills and successes FIRST, and consolidate everything else. 

In cases like this, with such a huge disparity between targets, starting from scratch is usually the best way to go. 

2. Old Experience Gets Just as Much Emphasis As New

Do the most important roles in your resume (usually the ones held in the past 3-5 years) receive the most attention? Are you doing a great job of highlighting your “marquee” skills? Have you taken the time to craft compelling accomplishments? Or are they lost within the clutter of a noisy document that gives as much space to non-pertinent skills and ancient history like internships? Giving everything equal importance is another way of saying nothing is given importance. Reinvent it. 

3. You Have Skeletons in Your Work History

It’s amazing how many jobseekers ignore the option to structure their resume in a way that downplays potential red flags. Remember: a resume is a marketing document, not a legal one. You have zero obligation to put everything on there — and if its a negative piece of information, you should seriously consider every means at your disposal to remove it from the equation. 

One option is to go with a functional resume format instead of chronological. 

A chronological resume looks something like this: Opening Section + Professional Experience (most recent job to least) + Education and closing sections (training, affiliations, etc.)

Now let’s take a look at a functional resume format: Opening Section + Bulleted accomplishments that offer a “snapshot” of your entire career + A brief listing of major roles you’ve had and dates + Education and closing sections

The functional resume format is way more useful for hiding big work gaps and eliminating roles you don’t want employers poking into. However, be careful: this approach really only works for lower -level positions. The higher up you go, the greater the pressure to be comprehensive, and that almost always means chronological. 

You Don’t Need a New Resume if….

1. It’s Consistently Generating Attention

Don’t mess with what works. If your primary grievance with the resume is that it’s aesthetically unpleasing or messy language-wise, but it continues to deliver results where it counts most, don’t reinvent the wheel. You may very well short circuit the positive impression that’s causing employers to reach out. 

2. You’ve Held Multiple Short-Term Positions Recently

Short-term or consulting roles are often better placed in a single section with 1 to 2 bullet points for each. Don’t make them the sole focus of your resume, and definitely think twice about reinventing the document to cater to these roles.

3. You’re Not After a Major Seniority-Level or Job Scope Change

Some positions aren’t about climbing the corporate ladder (ex. a Cardiothoracic Surgeon). Other professionals have already reached the place where they want to play at (ex. CFO) and are now on the lookout for different companies and sectors to ply their talents. In both of these situations, experience trumps branding, and you should simply build upon what’s already there. 


Anish Majumdar is an internationally recognized Career Coach, Executive Resume Writer, and LinkedIn Expert. His posts and videos reach a combined audience of 30M professionals every month. 

Take part in Anish’s free webinar training on Generating New Career Opportunities ON DEMAND in the Age of LinkedIn:


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