How to Make Your Resume Relevant to 21st Century Readers

Whether you’re a new associate or a partner with a corner office, it is always wise to have your resume at the ready. Whether you are gainfully and happily employed or in search of your next move, opportunities and unexpected career roadblocks rarely present themselves according to plan. As you develop professionally, keep in mind that your resume must develop as well… and stay current to today’s readers.

A Brochure, Not a Blueprint

Contrary to popular belief, a resume’s purpose is not to land a job by listing details about employment history and responsibilities. Rather, it is a key piece of marketing collateral essential to building your network (that may include potential employers down the road), promote what you have to offer, and entice them to want to learn more. In other words, it needs to serve as your brochure and not your blueprint.

Resume Reading is Evolving

People read resumes differently than they did even as recently as two years ago. They spend less time than ever and are comfortable reading important documents on a multitude of devices from laptops to handhelds.

Here’s a look at today’s audience:

21st Century Resume Readers





For today’s readers, your resume must impress in record time. Decision-makers receive more resumes than ever and have less time to devote to each. The five components below will facilitate a powerful skim-read regardless of the device used:

1. Career Title: Similar to a news headline, a resume career title tells the reader the kinds of roles you seek or your industry expertise. Customize accordingly to show the reader you are well-suited for a particular type of role. For instance, you can target a particular legal niche by adding your specialty to the front of your career headline (i.e. Mergers & Acquisitions Practitioner).

2. Branding Paragraph: Replace the old objective statement and skip the generic summary that could describe anyone. Include instead a paragraph that describes strengths unique to you with language aligned with what the reader is searching for in an ideal candidate.

3. Bullets v. Blocks: Replace paragraphs with one- and two-line bullets that highlight your achievements. Online readers have a hard time digesting large blocks of text—a challenge that increases as a screen size grows smaller.

4. Front-loaded Bullets: Skip the adjectives, qualifiers, and lead-ins. Make sure each bullet leads with the achievement, so it’s the first thing the reader sees. Here’s an example:

“Saved client $10M via contract negotiations” v. “Led contract negotiations that saved client $10M.”

5. Lose the Role Overview Statement: Today’s reader often only skims the first bullet below each job description during the first pass—making it critical to show them what you can do right off the bat. Ask yourself what your proudest moment was at each role and lead off with that. This is far more telling and certainly more memorable than a ho-hum statement explaining your main responsibilities.

A Resume Facelift

A resume that is up-to-date in terms of career history but outdated style-wise speaks volumes, and may give the wrong impression about a candidate’s ability to remain flexible and willingness to remain current. These four quick fixes can help:

1. List Only One Contact Number

Today’s resumes usually include just one number and don’t clarify that it is a mobile, office, or home. Make sure yours is a number where yours is the voice the caller hears when leaving a message.

2. Drop the Retro Email

Emails with a Hotmail or AOL extension are a surefire way to let the reader know your technology aptitude has not evolved. Switch to a newer email like Gmail.

3. Skip References

While courteous, “references available upon request” is passé. Make better use of this space by showcasing an achievement or including an industry affiliation.

4. Summarize Older Material

Your achievements from the last 10-15 years are most relevant to your next step. Save space and remove dates from older experience.  Devote a few lines if the experience tells a good story. Otherwise simply include the company name and title if noteworthy or omit it altogether.

The Shift From Generalist to Specialist

It used to be that a top performer wearing a multitude of hats had the competitive advantage. These candidates would not be so lucky today. Although the economy is recovering, decision makers remain nervous about pulling the trigger and making an offer unless the candidate appears to be a perfect fit for the role at hand.

In other words they want to see a specialist. To prove your expertise, the resume must show the skills they ask for with results to prove it.

Generalist v. Specialist Resume Bullets


☑ Counsel on all Finance, Treasury, and Tax projects.


☑ Counsel on Finance, Treasury, and Tax projects including $700M Senior Notes Issuance, $500M Credit Facility agreement and refinancing, and $300M Commercial Paper Program and program update.

Take a Cue From Job Postings

Rarely will a job posting ask for a jack-of-all-trades. Customizing your resume in a few key areas will help guide the reader to see how your skills align with their needs.

1. Keyword and Key Phrase-Rich Branding Paragraph

Look for key phrasing and terms unique to a role. Skip descriptors like “results-driven,” “strong track record” or “excellent communications” as these apply to a multitude of candidates and roles. If certain qualifications are clearly critical to this role and you possess them—make sure your branding paragraph says so and backs it up with stats.

Keyword/Key Phrase-Rich Branding Paragraph Example

Position Requirements:

☑ legal/case research

☑ knowledge of regulatory compliance and industry

☑ stays current on legal trends

☑ experience preparing legal documents, agreements, pleadings and contracts

☑ experience leading teams

Branding Paragraph Example

Senior litigator provides legal counsel and protects the rights and interests of wide-ranging enterprises. Leads teams that prioritize fast-paced workload and meet stringent deadlines.

Presents strategies to key stakeholders based on case research and statutory interpretation that gain buy-in for risk mitigation strategies related to litigation, legislation, transactions, and contracts.

Monitors legal and regulatory development and trends. Prepares legal documents, agreements, pleadings, memoranda, and contracts that ensure operational and regulatory compliance.

2. On-Point Headers

Swap generic headers like “Experience” or “Career Overview” for headers that reinforce the role for which you are applying such as “Commercial Transaction Experience” or “Construction Litigation Experience.”

3. Ranked Bullets

Move your job description bullets up or down based on the role you are targeting. Select your top bullets based on their relevance to a potential position.

Catalyst for Learning More—Managing Your Online Brand

Resumes are often the catalyst for taking the next step to learn more about you. While a phone call is not out of the question, many will begin with an Internet and/or LinkedIn search. Take command of how you look online by managing your Internet footprint and putting your best foot forward. Conduct online searches regularly to reveal blog posts, articles, and other web content that may impact your online brand.

Ensure consistent messaging on public sites by expanding the language in your resume’s branding paragraph. Use it to beef up the summary section of your LinkedIn and your firm’s bio, and pare it down to serve as your intro profile on Twitter.

New Times Call for New Techniques

As is the case in most industries, styles, trends, and user habits continue to evolve. Resumes are no exception. While tempting to include everything potentially of value, it is more important to keep sight of the big picture. Make your resume too long, too wordy, too detailed, or too convoluted and you risk the chance it will never get read.

Maintain a competitive advantage by keeping yours current—in style and content—and by writing and formatting in a way that quickly captures attention, informs, and makes you memorable.

About the Author

Virginia Franco is a Nationally Certified Resume Writer and the CEO of Virginia Franco Resumes. Follow her on Twitter @VAFrancoResumes.

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