Dear Sam: I am trying to develop a resume that positions me for accounting and possibly auditing roles, but if I see a position I want to apply for in another field—as I was a nurse earlier in my career and am interested in possibly exploring that again—I do not want to limit my options. How can I develop a resume that keeps my options open? – Annie
Dear Annie: I hear this question all the time Annie. Candidates are so afraid to close doors—as they need a job—that they often create resumes without targeted content and with very diluted approaches. While keeping your options open may seem like an effective strategy, it is actually quite the opposite. While I certainly understand the need to not limit options in today’s job market, a one-size-fits-all strategy is rarely effective. Instead, one should really try to identify a primary target, even if this means you have a second or third target requiring modified resumes. If you try to present yourself as a jack-of-all-trades you suddenly become a master-of-none; clearly not a good presentation of your candidacy. Defining your purpose is the critical first step in crafting an effective resume, a step that facilitates your understanding of what your target audience is looking for and what keywords to incorporate into your resume. While you may have thought broadening your scope on your resume would yield more responses, it is likely it is doing the opposite.
Let’s take a look at your specific situation. When presenting your candidacy for an accounting or auditing role, you would be pulling from your recent and relevant experience in those fields. Your language would be centered around accounting and auditing keywords—reconciliation, reporting, payables, receivables, general ledger, journal entries, compliance, etc.—and you would use a traditional reverse chronological format. For this resume you may even omit your nursing experience as it occurred more than 15 years ago and does not really enhance your candidacy at this juncture in your career.
Now, if you presented that same resume to an employer seeking a clinical professional the accounting keywords would not resonate at all. It would be akin to doing a Google search for cars and seeing search results for cats…it just would not make sense! If you were to apply for nursing roles you would need to turn your candidacy upside down. By that I mean you would likely use a combination format resume so you could highlight earlier versus recent experiences. Your qualifications summary would contain completely different content and your core skills would be night and day to those on your accounting resume. And, you have to consider if you would be the “most” qualified candidate for those roles. Sometimes, just because we think we can perform a role does not mean the hiring manager will view our candidacy as strong enough to compete against those with recent relevant experience. It can be a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but defining where you will be seen as highly qualified really is an important step to ensure you conduct an effective and rewarding search.
If you want to pursue both career options, you would need to develop two different resumes to maximize your response. Preparing a resume that would keep your options open in this situation would yield very little if any response, significantly diluting the impact and effectiveness of your search. If we only need one job, let’s develop the most targeted resume possible so that when we send out a few each week we actually get a response. It can sound good to “keep your options open” but creating a general resume rarely does.