How to Update Your Resume for the 2024 Job Hunt

Quick Answer

To update your resume for the 2024 job hunt, focus on optimizing your resume for both human recruiters and applicant tracking systems (ATS). That means including targeted keywords, using numbers to back up your skills and sticking to standard formatting.

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When you're gearing up for a job hunt, it's essential to update your resume. Your resume's job is to help you land an interview by highlighting your unique talents, experience and skills. Nowadays, the pressure to craft an excellent resume may be higher than ever, when resumes need to be optimized for not just human recruiters but applicant tracking systems (ATS) too.

ATS software is used to screen job seekers and compile shortlists of qualified applicants. If your resume isn't tailored to the algorithms ATS uses to read your resume, it may never make it in front of a person at all.

So, beyond highlighting your achievements and marketing yourself as an ideal candidate, it's essential to avoid resume formatting mistakes and craft a keyword-rich resume. Here are seven steps to update your resume for the 2024 job search.

1. Sort Experience Chronologically

In general, you should sort your work experience so that your most current or recent position appears at the top of your resume and previous positions appear in order below it.

Some job seekers wonder whether it's a good idea to format their experience into a functional resume—in other words, a resume that sorts work experience by skills, rather than by chronology. While a functional resume could be called for in certain cases, such as if you lack work history, a chronological resume is usually a better choice. Apart from the chance that a potential employer or recruiter may give preference to a candidate with a strong chronological resume, a functional resume could also perform poorly with ATS.

2. Add Keywords to Your Resume

To ensure your resume is scored high by ATS programs, be sure to include keywords relevant to the role in your resume. Look at the position's job description for applicable, targeted keywords. Then, incorporate those skills throughout your resume, including in bullets describing your work experience.

Be sure to reference specific skills by name. For example, don't write "experience with web development software." Instead, write "proficient in HTML, CSS and Javascript."

On the other hand, don't resort to keyword stuffing or attempt to trick ATS by hiding keywords in white font—both of these can backfire and make you look unprofessional. Also, be sure to only use keywords if they're an accurate portrayal of your skills and experience.

3. Tailor Headings to Your Field

When it comes to showcasing your talent and experience, it's a good idea to start with standard section headers such as Education, Experience and Skills.

That said, resume conventions can vary across sectors and fields; federal resume conventions can differ from conventions in academia or in marketing, for instance. When in doubt, look for examples of resumes in your field. Running quick internet searches like "federal resume" or "researcher resume" can help you find examples appropriate to the position for which you're applying.

4. Stick to Standard Formatting

While the desire to display your creativity is understandable, it's often best to stick to basic formatting on your resume and avoid fancy fonts, columns, boxes or tables. All of these may go through ATS and come out a jumbled mess.

Remember that your goal is for your resume to end up in the hands of a recruiter after passing through screening. Try these formatting tips to keep your resume easily readable by screening software and recruiters alike:

  • Use bullet points and avoid long paragraphs of text.
  • Don't use multiple font styles and sizes. Also, stick to a standard font size between 10 or 12 points throughout your resume.
  • List employment dates to the right of positions and use MM/YYYY date format.
  • Rely on capitalization, bolded fonts and line spacing to set sections apart from each other. Putting section headers in all capitals can help ATS categorize the information on your resume.
  • Don't abbreviate terms that aren't abbreviated in the job description. If the position description spells out "master's degree," avoid writing "M.A. or M.S.," for example.
  • Put credentials (such as PhD or CPA) on a separate line from your name to avoid ATS combining them with your name.

5. Use Numbers When Possible

A top priority in crafting your resume is to ensure you're portraying yourself as qualified. Where possible, experts recommend using concrete numbers to back up your skills and experience.

For example, rather than writing that you "significantly improved customer experience," use quantifiable evidence—for example, "improved customer satisfaction scores for three consecutive quarters, up a total of 4% from 75% to 79%."

That said, if you don't have metrics to plug in, don't stress. Highlighting desirable soft skills, such as a track record of effective communication or good leadership, can also help you stand out. Whether you're listing hard or soft skills, frame your experience using action-oriented accomplishments. In other words, use strong verbs like designed, measured, coded, managed, streamlined or established to describe your skills.

6. Choose the Right File Type

When you're applying for a job online, your safest bet is to attach your resume as a .doc file type. This file type tends to be the easiest to read by most ATS systems.

If you're emailing your resume to a recruiter directly, you might opt to attach your resume as a PDF. Be sure to check the job listing for any specific instructions on what file type to attach and default to that guidance.

7. Proofread Your Resume

To avoid the cringeworthy mishap of an embarrassing typo noticed only after hitting submit, be sure to give your resume a final review. It's a good idea to run a spell check on your resume; beyond the risk of appearing unprofessional to recruiters, ATS also won't recognize misspelled words. Consider having a colleague or friend review your resume to catch details you may have missed.

Also, double-check your contact information to be sure it's accurate and up to date. You may not need to include your mailing address, but be sure that your email address and phone number are correct and up to date. Also, be sure not to include any sensitive or personal information, such as your Social Security number, age or marital status.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

The tips above can help you create a resume that showcases your unique talents and gets you closer to your career aspirations. Remember that, as you advance through your career, a resume is a living document that should change alongside you. It's always a good idea to update your resume as you gain new skills, certifications and experience.

As part of your preparation to make yourself a strong candidate, consider checking your credit report for free through Experian. In some states, employers can check your credit reports (but not credit scores) as part of their candidate screening process. Look over your report to ensure the accounts listed there are accurate. If you find inaccurate information on your credit report, you have the right to dispute it with the credit bureaus.