Keep your resume up to date

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How often should I update my resume?

You’ve done everything right from cover letter to salary negotiation. You’ve gotten the job. Now it’s time to join “the order of orderly career managers.”

Membership is free, but you have to do the right things to enter this small group. The order of orderly career managers holds that job seeking doesn’t end just because you’re newly employed. It deems systematic career planning an advantage in securing the next big job.

That starts with updating your resume regularly.

If you’re like most people, that may run counter to your nature. You’re reactive, more likely to revise only when motivated by a great job prospect. “There’s a job I’d like, better get the resume polished. Now what were the dates of that big marketing project I led?”

Do you see a problem? Exactly! It’s easier to keep track as you go along.

Fast-moving market

Remember, job changes are occurring faster and more frequently than ever. Competition for plum openings is fierce, what with Internet recruiting reaching worldwide and cash bonuses paid to employees for making helpful referrals. One recent survey found that even senior executives are switching jobs every three to four years.

Anything delaying your response may hurt your chances. “Ideally, everyone should have a working copy of a resume,” says Wendy Enelow, a veteran resume writer and author of several books on career management. “It’s like exercise, a little bit every day and you’ll be better off than if you’d never done any. It’s fun, empowering to have a plan and work the plan and change the plan as situations change. If you do that consistently, the efficiency is going to be so much better.”

How often?

How regularly you update your resume varies, according to an informal survey I conducted of some of this country’s best-known resume writers. Some resume pros say a monthly review is best. Such frequency ensures that nothing will slip by. But others maintain that once a quarter or every six months is sufficient to keep up with changing responsibilities, new projects or promotions. However, they all agree that you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to brag about yourself.

If you don’t need to follow a steady rhythm, I believe you update whenever you do something that’s fresh and positive careerwise.

What merits a change?

It’s more important that you recognize them when those events occur. Some job seekers think only promotions or similarly major events merit noting.

But smaller developments can also reflect favorably. Have you worked so capably at a new job that you’re now supervising employees? Write it down. Don’t be timid about telling a prospective employer about projects you’ve been assigned or a change in your reporting line. If you’re a junior accountant who is suddenly working directly with a firm’s senior partner, that probably speaks volumes about your ability.

“You want it to reflect every competitive differentiator you have in your toolbox,” Enelow says.

Los Angeles-based James Peter Rubin has written about employment and management issues for many publications, including The Wall Street Journal and The Economist.