BY Fast Company Contributor 3 MINUTE READ

Ladders founder Marc Cenedella walks you through a résumé-writing exercise designed to showcase how you made the most of a bad year.

Whatever career plans we hoped to achieve last year likely got torn up by the pandemic that also scrambled our economy. To get back on track for 2021, think about updating your résumé both to take advantage of opportunities presented by a vaccinated world and to defend yourself against the downsides of the coronavirus recession.

The good news is that the unemployment rate for college-educated Americans has returned close to pre-COVID-19 levels. Last January, the college-educated unemployment rate was at 1.9%. With the pandemic, it rose to a high of 8.4%. That’s very bad considering 5.0% was the worst rate recorded during the Great Recession. Happily, with PPP and our resilient modern economy, it has come down to 3.8% today. Still not as good as a year ago, but quite a bit better than the recent past.

This rate of improvement has had a big impact on businesses’ enthusiasm for hiring. At Ladders, we have historically seen a 50% slowdown over the holiday period in the number of job postings in the six-figure salary range. Fortunately for you (but unfortunately for our operations team, who got no break at all), volume stayed high throughout December, double what it normally is at that time of year. And January seems even stronger still.

All of which means that now is a time to carefully review your résumé to position yourself well for what the year ahead may bring.


We’ve all learned to work and succeed in new ways in a very short period of time. On your résumé, highlight for future employers how you’ve taken the opportunity to grow during the pandemic.

Recruiting and managing remotely, keeping up with communications through Zoom, taking your client schmoozing skills to new levels online—all of these achievements deserve recognition on your résumé. For your current or most recent job, be explicit in your top bullet points on how you helped your team and your company succeed despite the odds.

To make it through the past year, you showed grit and resilience. Things broke, systems failed, old habits changed. Showcase how you adapted to our wretched year by changing your behavior, creating new systems, and rolling with the punches. By now, employers realize that the future is always uncertain and the best employees are not the ones who can follow the rule book, but rather are the ones who can persevere when the rules have all gone away. Detail how you turned the contingencies of this crisis into an opportunity to outperform.

If your company thrived in 2020: There were winners in 2020. Home entertainment, online retail, delivery, remote-friendly business tools, all prospered in an environment that was kind to companies enabling socially distanced living.

Some combination of speed, volume, and rapid coordination helped your team and your firm make it through the pandemic with flying colors. If this is your situation, be explicit about your role in the fast-changing environment and how you helped turn lemons into lemonade.

Label pandemic-related activities explicitly: “led a newly created team to tackle pandemic challenges” or “developed marketing materials focused on benefits for social distancing.” Underscore the speed with which you had to move and the success your measures enabled. As always, it’s better to quantify your success with numbers: “helped grow delivery operations 78% in six months.”

If your company suffered in 2020: Conversely, most businesses were hurt by the pandemic. Airlines, hospitality, restaurants, physical retail, and more all suffered greatly, and still do today. Describe how you helped your company respond to the pandemic and the measures you took to soften the blow.

If the pandemic turned into a layoff for you, and that layoff has turned into an employment gap of four months or more, take comfort. This is the most forgiving employment market of our adult lives. Even more so than during the Great Recession, employers understand the capricious, unfair, somewhat random, impact of the pandemic.

There’s no need to apologize, or even address, the reasons behind your layoff. Employers are familiar with the news. Just list the facts, including your employment end date (don’t be tempted to falsely list “-present”), and march ahead, keeping the focus on your ability to contribute to the future.

If your employment gap has extended for more than four months, it’s useful to have some professionally related activity on your résumé. Whether that’s participating in an industry association, having kept up an active blog, completing online nano degrees or courses, or volunteering for a nonprofit, it helps position you as someone who is taking advantage of the downturn to stay active and give back.

Our new year, 2021, is shaping up to be much brighter for knowledge workers, and you can take comfort in the steadily improving economy. Getting your résumé updated and post-COVID-19 ready now will enable you to soar in the year ahead.


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