Productivity / Work

Internal vs. External Resumé: What Is the Difference?

A resumé is one of those documents you pour over with a fine-tooth comb when you’re deep in the trenches of job hunting…only to forget all about it the minute you land a comfortable new employment offer. Case in point: a poll from found that just 37 percent of U.S. workers update their resumés every 6–12 months. Meanwhile, most professionals don’t glance at their resumés until they’re in the market for a career transition.

But no matter which of these camps you belong to, an effective resumé refresh goes beyond the actual content. Turns out, structure is equally important as well. There are two formats you should be aware of: an Internal Resumé and an External Resumé. The option you choose will hinge on the particular job you’re seeking. So let’s examine the main differences between each template and how to determine which is right for you.

What Is an Internal Resumé?

An internal resumé is the document you will use to apply for a different role within your current organization, from a lateral position to a vertical promotion. As someone who already works in this environment, crafting your resumé to communicate insider awareness and expertise can offer you an edge over the competition. Follow these strategies to create an effective internal resumé that’s sure to impress the whole hiring team (whether you’re a known quantity to them—or not):

Tips for Writing an Internal Resumé

Focus on your specific contributions to this organization.

How long have you been at the company? What measurable goals or quotas have you met? Which performance outcomes have you made to increase the bottom line? What project deliverables, client relationships, or team collaborations are you most proud of? List out your achievements and the impact they’ve had on this organization.

Show your knowledge of the culture, mission, and values.

Many job applicants might have the technical skills for this position. But chances are, they won’t be familiar with the interpersonal, operational dynamics that make your organization unique. This is where you come in. Demonstrate your intimate knowledge of the mission and core values, as well as how you benefit the existing team culture.

Utilize relevant company jargon—when it makes sense to.

If done correctly, jargon on an internal resumé enhances credibility. But it’s important to be mindful of how much jargon you use. The inclusion of a few targeted, relevant keywords will reinforce your connection to this company (or the industry as a whole). However, if you’re too liberal with the jargon, it can come across as “spammy.”

Prove that your skillset is transferable to the new position.

What proficiencies do you bring to the current role you’re in, and how will those strengths contribute to your success in another area of the company? Tailor the resumé to show off your transferable skills and experience. It will communicate to a hiring team that you’re qualified to make a smooth, efficient transition into this new position.

Feature a recommendation from your current supervisor.

Do not be afraid to leverage your status as an active employee to further buttress your credentials. Along with the resumé, attach a reference from your supervisor (or another influential person in management) who can vouch for your work ethic and performance. This will lend even more clout to the achievements you’ve outlined.

What Is an External Resumé?

An external resumé is the document you will use to apply for a role with an organization you don’t have experience working for. Whether your goal is to switch companies within the same industry or transition to a new career path altogether, your resumé must pack a strong, noticeable punch. Unlike with an internal job application, this hiring team has no firsthand knowledge of your performance attributes. So here’s how to build a compelling external resumé that’ll catch their attention:

Tips for Writing an External Resumé

Align the content of your resumé with the job description

Evaluate which skills and traits the employer wants to see for this position, then build your resumé around those qualifications. Feature a combination of both hard (technical) and soft (interpersonal) skills, and use keywords from the job description itself. This will help you stand out as a valuable asset within the applicant tracking system.

Focus just on the last 10 years of work and fill in any gaps.

The more in-the-weeds your resumé is, the less inclined a potential employer will feel to read it, so be concise and only mention recent work experience. But if there are discernible gaps in your career, provide some context. Were you traveling, freelancing, volunteering, caring for a loved one, taking a course, or earning a new certification?

List your achievements—without letting trade secrets slip.

Just like with an internal resumé, it’s crucial to summarize your professional achievements and contributions. However, with an external resumé, you can’t be too specific. Avoid talking about confidential information that can land you in legal trouble with a current employer, such as the details of a product launch or client acquisition.

Include metrics to bolster your performance outcomes.

Whenever possible, use quantifiable data to show the hiring team that your performance drives concrete results. For example, rather than saying, “I created a successful social media marketing plan,” throw in the numbers to prove it. “I grew brand awareness and follower interactions on Instagram, which led to a 50% increase in Q4 sales.”

Mention educational degrees or certifications if relevant.

Some jobs require you to have a particular educational history. For this type of role, list out degrees, certifications, internships, residencies, trainings, board exams, licenses, field work, associations, or honors. Just make sure it’s actually relevant to the position—a hiring team does not need to know your high school GPA or scores on the SAT.

Internal vs. External Resumé: The Bottom Line

Ultimately, the resumé format you choose will come down to specific career goals. Want to be promoted in your current organization? Put some tweaks on an internal resumé. Need a fresh start at a new company? Build from scratch with an external resumé. Either way, this document is a chance to prove you are the Most Valuable Candidate. 

About Author

Mary-Elizabeth Meagher is a freelance writer, social media marketer, travel enthusiast, musical theatre nerd and self-described bohemian. She lives and seeks adventure in the Arizona desert, and she also blogs over at Health Be a Hippie—her personal contribution to making the internet a more authentic, vulnerable and empowering place.

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