I am writing this post at the hairdresser. It’s my son’s second haircut this month. He loves the process of reinvention. While the haircuts feel extravagant, I like that he knows what he wants.
Maybe I overvalue this trait in a person because the most frequent issue I deal with on coaching calls is helping people figure out what they want. It’s a very difficult thing to do, at any stage of life. But then, when they’ve figured out what they want, they almost never have a resume that is ready to get them what they want.
Rewriting your resume is what you do at the very end of the process of figuring out the best job for yourself. Once you know the answer to that question, it should be no problem to rewrite your resume to get that job.
For those of you who don’t want to pay me to rewrite your resume, I’m giving you tips here so you can do it yourself.
1. It doesn’t matter if you are good at your job if you don’t know how to translate that to a resume.
I can say I was a clerk at a grocery store.
Or I can say I took responsibility for end-caps and increase targeted product sales by 15%.
In both cases the bullet describes a low-level job at a grocery store. The first bullet is written by someone who thought their job was stupid. The second bullet is written by someone who is a self-starter, who understands the big-picture of how grocery store goals are met, and who knows how to talk like they are in the business of groceries instead of a slave to groceries.
Both bullets are true, but one is more likely to get someone a job in management. Thinking and writing about the goals of the job you want is a really important skill to learn. Most coaching calls I do are with people who can talk like the second bullet but have written resumes that sound like the first bullet.
2. You don’t need to have had good jobs in order to have a good resume.
When I was younger I was in charge of online marketing for a software company. I could tell you that I managed the web site. But that won’t make you think I’m a rock star. I could also say I managed three online product launches. But that’s so broad that it tells you nothing.
This is a bullet that will get me my next job: Managed an online product launch with ad agencies in seven countries and delivered marketing materials under budget and ahead of schedule.
Here’s the simple truth: The product was really small. The ad agencies were one-person shops and they didn’t speak English so I could barely manage them. And the reason everything went so fast and cheap is because we realized the company was going to be sold so we decided we could skimp on the launch.
See how you can write a good bullet and a bad bullet and both can be true? What’s more, you can write a good bullet about a failed project and you can write a bad bullet about a great project. But what you can’t do is just wing it.
Winging it will leave you underselling yourself. And you end up writing yourself into a corner where it’s impossible to tell a coherent story about why you have made the choices you’ve made in your career and where you are headed.
3. The best career changes are when your resume doesn’t show you’re making a career change.
People don’t want to hire you to do something you’ve never done before. That’s too much trouble. Employers are looking for someone who can hit the ground running, knock the ball out of the park, and all the other idioms that describe the process of trying to hire someone who is really excited about doing the job even though they’ve already been doing it for the past five years.
The reason changing careers is so common is because it’s not fun to be so great at something that your learning curve flattens. A steep learning curve is fun, but knowing all the bad things about the industry you’re in is not fun.
You can’t change spouses all the time, so change jobs instead. But do it in a way that doesn’t put a huge dent in your finances; rewrite your resume to show you have already been doing that career change.
Difficult, yes, but the trick is really to figure out what career is already open to you, based on the experience you have. Which career change can look like a natural progression rather than jumping ship completely?
To do this you need to read between the lines of your resume to remember what’s missing. What did you leave out that you might put in now? What morsels add up to a whole new story? We all have a second, third, or fourth career story in our history.
4. A resume is what’s left when you throw everything away.
I have memorized the Microsoft Style Guide and you will never see me write “click on”—the real way is just click. “On” is implied. But I didn’t write that. I wrote, “Oversaw content development system and streamlined copyediting to cut costs 50%.”
What does that mean? I memorized the Style Guide so we didn’t have to hire a copyeditor. So I deleted the bullet on my resume that said I wrote a business plan for an online product that became the company’s biggest seller. That’s a huge achievement but it had nothing to do with the career I was after.
Which is pretty much why it’s so hard to write your own resume. It’s difficult to leave off the things that felt so grand and important and significant in our lives as we did them. It’s so hard to admit that a resume is not a record of what we’ve done.
Filmmakers always say the film is made by cutting away the parts you don’t need. And a sculptor finds the magic of the material by cutting away at it, the same way a good hairdresser shapes a haircut, really. And the same is true of a career. No matter where you are in your career, what you remove from your work history determines if you reveal a strong, focused, over-performer, or a mediocre, largely lost, middle manager.
My son watches his results studiously. Always planning his next move.
Sometimes he looks like a nut.
Sometimes he looks like a model.
His bravery comes from thinking he always has another chance. He always has one more story, one more style to give a try. We all need that bravery with our resumes — the ability to see ourselves different ways, with the remnants of the last resume cut into pieces on the floor.
The good news is that you control how willing you are to rewrite your resume. You can get help, you can do it yourself, you can get another try and another try. It’s never over.
Not everyone has the guts and gumption of a ten-year-old in exploratory mode. But you have more ability than you realize to get what you want. If you can market yourself on your resume, and you can control your life. This is because changing careers is nearly impossible without losing tons of money and traction and self-esteem. But if you know how to write a resume, you can change careers whenever you want.