A new year brings with it so much promise. We look forward to getting in shape, reading more books, or perhaps carving out more time for family or hobbies to make our lives more fulfilling. Just about every one of us is looking to improve something.
For some of us, work is at the top of our resolution list. It might be completing a training program to move up in a current role, or earning a new degree so that we can make a bigger transition. Others of us may like what we do, but would be happy making a bit more money doing it. Perhaps we feel ready for more responsibility, but don’t think it will come in the job we have now.
A resume is often the first step of the job search process, so I’d like to take time at the start of the new year to go over what comes before you ever type a word. That is, the steps you should take to ensure that when you do sit down – whether with a professional writer or to do it yourself – you’re armed with the information needed to create a document you’ll be proud to send out.
First Things First
Before you know what to put down, you need to know what you’re looking for. When a client says to me that they really don’t know what they want to do next, I urge them to figure it out before we get started. Otherwise, it’s a bit like preparing ingredients with no finished dish in mind. If you’re lucky, you may come up with something – but is it something an employer wants? Every job category and level comes with specific qualifications and expectations. You must know what they are in order to show that you can meet them.
It’s possible to create a generic resume that has your experience and even some accomplishments. But how you communicate them can change drastically depending on your target job. Job ads that look interesting can help you to hone in on key skills and experiences that prospective employers will want to see most.
Gather Your Employment Data
Put together a list of the positions you want to show on the resume – the general rule is to cover the past 15 years or so (assuming you’ve worked that long). Pull together performance reviews, metrics, or other information that will help you create job descriptions and highlights. Keep an eye out for recurring themes, such as saving money or bringing in new business – if these strengths apply to you, you’ll want to emphasize them in your resume. (Great quotes from managers can sometimes be incorporated as well; they’re especially effective when they cover those same areas).
Make notes about extended gaps in your recent career so that if needed, you can explain the time away from work.
Pull out the “Extras”
If you’re a recent graduate, or schooling/training is key to your candidacy, have transcripts and course information at hand. When professional experience is limited, or you’re shifting to a new field, you may want to accentuate the education.
The same for volunteering – you don’t need to list every charitable organization that you’ve helped, but if you’re looking to work as a veterinary technician and volunteered with the ASPCA, that’s certainly a plus.
Once you’ve got everything in front of you, it becomes easier to start the process of building your resume, which, when complete, should present a clear, cohesive picture of you that will catch the attention of employers. Taking the time upfront to plan it out will help you to ensure that nothing is missing and that companies are seeing you for the smart, successful candidate that you are.
There are all kinds of people – those who like to work on their own cars, paint their own walls, do just about everything on their own. Others of us tend to call in help for things that don’t come naturally, whether it’s fixing a leak or setting up the new sound system.
When it comes to resumes, the same thing often occurs. There will be professionals who dive in and create one all by themselves, while others go with that instinct to hand the job over to someone else. Having worked with thousands of clients and seen tens of thousands of resumes, I can say with confidence that, just as with any potential DIY project, it’s a good idea to determine if you can (and want) to take the job on yourself or if hiring someone else makes sense.
The value of a strong resume is almost impossible to overestimate. After all, if it gets you in the door for an interview and serves as the first step in getting your dream job, it has paid for itself and then some. And while it is just a piece of your potential career success, it’s a big one, and often the first glimpse an employer will get of you. Your resume could be the one shot you’ve got—if anything deserves your attention, this is it!
Although my own career depends upon people needing my help to create their resumes, I have told clients that the resume they have is already quite strong –I give them a few tips and send them on their way. Not because I don’t want their business, but because I want to be sure I can provide the value that they expect and deserve.
Every situation is different. But there are some when the choice between going it alone and getting professional assistance needs to be carefully considered. Let’s look at 3 situations that could direct you towards taking the project on yourself:
You’ve had a fairly recent update to your resume and only have minor changes to make. Perhaps you just earned an advanced degree, have new skills, or moved up in your company so recently that you don’t yet have accomplishments to mention. Adding details shouldn’t be too hard, and you may be able to come up with an effective job description on your own. If the information doesn’t cause any major shifts or require much formatting, you can simply put it in and make any small spacing changes are needed.
You’re a creative professional using your resume as a portfolio piece. For the graphic artist, a resume is a direct reflection on your sense of design and vision, which can’t necessarily be communicated in a Word document developed by someone else. The last thing you want is for your resume to stand out because it looks like, well, anyone could have done it. Creating something unique that represents your style and craft is vital. (Note: even if the design is all yours, you may still want to work with someone on content to ensure that you’ve got the information employers need to see).
Your career path is very simple, or you’re looking for a “lower-level” job. Maybe you’ve had one job for the last 15 years in a straightforward position, you’ve got some accomplishments laid out, and you’re looking for the same kind of role with a new company. Chances are, you can find a pretty good template online for a resume that will work just fine. Just be sure to include the “musts” (strong summary, keywords, skills, etc.) for the best results.
Likewise, someone whose main goal is to land a traditional sales associate or assistant position may not need a professional writer. If you just need to show that you’ve got some experience, providing a timeline of jobs you’ve held with brief descriptions and some accomplishments is usually all that’s needed.
My one big piece of advice to DIYers? PROOFREAD!! And once you’re done, go over it again. Even better, have someone else take a look at it to make sure that typos, misspellings, or inaccurate information haven’t found their way into your resume.
On the other side of the spectrum are folks with more complex careers paths or in fields where a detailed, more stylized resume is expected. I work with many clients whose resumes haven’t been updated for years, or who are heading down a new path. If this is your situation and you don’t consider writing (or marketing yourself) as one of your strong suits, working with a seasoned resume writer is well worth the investment. I highly recommend at last talking to someone if you are in the following situations:
You’re switching careers, or shifting your focus within an industry or profession. Transitioning can be tricky. If you’re making the move from IT guru to sales, or just earned your law degree so will be leaving your job as an accountant, you’ll need to explain the jump. There are specific strategies to make the most of the experience you do have, while demonstrating that you meet the requirements of your target role.
Some new grads can fall into this category, as well. If you’ve got your undergraduate or graduate degree, you’re likely looking for a position in your field that will provide an opportunity to learn and grow. The jobs you held in high school can show you’ve worked, but don’t do much to convince an employer that you’d make a strong researcher, or finance associate. You need to look at your classes, projects, internships, and other degree-related experiences to indicate your focus and knowledge. A resume professional can ensure that yours is meeting the expectations of today’s hirers.
You’ve got some “issues” in your work timeline. Maybe you’ve been out of work for quite awhile, by your own choice or due to a layoff. If there is a gap of more than 6 months or so, you’ll need to think about how to communicate that time period so that it doesn’t work against you. If you’ve had a succession of short-term contract jobs and now want to work full-time, there are strategies for that, too. An experienced writer can work with you to ensure that you present yourself in a way that attracts employers and minimizes any potential concerns.
You’re not sure if you’ve got “accomplishments” worth mentioning. First off, you do. I’ve yet to find a client with absolutely no contributions or results to speak of, whether they were a secretary or CEO. The truth is, many of the most successful professionals spend their time getting things done, as opposed to cataloguing their successes. In fact, I often find that it’s the clients who initially tell me that “there’s not much to tell” who actually have done quite a lot. Your resume writer will go through your jobs with you, help you sort through experiences, and uncover projects you may have forgotten and achievements that will mean a lot to a prospective hirer.
These highlights are essential for a strong resume. Even if you are humble in real life and hate “bragging” about yourself, your resume needs to do it—not in a way that says “I’m the best and never make a mistake” but rather in a way that touts the value you’ve brought to each of your jobs to date. Whether you’ve solved a big problem, managed organizational change, or saved a company money, it’s likely that other employers are looking for someone who can do the same for them. And as I explain to all of my clients, “If you don’t tell them, they’ll never know.”
Creating a resume can be a pretty big time commitment. If you’re starting from scratch or in one of the situations above, the task can seem downright formidable. A good resume writer can help you make sense of all of your career details and put them together in a compelling way. They’ll work with you to smooth out any rough patches and ensure that you’re presenting everything in the clearest and most effective way.
If, after consideration, you decide to go it on your own, take advantage of the tips and suggestions you’ll find online, and consider using a template so that your presentation is professional. I said it earlier – it remains the #1 rule: make sure you proofread that document and have someone else look at it as well, before sending it out.
Your resume is the first look most people will have of you and your qualifications for a position—whether you do it yourself or engage a professional, it should be a document you’re proud to send out. With just a bit of effort (by you or someone else), it will be.