A few years ago, when I was between jobs, my Father asked me, “Have you finished writing your resume?” I looked at him, smiled, and said, “Yeah, Dad, just a few minor changes to go and my resume will be finished.” I knew he was being supportive of my job search, but since he was long retired and hadn’t looked for a job since the 1970s, he really had no idea how the job search had changed over the last few decades. And that resumes are never “finished” anymore.
To find a job back in his day, my father’s job search would be very different from today’s search. After leaving a job, his first task would be to write his resume. The resume would have been all about him, his activities at his job, and probably something about his prior company–pointing out his tasks and roles using a standard chronological resume layout. His resume would likely have used a lot of words like “we” and “ours” so he would not sound too self-important, but would rather sound like a talented “company man” – someone that showed job loyalty and devotion to the firm over self-promotion. This was important then.
Next he would have picked up the Sunday newspaper and looked in the classified ads section at the numerous briefly-written job listings. He would have then taken a single copy of his resume and cover letter, which was probably printed on nice parchment-style paper, and have mailed it directly to the recruiter or company listed in the job ad. Optionally, if there were a couple of very specific companies that he wanted to work for, he might drive to their nearest location, ask for the HR office, and have filled out a job application on-the-spot.
Today, the job search is turned upside down. Unlike years ago, when a job ad in a newspaper might have garnered 10-20 resumes and the company might interview half or even all of the candidates, jobs posted today on the Internet might get between 500 to 5000 responses — and then the recruiters have to filter through all these responses to get it down to around a dozen resumes to seriously consider. On top of that, most corporations don’t have centralized HR departments with local recruiting offices, so walking into a firm and asking to complete a job application today like my Dad once did only works at fast-food restaurants and department stores. So, what are the first steps in your job search today?
First, assess your mind and heart. It’s not time to begin the job hunt if your attitude is an issue. If you find yourself without a job (fired, quit, laid-off, business closed, etc.), there are probably many mental and emotional issues you need to address before you write something in your resume that’s not appropriate or saying something you’ll regret during an interview because your emotions got the best of you. It’s OK to start “assembling” things, such as resume details, lining up references, etc., but if you harbor any ill feelings towards your old job or boss or co-workers, recognize it and get it out of your system as quickly and as completely as you can. Professional counseling, a support group (family, friends, etc.), spiritual focus, a long vacation, starting a hobby…these are all things that can help align your heart and mind to the new realities of the job search. I know you might be anxious to get back to work…but interviewing before you’re mentally and emotionally ready can be disastrous.
Second, assess your talents, skills, and desires. It’s your aptitude that sets you apart from others and helps you be passionate about your career. If you’re a skilled teacher, then maybe a career in marketing isn’t the best fit for you. Also, determine if you’re ready for career change…often we “end up” in a job that’s not really where we wanted to be, but it’s where our job progressions took us. There are dozens of assessment tools on the market (Meyers-Briggs, CareerDirect, MAPP, CDDQ, Keirsey, etc.) to help you look at your skills and work styles in various ways. Start with the free tests, then look at the others if these are not entirely helpful. Realize that your resume can’t say “Help me find a job, any job will do!” – it could years ago, but today it needs to say something like “Project Manager with 10 years of experience, specializing in large business or government projects in the New York Area.” Yes, you have to tell them EXACTLY what you are (or want to be), so it’s best to figure it out ahead of time.
Third, you need to raise your sights above your own horizon. We have a tendency to look down and back…what we were is what we want to be. We have to raise our vision, looking up and beyond the current situation and determining if something out there represents a possible new career choice for us. By increasing altitude, a pilot can see further to the horizon — we need to do the same regarding our careers and identifying the trends in jobs that are at the far horizon of our economy. Who would have guessed that “Green” skills would be so important, that the social networking tools would dominate the Internet, and that the high-growth, high-salary industries no longer include mostly hi-tech firms? Consider searching the job boards to see what jobs are hot or maybe consulting the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oco/ooh_index.htm) or O*Net (http://online.onetcenter.org) websites to see the trends in industries and jobs. You might find that your career path is no longer viable and that it’s time for a change—I consulted with a lady that wanted to find a job at a record pressing plant (yeah, that’s right…LPs, vinyl, 45s, etc.) as that was what she did 20 years ago when she was last in the workforce. To increase your employment odds, focus on finding a job in an industry that’s growing!
NOW, it’s time to start writing your resume. You have your attitude in place, you’ve assessed your skills, and you’re constantly looking at the career opportunities on the horizon and not those in the rear-view mirror. I’ve posted several resume writing tips in this blog, so make sure you read those over. Revise your resume often as you keep enhancing your attitude, skills, and job goals. In a future article I’ll address the next major step – resume distribution.
And take time to reassure your Dad that, even with the dramatic change in the job market from his day, you’re on track with getting your resume “finished” real soon!
Bottom Line: The job hunt today is different than when your parents or grand-parents went through their last job hunt. Resumes are no longer the “I’ve done these things” historical documents, but more of an “I can do this” sales brochures. Make sure you’re mentally ready for the job hunt, know your skills, have studied the market…and only THEN do you start working on the resume. So don’t rush into distributing a hastily written “historic” resume…it’s not as likely to land an interview as a well written, job targeted resume. (Updated: 9/2011)
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See the Index of all my Job Hunter articles on my Backlog tab.