Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Active Resume Building

This is the third post in my Early Career Decisions series. Today's topic is active resume building. While this post is aimed primarily at people in their twenties who are just starting to build their resumes, much of this advice would work just as well for those of us more advanced in our careers.

The thing to understand about your resume is that it is not a laundry list of your day-to-day responsibilities. Your resume is a story and you are the author. Much like a story, your resume needs to be structured, it needs to grip the reader from the start and draw him into the plot. Most importantly, your resume must deliver a strong and clear message. That message is: "hire me".

Writing the resume is only the final piece of your resume building process. Building your resume starts with what you actually do and what you actually achieve. However, I would like you to accept the following conceptual shift: rather than writing your resume about what you do, do what you want your resume to say.

Here are some steps to take you in the right direction:

1. Set Your Career Goals - before you take any action, it is important to understand what you are trying to achieve. Your actions should be determined by that goal. The goal you are moving towards may be your very next position, or it can be your long term career objective.

2. Create the Experience to Achieve Your Goal - go online to Monster or Hotjobs and find a job description that matches your career goal. Read it carefully and understand what type of experience hiring managers are looking for when searching for someone in that position. You can also talk to people who have already achieved your career goals and ask them what type of experience is required to get hired for a position similar to theirs.

3. Create the Experience You Need - now that you know what you are working towards, and you know what experience you need to get there, start creating the experience that you need. If certain academic degrees are needed, get ready for school. If certain professional certifications are needed, it's time to hit the books. If your career objective requires some international experience, start looking for an international assignment, etc. You don't need to do all of these immediately, but if you are serious about meeting your career objectives, you should come up with a plan for getting there.

4. Do Your Next Job - you will most likely find that much of the experience that is required for your career objective is outside the scope of your current job. That's to be expected, and it should not alarm you. You should find creative ways to get some of the experience you need for your next job, in your current job. That means that in some cases, you will need to seek projects and responsibilities that would not be in your current scope of work.

One way to move in this direction is to volunteer to participate in corporate initiatives. You can also ask to sit and listen to meetings that are not normally in the scope of your work. For example, I have asked to participate in my company's weekly revenue meetings in which sales people review the current status of their accounts, even though this is completely outside the scope of my day to day work. The reason I do this is to get involved in a different aspect of my company's business, which will be useful for me in the long term. There are two other side benefit to this strategy: first, it allows you to free yourself from your pigeon hole. Rather than being looked at as the marketing guy, the operations expert or the finance guru, if you venture outside the scope of your defined role, you are starting to create an image for yourself as a multi-disciplinary professional. Second, if you participate in such out-of-scope activities, eventually you will come across an interesting project that you will be able to participate in. Presto, new and useful experience for your resume.

4. Your Job IS Resume Building - please recognize the following important maxim: your job is your career, not what you happen to be doing at the moment. Your current job is only a step on the way to your next positions. Because of this you must make sure that your current job does not derail your next job or your career progression.

This statement means that in your current job, you should focus on those actions and activities that are important and that will help move you along to the next level. Surprisingly, this is very often the focus that would make your bosses happy as well. Do not focus on the small or urgent things. Focus on the big, important things. Like I told a member of my team last week, if it's not something you can put on your resume, don't focus on it.

Most jobs on the planet involve a lot of small, day to day, minor or urgent activities. These need to get done, but should not be confused with the important, strategic, major projects that will make you successful in the long run. The analogy I like to use in this context is the difference between a cost center and a profit center. A cost center is a set of activities that are required but that do not generate revenue for the company. A profit center is what pays the bills for the organization. The strategy for dealing with cost centers is cost minimization. The strategy for dealing with profit centers is maximizing profits. Similarly, in your work you should minimize the time you spend on routine tasks. Don't drop the ball, but don't go above and beyond. Spend the extra time you gain on something you can put on your resume.

5. Stay on the Ball - every Friday, ask yourself a simple question: "what have I done this week, to improve my resume?" "Nothing", is the wrong answer.

Other posts in this series include:

Employer Selection: a Strategic Career Decision
Your Colleagues - Your Assets
Active Resume Building
Recovering from Early Career Disaster


William said...

Great post. You make some very good points about focusing on the big picture and not getting (too) caught up in the day to day mundane activities.

Patrick said...

Great article, Shadox. I have been thinking about many of these topics lately, and in fact, I have a meeting with my managing director next week to talk about a few of these issues. I am looking for ways to increase the amount of responsibility I have and move in a different direction professionally. Hopefully our conversation will be a positive thing.