Don't Let Your Resume Dictate Your Career Path

Wouldn't it be nice if our next career adventure would magically present itself just when the challenge and growth runs out of our current gig? And how will you be spending your lottery ticket winnings? ;)

But most I meet wait until a crises hits and act surprised when a different adventure ensues. An adventure for which they are ill prepared.

But when is the right time to leave, change, or quit? Time 2

Some measure it by time. "Gosh it's been 5 years, I guess I need to move on." Maybe. Maybe not. Jobs don't have an expiration date. Resumes do not require advancement in set increments. If you are so linear and myopic you might employ this approach.

The other one I hear al lot is, "I don't like my job, but I better stick it out for 2 years so my resume doesn't look weird." 

Really? It is your story. You are the writer and the main character. But what is the plot and where are you going?

I always think about jobs like relationships. Few are forever. Almost all take hard work and you can't give up on a whim. And toxic ones need to be abandoned.

Don't let your resume dictate your career path.

As I have said ad nauseum, "To be ambitiousness you need an ambition." Meaning--just wanting more without a concept of success is purposeless and direction-less. 

Just talked to a young rising star executive who was working for a big movie studio. He had a cushy job, nice work-life balance, and was well compensated. He and his wife recently had a baby and he woke up to his new responsibilities. Yet he also started to confront his age and stage in life. Most people reach this moment and they recoil from change and hunker down to retain the staus quo. But this young man realized that he was settling. That he was not growing or even contributing to the end product. He had been with this employer for awhile and could easily stretch it out a few more. Nevertheless, he decided to make a career change. He left for a start-up. 

Not because he was fired but because he was fired up. Not because he hit a ceiling but because he saw the door to his own future. Not because he had a bad boss, but because he realized he is in charge of his own destiny. 

This is the key to a life of satisfaction. Make your own path. Determine your own trajectory.

Some would say he was crazy. He should have waited until the baby was older. (They are planning to have several kids) Others understand that you have an internal clock. What other people think is irrelevant. It is your clock and your sense of timing that matters. Not what looks right but what feels right.

Timing is everything and the time is always now. This is the time to think, plan and execute on your plans.  

Know when it is time. Listen to your mentors and those who care. But then listen to your heart. Like this young exec, you realize you want something different, then you start to define what you want, and then you seek it. 

Being restless is not a career plan. "It just seems like a time to change." Is a bizarre feeling to risk your career. Great yiddish word: shpilkes. "ants in the pants" state of impatience and/or agitation. 

Shpilkes is not sufficient to re-write your resume.

I remember I was sittiing in my office--an office I designed. I was so comfortable. I was large and in charge. I had a team of assistants and many "yes" people. I suddenly woke up from my self admiration and I realized I was becoming a bit of a fraud. (I found later that almost 75% of execs feel this way) I was further and further removed from the purpose of our work. I was no longer challenged. The depth of my knowledge and expertise was becoming a Wizard of Oz show. Admittedly, I had a good show, but only the showman knows what's backstage.

Anyway, I realized I was getting soft. That my creative muscles were not being exercised. That my competence was relying on others and my expertise was fading. I learned I had to re-engage with the details. Craft the words, understand the code, feel and see the purpose of our work. It is why I gravitate to start-up environments, so I can stay fresh and challenged and avoid getting too comfortable.

But you are different. You have to design your own path. You gotta know what you want. Do you? 

If the "perfect opportunity" walked up and tapped you on the shoulder would you recognize it? Would you be ready to leap?

Very likely that you will leave your current position. Will you be the one making the decision about the timing of your transition? 

A few destination check questions:

  • What would make your next job/position more fulfilling?
  • Have you made a list of the things you want to sharpen and add to your toolbox?
  • Have you fully explored options to take on new duties, challenges, growth opportunities at your current position? (This assumes you know what you want)
  • Have you fully explored acquiring these skills and experiences outside of your day job?
  • Is your next best job up the ladder, down the ladder or somewhere else?
  • Have you talked to your mentors about these answers?

A few things are certain. Change will continue to grind away. Your expertise will become obsolete. You can let others decide your fate or take control of the steering wheel of your career and guide it to the path that reflects your goals and your needs. The path with your heart.

The real question is when will you do that? Your resume does not get a vote.

Thanks for reading. John

The Write Stuff and the Write Thinking

One of the reasons I decided to create this blog was to write down my ideas and share them with others. Writing has become an exercise in articulating my commitments to myself and to others. It has become a habit that enables me to discuss my thoughts and to commit them to written words. Ideas that swirl around in our heads can evaporate and are only meaningful if they are held in captivity and examined in writing. 

In our minds we are legends. :) We are very collected, poised, ready for anything. We can think we are pretty awesome. :) But the reality is we need to evaluate what we are doing, where we are going, and the big differences between what we intend and what we do. 

My son is off to Yosemite to hike for a week with members of his senior class. I have encouraged him to journal. I told him to try not to write about what he did and saw, but about what he is thinking about. Not necessarily profound thoughts but just his current thoughts. My daughter is studying abroad and her lengthy e-mails on her experiences are very insightful. She has become a very good writer because her words describe the emotional and intellectual content of her experiences. Writing will help them and anyone who does it. It is not a student exercise, it is a life habit.Escher

We all need to write more. More about who we are and who we intend to be. We need to write our career ideas, our relationship commitments, our bucket lists, and our goals. That's why I developed the SWIVEL_(new_2012)  to assist people in capturing in lists and brief written expressions what they want to strengthen in their lives. 

A few sample questions from the SWiVEL to prompt you to write.

  • What three things do I have to change in my life? Things I have to improve or work on?
  1. _________________________________________________________________________
  2. _________________________________________________________________________
  3. _________________________________________________________________________
  • What three issues, causes, or things am I passionate about? Things that are meaningful to me.
  1. _________________________________________________________________________
  2. _________________________________________________________________________
  3. _________________________________________________________________________
  • What am I curious about? I would really appreciate some help exploring/learning about these subjects.


Write to yourself so you see and hear who you are.

There are studies that show that writing goals improves goal achievement. Did we really need a study to prove this? The act and process of writing deepens our commitment, even more so if you share it.

Have you ever seen Where you can write your future self an e-mail. You can write anything. Describe how you will be different, what you have accomplished, or how you have changed.....The point is any time we write, we are writing to our future self about the past. Writing helps us understand the past in the future. 

Ink your commitments to yourself. Write it down. And feel free to change it and make it better as you get more perspective through your networking and mentoring experiences. Literally comparing notes with others can bring powerful results. Sharing your well thought out questions and ideas will always yield more insights. Relying solely on your your ability to talk---your adlibness, your glibness is safer and easier and a bit more dangerous. You probably have well developed verbal packages that both falsely defend your actions and protect your ego. These need to be tested in the laboratory of writing. Write and read what you are thinking and I guarantee your thinking will change. Written words demand precision and accuracy. They summon the editor in you to make the words convey what you are thinking. 

 So move your thinking to the write! Type it, scribble it, just write more. Your personal narrative will improve and be more believable and more authentic! Your questions will be more potent. Your connections with others will be more meaningful. Write!

Thanks for reading. John

Endurance Networking: 10 Tips for the Longer Term Job Search

Labor Day is the time to consider and help those without jobs. Regrettably that is a huge percentage of people around us. People we know and people we don't know. More and more frequently I am encountering people from my former lives and people who are in my extended network who have endured an interminable and for some, brutal process of looking for a job. The time and effort to get a job from a layoff, termination, or job transition can be a marathon of frustration and exasperation. The toll this process takes on ones psyche, confidence, and self dignity can not be exaggerated.This is where doing the same thing over and over is insanity. Let's be honest, most people have never been taught or know how to conduct a job search in good times. So looking for work when competition is furious requires a much different mindset and approach.Distance 

Many approach this like a video game. They are under the hypnotic trance that the internet will find them a job. They are seat belted to their home computer and go through the maze of job sites over and over and over, and impulsively lob resumes at them. It has become a game of numbers where quantity matters and you want instant gratification. These same people send out FB and Linked in requests without personalizing the invites. Because amassing more impersonal connections will help you win the game but not a job.

I remember a friend who had developed a condominium project for a specific price point and target market. It was not working, people were not buying. As we know, people look at certain price bands that they can afford and avoid other bands as "too low" and "too high". We sat around and discussed discounting strategies, promotional tactics and other ways to essentially lower the price point and move into a lower band. Then someone suggested that the product was positioned poorly and would have less competition if we RAISED the price and re-positioned. We decided before we discounted we would try to retain the value proposition and move into a different band of buying. The condos sold out quickly and the lesson is one of human myopia on both the buy side and the sell side. We operate in narrow bands of behavior based on what everyone else is doing. And in doing so we have forgotten the most important principle of marketing oneself--differentiation. How do we stand out of the pack, the pile of resumes, and separate ourselves from the sea of candidates?

I see this in the job market today where for some reason we gravitate to the common denominator strategies where the great majority of the candidates are operating and competing. See the same thing in college applications. People follow a formula that others told them, they read on the web, or they got a tip at a workshop--and then become the unattractive average. Surveys always tells us that more than 75% of us are above average! So why would we adopt a job search process that your competitors employ? This behavior is proof of the gravitational pull of conformity and the centripetal force of mediocrity that leads to an insurance policy that your job search may never end.

If it works, it is obsolete. (attributed to Marshall McLuhan)

If we agree this market is different then you have to be, think and act differently.

Economic disruptions like this cause irrational behavior. Job seekers who start to second guess the market where they adjust their resumes and their job search process may or may not work. They can lose their way going down the rabbit hole of confusing self-talk and behavior that can distract them from their strengths. Simply put, straying from who you are and what your competences are is risky. Not saying you should not traverse sectors or make major job shifts.  But if you are a finance, marketing, or human resources professional with years of experience, you have to play those cards. Otherwise you are reduced to a new grad with a liberal arts education---you can do anything! And how does that differentiate you in the pile of resumes?

The following assumes your resume, your basic understanding of your story (including gaps, challenges and transitions), and your goals are fairly well established. So here are 10 tips to keep you on a pace to to survive the long distance job search:

  1. Stay positive. Put any semblance of embarrassment, shame, self consciousness and self doubt in a box and lock it in the attic. These demons keep you in a mode that is less willing to ask for help, less able to show your vulnerability, and less of the authentic you.
  2. Every day is a work day. Your search has to consume the equivalent of a full time position. This is not just playing the job boards, it is the process of getting leads and networking. Energize yourself to go at it every morning.
  3. Think about your "band of behavior". What types of jobs/opportunities are you willing to take? Remain open and pursue opportunities that make sense but you have never considered. How big of a pay cut are you willing to take? Will you relocate? If you are making a sector transition, are you willing to essentially start over? Expand your band with specificity.  In other words, describe all of the attributes of your minimums (we know you want more!) What are your true minimums? 
  4. Stay active. Pursue or maintain volunteer, consulting, pro-bono and/or part time gigs to keep your juices going and to keep a warm place on your resume. Substantive charitable or non-profit volunteer work can be part of your story that fills the time and the gap in your work history.
  5. Continuous education. Take a class to sharpen your skills and find another networking platform.
  6. Apply early and often. Apply for everything that interests you AND where you have a real chance to add value. You need the practice interviewing. When in doubt apply. Focused on your goals, you do need leads and options. Even if you are "over-qualified" give the resume reader pause by considering someone who can do the job easily.
  7. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. How will you make your resume, your candidacy stand out? The key is who you know. Who you know and who they know.
  8. Go Face to face. Devote more than half of your search time to meetings or telephone conversations. Get out of your house and talk to people. You have to be able to push yourself and those around you to get out from behind their computers and literally and figuratively "pound the pavement" and "knock on doors". Hopefully you have gone beyond the basic networking and have a good inner circle of supporters. People who know you and you have a trusting relationship with. Have you met with all of them? No you haven't?! Connect and reconnect with your existing network--your relatives, your friends, your former colleagues, and your former bosses.
  9. Get on the insider track  As you expand your connections, you will begin to become aware of positions that are open and not posted. This happens when your focus is also on employers not openings. The biggest mistake is ONLY talking about positions that are posted. Most jobs are like houses in the most coveted neighborhoods, they are not listed, they all start out with private processes that are not made public unless they did not work. The word about a good job is put out to the employer's inner network to talk to the "best" candidates. The only way your name comes up in these searches is if someone you know is aware of it.
  10. Be introduced and referred This is the most powerful networking and the biggest differentiator. Having influential people you know or meet introduce you to prospective employers is enormously helpful. Instant credibility, good brand management, access to information, and an expansion of your network. Clearly, the ability to drop a name on the cover note of your resume when applying/inquiring for a job may be the biggest differentiator. The bigger the name the hotter your resume becomes. That resume has to be separated from the pile, people have to track it and you get a better chance to get to the next level of consideration. Please don't misunderstand me, you don't need referrals from the C Suite, you need to be referred by an insider. That implied endorsement is big, regardless of the level.

Jobs are opening up everyday behind the curtain and posted on Monster. So persistence and vigilance are essential partners for the longer term job search.

Networking is ALWAYS a long term if not a life time process. A process of staying in touch and exploring opportunities. It is a marathon lifestyle where the tortoise beats the hare every time. Meeting people to appreciate who you know and who you are will energize you. To learn of new opportunities and ways to approach old ones. To keep the mind sharp, the blood pumping and keep the finish line in sight.

Thanks for reading. John


Resumes that get interviews

First of all we know that a resume does not get an inteview YOU do. A well conceived resume will advance your candidacy, when you take an active role in shaping and marketing your resume. 

Then people see your resume they should understand who you are--it must reflect you. 


That being said, your resume is the most important tool in your career change "I gotta get a new job" toolbox. It is not only your direct mail sales lead piece in your personal marketing campaign--your resume is YOU and your unique brand, at least for those 10-20 seconds of the initial review to determine whether you are in the pool or not. In the American Idol job world your resume has to have chops --it has to sing! 


Resume test:

  • Does your resume differentiate you from others?
  • Would you hire you?

 A "no" to either of these questions requires you to re-boot the system and craft a resume you love. 

There are so many great resources out there that give great examples and tips. Rileyguide is my favorite. Jane Porter's WSJ column is also a good primer. 

Let me just start with what a resume is NOT:

  1. It is not merely a chronology of your jobs and duties
  2. It is not one size fits all 
  3. It does not assume the reader knows anything 
  4. It does not have to fit into one page, unless you just graduated in the last couple of years 

Please see my 10 tips on resume writing. Here's the summary for you attention deficit readers :) 
  1. Target the resume to the skills and requirements of the job and industry.
  2. Avoid functional formats, stick to chronological. 
  3. No "Objective" or "Summary" on the resume. 
  4. Brief description of your employer and/or function of that location. 
  5. Use months for employment dates, not just years.
  6. Insert relevant volunteer/unpaid, non-profit Board, committee chair experiences where you have a track record and deliverables
  7. Don't be afraid to leave off old, irrelevant or distracting things.  
  8. List achievements as well as duties. This is one way to differentiate. 
So after you have spent some thoughtful time re-writing your resume from the standpoint of "Would you hire you?" Here are the three things to maximize your chances for an interview:
  1. Write a killer cover letter. Do not write the textbook cover note. Use the opportunity and space to tell your story. Why you want this job. How you are uniquely qualified. Give your resume a plot, where you are the protagonist. Explain obvious gaps or questions raised by your resume. Were you laid off? Were you busy being a mom? Don't let the reader assume you were imprisoned or fired for embezzlement.
  2. Network for insider information. Use your network to find connections at the targeted employers. Any connections at any level at any position. People to talk to for the inside scoop on the state of affairs of the company and specifically about the view of the department/division you are considering. Any first hand info will give you a leg up in your interview, either to show your interest level or to shape your questions.  
  3.  Network for influence. Here's where you can get a big advantage. Find a senior executive, Board member, or even a high ranking official at a vendor of the employer. You need to have a warm connection to them, meaning somebody you know has a trusting relationship with this person. Your mentor, uncle, sister, best friend, college roommate, somebody who can endorse you. The ask is, "Please interview this person." And the employer does it on the strength of who is requesting.You have already applied or your resume is attached to the request. Nothing separates you from the pile than such a request. You still have to be qualified, but this endorsement gives you a chance and adds a patina of trustworthiness to your candidacy that can be invaluable.  Brand you
In general, people's resumes poorly reflect their objectives and their capabilities. It does not differentiate their brand--their unique experiences and background. Often, little care or attention has been given to this precious and influential document. People seem to think that their interviewing skills will fill in the gaps and get the ultimate message across. But if you do not get the interview, your chance to audition is lost. 

Would you hire you? And would you vote to give you the chance to sing at the next level? 

Thanks for reading. John

Essential networking tool: Your resume (and the cover letter)

Before I dive into this topic, let me just give a shout out to the Raytheon employees and Non-Profit Leaders who attended my workshops in the last week or so. Met a number of fascinating people like Linh, Depak, Zoom, Chris, Vu, and many others who are doing extraordinary things. Keep it up!

Now for the dreaded and often neglected resume. This document, which describes our professional life, upon which we heap great expectations to open doors and lead us to a new and better job, never seems to get the attention it deserves. And when you are networking and networking well, the resume is your calling card. We know that the resume is the most important self-marketing piece. It can make the difference of connecting with opportunities or not. We mail and e-mail these two or so flimsy pages to perfect strangers, like some sort of reverse magical lottery ticket we hope gets picked!!!! In the last 2 weeks I have reviewed about 300 resumes for jobs and for friends and for others. It is so exasperating to see what people are sending out. Yikes! Generic resumes that are sent to any employer, show little care for the reader and are ineffective. So I wanted to give you my top 10 tips:

1. More than 1 page okay--Unless you are 21 years old a new graduate or incredibly inexperienced :), your resume can be 2-3 pages if you have a lot to say. (see below)
2. Chronological only!--Other formats, especially functional, appear to be more deceptive and less persuasive. Use months on all dates of employment. Only using years gives the appearance of more deception. You know, 2006-2007, reads Dec 2006 to Jan 2007! 2 months not 2 years.
3. Explain gaps and fill gaps--Don't send out a resume with massive time gaps. The reader assumes you were in solitary confinement. :) If you were being a Mom, caring for a relative, or managing personal matters, tell the story in your cover note. Don't send out a resume that has no current activity. Why make it look like you have been idle for a long period of time? Have you been volunteering, consulting (even without pay), or attending to your professional development? That looks better than a long period of time where no one else wanted to employ you.
4. Who were your employers and what was your job?--Provide a brief description of every employer--who are they? What makes them unique? Don't assume people know who or what they do. Then describe the duties of your job. You managed people, resources, a budget, projects. You were responsible for certain deliverables.
5. What did you do with these employment opportunities?--Try to list a few bulleted achievements under each job. Milestones, goals met/exceeded, awards, increases in efficiency, efforts led, etc etc
6. No career objective--This is for the cover letter where you customize for the employer
7. Education at the bottom--What you offer are experiences, skills, knowledge and abilities. Education is critical but when you are young you lead with it, because it is all you got.
8. Customize for the industry or for the line of work--Use key words, align to targeted jobs, highlight related work. For example, if you are applying for a job that requires writing, then list writing and written reports under applicable jobs. Remember this is a marketing piece and there nothing less effective than a generic that depends on a one size fits all approach.
9. Your story, the one you want remembered: The Cover Letter--A lost art form and may be as important as your resume. Tie everything together in the cover letter. What happened or is happening at your current work to move you to apply. Link your experiences into a coherent flow that demonstrates your qualifications for THIS job. Address gaps if need be. Do some homework about the employer and the job and link your interest and skill set to that position.
10. Be referred to the employer--This is where the power of networking reveals itself. Get a referral to the employer. The higher up the food chain the better. "So and so encouraged me to apply for this position." This immediately distinguishes you from the pack. The reader has to separate this from the pile and it will require more attention. That's a big advantage! Of course you have to have the right stuff if they call, but increasing your chance to be interviewed is the name of the game.

Whether you think these tips are valuable or not, take at your resume and update it!

Thanks for reading. John