Your Resume Is Not the Foundation of Your Career

Earlier this school year my daughters were tasked with an assignment to write about a famous person they admire. Before sending kids off to do the writing, the teacher spent weeks talking about the fundamentals of a good story – the plot, the story arc and the all-important character development. One of my daughters idolizes the soccer player Alex Morgan, so during her research phase she shared all sorts of fun facts at dinner, including Alex’s getting cut from an early soccer team she sought to join. We talked about the lessons she learned in the process: resilience, grit, and goal setting and how that changed the course of her soccer career.

Throughout, my daughter learned perhaps the most important aspect of any good story: without understanding what makes the protagonist tick – what they’re drawn to, what they care about, their flaws and what creates meaning for them – the story doesn’t hang together and usually isn’t all that interesting.

My daughter’s Alex Morgan story happened to pop up on my computer screen as I was about to hop on a call with a mentee who was getting ready to graduate college. He’d asked me for a “quick resume review” as he’d sent it out to more than 50 companies with virtually no response from any and was clearly frustrated – and nervous. So before jumping into his resume, I started with what I consider the basics.

What sort of work are you looking for? “Management consulting,” he said. What about consulting interests you? What have you considered and decided against? Based on the experiences you’ve had, what do you think a good fit looks like for you? A not so good fit?

Because we were on a video call, I could see the rather blank expression on his face. So I backed up and asked a bit about him and how he’d decided on consulting.

My mentee was getting increasingly impatient as he clearly just wanted to have his resume off his to do list – and was struggling to answer my questions that he seemed to feel were off-topic. It made me realize why I never looked forward to reviewing the thousands of resumes I received throughout my career: they rarely tell the story of the person they’re about.

Resumes are generally a list of what someone has done – and maybe that’s because all too often we’re not clear on our own story. We haven’t done the work of our own “character development” to uncover our motivators, our towering skills and what we care about in order to find work that fits.

Many of the college students we talk to hear that getting their resume together is the very first step. But this strikes me as out of order: A resume isn’t the foundation, understanding who you are is. For a resume to jump off the page – which admittedly they rarely do – you have to understand yourself and build your resume to tell that story. It will help you decide which accomplishments to focus on, which responsibilities to highlight and even which hobbies to include. And it certainly makes a summary far easier to craft.

What any person reading your resume really wants to know is how you can help them and their organization. So while you don’t want to focus solely on your personal values and interests, you do want to highlight the accomplishments that showcase them, and thereby show whoever is reading your resume what you bring to the table. In other words, if you love using your creativity, show what you’ve accomplished using it – perhaps you’ve come up with an innovative solution to a problem, you’ve combined ideas from two different industries to improve a product or you’ve incorporated art into a dry presentation to increase retention.

Here’s another way to think of it: What movie or book character do you most relate to? What stands out about him or her? What about that person makes her or him different? And what have they accomplished with those traits? The idea here is to pull out who they are – and then show what their personality has helped them achieve. What about you – what have you accomplished that people value? The spin is to include not just what you’ve done but what it shows about you in a way that’s true to who you are – as opposed to a laundry list of accomplishments that don’t tell a bigger story.

If you were a writer, discovering character traits after writing the story would likely lead to plenty of editors rejections. And unfortunately when we teach young adults that building your resume is the foundation of job hunting – before they learn about what makes them tick – we’re setting them up for a similar outcome. The power of your story only comes through when you take the time to discover YOU.

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