Every few years (or whenever the need arises), we engage in a loathsome activity that is about as pleasurable as getting a root canal at the dentist.
It’s called updating our résumé.
So why is this process so painful?
My theory is that there are two answers to this question. Firstly, we were taught not to boast about ourselves. And secondly, most people don’t keep track of what they’ve done, so when the time comes to sit down to write, we end up racking our brains while trying to remember what it was exactly that we did in the past few years.
So let’s talk turkey about these two forces at work that seem to thwart our ability to keep our credentials current and brushed up.
Our parents told us that we should not boast about ourselves, but I would argue that in an application situation, the employer is a blank screen. They know nothing about you, and your résumé is the tool to help start drawing the lines and filling in the details of what exactly you bring to the picture.
Instead of boasting, you need to take ownership of how your contributions mattered to previous employers. Everyone has value. You just need to wrap your arms (and mind) around what it is that you did previously that made a difference to the company. If you take this approach, and understand that employers simply want to know what you can do and how you’ve helped previous companies, that will help them make a better guess on what you might do for them.
So it’s not boasting. What you need to do is think about how you can help an employer by telling stories about how you helped previous companies in the past. It’s that simple.
Now, let’s talk about the “racking of the brain” part of the equation.
It’s tough to go back and scour through old files to try and find information on what you’ve done in the past few years. Many of us will admit that we haven’t done a very good job of keeping track of these things.
Start a career management file. In this file, you’ll toss the following into it as you go along in your work:
Right now, this might seem like a pretty tall order to follow, but look at this from the long-term perspective. Wouldn’t having a file containing all of this information be very gratifying to refer to when you actually do sit down to update your résumé? All the quantifiable information is contained within, plus numerous reminders of your progress to date.
- Performance reviews
- Staff reports
- Plan of Work
- Company reports
- Copies of registration forms for conferences / trainings you have attended
- Industry certifications you’ve earned
- Industry membership registrations
- Any news items that pertain to your work
- Any company annual reports
- Any other metrics that you can develop that show how you met performance to goal
- Any kudos letters you have gotten from coworkers, bosses, colleagues, customers, or industry peers
You can put aside the aspirin and actually look forward to reviewing your accomplishments, and ultimately realize how far you have come versus dealing with frustration of fading and vague memories.
So take the fear and loathing out of updating your career documents. Look forward to it as a way to document/showcase your career progression. If you can turn the corner on how you feel about your résumé and see it as a career roadmap rather than a distasteful activity, you’ll feel more empowered about your future.
Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Careers, which specializes in mid- to upper-management résumés. She is an active volunteer in her community and donates her time teaching a résumé writing class at the Oregon Employment Department every week to help empower unemployed professionals and workers.
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