A few years ago, I did a full-day workshop on transition for a group of alumni of Bentley College. Right after we finished lunch, just before we started back again, someone expressed frustration with the inefficiency and wastefulness of traditional job-search practices, and I made the offhand remark, “If I had my way, we’d throw out resumes and stop networking.”
It was as if an electric charge went through the room. Thirty business professionals, all of them well-trained in the standard job-search methodologies, came alive. They knew instinctively there had to be a better way.
I’ve often wished I could have put aside the agenda I had planned for the afternoon to pursue the subject with them. What I suspect would have happened is that they would have told me they keep following the standard practices because they don’t know what else to do. The inability to answer the question, “What do I do instead?” is the reason people looking for work keep doing the same old things and expecting different, less frustrating results.
The inability to answer the question, “What do I do instead?” is the reason people looking for work keep doing the same old things and expecting different, less frustrating results.
So what would happen if you got rid of that time-honored, universally utilized sacred cow of job-search, the resume?
To begin with, let me say that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with developing a resume. When it leads to a better understanding and articulation of what you have to offer, it’s a useful exercise.
The problem comes when the resume is the centerpiece of an unimaginative job search. When one or two 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper start to drive the scope, direction, and potential of your career, something is out of whack. Form and protocol have replaced innovation and initiative. Thinking of a resume as the focal point of your career is passive. It’s going through the motions rather than actively participating in shaping your future.
I understand that a resume is a necessary part of the paperwork for presenting your credentials to a business with whom you would like to be employed, if—and it’s a big if—you are approaching that business as an individual.
If, on the other hand, you can break free of the grip of the employee-job mindset and start to see yourself as a resource in the marketplace, as one business approaching another business, a resume is only one of a number of options. Would a vendor or a consultant rely exclusively on a flat description of their product or services, such as a brochure or a flyer? Wouldn’t they use a variety of ways to stay visible?
OK, so when I said, “Throw out your resume,” I didn’t mean it literally. What I meant was—don’t let it control your thinking. Take it off your desk and out of your briefcase. File it under “Forms”, and the next time someone offers to pass along your resume say, “What I’d really like is to have a brief conversation with him (or her).”
In other words, pay far less attention to it. Instead of building your job search on the track a resume locks you into, start thinking of the resume only as something you have to have to follow the rules. Make a conscious effort to break out of the box it puts you in. Challenge yourself to a new level of self-leadership, one that asks you to put your career package together differently.
USE YOUR IMAGINATION
Sit back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, if you didn’t rely on a resume, what would you rely on? Thinking about how you might get out of the “post and wait” rut is the first step to finding an answer to that question.
What comes up for you when you begin to entertain the idea of getting rid of the old job-search lifeline? Amid the chatter of confused and fearful thoughts that always arise when we detour off the beaten path, is there an idea or two?
Here’s what I see might happen:
- You would work harder at your job search. (I know there are some who put tremendous effort into a resume, and for them this might mean they’d be doing a different kind of work.)
- You would dig deeper in yourself to discover exactly what you want to do and why you are uniquely suited to do it.
- You would go carefully through your entire career history, sorting, purging, evaluating, to bring out what is most valuable. It’s a bit like going through your collection of stuff to find the items you’d want to take to Antiques Road Show.
- You would be more focused. Instead of listing assorted skills and accomplishments and expecting someone else to figure out how they could be used, you would make those connections yourself.
- You would look for new ways to present yourself in the marketplace and think far less about websites and classified ads. Virtual postings would be replaced by real meetings with live people!
- You would focus on developing a vision and a plan, rather than a chronology of your personal history, and this would enable you talk to a prospective employer about what you can do right now, not what you did 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago.
- Your resume would grow into an entire portfolio of self-marketing approaches: a concise statement of features and benefits, a professional biography, well-crafted, carefully targeted promotional letters, testimonials, etc.
Resumes have a long and mixed history. They are a tool of the industrial age, when lifelong employment in clearly defined jobs was the norm. That age has passed. Continued reliance on an outmoded approach will not open doors. It will only limit possibilities. Resumes have too narrow and too personal an application to be an effective tool in today’s highly competitive business environment.