Great resumes tell a compelling story, ideally of growth and learning, new challenges and meaningful projects. But sometimes job seekers fail to honestly tell their stories because of beliefs they’ve internalized about their work, their education, or what the employer wants to see.
This is a challenging time to hunt, and you want to use all your tools in your toolbox to get the next job. Here are the three top beliefs I see holding people back when they write their resumes.
Belief 1: Only Certain Degrees or Jobs are Impressive
I regularly review resumes with employment gaps, and I’ve learned to always ask what people did in that time. Often they worked in jobs that for one reason or another they’ve labeled as embarrassing. Maybe they worked as a temp, or nanny, other position with hourly pay or a heavy service component.
But these jobs are important, no less worthwhile than working on Wall Street or at a big law firm.
Society has a lot to say about “good jobs,” “important jobs,” and impressive career trajectories. We internalize these beliefs through years of answering, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” and trying out answers on adults. We move on to choosing a major, and getting judged for that. Then we get an entry-level job and get feedback, sometimes harsh, on that as well. Enough!
Honest work has value to our society, now more than ever, and it’s time to challenge the stigma that comes with job status. List your work experiences with pride. Describe in detail how you did it well. Own it.
I also see many people leaving education off their resumes entirely, just because they didn’t finish their degrees. But many of my clients have been hired with half a bachelor’s degree, or an associate’s, or a high school education.
These are accomplishments. Even if you didn’t finish, you can list years of attendance. Take credit for what you’ve done so far, and show that you continued to learn on the job, or through continuing education and training.
Belief 2: You’re Only the Sum of Your Job Duties
You may be tempted to plow through your resume quickly, listing your daily responsibilities, and then apply to as many job postings as you can find.
The problem is, you tend to look like every other person with your job title. Instead, try to remember the highlights and accomplishments of each year of employment. These by definition are unique and will set you apart.
At your next job, consider keeping a work journal with your major accomplishments. This can help you when you update your resume, which I recommend doing each year.
If you can’t remember, ask people you trust for help. I know, this one can really cause anxiety, but it’s worth the stress. Ask colleagues, teachers, friends, and former supervisors to read your resume and ask if you’ve forgotten anything. Often they have memories of things you’ve done, or your strengths, that you have missed. It’s hard to see ourselves clearly sometimes.
Belief 3: Weird is a Turnoff
When I graduated in 1995, the economy wasn’t strong, and I wanted to break into journalism. I had a comparative religion degree and some clips from freelancing. That’s it. But I managed to get hired at paper.
I got my first job because a newspaper needed to revamp their religion page to reflect the diversity of people moving to their town. I had a knowledge set I traded for on-the-job training. My “weird” degree set me apart.
Nonlinear career paths and unique education choices can help you stand out as well. You just have to find the right employer. That’s why networking and research are just as important as writing a good resume.
We live in challenging times, and the most important benefit to challenging these beliefs is that you’ll be kinder to yourself. We can be so hard on ourselves, unnecessarily. But a job hunt is going to challenge your confidence, and you need to be on your own side. Be proud of your work so far, because you’ve earned it.