Sometimes you hit a wall in your career. You realize something needs to change. Either you need to move up a level, or move sideways in the same company or industry. Or you may need a complete change of industry or career focus. How do you adjust your resume?
The best advice I’ve received came from an outplacement coach. She told me, "If you did it, claim it." Whatever you did at your old job that is relevant to your new job, it should be on your resume. Regardless of formal title or job description. "If you did it, claim it."
When I met this outplacement coach, the company I worked for had just closed our department. This came about because of the economic downslide in NYC. It was the year following 9/11 and the dot-com bust. One day we were working as normal. The next day, all but two managing directors were out of work. We were each given two days with an outplacement coach.
I will never forget that experience. Or what she helped me realize. After two days of listening to me talk about my work, my history, and my passions and interests, she finally looked at me and said, “Why are you looking for another job in investment banking? You’re a writer!”
Wow. I knew I was a writer. I loved writing and I dabbled with writing a novel manuscript in my spare time. I wrote a lot in my investment banking job. It wasn’t in my job description. But everyone in my department knew I could write. So they came to me whenever they needed help writing or editing.
But I never thought about switching gears and trying to make a living as a writer.
In NYC, at least back then, it was hard to switch fields. Once you were pegged with investment banking, you could go to any employment agency and they would try to keep you in investment banking. Friends in other industries told me the same story. Breaking free just wasn’t thought of. My first job had been investment banking – not because I loved it, but because it was the only job I could find during the recession. From that point on, if I wanted an income, I worked in investment banking.
Nevertheless, I went home that night and told my husband what the coach said. He agreed with her. The next day, I began setting up a business as a writer.
While I ended up going into business for myself, I rewrote my resume during the outplacement coaching sessions. I took a resume of investment banking jobs and rewrote to show how they were writing jobs. For each job listed on my resume, I stopped to make a list of everything I had done related to writing. Those became the new bullet points under my job description. My title did not change. But my description emphasized the ways I had used writing in that job.
By the end of that resume rewrite, I had a list of investment banking companies, with writing-related accomplishments listed beneath each company. Had I shopped my resume for a writing job, that’s the information they would have needed: Can you write? Do you have experience writing? Have you ever written in a high-pressure workplace with deadlines? Yes. Yes. Yes. Here’s a resume that shows all the writing I have done on the job. If asked, anyone at my former company would have said, "Yes. She did that." It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t for a publishing house or an ad agency or a newspaper. What mattered was that I wrote. And my resume reflected it.
So … wherever you are now, if it’s time to transition, think about what you want to do at your new job. What will they ask of you? What will they expect you to know? What accomplishments are they looking for on your resume?
Then look at every job you’ve done – even volunteer experience, association memberships, education, whatever it may be – and look for examples of the kind of work you’re going to be doing. List those on your resume. If you did them on the job, list them under the job.
If you did it, claim it.
Help the people who will be hiring you see what they need to see about you.