I often begin my coaching sessions with a few ground rules, so my client and I share an expectation for what we are going to accomplish, then I ask a few broad questions to set the tone. In most cases, my very first question is “Why do you need a resume?” Thinking this is a trick question (after all, they’ve usually come to me to help them write a resume) lots of clients laugh, but when I press them for an answer, most come up with some variant of “Because without it, I can’t apply to a job- duh!” People mistakenly believe that their resume is the be all, end all, of their job search. Well, I’m here to tell you: IT ISN’T.
It’s true that you cannot successfully apply to most positions without one, but the amount of time a hiring manager or recruiter is likely to spend perusing the information contained within it is infinitesimal (really small). What I try to impress upon each of my clients is that a resume is simply the cost of entry. Not having a resume- or not having a very good resume- can absolutely submarine your candidacy, but having even a truly excellent resume is never going to win you the job immediately. This makes sense: though your resume serves an important function and there are certain conventions that govern the structure and content that should appear within its margins, there is absolutely no way that a single piece of paper (don’t get me started on five-page resumes!) can capture the totality of your personality, motivations, appearance, and accomplishments. Instead, a resume is best viewed as a tool. It may be in good condition, it may be in disrepair, or it may not even be the correct tool for the task(/position). In any case, you need to perform work with it for it to be useful.
Think of your resume as a foundation. It represents the culmination of a significant exercise in time and thought, and should reflect your greatest strengths and career highlights. The purpose of your resume is to convey a specific notion to the reader; a central premise, if you will: that you’re a brilliant scientist, that you have loads of creativity, that you have consistently worked above and beyond your job level, whatever… The details and examples you include should all align with this message and offer concrete examples in support of the main theme.
If you’ve engaged in this type of self-reflection and have a workable document, then the resume will essentially serve as short-hand for your memory. When you field questions pertaining to your work history or personal attributes, you can literally glance down at your resume and be reminded of specific examples of just such events. I’ve actually counseled clients to call the interviewer’s attention back to bullet points in the text of their resume, while responding to a line of questioning. Above all, you need to stay on message.
Clearly, a resume can be worth a great deal, but only if it is treated as the basis of your job search- not the whole enchilada. What’s more important is that you achieve clarity regarding your career aspirations and a recognition of what sets you apart from everyone else with similar experience. This will afford you confidence to pursue a position that matches your professional image.