Resumé writing an art in the right hands

Resumes serve as keys for opening the door to job opportunities. Don't get locked out.

I can’t remember when I didn’t know how to write a resumé. There must have been a time, because it’s not like I just tumbled out of the womb with that skill under my belt. I didn’t even have a belt. First I needed to learn spoken language, then how to make letters, then how to form and string together words, then how to type, then how to work to have jobs to put on my resumé.

Actually, it began about 25 years ago, when I did my undergraduate college internship in the job placement department of the Calhoun Area Vocational Center. There, I got to work with a top-notch team teaching employability skills to the students. I immediately fell in love with the process.

If you’ve ever had one of those “aha” moments, you know what I mean. From the time of introduction, the skill or maneuver makes immediate, absolute sense to you and is pretty much effortlessly accomplished, as if you were born to do it. I didn’t pay much attention to that feeling then because I was young and pretty much ignorant when it came to noticing meaningful moments.

I shelved my resumé writing savvy until I needed it to land my first professional job. The skill continued to open doors to work opportunities and I frequently found myself doing resumés, cover letters, reference sheets and salary histories for my family, friends and co-workers.

Before computers were commonplace and laptop models unheard of, I had one of the first word processors available on the mass market, the Canon Starwriter 80. What made that machine so cool was its five built-in fonts and portability that enabled me to meet with resumé clients anywhere to create their documents. I’ve never felt so high tech!

However, the technology and convenience that should have brought me greater clout actually hurt business by taking the mystique out of it. My years of internalized resumé writing experience and ability to quickly compose at the keyboard made the resumé process appear too simple in front of my customers. Instead of admiring my agility, they were given the impression the word processor was somehow magically doing the work and I was just a button pusher.

I’ve thought the same thing when watching a highly-skilled serviceman at work, for instance a computer repair technician, piano tuner or dermatologist. “Hmm, I can’t believe I’m paying so much to have him do this when it only took a few minutes. Must be easier than I thought.” My mind assumes there must be some sleight of hand or shortcut to everyone else’s abilities, even though I know how much training goes into mine.

One day, when I was playing my red piano at the Barnes General Store in Burlington, I noticed a woman watching the casualness of my left hand radar automatically, albeit blindly finding the bass notes to a snappy ragtime piece. “Is that piano real?” she finally asked. When I looked puzzled, she explained she thought it had to be a player piano and I was only FAKING playing. Compliment? I was making it look too easy. So much for impressing people with years of practice.

With resumé writing, my competence has built gradually, behind the scenes, through studying hundreds of resumés, mastering multiple techniques and helping scores of people. Like a master electrician, I can glance at a resumé and instantly diagnose problems and how to rewire it to better highlight a person’s abilities. It energizes me.

For the longest time, I didn’t consider resumé writing and employability skills coaching a serious career possibility because it seemed more akin to garage painting compared to fine art portraiture. But I’ve come to realize they can be as much an art as a science through asking good questions, listening for themes, looking for patterns and encouraging dreams.

Good resumé work can cross over career change into the life-changing category: Detailed brushwork in the hands of a skilled professional. And far better results than the paint-by-number efforts with a Microsoft Word resumé template. I just needed to reframe my thinking and give my work the respect due. Alas, I’m always the last to get a clue.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sheldon Phillips
    Oct 13, 2011 @ 14:41:04

    What is it they say? A mechanics car never runs right?


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