One’s prime is elusive. . . . You must be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of life it may occur. Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Recent college graduates, homemakers, or those with very little or very low-level work experience often feel as though they have nothing to offer. They say: “Kate, if I had the experience the people in your examples had, I’d have no trouble writing a resume.”
These people are wrong in a number of ways:
- Even the highest-level executives have a great deal of difficulty figuring out what their accomplishments have been and preparing their own resumes. Resume preparation is a skill, just as marketing or finance is a skill, and it is not something executives need to do every day on their jobs.
- You are not competing with high-powered executives. Therefore, it doesn’t matter that you haven’t run a division of 600 people. If you had run that division, you’d have other problems in preparing your resume.
- It’s better for each of us, no matter what our experiences, to cultivate a positive outlook: to assure ourselves that we have done well, despite mistakes and wrong turns. Our experiences have made us what we are today. We should be proud of whoever we are and make the most of it. We should each strive – executive, young person, homemaker—to uncover our special gifts and contributions and let the world know.
On a national TV program, I was once asked to work with an “ordinary housewife” and develop a resume for her. It was promoted as something akin to magic. Can Kate make this nothing into a something? The producers picked someone who had been at home for 20 years. That would be a good one! I interviewed the woman, and developed a great resume for her.
Afterward, the people who worked in the studio said it wasn’t fair: We should have picked someone who really had nothing to offer. They were convinced that a typical “ordinary housewife” could not possibly have an interesting resume. These studio executives were voicing a prejudice that reinforces the way many people feel about themselves.
I was successful with the “ordinary housewife” because, in real life, most homemakers are not sitting home doing nothing for 20 years. A career counselor can help find the things anyone has to offer. Every homemaker and every young person has done things. With an open mind and the right help, these can be presented well in a resume.
Prior to showtime, I spent one hour on the phone with Maria, with no preparation on her part. You, however, would be wise to prepare by doing some of the exercises listed below. If you have trouble doing them, don’t worry. You can do them with your career coach.
- List the fields you think you would like to go into. If you have a clear idea about what you want to do in the future, that’s great. Even if you don’t, you can still have a great résumé.
- List all the work you have ever done before or during your marriage or school. It does not matter whether you earned money doing this work. For example, Maria “helped out” in her daughter’s store. She didn’t get paid for it, but it added a lot to her resume.
- List all the volunteer work you have ever done for your place of worship, school, neighbors, and friends. What are the things you find yourself doing again and again? For example, do you find you are always baking cakes for parties, babysitting, or volunteering to tutor? List these things.
- List any organizations you have belonged to and any courses you have taken.
- List your most important personality traits. Are your detail-oriented? Are you able to motivate others? Do you follow through on everything you tackle?
- List your favorite hobbies, pastimes, or interests. Perhaps, for example, you enjoy needlepoint. I had one client whose passion was bowling—she not only bowled but she also scheduled tournaments. We were able to make a resume out of it, and she got a job with a bowling association!
Try to list everything, no matter how silly it seems. Then set up an appointment with your career coach.
These are essentially the same exercises top executives do. The Seven Stories Exercise is the key to uncovering those things you enjoy doing and also do well—and would like to do again. The exercise is helpful in uncovering other things as well. Through the exercise, you will find out:
- What you have done that you are proud of. In the sample resumes that follow, each person has found something to be proud of, whether it’s earning money to go to school or helping a daughter in her shop.
- Personality traits that will separate you from the competition, such as the ones noted in the summary statement of Larry’s resume, which follows: productive, self-motivated, and so on.
- How to look at your work, school, and volunteer experience objectively. In Larry’s example, he spent a great deal of time analyzing the job he had. This analysis gave his resume a lot of substance.
Even young people with no “real” work experience, or housewives who have been out of the workforce a long while can develop strong resumes—if they can think about their experiences objectively.
And, as with executives, the experiences have to be “repositioned” to fit the target market. For example, Maria said she had helped her daughter in the store. The fact is, Maria was alone in the store a lot of the time. Therefore, she was “managing the store.” And when she went shopping with her daughter for things to sell in the store, they were not “shopping” but “buying.”
Give it a try. With a little help and an open mind, you too can develop a resume that truly reflects you.
There’s always a struggle, a striving for something bigger than yourself in all forms of art. And even if you don’t achieve greatness—even if you fail, which we all must—everything you do in your work is somehow connected with your attitude toward life, your deepest secret feelings. Rex Harrison, as quoted in The New York Times
Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. Ralph Waldo Emerson