Whether you need to optimize your resume, get help with your job search, re-enter the job market or plan a career pivot this article will help you to understand how to be your own coach, while showing you what a modern career and resume coach can do for you.
Google and many of your friends and professional contacts can potentially advise you on what to put on your resume. You may receive contradictory advice and or find unhelpful folks that will tell you that you are already doing everything right. And some that will assure you that everything you are doing is wrong!
The challenge with a good amount of this advice is that it tends to focus on how to format your resume or it’s based on what one person did once with success.
In the case of traditional career counselors or resume writers, you may get folks who rely too heavily on beliefs that put you the client in a box. Or who write resumes based on a formula that may have worked in 1990, but is not relevant in the current market or workplace.
You know you best.
The most important part of writing a resume actually has nothing to do with writing [or formatting] the document. It has to do with putting YOU onto the paper.
What this means, is that before you write your resume, your best time investment will be spent in clarifying your career goals and putting together a compelling professional narrative that tells who you are as a professional.
These goals and your narrative will set the foundation for an effective job search process from the time you submit your resume through to your interview.
Why? Because inconsistency and humility are the kiss of death on the job search.
What your resume NEEDs
Don’t let others confuse your humility for mediocrity.
You can have the most beautiful, formatted and tightly written resume in the city, but if it reads like a robot, boring, bland, and or totally lacking your unique motivations and personality, what is the point?
To get hired you need a resume (and a LinkedIn profile) that demonstrates what you can do with confidence and joy. This document also needs to highlight your unique combination of strengths, interests, experiences, while showing what motivates and inspires you.
This includes owning your story, flipping negatives to be positives with authenticity, and the ability to show what you’ve learned and how you approach problems. Together this information will go above and beyond your classic robotic resume that merely hints at your capacity for performing in the future.
✗ A robotic-sounding resume that might very well be a copy and paste of your various job descriptions. With a little color at the very end under “activities.” Blah. Nope. No.
✔ A unique document that clearly demonstrates throughout the document your hunger to work, your interests and your unique capacity. Plus a very important insight into your work personality.
Resume Reboot + Job Search Success:
A woman in her mid-thirties completes a master’s degree in a big city, due to some extenuating circumstances, following her degree she moves back to her small rural home town. She takes the first job she can get and ends up working primarily in sales. Five years later she wakes up one day and says “enough, I want to use my degree. I need to reconnect to my purpose!”
First, we seek out ideal jobs available in her region (not many, but we find a few).
Next, we look at all her experiences, do her values and strengths assessments and build a resume that leverages her not only her experience and education but also her natural strengths and passions.
Then we build out her resume and work up a networking strategy.
Three months from start to finish, she is in her dream job and using her degree!
Career + Life Coaching:
A woman in her early thirties has taken the last few years off from work as a new mom. The first decade or so of her career saw rapid and powerful growth, but overseas. Upon the birth of her kids (her husband can work from anywhere) they moved to be close to her parents. Three years in she is bored and hungry to reclaim her career.
When she came to me she’d been working, but it was unsatisfying work that took up too much time and she felt stifled.
First, we reviewed her past and determined what she loved about her past work.
Next, we clarified her dream job and what she and her family wanted (this took a few sessions).
After we did our values, strengths, needs and goals assessments we set out to find ideal jobs and she reached out to her network.
Six months after our initial work + a summer vacation and move she got an offer from a dream job, moved across the country and hit the road running!
Job Search Success + Resume:
A software engineer in his mid-twenties on the autistic spectrum has recently finished his bachelor’s; almost all of his work experience in customer service or behind the scenes manual process improvement, such as in a warehouse. He can show problem-solving and career progression but has zero experience in his chosen field.
First, we get really clear on his goals and how his values and strengths are interwoven with his goals.
Second, we identify target employers and specific job descriptions.
Third, we write the resume and LinkedIn profile, we start to network.
Within 4 months he goes from 8 to 85 LinkedIn connections, has several interviews and gets hired at his first choice.
Before you start a job search:
Values, Strengths, Needs, Goals
Why values? This is what keeps you happy at work and assures that you’ve found work and a company culture that is aligned with your worldview.
Why strengths? This is what you do well naturally. When you look at what you’ve done, what you enjoy and what you’d like to do, you’ll likely find an overlap with your natural talents. Don’t be humble. Talk about what you do well — this is what an employer NEEDS to know to hire you.
Why needs? Unless you are independently wealthy, the main reason you work is to get a paycheck. You’ve got needs and to be happy you need to own them and keep them at the forefront during your job search. Needs might be your salary and benefits or they might be your work schedule, location, flextime versus remote. Your needs might also be your social relationships and the possibility of growth or upward movement. What do you *need* at work to be happy? Your work life is a relationship that needs to be workable.
Why goals? Obviously you’ve got the goal to “get hired.” However, to get hired you need to be more specific. This is where the quality of the job search comes into play. If you apply to 100 jobs a week there is no way that you’ve got the time or clarity to connect yourself to the goal of each specific employer. If you want to get hired and get a job that meets your values, strengths, and needs, you need a clear goal or target job.
Where to go to find clarity?
To clarify your values and strengths you can think about what motivates you to achieve. You can recall times in your life that you’ve been lost in your work — when you’ve hit those moments of flow — what were you doing? How were you doing it?
You can also take a handful of surveys that can reflect back to you what makes you unique. Sometimes people take these surveys as just fun things to do, without recognizing their importance to our life.
This happens because it’s easy to assume that everyone thinks and works like us. We may incorrectly assume that what you value is important to others. Or we may assume that certain skills that come to us naturally are easy for everyone. In fact, when we make these assumptions we often undercut ourselves and at the same time get ourselves into situations that are not a good fit for us.
The following are the go-to surveys that I leverage to support my clients to clarify their values and strengths:
VIA Character Strengths (Values in Action — link to free survey)
If you want to get out of a toxic work environment or are looking to pivot this survey can help you to understand how you work and the type of people who want to work with.
Core Values (Link to free PDF list of core values)
If you are a manager or in a position of responsibility, in a role where you want to make an impact I recommend also identifying your top 5 to 7 motivating core values. (When working with clients one-on-one we discuss this in more detail.)
Clifton: Your Talents & Strengths (This is an affiliate link for the book (or Kindle) on Amazon – make sure you buy a new copy to get the code for the online test.)
Why strengths? This is what you do well naturally. The StrengthsFinder is extremely useful to help you own your natural talents while giving you the framework to talk about it and tie these strengths back into what you’ve already done, as well as, what you hope to accomplish.
Use the self-awareness, list of values and your strengths from these surveys to build out your work history. Go back as far as 15 to 20 years, taking the time to focus on jobs that are the most relevant or that have given you the most learning. Use these findings from your previous exercise to write out short accomplishment stories.
Ideas for what you might put in an accomplishment story:
- Actual achievements. Describe what it was like, what motivated you, what you loved.
- Describe failures as learnings. How did what happened to motivate you to work or learn differently in the future?
- Stories of how you did something outside of your defined job description.
- Assessments of things you solved or achieved (the metrics everyone talks about) tied to your values, natural strengths and or learnings.
Use these stories to build a master resume that covers all the things that you’ve done with the most emphasis on the last 10 years and anything over your career that specifically relates to the work you currently seek.
When I work with clients I leverage a career questionnaire and work history forms for each specific past role, which I then compare to 3 to 5 live (active) ideal job descriptions.
I use these live job descriptions to identify the key accomplishments from a client’s past to really make sure the most relevant and appropriate skills, experiences and capacities rise to the top.
I don’t really believe in “failures” and my experience has shown me that anything from being fired to a three-year job gap can be leveraged as a strength, as long as, your resume authentically represents you and effectively targets the work you seek.
Hire Me to Write Your Resume
Formatting a Memorable Resume.
Once you’ve organized the content that should go into your final resume, your priority should be creating a document that is accessible and readable by both humans and applicant tracking software (ATS). Why?
You won’t get hired for having a stylish resume; you’ll get hired for having engaging and memorable content IN a readable and relevant resume. Formatting is important, but it’s not the most important.
Your name, phone, professional email, LinkedIn URL (personalized) and geographic area (your city will suffice, as does “remote” and open to relocation). If you’ve got a portfolio or professional website that is relevant to your job search list that too.
000-000-0000 | email@example.com | www.alisonrakoto.com
linkedin.com/in/alisonrakoto | Remote | Boulder, CO
Professional Summary + Job Title That You Seek
Note I did not write OBJECTIVE. The summary speaks to what you can do, what you enjoy doing, what you want to do, what you do well and how you do it. It should be 3 to 5 lines long for someone who is early to mid-career and can be two paragraphs for a more experienced employee.
Your summary is better described as a performance profile that tells potential employers your capacity to perform, how you work, why you work and so on. This paragraph should be the same or similar to the content you’d put in an elevator pitch or a networking message. It sets the tone for your resume and your job search.
Core Skills & Experiences
You may wish to include a table after your Summary section that lists your core technical skills or core experiences. If you are in software or mechanical engineering you might list one table upfront that covers core skills & experiences for your job at hand, and then add additional tables at the end of your resume that address your diverse experiences.
These tables are best created in alphabetical order because it makes it easy to adapt them to specific job descriptions and update them over time.
Core Experiences - Sample 1
Core Experiences - Sample 2
Core Experiences - Sample 3
The first best practice for work experience is to list in chronological order with your most recent job first. Occasionally you will have a functional resume, but after six years of professional resume writing, I’ve used a semi-functional resume ONCE. If you think you need one, I’d talk to a resume writer first.
The second best practice is to make sure that you do not write more than five lines of text without breaking up the formatting. So you could have a three-line paragraph followed by bullet points. Bullet points should be maxed at three lines per bullet, ideally one line.
The third best practice is to call out and highlight promotions with titles and dates. If a job in your work history is not at all relevant you should spend less time on it. Maybe two or three lines of text that say what you learned or took away from the role.
If you’ve got more than 5 years of work experience, put your education at the end.
You don’t need to list hobbies or interests. If you’ve written an effective resume the reader will know your personality without needing these reminders at the end that you are a cool human.
You should list relevant volunteer work. You should list work with associations and certifications. If deciding whether to include it or not — ask if it is relevant to the job at hand — if there is no connection then leave it off. Even certifications.
Keywords & Targeting
Once you’ve completed your resume you can run it through a free application that will check it for keywords. Several resume writing and job search sites offer these — I won’t name names — but don’t use these. My experience and my gut tell me that these sites are inaccurate. They will tell you what they want to get you to either (a) hire their service or (b) use their job search tool.
Cvscan.uk, on the other hand, is independent (it has ads on it) but it does a lovely job of highlighting keywords in your resume and your ideal job description. If you get an 80 or 90% match your resume is on target.
If you get 50% to 80% you need to take a look at your language and figure out how to mirror the language in job descriptions better.
If you get less than 50% then you might need to consider whether it’s the writing of your resume or if you are targeting jobs that don’t fit your skillset.
You should be applying to jobs that you can do about 2/3rds of the job description quite well. More than that you may be overqualified. Less than that it may be a bit of a stretch.
Once you’ve got a solid resume put together, it is great to ask folks working in your field fi they can give constructive criticism. Did you leave something crucial out? Does something not make sense? What do they wish they’d seen in your resume?
Print off your resume and read it backwards. Ask a friend. And double-check for silly typos. Do this EVERY TIME you apply for a job. I think this is a crucial reason people who apply for 20 jobs a day don’t get callbacks — it’s way to easy to make dumb typos when you over apply. Take the time to focus and customize.
Why might you work with a career coach or resume writer?
Reason number one? Reading this article made you want to take a nap. A resume writer can be a creative accountability partner. I don’t want to spend three years on your resume, so I will push you to get it done!
Another primary reason that folks hire a resume writer is that while you may know you best, it can be hard to talk about yourself. An excellent resume writer will use surveys such as the StrengthsFinder, as well as, detailed questionnaires about your work history and experiences to pull out your story and reflect it back at you.
Professional resume writing is in fact an art — it is ghostwriting and storytelling wrapped up into one continually changing package. As a resume writer, it is a thrill to connect with clients and learn their dreams, listen to their challenges and their accomplishments, to call out what they do well and help a client celebrate her unique value.
As a resume writer, it makes me dance with joy when a client says “I’ve got to tell you, reading my resume is like looking in the mirror. Thank you.”
A career or leadership development coach can be beneficial at various stages during your career. If you’ve been job seeking for a time without any luck, you are working in a toxic environment or you are launching a pivot, a career coach can help you talk and work through everything outlined above.
She can help you set goals. She will also help you to identify ideal job postings, network and stay accountable. She can help you to see your past differently, to reframe bad experiences and to build your narrative and goals out so that you can be your best self.
One of the crucial components of career coaching, life coaching, and longterm success or change is that they are all iterative processes, sometimes you will feel like you are moving in a circle, sometimes you will plateau, but overall the small steps you take today will suddenly add up to big leaps in the future!
Best Books for Self-Coaching
These are affiliate links to Amazon and if you make a purchase I will earn a commission.
Audience: anyone who has 5 to 10 + years of career but feels they’ve headed the wrong direction and is ready to pivot.
Comparable to: Strengths-Based coaching and human design — my coaching is heavily influenced by Jenny Blake.
Time Frame: You can read it in a weekend but you’ll need a few months to trial your initial ideas and then 6 months to 2 years to carry out the plan you make!
Your First Job/career
Audience: Anyone really, often recommended to new grads and veterans
Comparable to: Traditional career coaching that guides you to identify a traditional career.
Outcome: Sefl-awareness — what do you like dislike, what color *is* your parachute?
Time Frame: You can read it in a weekend.
In general, you hire a coach or a resume writer to get where you want to be faster and with more ease. The purpose of the coaching relationship is for your coach or your resume writer to help you shine, to help you highlight your best you so that you can get the work or job you desire.
Working with a coach or resume writer is not easy — it does require a time commitment from you and the willingness to listen and to answer powerful questions. Be open to seeing your won limiting beliefs and maybe trying some new things. Leverage the opportunity for extra accountability and the rare opportunity to have a non-judgemental champion on your sidelines!
Most importantly, a coach provides you a safe space to work through your thoughts and ideas in a nonjudgmental way. We will listen to your job search concerns and help you to discern what you should put in your resume or LinkedIn profile, how you should address an interview or salary negotiation, and build the confidence to network effectively.