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May 8, 2023

Your Career Journey Part 1: Résumé Prep and Job Searches

Sonia Harris

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Who doesn't enjoy a good sequel, trilogy or series?  I do because I like watching a story evolve and unfold in, often, surprising ways! Managing your career can feel like a similar journey. In fact, the career journey you take develops over time, as you learn and grow.

That's why I suggested this series of blogs to help you plan your career journey, whether you're a current job seeker, an employee looking for a change or a step up, a future entrepreneur, or a student. 

This blog series on career journeys will coincide with three consecutive #MTtalk Twitter chats and Facebook Live events. And, if you're a Club member, we'll also be hosting exclusive #MTmasterclass videos on LinkedIn. (You can find further information about these at the end of this blog.)

Starting your career journey – Prepping your résumé

What are your key skills and strengths?

Before explaining your knowledge, skills, abilities, and interests to anyone, you'll need to identify what they are.  

Mind Tools has several resources to help you do this, including our personal SWOT analysis, our blog on "What's Your Life Plan? Balancing Dreams and Reality", and the Mind Tools Life Plan Workbook.

So get familiar with your own strengths and skills. Then use this information to define the following about yourself: 

  • Talents 
  • Interests 
  • Knowledge 
  • Skills 
  • Abilities 
  • Philosophy/Values 

Summarizing your work experience

A résumé is an organized snapshot of your career objectives, qualifications, skills, education, experience, and work history. Essentially, it should provide the hiring company details of what your career journey looks like so far, and demonstrate how well your skills and experience match up to the vacant position. Recruiters often request that résumés be limited to one or two pages, so be concise but informative. 

For quick and easy reference to your work experience so far, keep an up-to-date LinkedIn profile. Also, maintain an "at-a-glance" data file that contains key information for each of the jobs you've had, such as dates, titles, key responsibilities, accomplishments, company info, and key work contacts or former supervisors. 

Some jobs may require you to document your work experience in different formats. For example, if your background includes postgraduate work in the technical, educational, scientific, legal, and medical industries, companies might request a curriculum vitae (CV) instead. 

In my experience, a résumé is a shorter summary of your work that can be skimmed in 15-30 seconds, while a CV may include paragraphs to summarize your specialized work. Government entities and other organizations may also require you to fill out online or paper applications that are specific to them.

Résumé design

A résumé typically contains the following, regardless of format: 

  • Name and contact information. 
  • Career objective.
  • Relevant job history (with job title, dates, company, city/state). 
  • Key responsibilities and skills.
  • Education level.
  • Other information such as hobbies, activities, honors, and affiliations. 

How you format and design your résumé will depend on what information you want to highlight. What do you want the hiring company to know about you? 

Remember, the likelihood is you only have a few minutes to grab the recruiter's attention. So you need to design your résumé in a way that presents your work experience clearly and effectively. There are several résumé format styles you can use, but – in general – the three most popular are: 

  • Chronological – best for consistent, relevant experience.
  • Targeted – best for downplaying a limited job history of direct experience by spotlighting relevant, transferable skills and abilities instead.
  • Functional – best for emphasizing related duties and responsibilities from multiple positions.

Because this is your résumé, choose a format or combination that highlights your strengths and represents you the best. Also, think about the roles that you're applying for and consider tailoring your résumé depending on the different skills and experience that each requires.

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Finding the right career journey: Searching for Jobs

Now that your résumé is ready, the next obstacle on your career journey is to find the right job for you. But how do you know what will be a good fit and what won't? Where should you be looking? Where do you even start?

When it comes to doing a job search, your ultimate goal is to find a role that excites you, but that also meets your salary expectations. There are various places you can look, including:

  • Company websites. 
  • Newspapers.
  • LinkedIn and recruitment websites.
  • Networking/word of mouth.
  • Campus career center or local economic development department.
  • Executive search consultant/firm.
  • Referrals.

You might find that there are thousands of jobs relevant to you and your industry out there. But, remember, you are the customer here. So consider some of the following to find the right fit for you:

  • Determine your salary requirements and acceptable range based on your needs, and the industry average for the types of jobs you're applying for.
  • Don't get hung up on titles. Instead, focus on the responsibilities. (For example, a coordinator at a large organization could have the same responsibilities as a manager at a small company.) 
  • Learn about the company and compare how its corporate values measure up to yours. 
  • Consider location. Where is the job? Are you open to relocation? 

Introducing yourself using a cover letter

Many recruiters ask job applicants to write a cover letter to go with their résumé. Essentially a cover letter is a personal letter that introduces you and your résumé to the recruiter. It's a chance for you to highlight the unique strengths and skills that you can bring to the role, and explain how you'd make the best fit.

To make sure your cover letter sends you to the top of the recruiter's pile, consider the following:

  • Carefully read the job description and focus your letter on the key skills and attributes that it requires.
  • Stick to between three to five paragraphs and no more! This could, for example, be structured as: an opening paragraph (the purpose of your letter); two to three paragraphs that promote your skills and that summarize why you'd be an asset to the company; and a closing paragraph (action and appreciation).
  • Use a standard letter format but tailor the content of your cover letter for each position that you apply for.
  • Use action-oriented language to bridge your experience with prospective duties. For example, "strategize," "build," "create," and "develop."
  • If the recruiter didn't request items (such as headshot, samples, etc.), don't submit them. (Recruiters may receive dozens of attachments or pages for each vacancy, so these may simply go ignored if they are not necessary.)
  • The recruiter should confirm receipt of your submission (via email, phone, or text message). 
  • Don't assume the recruiter's preferred greeting titles. Ask for their preference before you begin writing.
  • Look at a mix of job descriptions for the same position to understand how to tailor your language.
  • Factor in any voluntary and other unpaid experience you've done to demonstrate transferable skills. 
  • Save documents to a portable document format (PDF) to preserve your original formatting. (Several "free" PDF creation software tools are available online.) 

Let's continue the conversation about Career Journeys

We want to explore the different career journeys people have taken further. So we'll be hosting a number of exciting talks on our social channels to discover more. These will also be great opportunities to access the wonderful wealth of experience our coaches can offer you, as you navigate your own career journey.

We'll be hosting an #MTtalk on Career Journeys on Wednesday, May 10th @ 12 noon ET. Anyone can join! Simply follow us on Twitter, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function and click on "Latest" – you'll then be able to follow the live chat feed. You can participate in the chat by using the hashtag #MTtalk in your responses.

On Thursday, May 11 at 11 a.m. ET members of our Career Community Facebook group will be able to join a 20-minute Facebook Live conversation and question session.

And, finally on Friday, May 12 we will release a short coaching video on our Mind Tools Coaching Hub on LinkedIn, which is exclusive to Mind Tools' Club members.

Resources: Explore more at Mind Tools...

If you want to delve further into some of the topics we've discussed, check out the following from Mind Tools. (Note that you will need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.)

Finding Career Direction
Managing Your Career
Developing a Career Strategy
Writing a Résumé
Writing a Cover Letter

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