When I decided to return to work, I immediately pulled out my resume, hopeful it would stand the test of time.
Instead, it looked like something an 80-year-old man wrote during the Great War.
Clearly, my affinity for Times New Roman was an attempt to convey the notion that I was a rugged journalist, someone who could hold my liquor and not freak out if a gun was pulled, neither of which is true.
I’m sure I was emulating my best Hemingway by keeping my wording curt and concise. But now it just sounded dry and brittle, my entire career condensed to a handful of mechanical sentences. There was no warmth or even the idea that there was a real person on the other side.
So I set about trying to resuscitate my resume, confident it would be easy since I’m, after all, a writer. I refuse to pay a resume writer, I told myself. That’s what the Internet’s for!
Efforts on social media to solicit a free review of my work of art resulted in only one useful response other than “Good luck!”: a referral to a resume designer.
Begrudgingly, I contacted the designer, coughed up some money, and listened as she gave me the low-down on job searching.
Resumes, it seemed, had evolved away from a single piece of 32-pound paper. Now there were portfolio websites, personal blogs, brand colors, and logos. Everything tied together to promote you not as a person but as an amazing brand. My to-do list just got longer.
In no time, I had three unique versions of my resume. One was a muted all-business design, another had a snappy, hipster vibe, and the third was a blend of the two. Each felt fresh, modern, and confident.
Honestly, I felt like I’d just stepped out of the hair salon. Look out world! It put a little wind in my sails and a spring in my step.
It also taught me my first lesson in resume writing: Invest in good advice.
Professional advice is a worthy investment because it's often the quickest way to get from A to B. And when you are looking for a job, time is usually of the essence. Poking around on your own and experimenting is like walking in circles.
That said, it's always been hard for me to justify spending money to make money — especially when you're looking for a job because you need the money. But the truth is, I probably lost money on missed opportunities by not doing it sooner.
Eventually, I found Pam Farone, a career coach who had hosted a free resume event with a recruiting firm I knew. Before I could chicken out, I forked over money for a session.
The first thing she did was prod me to properly inventory my skills. As much as I hate “take out a piece of paper and... ” assignments, I dutifully sat down. I dissected every job I had and quantified it as much as possible.
Suddenly, my scrawny one-page resume was a robust Mama Jama, struttin’ her stuff and spilling out over her ample two-page bosom.
It was an important exercise in laying it all out on the table. Pam made me see that I had waay more skills than I gave myself credit. And that gave me a badly needed boost of confidence.
Here are some other nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from her:
Don’t say you “helped” do something. For example, “I helped manage staff.” If you had anything to do managing then just say it, “I managed staff.”
Don’t do anything for free. You and your time are valuable.
Figure out your pricing strategy now. It's the first thing people will ask for, and you’d better have an answer.
The longer a search goes on, the easier it is to slip into a mindset of anonymity and think: Maybe I'm not good enough. Maybe I don't have anything to offer. Maybe I'm not special.
Having a Pam in my corner made the whole job experience less lonely. She would check in with me. Root for me. She gave me honest feedback and challenged me to be proud of myself. Everyone needs a Pam.