My career path has been more of a winding road than a straight line. I got my bachelor’s degree in music education and taught for a few years, before some unanticipated changes put me on the path to non-profit administration, which ultimately led to a career in which I lead a digital marketing agency.
When I was in graduate school, I asked one of my supervisors to review my resume and give me some advice. Her words were critical: “Your resume is confusing. Pick a path.” She was a bit harsh, but accurate.
At the time I was uncertain about which path to pursue: music or administration, and I was trying to keep my options open with a single resume. In short, I wasn’t picking a path and my resume was telling that story.
There have been several benefits of having a diverse career path, the greatest of which is perspective. I understand the public and private sector, I have lived experience of the differences in mindset in each and I can see clearly what each can learn from the other. The skills I’ve learned in each have carried over and translated to different types of work.
Once, a beloved music theory professor pointed out to me that he wasn’t surprised that I was good at marketing, because his subject had come so easily to me. I asked what they had in common and he grinned and said, “It’s all about finding patterns. That’s the skill you excelled in.” People often get siloed in careers they are ready to leave, not recognizing how translatable their skills can be.
I find myself now in a role where I’m frequently at the helm of hiring new employees for our quickly growing agency. I sift through applications and resumes, I lead interviews and, along with our CEO, make hiring decisions about new employees.
Sometimes, I’m asked for career advice from friends who find themselves in a similar place where I found myself just a few years ago, when I needed to pick a path. Here’s what I tell them:
Your resume is the one page story of who you are and what you bring to the table.
For the years I was sending out resumes, I was thinking about it all wrong. I was trying to follow the “rules,” I was trying to be complete and I was trying to squeeze as much information as humanly possible into an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper. But, a resume is a story, not an encyclopedia. Tailor it to the job you’re applying for, and show them who you are and what you’re capable of doing in that role, based on your previous experience. You’re not applying for a job, you’re offering to do a job. This is your chance to lead with the main points, and let your cover letter fill in the gaps.
Follow the directions and be truthful.
I am utterly shocked at how frequently candidates don’t submit everything we ask for, and how often we see people boast skills or experience they don’t have. If you can’t do what we ask when you’re applying, I doubt you’ll take direction well as an employee. When you’re tempted to bolster your experience beyond your actual abilities, remember that getting the job is a lot easier than keeping the job when you’re unable to do what’s asked of you successfully. However, if you are honest about your capabilities, perhaps training is an option for the right candidate and you’ll set everyone up for success.
Your interview is about making a connection and determining a mutually good fit.
If you’ve made it to the interview, think of it like meeting a new friend. You’re not on trial, you’re there to make a connection with the people interviewing you and continue to tell the story you began with your resume. Then, your job is to determine whether this company will be a good fit for you. In the same way you should hope they’ve reviewed your application materials, do your own home work on the company and get to know who they are on paper too. Then, tailor your questions based on that understanding.
Ultimately, before you accept a job offer from this company, you need to determine the following:
Does their culture align with your values?
Does the job description accurately reflect the actual work you’ll be doing?
Does the day-to-day nature of the job you’re interviewing for match your personal strengths and needs in the workplace?
Does their compensation for the job meet your needs and expectations?
We spend a tremendous amount of time at work over the course of our lives. When we’re looking for work, it can be stressful and fear-filled and we can give the companies who are hiring all of the power in the interview. But, once you have the job, you have to live your daily life in that workplace, doing that job, participating in that culture. If it’s not a great fit for you, you’ll likely find yourself starting the job search all over again sooner than you’d like.