A Stronger Way to Describe Your Work Experience

Afraid your resume is starting to look like a jar full of colored marbles? Is it complicated to tell how you got from there to here? Here’s how to look at your experience as a winding river rather than single points on a path from A to B when updating your resume.

The resume - what does it really say about you?
The resume – what does it really say about you?

As we gain knowledge, we naturally evolve in our interests and talents. Typically the jobs across our overall career reflect this growth. When there’s a gap between where we’re at personally and where we’re at professionally, that’s a pivotal time to make the bigger and more significant changes to our career. We feel tension. We feel that something’s just not working. Whatever the reason, we’re more inclined to do a little job searching and start daydreaming about other careers.

Yet even when we dream about “what if I…” scenarios, our resume still reflects the same old disjointed experiences. Right?

So if you feel alone on having the only resume that doesn’t make sense, relax. We all have a varied career journey which is uniquely ours. The job titles are just labels to what we do, and the work and skills developed might be more closely related than you realize. Maybe it’s time to refresh how you present this information? Let’s look at an example.

MY CAREER – LINEAR CAREER PATH

Take a look at my career path by job title, in reverse chronological order. With this approach to your resume, you simply update it by adding the newest position at the top, leaving all the older pieces unchanged.


Executive Coach
^
Senior Project Manager & Technology Consultant
^
Java Developer
^
Application Developer
^
Web Programmer
^
Graphic Designer
^
Graduated with a degree in Journalism, majoring in Advertising/Graphic Design and Marketing.


Of course, it makes sense to me since I know more details than you, but you may be thinking Journalism then Java then Coaching? What? How? And that’s what a resume screener would say too. Since my roles varied, this approach never fully worked for me. It simply didn’t make sense as it may for some who stay in one single industry/profession and follow the prescribed path to upper management positions.

MY CAREER – WINDING RIVER VERSION

Now, look at the same series of steps from school to coaching. In this approach, I thought about what are the key lessons or skills developed with each role I held. Each position allowed me a sort of stepping stone to the next position. Read from the bottom up. What do you notice?


Emotional intelligence, listening, action planning and goal setting, facilitating, connecting, starting a business – Executive Coach
^
Setting and managing expectations, delivering complex IT solutions, developing teams, building talent, mentoring, performance coaching, motivating, leading proposals and pursuits, knowledge management, quality control practices, account management, relationship development, accountability, offshore & large team management – Senior Project Manager & Technology Consultant
^
Learning design patterns, creating reusable code, project management, developing small proposals and prototypes, systems integration, learning best practices, liason between business and technical teams – Java Developer
^
Self-starting, self-management, leading small projects with clients – Application Developer
^
Gathering requirements, usability design, applying graphic design principles on the web, problem solving – Web programmer
^
Running magazine production management, schedule management, consistency and strong organization, teaching web design – Graphic Design
^
Detail-oriented, creativity, writing and editing, beginning team building experience and taking on committee chair roles – Journalism


In this version, my experience builds the exact foundations I need at the next level. Each skill from the individual skills developed in school and my early career only lent themselves to my ability to manage and be client-facing. My technical background quickly accelerated my knack for managing complex projects and working with clients. Finally, it’s all the account and strategic relationship experience that makes me an effective coach to identify the root cause of an issue and bring out the best in people today.

LESSON LEARNED – HIGHLIGHT YOUR “REAL” JOURNEY, NOT YOUR JOB TITLES

A resume will always need to be updated when applying for new positions or changing careers. Even when you think the resume is the best possible representation of your experience, it likely is – right now. As soon as you change where you’re headed, you may want to highlight different pieces of that experience. Use the winding river technique to see the commonalities of the true skill-sets you’ve developed across the years. Take the same list of job titles you’ve held. Rather than say what you did using the “I was responsible for” syntax, list the value, knowledge and skills gained.

It’s this winding river experience that prospective employers will want to hear. It’s more interesting. That’s your narrative, and that’s how you got from there to here.

Email me at jessica@managingmindspaces.com for career questions you have or if you would like a PDF copy of this blog post.

Curious to try 20 self-discovery strategies and exercises for your career direction?
Join others who now see their strengths, weaknesses, drivers and values in a new way with this self-guided DIY resource. If you liked this post, you’ll love my book, “Finding Passion: A Self-Discovery Approach for Navigating Career Crossroads” to help you ask the tough questions you’ve been avoiding and rediscover what you really want in your career. Available on Amazon.


JESSICA MANCA is a certified coach, author, entrepreneur and former management consultant. Jessica founded Managing Mindspaces, a professional coaching firm, providing sensible career and life coaching services to professionals making life-changing decisions.

© Copyright 2014-2015 Managing Mindspaces. All rights reserved.

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7 thoughts on “A Stronger Way to Describe Your Work Experience

  1. Thank you very much for sharing this. I’ve been looking for a way to detail how an employee goes through different career stages as learning experiences. Your suggested format is great as it focuses on what an individual learns during different career stages. Excellent!

  2. Thank you for your reply Jessica. You said: “Telling your narrative will change across time as your focus evolves…” This is an interesting point. Does this suggest that you design your list of learned skills and abilities at each career stage depending on which job application you intend to pursue? Meaning, you become selective as to what information about yourself you share that will create the most impact on job application?

    1. I’m happy to clarify – Let’s say the most recent experienced gained you 20 new skills. Maybe it was a small company and you wore many hats? When applying for a new career, you will need to shine a spotlight on some (maybe not all) of the 20 skills that are most relevant to the position you’re applying for. You might consider choosing a variety of those 20 skills to reflect your dynamic and resourceful abilities or select a smaller spotlight of just the sales or management skills as an example. The key is to recognize that you have changed since your last position. You have a new vantage point. Make sure the resume captures that new vantage point from top to bottom, rather than just adding a new paragraph for your most recent experience. You’ll create a more cohesive narrative that makes sense of the big picture of your experience. Thanks for asking!

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