Since I started regularly attending SQL Saturday events some five years ago, I’ve sat in on a number of professional development sessions by Andy Warren, Buck Woody, Don Gabor, and others. Each one offered different bits of advice based on his or her own experience, but there was an overriding theme in all of them: Don’t wait until you need a job to start grooming yourself as a candidate. Start building your network right now, they would all advise, regardless of your current employment status. Push yourself to learn, especially where you see a shortage of skilled workers. Stay visible, stay relevant.
But what about that resume? After all, the resume is just a very small piece of the big picture… a document that be easily thrown together as soon as you need it – right? (Note: If you nodded after that last sentence, please, keep reading.)
Writing an effective resume isn’t easy. Most people think writing about themselves is easy until they actually go about doing it. To describe oneself in a way that is flattering but not overly boastful, colorful enough to be interesting yet still truthful, while keeping the description to one or two pages at most, takes a great deal of time and concentration. Sadly, I see some resumes that appear to be an afterthought – just a means to an end, without much planning or proofreading involved.
Resumes that were thrown together at the last minute have several telltale signs:
- They enumerate every piece of software or hardware you ever touched, without describing how you used said hardware or software to solve actual problems.
- They are full of filler phrases like “dynamic”, “uniquely qualified”, “fast learner”, “track record”, and “progressive”.
- They contain too many errors in grammar or spelling. (How many is too many? Any number greater than zero.)
- After I read the whole resume, I still have no idea who you are or what you can do for the company.
My friend Steve Jones delivered a professional development presentation some time back in which he recommended that everyone touch their resume at least once per quarter, regardless of whether they were actually looking for a new job. I believed in that advice so strongly that I’ve repeated it numerous times since. However, like an out-of-shape cardiologist, I’ve been quite adept at ignoring my own advice. When I recently needed a current copy of my resume for a training initiative, I discovered that I had not updated this document in over three years. I succumbed to the thought that “I’ve got a good job, I’m not looking to make a move, so it can wait” and let the information go stale.
Is keeping your resume up to date really necessary, unless you are (or expect to soon be) looking to make a career move? I submit that it is important, for several reasons:
- A properly written resume takes time to create. Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into thinking that you can spent an hour or two to create a superb resume. At a minimum, you’re going to need several days to get it right. A resume isn’t ready to be sent to a prospective employer until you’ve gone over it, word by word, to make sure it’s perfect. Write your resume, put it down for a few days, and come back and reread it to be sure it really tells a story. You should engage others as well – get as much feedback as possible before you finalize it. These things take time!
- You might not be looking for a job today, but you might be tomorrow. Let’s face it – for those of us in the ranks of full-time employment, we’re just one really bad day away from joblessness. Anyone who works for someone else could, on any given day, find himself out of work due to a high-profile error, an unforeseen downturn in business, a personality conflict, or for no reason at all (in many states). If you find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly looking for a job, you shouldn’t let a stale resume slow down your job search.
- Your career changes faster than you think, and it’s easy to lose track of those changes. During the three years that I ignored my resume, I had contributed to two books, was elected to the board of my local user group, received the Microsoft MVP award three consecutive years, and learned several new technologies. What I thought would be an easy task of documenting three years worth of career changes turned out to be much more work than I expected. Especially in high-tech fields such as ours, careers can evolve quickly, and an up-to-date resume should reflect those changes.
- You occasionally need an up-to-date resume for reasons other than getting a job. At a previous job, I was asked on a few occasions to provide a copy of my resume for the benefit of potential clients of my employer – these prospects wanted to know the kind of people they’d be working with in case my employer was selected as their service provider. Further, some extracurricular activities (community board service, authorship opportunities, etc.) require the candidate to produce a current resume.
Keeping your resume up to date takes time, and it’s even harder to motivate yourself to keep current if you’re not looking for a job. But in the same way you continue learning and networking while not actively shopping for a new position, it’s beneficial to keep your resume polished and ready to go.