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Over the years, I’ve helped a lot of people write their résumés and cover letters. Not one of them enjoyed putting them together. It’s a lot of work. I once read an article about the steps companies should take to retain their favorite employees. The author pointed out that employees who left were most likely to do so in their first year. I laughed because I knew why: Those new hires had just gone through the job search process, their résumé and contact list were up to date, they were used to making phone calls, and they were used to interviews: “If I don’t want to stay here, I don’t have to.”
Let me give you some good advice based on having helped a lot of people with job searches.
1. Update your master résumé twice a year.
On January 1 and June 1, take out your résumé and list of contacts and update them. (Better yet, take a second to update these every time you do something or meet someone, and then just edit these documents twice a year. It shouldn’t take you long at all to edit them if the details are all there.)
2. Keep a running list of contacts.
I keep all of my family members, friends, volunteer organizations, and professional associates in one list. As for your professional contacts, include everyone who is important to your work life, both inside and outside the office. Look for connections in your professional life, keeping in mind that you might be able to help someone else who needs an introduction at some point. Think of yourself as overseeing your own personal customer relationship management program. Keep in touch with people you like.
The key to maintaining an up-to-date résumé and list of contacts is to make it easy to access them. I keep both pinned to my start-up menu.
3. Keep a list of completed projects.
Create another master document that contains a list of projects you’ve completed — including projects from your volunteer life, your study life, your hobbies, and all of your career projects. Set up a document organized chronologically and divided by years. It should be a simple, one-item-to-a-line list of projects completed. Put in as much information as you need to jog your memory five years from now.
This list will help you in many situations, but it’s most valuable when you’re writing cover letters and preparing for interviews. It can even be the basis of an addendum to your résumé. People who are evaluating candidates love how-many and how-much of thus-and-such numbers. The more numbers you can give them, the better. (“I sold x cars.” “I handled x accounts.” “I created x ads.”) Having a list of specific projects that you’ve worked on and can talk about in detail will go a long way toward easing any self-consciousness you might feel in talking or writing about yourself. These are simple, objective facts, not bragging.
About fifteen years ago, I started keeping a list of all the books I’ve edited. I’ve referred to it a hundred times for one thing or another, and my only regret is that I didn’t start it on Day One of my career. The best thing of all is that I have a sense of accomplishment — and that’s a good thing to have on those inevitable rainy career days.
4. Keep a career artifacts file.
Keep a file in which you place things, chronologically, that are the actual artifacts of your career or volunteer life: a report you wrote, a grant application you composed, the program from a conference you attended, your notes from the speech you gave at town meeting, and the bumper sticker from the political campaign you helped out on.
5. Keep an ego file.
Every time someone writes a nice note to you to thank you for something you did, stick it in this file. Print out any nice e-mails you get from associates or co-workers from time to time, and stick the copy in your ego file. (And by the way, send out your own notes to your coworkers and associates: “Great presentation!” “Good job!” “Beautiful book cover design.” People always remember the people who brightened their day. And it’s a great way to keep in touch with people. And it’s really fun to brighten someone’s day.) The file will grow over time, and it might help you in a job search sometime, either looking for references or for job leads.
So that’s five kinds of records that you can reach for at a moment’s notice: (1) master résumé, (2) list of contacts, (3) list of projects completed, (4) artifacts file, and (5) ego file.
I’ve known so many talented, creative, highly accomplished people who have been caught off guard by change they didn’t ask for or expect. There’s an emotional aspect to the experience that hits them like a ton of bricks. And I’ve known many other people who stayed for too long in jobs that didn’t suit them. If you’re always ready to change direction, no one can ever devastate your emotional life and your self-confidence.
So rather than beginning a job search, think of yourself as always on the lookout for new, more challenging jobs and for new opportunities. Keep these records anyway, so that even if you have a solid job with a lifetime guarantee, your records will be ready for you if you want to expand your horizons by running for a political office or applying to be on your town’s finance committee. Or you might need to bolster your spirits some disappointing day at work or pick yourself up when someone in your work life or your volunteer life has given you a hard time about something.
I worked on a fun and helpful book a few years ago by Douglas Merrill: Getting Organized in the Google Era. Merrill was formerly the chief information officer for Google, and his book is part story, part lists of his favorite music, and part organizing strategies. It makes organizing your personal records as painless as it can be.
Also, Ricochet’s own Seawriter has written two posts that contain a tremendous amount of good advice for people in the job market: “What I Learned on Layoff,” Part I and Part II. There are at least a hundred excellent ideas in both posts and their comments.
Most important, when you are in between jobs, just know nearly everyone’s been there too at one time or another, and usually the story ends well.