As a career coach and resume writer, many of my clients come to me when they need a job. Perhaps they’ve been laid off, or their firm closed, or they were unable to land a summer internship. At that point, they’re already playing catch up.
A great resume is important, but it’s not a silver bullet. It can’t single-handedly land you the position of a lifetime. There’s still a lot of work that you need to do. And, unfortunately for those playing catch up, a lot of that work is investments in time and energy that are best done before you need a resume.
Eliminate Technical Weaknesses. Do a frank self-evaluation, comparing your skill set to the idealized skill set described in your target positions. Also look at the skill sets of people more advanced in your target field. How do your technical skills compare? Honestly identify areas needing improvement. Then get to work on actually making those improvements and—even better—adding some awesome achievements and skills that your competition won’t have. Always look toward your goal and stay ahead of your competition.
Eliminate Perceived Weaknesses. Again, do a frank self-evaluation, this time focusing on soft skills and your circumstances. What areas would an employer worry about? Are you impatient? How does that impatience reveal itself in your resume? Are you a job hopper? New to the area? Figure out what real or perceived weaknesses might make an employer hesitate to interview or hire you, and then systematically address them. Keep in mind that many traits that may be perceived as weaknesses in one context, might be recast as strengths in another. So while you address these weaknesses, also consider whether you need to change the context or prism through which they’re viewed.
Take A Professional Head Shot. Or Two. Even if you don’t want to spend the money for a professional photographer (it’s cheaper than you think!), get a friend to talk a high quality photograph of you in your business suit. Be relaxed, friendly, and confident. You can even have a selection of a few photos: dark background, light background, and outdoor. You might also consider “action shots” of you at your desk, speaking to an audience, or conducting a meeting. These photos won’t be used on your resume, of course, but they will be helpful for your social media profiles, blog posts, website, and more.
Clean Up Digital Dirt. Conduct internet searches of your name, phone number, email addresses, etc. Do an image search. What information do you find? Get rid of—or bury—anything you don’t want to explain in a job interview or that otherwise may be an obstacle to your goal. Lock up social profiles like Facebook, remove tags from photos, and de-link personal blogs from your name by using an alias. Then build a cache of positive information—a professional LinkedIn profile, articles, and other information—that will help bury the bad stuff onto page three or four of the Google search.
Establish Yourself As A Thought Leader. Your options on establishing yourself as an expert may be limited by your current employer. If your current employer allows it, write articles and blog posts. Volunteer to serve as a panelist. Present at conferences. Get involved with professional organizations as a committee member or officer. Get your name out there as a professional who’s knowledgeable and reliable. As you advance in your career, you can increasingly establish your bona fides as someone who’s creative and cutting edge, but grounded in historical context.
Establish Your Network. Reconnect with family, friends, classmates, and colleagues. Don’t start out by asking for favors. Instead, find out what they’re up to these days, and let them know what you’ve been doing. If they need assistance and you can provide it, then offer to help them out. Build good karma. Then start branching out your network to grow it, by connecting with professionals in shared interest groups or organizations, fellow alumni, and others. Be a good citizen, offer friendly and thoughtful opinions, assist people when you can. These people have the power to change your career in both the short-term and the long-term.
Of course, it’s never too late to do these things. But the earlier you get started, the better off your career will be and the shorter your job search will be. In fact, if you are diligent—and lucky—you will never have to look for work again: Opportunities will begin to come to you.