A friend of mine had held a few short jobs in his youth before landing a position at the company where he would continue working for many more years. Within this company he held different positions and had a variety of responsibilities depending on what he was doing at the time. After twenty years he retired and spent a little time doing pretty much nothing. It turns out that doing nothing can get dull, and having some sort of income is kind of nice, so he decided to get a fun job. Having made this decision, he realized that, not only did he not have a resume, he had no idea how to summarize what he had been doing for most of his adult life.
When he talked to me about how hard it was to write a brand new resume when you had many years to fill it with, I decided that this was just the kind of challenge I like. I pondered my approach for a while, and these are the steps I took to write up a good resume from scratch.
List all your jobs
We thought about every job he had ever held, and listed them chronologically. I mean everything, starting with driving an ice cream truck when he was 18. While it seemed unlikely I’d be using that experience, I wanted to have everything in front of me. We ended with what he had been doing for the last several years, even though he wasn’t getting paid, i.e. it wasn’t a “job”.
Fill out the details
After listing everything with start/stop dates, we started filling out with titles and responsibilities. This was the hardest part, really. Think back on jobs you’ve held. Can you tell me what you did when? What your titles were? How many people you supervised? This is the kind of thing that most job-hoppers put in their resumes on a continual basis. To do it all at once for thirty years of work history was quite a task. It required that I pay attention to what he was saying, and stop to ask questions. It’s hard for a single person to get at the details of what he or she has done without an outsider making sure the times and tasks all add up. It didn’t happen in one go-through, instead there were plenty of jump-aheads and returns for something forgotten. Writing up everything on a word processor, as opposed to paper and pencil, made this easier to accomplish. Once you’ve got everything down, I recommend putting it away for a few hours, then returning to give it one more run through. The next part is harder to fill in if you’ve forgotten to put a job into this section.
Write duties as accomplishments and skills
Next I re-wrote everything as accomplishments and achievements. Everything, even the ice cream truck. “Learned time management skills and self motivation as a teenager while driving an ice cream truck during the summer”. This is why you want to make sure you’ve gotten everything in order and accounted for. Each job, position, set of responsibilities should build on previous achievements. Again, the ice cream truck didn’t figure in to the final resume, but for a younger person with a shorter work history, it could have. “The self motivation and time management I learned in my teens at my summer position has continued to benefit my employer at my current position as I am able to accomplish my tasks efficiently and skillfully.” You get the idea.
Refine what to include
After writing out in length, every skill or attribute acquired over his work history, we then discussed what types of positions he’d like to apply to. For him, it was easy. He had a very short list of what he’d like to do, and where he’d like to do it. We were able to select which skills would be applicable and come up with a single resume to suit his goals. For a person with a wider choice of possible jobs, there’s nothing wrong with creating more than one resume. You don’t need to tell every potential employer every single thing about you. If you’re applying for a job in retail, they don’t care if you can fix lamps. Tailor your resume to the job, and only include what would be useful to the employer. Think about the job for which you’re applying, what you would do in that position, and what parts of your work history fit that description.
Make it pretty
Check your work
Finally, type it up and print it out. Read your resume six more times to check for typos or obvious grammar errors. Make sure you like the way it looks and change anything that doesn’t please you. A lot of work, but we ended up with a great resume that could be used for multiple positions. Now all he has to do is keep it updated instead of starting all over.
Did it work? My friend applied to one job and was hired within three days. It worked perfectly.