Confronting Your Resume and Other Painful Job-Search Rituals

For much of the past seven years, I dished out career and job-search advice through a weekly newspaper column. “Network, network, network,” I said. “Keep your resume up to date, ready to post online and easy to adapt to a variety of jobs.” “Join professional organizations.” “Research alternative careers.” “Follow your bliss.”

I followed precious little of it.

Somewhere between the deadlines and day-to-day family responsibilities, I scarcely found time to reach out to close friends down the street. Forget colleagues from a 20-year-plus career, or new contacts developed along the way. Like many of us, I was relieved to make it to the end of every week with my glaring must-do’s done.

I entered Daniel Pink’s aptly named “Free Agent Nation” willingly, trading a secure, fulfilling job for the flexibility I craved. I had three young children, and I wanted to set my work schedule around theirs. It was a good fit as my babies grew swiftly into school-age kids. But I made the mistake that I warned fellow independent contractors against: I got too comfortable with one, steady client, at the expense of developing new contacts.

That became painfully clear one Wednesday afternoon when I opened the mail to learn the paper where I had worked for 18 years, the last eight as a free-lance columnist, was cutting freelancers, including me.

So I dusted off my outdated resume, forced to follow my own advice and re-learn some gems of job-seeker wisdom.

I don’t know how many times I breezily nudged readers to rework resumes to “reflect who you are, not merely jobs you held.” But this is not something accomplished in an afternoon.

When I sat down to update my resume, I confronted an excruciating exercise in self-examination: bullet-pointing my career, my value and my identity. How to make my past accomplishments and future potential shine wasn’t immediately clear, even though I’m a long-time writer.

Slowly, I found hope among the action verbs. As I dug into my inventory of skills and work history, I emerged with renewed confidence. There was a moment when optimism replaced angst as I put words to my abilities, achievements and results.

It is a moment I have tried to hold onto throughout the many days when optimism and confidence are in short supply. Especially as I tap into the network of contacts that I once confidently wrote we should all faithfully tend. The one I horrendously neglected in the blur of busy years.

“Call.” “Reconnect.” “Do not hesitate to send an email.” All advice I confidently dispatched. But I hesitate plenty, crafting and recrafting emails to editors I have never met, others I let slip from view, and colleagues I lost touch with.

I cringe a little each time I hit the send button. Why? Because I am asking for something — their time in the midst of a busy day, ideas, referrals and direction. Yet I am reassured by the words of a businessman I know who runs a peer-support networking and coaching service for entrepreneurs. He told me we have all helped more people in their careers than we realize, and they are out there, ready to help us in return. I cling to this karmic comfort as some emails and voice messages go unanswered for days and days.

I know this in-between-jobs period is a gift — a natural time to take stock, clear the decks and start fresh. Of course, there will be more days than I care to admit that it doesn’t feel like one, especially as orthodonture bills loom in numbers well above what my first two cars cost.

And time I have. With weekly deadlines lifted, the biggest challenge has been to stay disciplined in my work, which is now searching for work. Since the rest of my life has gone on uninterrupted, there are more than enough tasks to fill my days. None of them, unfortunately, is rewarded with pay.

A friend and fellow work seeker says she steadies herself every Monday by reaching out to people she knows she can help. She calls it “outflow.” It is something I vow to do, too, if I can discipline myself to actually do it.

Most days, I try to remain keenly aware that this is that rare time when I can stop to think about where I am going, about the kind of work I want to do in the second half of my career. This unexpected sabbatical is mine to squander or use wisely. I am not sure if I am following my bliss, but I do know I will follow my heart and mind to find work that satisfies my soul and my family’s needs.

Isn’t that all each of us wants and deserves?

Career, job, Jobsearch, Resumes