Thursday, March 25, 2010

4 Reasons to Update Your Resume

Despite what I think is an obvious practice for any professional -- updating your resume on a regular basis -- many professionals’ resumes have cobwebs on them.

In a way, it’s easy to understand how one falls into this habit of inactivity. You may be a long term employee of your company and feel you will never look for another job in your life; so why do you need to update your resume? Maybe you feel your profession doesn’t require a resume as part of the application process. So even if you do apply for another job in your lifetime, you won’t need a resume. Or maybe you are one of those people who feel “I’ll cross that bridge when and if I need to so why bother until it’s absolutely necessary”.

Well I’m here to tell you, no matter what your reasons for not updating your resume in the last year, two years or two decades, even if no one but you will ever see it again, there is value in updating your resume on a regular basis.

Reason #1 -- Career Reality Check

Updating your resume is an opportunity for you to look back on your career and assess the strengths and weaknesses. If when you do take the time to update your resume, you find that you have very little to add or update since the last time, that’s not a good sign of the health and vitality of your career.

In my workshops on resume and cover letter writing, I have advised participants that their resume should be a snapshot of a successful career, and therefore should include milestones and accomplishments they have achieved. If it’s been over a year since you have updated your resume and you have no new accomplishments, achievements or newly acquired skills to add, that’s a clue that you need to work on your career.

The process of updating your resume can be a very valuable barometer of how well you have managed various facets of your career. Does your resume reflect a desire for continuous training and education in your field? Does it show that you have taken on new and increasingly more difficult responsibilities over the years? Does it show positive outcomes and results that benefited you, your company or your customers? If the answer is no to any or all of these questions, then your exercise in resume updating can serve as a kick start to your working on any of the weaknesses in your professionalism.

Reason #2 -- Resumes Are Not Just for Job Searches

Just because you’re not looking for a job doesn’t mean your resume doesn’t have other uses. If you are in the public or non-profit sector, it may be a necessary piece of an application for funding. Likewise, many companies have employee recognition programs and almost all have annual employee evaluations. Having your resume up to date can prove valuable in both of these situations.

Having been in the non-profit, community action arena as a Director myself, I was often involved in grant writing to fund key projects. Many grantors wish to know the people they are potentially investing in as well as the programs. Therefore, they request applicants included resumes of the key staff members who will be running these programs. Imagine your program is submitting a grant with a tight deadline and your supervisor says she needs a copy of your resume. Ooops, it’s been three years since you updated it and it doesn’t even have your most recent promotion and increase in duties. Do you give it to your boss as is, or take the time to update it and hope you don’t make a mess of it while you try to get it done by tomorrow?

Sometimes resumes can be an essential component of expressing your personal benefits and value to your company or agency. Does your organization have a merit award program to recognize outstanding achievement among its staff? Imagine how much easier your case for recognition would be if you were able to include an up to date resume that details many of the significant contributions you have made to the success of the company. Even if you aren’t looking for a specific merit award, during that annual evaluation process, having taken the time to contemplate your career for your resume means you will be that much more prepared when you and your supervisor analyze your job performance over the last year.

Reason #3 -- Always Be Prepared

When I was a Director in a non-profit, one day a staff person called me up to ask if I’d help her with her resume. She was interested in applying for a newly opened position within the program, which would be a promotion for her. I had helped individual staff before, plus she knew I had presented resume and cover letter workshops for staff and clients. Most of my staff knew I have high expectations for resumes, even for internal candidates.

Although I was more than willing to help her, I had to also bring to her attention that she was asking one of the persons who, in part, would be involved in the hiring decision making to help her with her application package. Had she come to one of my resume workshops she would have known that I was a strong advocate of always having your resume ready, just in case an opportunity presents itself. She in turn said she didn’t feel she needed a resume until she found out about this new position within the program. This is exactly the kind of thinking I try to change.

I like that saying… luck is when opportunity meets preparation. The opportunity for advancement within your current company may present itself when you least expect it. However, you will not be able to take advantage of this opportunity if you haven’t prepared yourself, both in your daily work performance and your ability to present that positive work ethic in written form.

Reason #4 -- Life Happens…Never Say Never

There is no such thing as complete job security these days. About the only people who have true job security are the Supreme Court Justices and the Pope.

We may think we have a job for life, but as we see in this current economy, your company's economic health can change directions like the wind. Having taken the time to update your resume on a regular basis means you will not be caught ill prepared should the day come when your secure job gets eliminated or outsourced.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I Have My Mother's Face

We lost my mother to cancer in 2000. Today would have been her 69th birthday. In honor of her life and the special gifts of love and friendship she gave her family & friends, I say Happy Birthday Mummy...we miss you.

I have my mother’s face. Now I don’t mean I look like her; although, I do look a lot like my mother. A running “bit” between us was when someone would say I looked like her and she’d say, “You think so?!? I think she looks just like Peter.” (My father, of course.) To which I’d say, “You know I look just like you. You can’t not claim me!”

My mother had one of those faces. People, strangers, seemed to be drawn to her. Perhaps because she had one of those faces that somehow seemed familiar. Many people seemed to feel they knew her from somewhere. But mostly, people seemed to feel she had the face of someone they could talk to.

Many times when I was growing up, I was fascinated by how often my mother seemed to have a long conversation with a total stranger in a store or some other public place. They just seemed to want to tell her their life story in the few short moments they had her attention. And since she was one of those persons you could talk to, my mother would listen and talk back.

I have my mother’s face. I seem to experience this same phenomenon. People -- strangers -- just come out and start talking to me. And many of these chance encounters resonate and remain with me, months and years later.

There are the completely bizarre and humorous ones. Like the time on the train between home in Boston and school in Virginia where a nice elderly white woman sat down next to me and the first words out of her mouth were, “We have a black girl in our family and we just love her.” I smiled and said, “That’s great. Every family should have one.”

And then there are the times when what started as a great conversation turned to awkwardness. Like on a plane when after more than an hour of a wonderful conversation with a woman on everything from politics to health & nutrition to education she said, “How are you so knowledgeable? You are so knowledgeable!” She said it with such surprise in her voice that I knew – as any intelligent black person who comes across a well meaning, but still sheltered Caucasian person knows -- the unspoken conclusion of that sentence was, “…for a black person.” And the wonderful experience was ruined. I simply answered, “I read.” And the rest of the conversation just lost its enjoyment.

But then there are those times, which I love. Where I feel like I’m one of those human story archivists who has the pleasure of peeking into another person’s life. Like the time I talked with Mr. Cohen.

On an unseasonably cold fall day, I was at the local post office, waiting in the car for my husband, who was waiting for Triple A to come fix his car. Up to my mini-van window came Mr. Cohen. I rolled it down in response to his smile and gentle tap and we proceeded to have a wonderful and humorous conversation...for more than half an hour.

Mr. Cohen was about in his mid-seventies, maybe early eighties. He lived alone, having lost the love of his life a few years ago. He had a great sense of humor, a ready laugh and obvious from a few of his stories, did not abide by people being just plain silly.

Despite the brisk cold air, Mr. Cohen was determined to have a conversation right there in the parking lot. And aside from the fact that he kept me company while I waited, he also taught me a lesson and made me think about my mother-in-law.

We often joke that we can tell when my mother-in-law calls on the phone because the people on this end barely get a word in edgewise. She is a strong and relatively healthy octogenarian who also lives alone, having lost the love of her life some 25 plus years ago. My conversation with Mr. Cohen reminded me of the importance of taking the time to have conversations with our elders. Even if you find it's more of a monologue verses a dialog, there is worth in the experience.

So not only did I have a great conversation with Mr. Cohen, he helped me to remind myself of the importance of taking time with our loved ones, because -- relatively speaking -- we have such a short time with them.

And it was all because I have my mother's face. And I wouldn't have it any other way.