“I don’t know if you can help me. I have a difficult background. I just can’t explain it.”
I’ve heard this a lot.
It comes from people who are not having any luck getting noticed.
They are submitting and submitting and submitting resumes, and figuring that employers just don’t understand them, and that’s why they are not getting interviews.
They’re not wrong.
But it’s not for the reason they think.
It’s because they haven’t identified the right story to tell.
First of all, let me reassure you:
Lots of people have varied careers. In fact, if you reach middle age and are earning money, you probably have had one. Few people keep working in the same roles they started in as young adults. Few people stay at the same company.
And lots of people not only change companies and change roles but change industries. Pew Research found that 61% of adults ages 18-29 and 45% of adults aged 30+ shifted their career fields in 2021.
So, take heart. You’re not weird.
Instead, consider this:
Many jobs require the same sorts of skills. So, do some digging!
Even if a job requires specific knowledge in a new technical area, there are things about the job that are probably the same: collaboration, communication, time management, critical thinking, adaptability, decision making, planning, etc. You probably can show you have those.
Find the success stories that showcase your ability to use these skills.
But first: You have to know what job you want.
This where many people get hung up.
It doesn’t work to create a “general” resume that you can aim at a variety of roles.
Think about it: How can you tell someone you’re right for a job if you don’t know what the job is?
To put it another way, if you don’t know what the story is supposed to be about, you can’t write it.
Let’s consider a classroom teacher who wants out of education. Well, this person won’t know to say about their successes if they don’t know who will be reading about them, or why. But if that teacher is entering marketing, they will know that, for instance, data analysis and customer needs are important.
Ah…Now they can talk about the results they achieved by tailoring messages to audiences (students, parents, administrators) based on data (student achievement and other information) with materials targeted to specific client groups (again, students, etc).
In a similar way:
- Someone in logistics who pivots to human resources can talk less specifically about supply chain methodology and more about helping teams successfully navigate change.
- A nonprofit fundraiser wanting a sales job can tell the story of successfully building relationships leading to “purchases.”
There is always a story.
And having a target employer makes it a lot easier to tell.
But let’s say you can’t decide on a job.
Here’s another other way that you can identify the story: By thinking about the tendencies you always exhibit; the person you are, regardless of the type of work you have been doing.
Here’s what I mean:
I had a client about five years ago who wanted out of medical records management, perhaps into an administrative role. She had difficulty seeing how she could cross the divide between entering data and running an office. What role should she pick?
But it turns out that she has always been a natural when it came to group dynamics. We uncovered this while talking about her background.
Her successes were all about people. She likes them. She listens to them. She shows them respect and appreciation.
When no one else could persuade them, she got a group of doctors to fill out paperwork that had sat in limbo for months.
While her colleagues complained about lack of cooperation from administrative staff in an associated clinical office, she consistently and smoothly cut through red tape.
I pointed this out to her, and she realized that she probably was well suited to transition to more people-oriented work, perhaps Human Resources. So, we aimed in that direction with a focus on the achievements that would resonate in that industry.
So, if you are feeling discouraged and “all over the place,” consider this:
It’s not your background that is tripping you up. It’s your lack of focus.
So, try this:
- Find a specific target role.
- Match your experience and accomplishments to the requirements of that role.
- Can’t decide? Consider what stands out about you throughout your career history. Think about who would need your help.
Then tell your story. It just might get you that attention you were lacking before. And you will feel great about it!