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Finding My Career Sweet Spot at 50: The Resume Blues

Week four of my job search and I finally had a breakthrough. No, I didn’t find a job, but I am making progress on facing my biggest fear–my RESUME. According to Peter DiGiammarino, who writes a blog for executives on Intelliven, “Whenever you even think about your resume a smile should come to your face.” In my case, it was more like a barf. After all, it’s hard to be objective with your own life.

Common resume advice is to list what you accomplished in each job that you are most proud of, i.e., how you made a difference. Easier said than done. For example, in one job, I spent an entire year working 12-hour days answering mail for a U.S. Senator. As an English major in college, I longed to compose something meaningful but the best I could do given the limitations of the job was to write, “Thank you for your letter about XYZ. XYZ is a difficult issue, about which many reasonable people disagree.” I am proud that I was the only Legislative Correspondent in my group who was always caught up on the mail, but is that resume-worthy?

Between 1985 and 1987, I analyzed the administrative expense data from 500 990-PFs (the tax forms that private foundations file even though they are tax-exempt) and concluded that a regulation Congress had passed was entirely useless. My job was to take this information to the Vice President of Government Relations who would then testify before Congress. Am I proud of the fact that I did data analysis for days on end, even though it drove me nuts?  Was it an accomplishment worth listing on my resume that I played an important role in getting a useless regulation removed?  I guess so.

Recently, I got an email from a woman who knew me from way back, saying, “If you need a reference, I’ll give you a glowing one. I’ll never forget that you were the only person at Company X who ever answered her phone.” Of course, I am proud of my excellent customer service, but shouldn’t everyone answer their phones?

As we put together our professional story, does what we did in our 20s even matter?  Like Mad Men’s Don Draper, “My life moves in one direction, forward.” But even Don Draper couldn’t keep the tentacles of his past from creeping into his present and future.

My breakthrough came last week when a recruiter declared that it was time to send my profile to the client. A profile, I learned, is a narrative that tells a candidate’s story and makes the case for why (s)he is suitable for a given position. As Oprah is my witness, I had an “AHA!” moment after reading about myself through the recruiter’s eyes.  Case in point, the administrative expense study- while I remember my work as tedious and frustrating, I now recognize that I took on a large project on a topic that I had no particular expertise or training to do, stuck with it, and ultimately made order out of chaos. Not too bad for a 25 year old. Seeing myself through his eyes gave me the clarity I needed to finally make some improvements to my resume.

The recruiter also helped paint my career in broad brush strokes, noting things like: consensus builder, coach/leader/motivator, problem-solver, quick study on both people and issues, and able to move things forward. Finally the resume is making me smile, a little, like the Mona Lisa. I still don’t have that elusive clearly stated career objective, and I’m not sure I ever will, but my gut tells me to keep an open mind, keep talking, interviewing, and exploring and—like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City—keep looking for the zsa zsa zsu.

Looking for some input on that resume? Well, we’ve got a few tips for you… three, to be precise.

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About Deborah Brody Hamilton

Guest Blogger Deborah Brody Hamilton is a writer and communications professional with almost 30 years of work experience in Washington, D.C. Her peak moments were (1) in 1972, when she won an award from the Yonkers Public Library for most books read in a summer, and (2) in 1997, when she was a mediator at Congress’s first Bipartisan Retreat for Civility.