Resumes can go wrong in lots of ways. Generally, writers can misunderstand the purpose and context for the resume or they can lack the craft, the nitty-gritty details of formatting a resume and expressing themselves effectively. But there is a worse problem—at least it feels worse. Even some of the most diligent workers will procrastinate on this dread piece of writing. Once completed, job obtained, we happily eject the resume from our lives like an offending piece of trash. The hope is to never to think about it again. Call this the problem of motivation. The prospect of getting a job motivates us a little to put care into the resume. (Well, some jobs and some people.) But those who treat resume-writing as a labor of love are either inspired by an angel or a demon. Either way, they are mad.

This conception of resume-writing isn’t so much mistaken as it is incomplete. Resumes certainly have a temporary primary purpose—to get you an interview for a job. But there are at least three other values to motivate you to give the resume the attention it requires.

  1. Self-understanding—Yes, this sounds hokey. But writing the resume provides a great opportunity and a challenge to really understand and adequately express what your experience so far amounts to. If you mine your experience effectively for details and genuine accomplishments, you can see how valuable and employable you really are. It also helps isolate shortcomings, which can help steer your goals for further professional development.
  2. A tool for communication—The process of concisely expressing your experience helps hone your communication skills far beyond the written resume. You will need to be able to talk comfortably about yourself and what you do in many different contexts in work and life, and the place to develop the words to do this on the resume. Both the content and the skills for writing the content will transfer in unpredictable ways to other parts of your life, so do the job right on the resume so you don’t have to fret about the rest.
  3. A secondary purpose—Beyond getting you the interview, the resume-format is useful for a lot of other purposes. It’s a more versatile piece of writing than you might think. One great tactic is to write a forward-looking resume to express your goals for a new job. What do you want your resume to look like in a year or five years? Write that resume with all the attention and detail you can, then start checking off the boxes. You can also use the resume-format to assess your personal, rather than professional, profile—use it for personal, and not just professional, self-development.

These might just seem like parlor tricks for combating the ennui of facing the resume. But try them out, and you might just find yourself, not exactly enjoying, but at least valuing the work you put into it. With abundant motivation, you’re much more likely to get all the nitty-gritty parts right. And, by the way, that will help you get a job.


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