Managing a Career: Building a Resume

Building a career may mean stringing together a body of work through several jobs.

After leaving military service my dad worked at a couple of jobs before he got “the job” with “the company” where he worked for 30+ years before he retired. Many of you have fathers or grandfathers like mine, who fully expected us to do the same.

But the job markets have changed. Working for 20 or 30 years with one company is now the exception rather than the rule. Building a career now means stringing together a body of work through several jobs.

You may be lucky enough to have several jobs by transferring within your company. Most people have to change companies. When I call this an opportunity, some will call me an optimist. I believe this is being a realist.

When I’ve had to make a job change, I chose to manage my career, not just take the first job available. The long-term benefit has far outweighed any short-term gain.

I have had my own business, worked in corporate positions and in a nonprofit organization, consulted on a long-term contract, and helped a start-up business with the agreement to then become a silent partner. I have been fired, downsized, laid off, completed my work, and moved on. As I currently update my résumé and prepare for a new job, I look at what I deem a successful career.

I use a functional résumé, not a chronological one. I am not looking to emphasize who I worked for or what my job title was. My résumé focuses on my skills and abilities. I want to show transferrable skills that will fill the needs of any job I want. Plus, I have managed to make my wheelchair a career asset.

Another key is getting a job I want. The benefit to enjoying your work goes far beyond having less stress in your life. When you enjoy your work you will normally find more opportunities for career growth and development. Less stress is a bonus; enjoy that!

Committee work is an excellent way to enhance your skills, exposure, and résumé. Companies form committees for standing issues, special projects, community involvement, and more. You get to meet other employees, learn about their area/department, and show off your skills and abilities. Committees involving members from other companies or the community provide contacts and relationships that can have future benefits to your career.

In the early nineties I had a corporate Human Resources position. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had passed, and my company was gearing up for implementation. As I was a wheelchair user, my manager asked if I was interested in helping look at facilities accessibility (ADA Title III). Personally, I was thrilled. After all the years I had been bitching about missing or poor ramps, now I could help correct some problems.

Professionally I was even more thrilled. I had a perceived expertise because of my chair. I had to do the work to develop the actual expertise, and I did. Before this I did not know or understand the issues of visual, hearing, or other non-mobility disabilities. I was able to go to seminars and trainings. Then my expertise grew to where I went from attending these seminars to participating on panels and speaking. What started as volunteering on a company committee developed into a compliance responsibility as part of my professional duties. This work crossed departments and divisions. My company exposure to these managers was good for my career.

However, I ended up leaving that company, downsized in a reorganization. Due to my work there, the expertise the company paid for me to develop, and the exposure I had gained on community committees and seminars, I was immediately offered a long-term consulting position with the state during its ADA facilities evaluation.

Community committees are frequently project based. The people you meet there will have some interest in the project, but often are there because they bring a special skill or represent an interest of their company. I have been on a number of community committees to contribute my ADA expertise, and, once again, my wheelchair became an asset. As a result I have established a reputation and had offers for jobs, consulting work, and more committees.

Contacts are very important to managing your career. I keep a business-card file. Okay, it is just a box with all the cards I receive stuck in it in an order not discernable by any normal person. But it works for me. My memory of names is not good. Keeping a card allows me to remember a person’s name, company, and job (or at least look like I remembered). Writing where I got it on the back reminds me where I met them and might meet them again. Or if I need to contact them, I can say “Hey, remember me, we met at….”

I enjoy the ADA work and feel like I am making the world a little better by contributing to accessibility and the understanding of the need for accessibility. Yet that is not all that I want to do. So my résumé features my ADA work in the broader context of compliance work. State, federal, and local governments all place compliance requirements on businesses. My résumé identifies me as someone with the ability to address these requirements.

My résumé is designed to get me in the door. I have the active verbs, use key terms and terminology, show transferrable skills, and use all the tricks of the trade I learned working in corporate Human Resources. In the end I still have to close the deal once I am in the door.

To close the deal you must be active during the interview process. This is where you have to manage your career. You must be the one to direct the interviewer to the pertinent points on your résumé. This means you know that résumé so well you can state specifically where an item is located, but bring at least two copies to the interview. Give the interviewer a nice clean copy, printed on a good quality paper, especially if you have submitted a résumé via e-mail. Retain a copy to review with the interviewer so you can point out specifics as you answer questions.

Nowhere on my résumé does it mention my wheelchair or identify me as a person with a disability. That is an issue I must be prepared to address. But it is not the first thing to discuss. There are legal restrictions about interviewers asking about a person’s disability. I want to show them I am the best candidate for the job before they begin to wonder about any limitation I may have or any accommodation I may need.

When I find the opportunity to address my disability, I can begin with a positive point. I use my ADA expertise even if it is not part of the specific job we are discussing. I can say, “As a bonus to my other skills, I can serve as an in-house expert and a company resource for any ADA issues that arise.” From that point I can explain my disability in a positive manner and try to relax the interviewer.

Then when we discuss accommodations I can present my simple needs. I need a desk I can get under, and help with files in top drawers or books on high shelves. I point out that what is often called “system furniture,” adjustable components that mount on the wall, works great for me—or I have used four bricks under a desk. Then I end with a touch of humor as I say, “I bring my own chair, so you save money on that!”

Drawing the best from each job, I have built a document showing skills, abilities, and experience. Using a basic résumé could lock me into a job or a field. I use community work, committees, and all my various jobs to demonstrate my skills diversity to build a good résumé. Now I have a valuable tool.

This is not a how-to story—just an example of how I use my résumé to pursue personal and financial success. I have worked hard and had some good luck in my career by building a résumé and using it to manage my career. I hope you can find the same success managing yours. 


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