Look Like a Work-in-Progress  
5/23/2007 6:57:43 PM

By Peter Weddle - Most of us try to tie ourselves up into a nice, complete package on our resume. We list all of our degrees and certifications, all of the employers for which we’ve worked, and all of the positions we’ve held. We describe all of our skills, all of our accomplishments, and all of our experience. We include everything we can squeeze onto two sheets of paper because we believe that the more finished we look for any given opening, the stronger our prospects of landing the job. And, when we do, we miss out on one of the very best ways to set ourselves apart with a recruiter. What’s that? Looking unfinished.

Today’s world of work is a rapidly changing place. Knowledge is being created and information is being dispersed at the fastest pace in human history. As a consequence, the half life of a person’s professional expertise is now down to 3-5 years in many occupations. In other words, if you graduated from college or earned a technical certification this year, you will be obsolete—a buggy whip or carbon paper—by 2017. And, obsolescence, of course, is the one sure ticket to unemployment.

But, that’s not the only change impacting our career fitness. (For an explanation of my Career Fitness concept, please visit my newsletter archive at The marketplaces in which our employers compete and the products and services that they sell into those markets are also mutating at an extraordinary pace. Like the crunch of tectonic plates, these shifts are disrupting long established career paths and forming entirely new passages to success.

In such a volatile environment, looking finished can be misperceived. Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to document your entire work history. Completeness on your resume is good, but it should not be confused with looking complete as an employment prospect. Describing yourself as done, whether you do so consciously or not, is the fastest way to be done in the workplace.

From the recruiter’s perspective, you look like an ostrich with your head firmly planted in the ground. “Change,” you seem to be saying. “What do I care about change? I am who I am and who I have always been. And, I ain’t budging from that position. It was good enough in the past so it should be just fine for the future.” Given the fierce competition for good jobs these days, that kind of message almost always generates the same, single response from employers. “You’re not the kind of person we want to hire.

How can you avoid such a misstep? Be a work-in-progress and look like one on your resume. Use the Education section of your resume to highlight the training programs you are taking, the academic courses in which you’re enrolled, the classes you’re completing—any developmental experience that is adding to your expertise and ability to contribute on-the-job. For example, you might include one (or more) of the following entries:

  • Advanced Sales Techniques The Sales Institute Training program to be completed March, 2008
  • Spanish for Business People Mercer Community College Certificate expected in August, 2007
  • Time Management for Managers Phoenix University Online On-going coursework
  • Continuing Education Program American Society of Mechanical Engineers Currently completing Module 3 of 5

    Of course, to look like a work in progress on paper, you must be unfinished in your career. You must recognize that, in today’s world of work, all of us hold a second job—we are our own personal improvement agent. That’s a synonym for self-helper. The more improvements we make in our own expertise and knowledge, the greater the boost to our own career prospects. Said another way, we help ourselves by constantly refinishing our capabilities in the workplace.

    Those improvements can (and should) be pursued in all of the following areas:

  • Your profession, craft or trade;
  • Interpersonal relationship skills;
  • Oral and written communications skills;
  • Business management skills;
  • Technological literacy; and
  • Industry knowledge.

    Ironically, it is possible to overdo your self development—to spend so much time improving yourself that you forget about or actually undermine the reason for the education in the first place. Yes, of course, the most important goal of self-development is personal; it is to add to your own workaday capabilities and thereby enhance the satisfaction and the paycheck you bring home from work each day. A second and not unimportant reason for this development, however, is the contribution it enables you to make on-the-job. You must work at your second job, to be sure, but you must always remember your primary job, as well. What you do there—the performance you deliver to your employer—is also a vital measure of your career fitness and, ultimately, a key determinant of your success.

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