Your Resume Should Tell the Story of Your Career

For Long-Term Success, Build Up Accomplishments Before Changing Jobs -- and Don't Move for Money or Titles

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Paul S. Gumbinner
Paul S. Gumbinner
An awful year is over and a better one is hopefully coming. As everyone should do periodically, it is time to be introspective and decide whether a job search is in order. In this context, evaluating your résumé is an important step.

Your résumé has to make sense in terms of your career. To build a successful and fulfilling career, you need a cohesive, credible plan for yourself. The results of that plan should be the jobs that you accept, as manifested in your CV. In the best résumés, a quick glance tells a fairly complete story about a person's career; the résumé is almost self-communicating. But on an interview, you should be able to articulate your goals and ask appropriate questions about whether a job is right for your career. In other words, you must have career goals. A very good corporate interviewer I know always asks candidates what they had been looking for in each job they have had. It is an excellent question, and the answer reveals much about a candidate.

The number of jobs you take should be determined by what you want to accomplish in your career. You need to determine what experiences you wish to have in order to achieve your personal goals. It's as simple as that.

The worst decision you can make is to leave a job for title or money. All too many job seekers think about their next move only in those terms. While your salary and position may be important in the short term, your experience counts for much more in the long run. All too often, I see résumés from people who are 10 or 12 years out of college that show five or six jobs -- sometimes more; the jobs have no flow and don't really make sense on paper. These people never stay in one place long enough to either get promoted or to develop significant accomplishments. They move, often for the sake of moving.

It is important to stay in a job long enough to build a success story and get promoted. In interviewing, your past successes are indicative of your future potential -- what you did and how you did it are the factors that will determine your desirability as a candidate in your next job. Some people are lucky enough to stay in one job for many, many years. They know that at any given time they may be underpaid or under-titled, but it will only be a short-term issue. Others need to move on periodically.

The number of jobs you have depends on the nature of your personal goals and ambitions. If your moves make sense within that context, the exact number of jobs you have had is relatively unimportant, but you must be able to articulate how they all fit together.

Obviously, given the state of the industry, not all job moves are intentional. There are many people whose career tracks are derailed because of business losses or layoffs. For those people, your next job should be to continue where you left off. If you are out of work, particularly for an extended period of time, try not to fall into the trap of simply taking any job that is offered. Accept a job only if it makes sense to your career and personal objectives.

When interviewing, there will be some people, especially those who have been at the same company for many years, who view job changes with skepticism. But if your résumé makes sense, they will probably see you. Your ability to articulate your job choices may make all the difference in a successful interview.

When accepting a new job, there are two questions you must ask yourself: "What if this job doesn't work out, and, if I have to leave it within a year or two (or less), what will I get out of this job that I don't have now?" and "Can I really succeed and excel in this job?" The answers to these questions will determine whether you should accept a job or continue looking.

One last word of caution: Beware of friends or recruiters who tell you to drop jobs from your résumé. If you have made a mistake and taken the wrong job, be open about it and don't try to hide it. Once that job is on your résumé, it remains there. Not all recruiters and not all your friends tell you where they have sent your résumé. Every company has computers, and there is a good chance your résumé is already in their database, making it easy for them to see if your résumé is real or a fabrication.

Your career plans may change over time, but without some idea of where you are going, you may end up making poor career choices. It's important to develop a cohesive and credible story about yourself and your career. If your moves make sense to the people with whom you are interviewing, you will probably be offered the jobs you want.

Paul S. Gumbinner is president of the Gumbinner Co., New York. Before starting his executive-search firm in 1985, he spent 20 years in advertising, as an account person in categories including package goods, cosmetics, broadcasting, financial services, publishing, retail and fast food.
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