Photo Credit: dougsymington 

I am a member of a very special club. It's a club that I've sometimes been embarrassed to be a part of, but at the moment, I'm quite proud to belong to.

I've been looking for a proper name for this club. Cast your vote or add an idea below:

* People of the Random Resume
* Knights of Les Resumes Incoherent
* Proud Owners of Resumes With Invisible Logic (otherwise and aptly known as POOR WILL).

I could go on with the names and in case you haven't guessed my issue, I've accomplished a lot during my career but my resume leaves people with a furrowed brow, if not a headache. There is no flow, there is no evidence of promotion.

I've never made career decisions strategically. I never took a job because of how it would look on my resume, or because of the next job it would prepare me for. Instead, I allowed myself to be led by my creative and intellectual appetite. I've moved from studying Shakespeare to writing books, from helping organizations navigate change to going to business school, from helping people giving their money away to coaching and writing.

I know lots of people like me, people who aren't tying their careers to a company, an industry or even a function anymore. Instead, they are weaving careers with some combination of:

  • The passions and interests they have at the time
  • Their particular strengths and skills
  • What life brings to their doorsteps
  • Holistic priorities (money, location, work hours, colleagues, positive impact on the world)

Is this wrong? I don't think so. Although, I know that a lot of these people feel bad of about the lack of order in their resumes the alternative is to stay stuck in unfulfilling, boring careers because they are afraid to take a creative leap out of their industry or function-afraid to end up with a work history that sounds incoherent or odd.

Those are the people that this message is for and here's what I want them to know:

  • It's Just Tradeoffs
    This approach of designing a career out of current passions and interests rather than a long-term strategy is not without some tradeoffs:
    • Starting from square one learning about new industries can feel overwhelming and frustrating.
    • It might take you longer to find that next job, or make up your next pursuit (although I know plenty of stories to the contrary).
    • For some people, this approach means pay cuts and financial losses at some points. It certainly precludes you from participating in very linear, hierarchical career tracks. You probably won't end up as head surgeon or Supreme Court Justice doing your career this way.

    But, none of these things are the end-of-the-world outcomes that the little voice of fear in your head is chattering about. These are simply tradeoffs and you get to decide if the tradeoffs are worth it for you.

  • Learn to Define Your Value
    All of our professional paths have consistency and order. It's just that sometimes that consistency and order is not obvious at the surface level. It's happening one level below the surface, in what I call the work underneath your work.

    This is the work you actually do underneath your title, job, role, or project. That work comes out of who you really are - your particular strengths and gifts.

    For example, my friend Kalli has moved from HR to Marketing to teaching roles across a few different industries, but consistently, she has been solving tough, time-pressured operational problems with a very collaborative, consensus driven approach. That's one of her particular gifts, and it shows up in every job she's been in.

    What have you really been doing in your work-in across your various past roles? Creating new ideas, building teams, negotiating relationships, problem solving, mediating, synthesizing, organizing, fire-extinguishing? Look at your work history through this lens and see what you discover.

  • Find a way to talk about the work underneath your work, and look for opportunities to do it.
    Find some succinct language to describe what you really do - the work underneath your work - so that you can share it with prospective employers, current employers, and colleagues. Talk about it so that the people around you know the kinds of opportunities you are looking for and that you thrive in.

    Look for opportunities to do the work underneath your work. Look for problems that need the particular kind of solutions you bring, gaps that your particular gifts can fill.

    Industry expertise is decreasing in value. As information becomes democratized, what used to be hard to gain industry expertise is becoming much more accessible--through online sources, books, and live and virtual education.

    In fact, industry expertise is just one more form of technical knowledge. As Daniel Pink argues in A Whole New Mindwidth=1, technical knowledge is declining in value because jobs based on it are becoming outsourced or automated. Certain fundamental, cross industry, cross-functional skills such as design, meaning-making, and synthesis now create the greatest economic value.

    Plus, as the pace of change accelerates, everyone is constantly learning their industry anew, whether they just entered it or have been working within it for a long time.

    For those of us with seemingly incoherent resumes, and for those longing to go do some thing that won't make obvious sense on their resume, this is all very, very good news.