It is important to understand that when people read your resume or peruse your LinkedIn profile, they are formulating an opinion about you. That opinion is based solely on the limited facts that they have, and those facts clearly don't tell the person everything. But your resume and LinkedIn profile do tell a story, and the reader's time is limited. As such, these assets can either put you in contention for a great job or can immediately take you out of the running without an opportunity to fight for yourself.
While you can't change history (and it is critical you are truthful about the facts), you shape perception either by the decisions you make into the future or by how you tell the story about your past. You want to be able to tell the right story for the jobs that can best unlock your potential.
Here are some of the storylines potential employers perceive, how they arrive at them, and what you can do to ensure you're telling the correct ones.
I know what I want or I am still finding my way
If each job builds upon the next and you're applying for a job that matches all the others, then an employer knows that you're in this industry because it is a passion and you want to advance within it. If you've bounced around from one type of job to another or from one industry to another, then you appear aimless or are a "project."
Ideally you can show consistency in your career by the roles you have had, or you will have to build a case about how the diversity might relate. Creatively connect the dots for the prospective employers so they clearly understand your passion and how that passion will serve them well in a role in their companies.
If you truly don't know what you want and have always just looked for a paycheck, then you're looking for a hiring manager who is willing to take a big risk. I suggest that you retrace your prior jobs and extract moments you enjoyed. Try to find a common denominator to explore and match it with a career path.
I commit or I am a job-hopper
At first glance, you've had the right titles at the right places, which makes the prospective employer eager. The next step is to see how long you were in each role. If you only stayed at each place for two years, you are labeled a "job hopper." Job hoppers make any employer skeptical. If you put time in at your past couple of jobs, then you've made it to the "yes" pile.
I am promotable or I am not growing
If your resume shows a consistent bump in titles, particularly at the same company, it says that you were doing good work and were recognized for it. Make sure you show your promotions, but also show the longevity at the same employer. Be able to explain how you got those promotions as a result of carefully planned and specific, measureable achievements.
Alternatively, if you held the same title for a long time, it can communicate that you stagnated. But sometimes there just isn't an option to get a promotion. If this is the case, explain the importance of the role and the structure of the employer to illustrate your range of important, impactful responsibilities. Longevity, increasing self-directed responsibility, and proven success are important factors to most good employers beyond a rising title without strong rationale for why.
Something bad happened
Bad things happen to good people, and sometimes gaps happen. If there is a gap in your career, it is a flag. You can't cover it up, but you do need to explain it. Plus, you need to tell the story about what you did during that gap. If you did consulting, say it. If you volunteered at a non-profit, hopefully you put your business skills to work and were strategic with your time. It shows that you make the best out of a bad situation, and that is a good thing.
I build good relationships
On a LinkedIn profile, this looks like connections and recommendations. A couple of recommendations here and there help build the case. On a resume, it comes in the form of cited references and your explanations of each role. On your resume, you might highlight how you build internal or external relationships. Even better than any of this is a recommendation from a current employee of your prospective employer. If you are referred, you're way ahead.
Everyone needs a little help to get where they want to go, and future employers want to know that other people liked working with you and are willing to put their name on your profile or resume.
Titles are important to me
Big titles at small companies don't necessarily mean that you should be in contention for the same title at a big company. Conversely, a lower title at a big company doesn't mean that you should get a big title at a small company. If you have made a big jump in title and went from a well-known or well-respected company to a lesser-known company, it can indicate that you were in it for the title.
If you made a big impact at the smaller company as a result of the higher-level authority, it is important that you spell it out. You simply have to prove that you deserved it and didn't just fall into it because you had the right company name somewhere previously on your resume.
Where you went to school
I don't think that people can help themselves. They have a bias toward certain educational backgrounds. Perhaps they'll perk up if you graduated from the same university they did. Or, they just look for an Ivy League pedigree. Use this bias as an asset if you can. Look for that educational bias or for people in the company who went to the same school and try to connect with them.
Where I am
City and state are often at the top of your resume or LinkedIn profile. If they don't match the location of the job for which you're applying, it immediately means that there is probably a delayed start date or that you might expect the employer to pay for your move. It adds complexity. If you're open to a move, you're going to have to spell it out. If your address or phone number shows you're living somewhere other than where your prospective employer is hiring, you need to get out in front of the question.
Better understanding the story you're telling hopefully can help you make some necessary adjustments to tell the right story that matches where you want to go. There are little things you can do to tell a better story about your past, but you also need to recognize that you're still crafting that story every day by what you do at your current job and how that company supports your career development.
Take time to build a vision for your future. Find people who you respect and have the job you want. Look at what they've done, maybe interview them to learn their story, and then create a model for yourself. It won't likely happen overnight, and it requires perseverance and support from others.
For those who are looking for that job now and can't wait, if you tell the right story, you will hit the maybe or the yes pile; then, you have to win it in the interviews where they will substantiate the story. You don't always have to match the job requirements perfectly, but you do have to make the case for why you're going to excel in the role. Then, once you get that job, know that each day you're writing the next chapter that might need to be compelling to a new reader down the road.
"Clairvoyant" image via Shutterstock.