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It may come as a surprise that—as someone who earns a living writing resumes for executives—I do, on occasion, turn prospective clients away.

The reason? They aren’t ready for my services.

For a resume to be effective, it must unequivocally position a candidate for the function, industry, and challenge they are hoping to take on next. But I often speak to executive job seekers who don’t have a clear idea of where they are aiming. Trying to polish and prime your resume when you haven’t clarified your objective is akin to sharpening arrows and then hoping to shoot them blindfolded and still hit the target. 

I often encounter executives who think they’ll be more effective in their search if they don’t rule out any opportunities. With one single arrow, they are hoping to hit a dozen targets. When I sense doubts as to where a prospective client could best leverage their strengths and what role would make them most happy—or if it is evident that they are aiming in too many directions at once—I always recommend that they first do some soul searching—preferably with the help of a qualified career coach who can guide them in asking themselves the right questions. 

Partnering with a career coach can help job seekers gain clarity by addressing the following questions:

  • “What do I really want to do?”
  • “What are my values and priorities and which opportunities fit with them?”
  • “What types of organizations and industries are a good match for me?”
  • “What are the business pain points that I can and want to alleviate?”

Answering these questions is critical before attempting to spend endless hours revamping your resume, or prior to investing in career writing services. It can take some courage to narrow down your focus, and rule out opportunities. But, chances are, many of those opportunities would leave you wanting more anyway.

If your job search is stalled, ask yourself if your target is in clear focus. If it is not, that is the first hurdle to jump over. Next you will want to understand your personal brand so that you can later build it both online and offline. A career coach can look at your personal brand in an unbiased way and help you uncover your strengths to emphasize those that are aligned with your goal.

Once that is done, NOW it is time to ask yourself if your resume and other career documents effectively communicate a powerful message that will enable you to hit that career target. But with laser focus on what you want and a sense of which of your strengths are most important for your ideal role, it becomes much easier to filter through the achievements gained over decades of experience and know just what you should emphasize. It will also help you reweight your skills and include the right keywords on your resume in order to appeal to those specific opportunities.

If you keep telling yourself: “I need to get my resume up to date,” first ask yourself if you are truly ready to do so effectively. Once you have a clear career objective and confidence in knowing which of your many skills align with that goal, you’ll be equipped with the information needed to develop powerful career literature.

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