Look forward first if you want to get ahead

One of the first things people think about when it’s time to start looking for a new job is previous experience (or, in the case of layoffs “oh crap, I have to go get a new job!). We all do this. It’s instinct.

And in general, it’s a good practice. Sort of.

I say “sort of” because most people do this in the wrong order. They mostly think about what they’ve done and how they’ve done it in terms of “freshening up the resume” or “getting ready to put myself out there.” They (and this probably isn’t you, right?) go through the list of their job duties and titles and position descriptions, add a few keywords to their professional summary, and stamp it done.

That’s ok I guess…if you want to continue doing exactly the same things in your next job. My guess is that – barring layoffs and the “oh crap” reaction – one of the reasons you’re looking is that you don’t want to keep doing exactly the same thing. I don’t blame you. Change is one of the primary motivators of human behavior, and that’s as true for me as it is for you.

So what’s a better way of going about the whole process?

As it turns out, I have a recommendation or five (it’s really one, but in five steps):
1) Figure out what you want to do nextFigure out what you want to do next
2)Identify people, companies, or industries doing what you want to do
3)Learn about the skills and experiences common to people in that space
4)Analyze what you’ve done and how it might be relevant (or what you might need to do to become relevant)
5)Write your resume

Most people take their next career step based ENTIRELY on the things they’ve done in the past. To some extent this is practical. In order to get full market value right now, your skills have to be applicable and valid to your audience. That’s not going to change. It’s also not going to get you where you want to go in the future.

Once you have a goal in mind, the context in which you use your skills and the range of applications in which they’re applied may change quite a bit. Position yourself right, and you’ll not only be able to apply what you’ve done in the past, but also gain the opportunity to do the new things you want to do in the future. This is good.

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