In a normal life there are twists and turns. You don’t always control the events that shape your life, and that includes your career history.

Most people my age never expected the ups and downs they’ve experienced in their careers.

We had no idea what 9/11 would do to the business world, or what outsourcing would do.

We didn’t expect to work for the same company for ages and then have the rug pulled out from under us, or to hop from short-term assignment to short-term assignment for years, sometimes with biggaps in between jobs.

People of all ages can have serious concerns about their resumes, because they know that employers are looking closely at their career histories. I’ve asked many hiring managers what they want to see in a resume, and they always say more or less the same thing: “I want to see that a person has been successful in something, and that they’ve progressed in their career.”

That sounds reasonable until you remember that long-term or progressively more responsible jobs used to be a lot easier to find than they are now! The working world has turned upside down.

Millions of people are less worried about the perfect career path and more worried about putting food on the table.

The problem is that when you take a job just for the money — and no one, of course, could blame you for doing that — you can trash your resume in the process.

That’s okay. You can fix a damaged resume. You can re-frame anything in your past not to hide or obscure it, but to give the person who’s reading your resume a better sense of the context for every career move and decision you’ve made.

We all tend to underplay our hands in our job search branding. We write resumes in our company, among many other things. We write Human-Voiced Resumes for our clients. We have written thousands of them, and we have yet to see one single person overstating his or her accomplishments.

Everybody does the opposite — they understate their accomplishments! Their language is even apologetic sometimes, as though they feel they must beg pardon for living the life they’ve led.

Paula came to us because she was getting nowhere in her job search. She had not had one job interview in seven months. We talked with Paula and decided on a three-step plan to get her job search moving:

  • First, we would rebrand Paula for the jobs she wanted to get. Paula said “I don’t see how you can do that. My disjointed career history is what it is. I can’t change it.” “Don’t worry, Paula!” we said. “Reframing is a job-seeker’s best friend.”
  • Secondly, we planned to get Paula out of the Black Hole doldrums and into the Pain Letter world where she could talk directly to hiring managers about their issues, instead of pitching resumes into faceless voids to die.
  • Thirdly, we helped Paula build her mojo. Your mojo is your self-esteem and positive energy. It’s the most important element in your job search!

Paula’s three-part job search plan worked brilliantly. She had been working at jobs far below her ability, because of some resume damage that Paula picked up in the latest recession.

She had job-hunted unsuccessfully for 18 months in 2011, and that left a big gap in her resume. Then, in desperation, Paula had taken a retail job that didn’t even cover her bills.

We reframed Paula’s career story, including her retail job and her employment gap. Now her career story is smooth as silk. It makes sense on her resume. You can see Paula’s intelligence and personality coming through the page. Her zigzag career path is a non-issue.

How did we do it?

The Mystical Art of Framing

Every job-seeker needs to know about framing. When you build a frame around something — your career history, for instance – you make sense of it for the reader. You tell them what it means. Paula had no Summary at the top of her resume when she came to us. We wrote a new Human-Voiced Resume Summary for the top of Paula’s Human-Voiced Resume:

I’m an Administrator with a deep background in customer service and a knack for organizing a busy office. I love to juggle projects and keep my fellow employees well-informed and equipped to do their jobs.

Paula had spent some time with us and more time on her own thinking about what she wanted to do next in her career. She decided that she liked office administration best. She knows Word and Excel and she’s wonderful on the phone.

She’s got the battle scars from her retail days to prove that she knows how to take care of customers. Paula’s new frame simply brought her chosen career path to the forefront!

Paula has never held the title Office Manager or Administrative Assistant before – but so what? She has that title now! She got a job with her new resume and the mojo she found again after it had been lost for quite a while.

Covering Gaps

Maybe you have employment gaps on your resume. Paula had a big gap. She told us “I was job-hunting the entire time, I swear!” Paula’s gap was 18 months long.

“Paula,” we said. “You don’t have to convince us! We are on your side. What else were you doing during that time?” It turns out that Paula was busy. Most people are! Most of us get bored pretty easily sitting in front of the TV and organizing the spice cabinet.

You can make small gaps disappear by leaving the months of your start and end dates at each job off your resume entirely. No one cares about the months. Remember, your Human-Voiced Resume is a branding document.

It isn’t a legal document. You’re not going to pitch any more resumes into faceless corporate Black Holes if you adopt the Human Workplace worldview and become a Mojofied Job Seeker! You’re going to write to hiring managers directly at their desks, instead.

You can handle longer gaps by explaining how you consulted during the period between jobs. Paula performed consulting work for her sister, who was building a house, and she consulted with her church, which was launching a summer camp for kids.

Paula’s sister paid her in hugs and other good sisterly things.

The church paid Paula in free admission to camp for her own kids. Paula got paid. I don’t want your valuable consulting to be downgraded to ‘volunteer’ status on your resume. You may volunteer for great causes as well as working.

That’s fine. Don’t diminish your contributions by deciding that they aren’t worth anything unless you got paid in cash. Cash is only one of many valuable currencies.

Drops in Altitude

Paula had done several kinds of work before she hit her career crisis and got our help. She had been a supervisor in a hospital Admissions department for a long time. After that she was a dispatcher for a limousine company. Most recently, Paula was a payroll person at a soda bottler. Then she ran into rough waters and ended up in her retail job.

The retail job was a big drop in altitude for Paula — the kind of drop you feel in your stomach. Many of us have been there. “I felt like a loser,” said Paula. “I felt like I was letting my family down and letting myself down taking such a basic job because I couldn’t find anything better.”

By retracing her steps, writing in her journal and working on her mojo as a project, Paula realized that her drop in altitude gave her a new perspective. “I worked with some wonderful people who were on their way to better things, and knew where they were headed,” said Paula.

“I worked with other people who were adrift and depressed. I sort of became their counselor. That experience was good for me, and for them.”

After a while Paula didn’t have such hard feelings about her job any more. She said “This job was the launching pad for Paula, Version Two!”

The first step in reclaiming your lost mojo is seeing how the steps on your path fit together. The steps on Paula’s path were all important, but she couldn’t see that at the time — just as most of us cannot!

“If you hadn’t felt the way you felt, hopeless and dejected,” we said, “you wouldn’t have met us and you wouldn’t be where you are right now.” If you met Paula now you would meet a self-assured, funny, smart and joyful woman who inspires everyone she meets.

Sometimes we have to walk through the fire to get to the next step on our path. It is never easy, but the learning is tremendous in retrospect!