The Power of the Jagged Resume

I originally wrote this blog in January 2014, so you’re getting a summer rerun, with some tiny updates.  The ideas in it are still relevant, and perhaps even more so with the current economy.

When I started my HR career, I really wanted to work in recruiting.  I’ve always enjoyed hearing people’s stories of how they got from point A to point B in their careers.  My jobs have given me the opportunity to do a lot of recruiting.  I was working as an HR coordinator for a non-profit during the big boom in Calgary in 2005/2006.  Recruiting in that environment was almost a blood sport!  Competing with the oil and gas industry for staff in an economy where candidates had their pick of jobs meant that I always had multiple recruitments on the go.  I think I can safely say I have seen thousands of résumés in the last fifteen years. 

When I was younger and less experienced, I liked nice, neat résumés.  The kind where the candidate laid out their education and experience in a sequence.  Where they had gone right from high school to post-secondary, and had worked in the field they studied.  These résumés were easy to read and easy to classify.   My goal in life was to have one of those neat and tidy careers, with a logical progression from one job to the next.  I didn’t realize at the time that my work experience was already not perfectly sequential, and it only became less so as my career progressed.

Recently I had coffee with a woman who I consider to be very successful.  She is highly educated and has had some interesting jobs, but her path has not been that neat, tidy progression that I used to admire.  In talking to her about this, she introduced me to an interesting way to think of résumés.  She said that some people have a round resume – what I described above as nice and neat.  Others have a jagged résumés.  These don’t follow a straight path. The person's education may not be at all related to the work they do, and they may have done a variety of jobs over the course of their professional life.   They may have travelled, or taken time off for children, or been self-employed. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with a round résumé and career.  Those round careers are often very successful, and they are easy to understand.  Ask the person what they do and they can easily tell you.  Someone with a jagged résumé may have a job that requires a bit of explanation and a work history that zigzags.

When I was a younger HR professional, I didn't like to see jagged résumés.  I couldn't see as clearly how the person's experience had developed their skills.  I felt it was harder to "sell" these candidates to a hiring manager. Since then, I myself have developed a complicated career, with no round edges, and jobs that require some effort to describe.  I’m now proud to say I have a jagged résumé.

I haven’t lost my interest in hearing people’s stories.  Now I seek out people who seem to have jagged résumés, and ask them about their careers.  I like to hear about where they started and what they thought their career would be, and then to see how it has actually unfolded.  These people invariably have the most interesting jobs, and are the ones who are most satisfied with the work that they are doing. 

Lately there’s been more talk about transferable skills, and it’s become more common for people to change industries, or even to change their entire profession.  Jagged résumés are all about transferable skills.  A candidate who has had a non-traditional career path needs to be able to show employers how the skills they’ve learned in each job make up the total package that they offer as an employee.  They may be much more aware of their strengths, and be more flexible and resilient.

I don't think anyone sets out to develop a jagged résumé.  When you’re young, it's hard to imagine the twists and turns your life and career will take.  For example, I would never have known that it would be easier (in some ways) to work full-time when my son was a preschooler, but that it was very nice to work from home when he was in the early grades of school.  That arrangement made it possible for me to take him to school every morning, get to know the other parents, and volunteer on field trips.  Those steps off the beaten path have gotten me to where I am today.  I can’t wait to see where my path takes me next.