So…What Do You Do?

Focus Your Job Search

“So…what do you do?”

Don’t you hate that question? You get it at parties, you get it at job fairs, you even get it at the dentist! I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot more than just my work. If I’m a job seeker, though, my resume is not the place to tell you who I am.

Employers get hundreds (sometimes thousands) of applications for every position that they post. This creates a mountain of reading that recruiters just cannot do. Often, computers read your resume first and rate it based on how relevant it is to what the recruiter wants. Or, if you’re an overworked recruiter, you read really fast (i.e. 6-10 seconds per resume).

“Who” is a complicated question that gets to the core of our humanity. “What” is a lot easier to communicate. In recruiting, it’s how we evaluate a candidate for further consideration. In this article, I want to get your resume from “Who” to “What.”

Questions to Ask Yourself When Looking for a Job

One of the hardest parts of the job search is knowing where to start. Full time work provides a location to work, equipment to work on, a community to support and direct you, and, in most cases, clear instructions on what to do on a day-to-day basis.

When you are seeking work, that can all go out the window very quickly. Job searchers must now turn inwards and answer a couple of deep questions.

  • What do I want to do?
  • What can I do?
  • What place (where) do I want to do it?
  • What do I expect from my work?

I have found these questions to be the most basic as well as the most troubling. I ask you to ask yourself, because every day that I’m at a job fair I ask job seekers, “what do you do?”

We’ll take a deeper dive into each, but first you need to gather a few tools:

  • A copy of your resume you can write on
  • A pen
  • A highlighter

1) What do you want to do?

For just a minute, I want you to imagine a perfect world where you don’t need to work but instead just want to work. What would you do? I want you to ignore the lightness of your wallet and the anxiety you feel about being around the house all day.

But I’m going to make this harder. You now need to answer this question in three words or less. Write them at the top of your resume where it’s so big you can’t ignore or forget what you wrote. 

2) What can you do?

Now, write down a list that ignores your list of what you want to do. This list is for the things you can do whether you want to do them or not. Here’s where I want to you get really specific and list all of the things you can do.

This is the most important part to recruiters and companies. Many will train you, but they want you to come in being able to meet the minimum job expectations.

Now I want you to condense this list down to just three words. Maybe you can do a lot! That’s great, but what are your key skill sets? What would jump out to me as a recruiter? Write these skills down on your resume.

3) What place (where) do I want to do it?

The easy answer to this is “within a X distance drive.” Let’s include this and then go beyond the physical location. You should also consider things like a welcoming environment, a company with a social mission, a younger/older workplace, a progressive/conservative workplace, etc. These are going to be different for each individual.

4) What do you expect?

Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty of the job details. Realize that expectations may have to be compromised, but it helps to write them down. Start with the most obvious expectation and the reason most of us go to work each day. Here are some things you might expect

  • I expect to make $XXXX
  • I expect XXXX kind of health insurance
  • I expect XXXX other benefits
  • I expect to have some level of autonomy in my day-to-day work
  • I expect to be valued for my creative contributions
  • I expect to work in a team-oriented environment
  • I expect to maintain a work-life balance

We expect a lot out of our work. As well we should. We spend a lot of time there! But get this down into three words.

Edit Your Resume

A common misconception is that resumes should be only one-two pages. A resume should be as long as it needs to be provided that:

  1. It accurately and concisely represents all of you
  2. Is long enough to thoroughly address everything that a job description asks for

We’re going to make a generic resume from which you can start. You will constantly be editing this resume for every single job for which you apply.

  • Highlight: I want you to highlight everything on your resume that points strongly to one of the words that is written above. It can (and usually should) be the word itself.
  • Circle: Anything that may be relevant for a job. Education is a good example; you may well need or should include it on your resume, but often the role you’re applying for does not explicitly require it. Often, these circled items will be listed on your resume but de-emphasized.
  • Cross Out: There’s probably a lot of stuff left on your resume. Cross it out. These are like hoarding shoe boxes or 1980s Christmas decorations or Beanie Babies. Channel your inner Marie Kondo and throw it out.

Want more resume tips? Be sure to check out this article.

Getting to “Who”

It’s not that recruiters and HR managers don’t care about who you are…it’s just that resumes are not the appropriate place for it. “What” is clear and objective. It’s also what catches our attention in a stack of resumes.

Once you get to the interview, show off “who” you are in order to stand out from the other applicants.

Are you looking for work? Check out our open jobs.

Spread the word

Hi, I'm Myles.

Thanks for reading our blog! I’m the outside recruiter for Peak Performers and also work in business development. Subscribe to get more articles about jobseeking in Austin and utilizing recruiting services as a public sector agency. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more frequent posts and industry insights!