Never Mind the Years. What Did You Do?

Sitting at your desk plugging away with your head down is not the way to boost your Wow! factor. Getting out and making things happen is

I got a call from a young man who said, "I really hate my job, and I want to make a move. But I don't think I'm as well-prepared as I should be."

"How so?" I asked him.

"Well," he said, "I've been in my job for eight years, but I haven't learned all that much. I wish I'd spent more time on this job acquiring new skills. I've got eight years of experience, but only three or four years worth of good stuff on my résumé to show for it."

Not Much to Crow About

Digging further, I learned that he had been promoted once in eight years. That's respectable, but he feels that his job duties really didn't change with the promotion. And, he's not being challenged. He's not sure he's ever been challenged on the job. Sure, he has eight years under his belt, but did he have any stuff—any résumé content of value—to crow about?

Experience isn't about years on the job, but what you did during that time. We need to ask: What did I learn, this year? This quarter? This month? What did I try for the first time at work, and what did I make different, and better? I cringe when I see résumés that start off boasting of "20-plus years of experience in X, Y, or Z." The years are beside the point. Employers want to know: "What did you get done?"

I'm not surprised that working people are often caught up short by the change in workplace priorities. Employers used to highly value employees who came to work on time and did what they were told. (A small minority still do.) Most organizations now rely on people who can move quickly and make decisions based on scanty data. They look for employees who can jump into action with minimal supervision. Employers have to look for this skill set, because they don't have the management ranks in place to supervise their employees in every task.

Years ago, merely staying place in a job for several years was viewed as praiseworthy by prospective employers. Loyalty is still important, but intellectual curiosity has edged past steadiness as the must-have attribute. Other must-haves: energy and a desire to improve a process, a system, or a relationship. Companies value people who look for opportunities to change the way work is done. Sitting at your desk plugging away with your head down is not the way to boost your résumé's "Wow!" factor. Getting out and making things happen is.

Shake Up the Status Quo

Half the résumés on the job market include the tired phrase "value added." What does that mean? For working people, it means changing the status quo at your workplace for the better. You don't need to have a vice-president's title or dominion over a department to change the status quo in a good way. You can start at your own desk. If the communication between accounting and sales is less than sensational (and I'm betting it is), you could start by chatting with your best buddy in the other department and brainstorming ways to make that relationship more fluid.

You can reengineer a process that you follow every day, to make it faster, cheaper, and more effective. You can eliminate a bottleneck. Forget can. You must. You have to add value to keep pace with your peers, much less to advance professionally. Once you crack the code to making positive change in your workplace, you won't have to use the trite phrase "value added" in your résumé. You'll have plenty of specific accomplishments to crow about.

If you haven't done it lately, pull out your résumé and look it over. If you don't have a résumé, write one this week, even if you're not interested in looking for a job right now. Every working person should have one. Your résumé is a tally of your professional accomplishments. It's a way to make sure that no year, no quarter, no month slips by without a boost in your learning and a new feather in your cap.

The young man I talked to got a new job, but not before making an exhaustive list of the learning-and-doing items he had collected in eight years on his first career assignment. His list totaled 14 items he would be proud to talk about with a prospective employer. He felt as if it wasn't enough and vowed to have at least that many a year going forward.

How many do you have? Probably more than you think. But never stop adding to the list.