How Does Resume Writing Even Work????
December 10, 2019 3:13 PM   Subscribe

I've made it to my late 30s without ever having had to go through a normal job application process, and so have almost no practical experience with writing a resume or cover letter. I am absolutely desperate for non-bullshit advice as to how to go about this.

Possibly important details:
-- I've been freelance since 2007, and am trying to apply for in-house jobs
-- I work in a creative field, so my work history is a mix of personal projects and freelance gigs
-- I'm applying for semi-creative jobs at creative companies (think "producer")

This questions is a direct result of the twin panic attacks of "what the hell am I supposed to list as skills" and "how am I supposed to organize my giant list of gigs and publications and how far back am I even supposed to GO."

I don't really know enough about this to be able to google for advice, since I have no idea how to separate the useful guidance from SEO nonsense, so really, ANY help at all would be EXTREMELY appreciated!!
posted by Narrative Priorities to Work & Money (11 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Alison Green of Ask a Manager has got you covered: How to Get a Job. I’m a freelancer and former hiring manager who reads her blog regularly, and her advice is 100% on the level.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:46 PM on December 10, 2019 [8 favorites]

Seconding Allison and Ask a Manager, for sure.
posted by firei at 3:56 PM on December 10, 2019

A few thoughts!

- If you went to college, your college's career services center likely has an online website with resources such as advice and sample resumes/cover letters to view. Regardless of whether you went to college, you can always check other schools' career websites as well. Sometimes these career websites do separate out examples per industry, which can give you even more of a specific jumping off point. Pick an example resume to start with and replace with your basic info to get things started.

- Other examples of cover letters and resumes and job application tips can be found at Lifehacker and Ask a Manager (on preview, +1 re: checking out Alison Green's advice). Your local library probably has a career center and job-searching resources as well!

- I'm not in a creative field, but my understanding is that it'd be good to have an online portfolio of your work to show off as needed. Do you have a website? Even just a single page with thumbnails and short descriptions of some previous projects and gigs can be helpful. You can also think of the reverse and search for the websites/online portfolios of people already in the industry to see how they've presented their past work.

- LinkedIn can be great for seeing other people's resumes, work experience, and examples for how they've written about similar jobs and gigs you've had. Look up people who already have the titles you're applying for, to see how they've phrased things, and feel free to rewrite and adjust phrasing for your own accomplishments, and to tailor as needed per application. You don't have to have an account to view publicly-available profiles, but you might as well make an account anyway, as that will help get you more eyes on your job-searching presence, and you might be able to leverage existing contacts as LinkedIn Connections (especially if they know someone at one of the companies you're interested in applying to! Just seeing that "oh one of my old classmates knows this person" can help make you into more of a known quantity, even if the connection has never talked with your old classmate in years).

- As for setting up your resume, you'll want to have at least one master document of everything you've ever done (gigs and personal projects), using bullet points to describe the experience involved in those projects and gigs. This is a reference document for the actual resumes you'll send out, ideally within 1-2 pages (try not to go beyond 2, unless such resumes are standard for the industry, I guess?). Cherrypick from this master document for whatever's relevant per application, ideally something where you have experience directly related to whatever qualities the job description's seeking.

- Do you have anyone you know who can look over your application materials before sending them? For example, sometimes I help review resumes and cover letters for friends, and vice versa. If you have an alma mater, their career center might also offer such a service. I'd imagine the public library would as well.

- Finally, click around Ask MetaFilter for examples of phrasing and description - I've definitely gotten some advice from here and there before.

Good luck!
posted by rather be jorting at 3:58 PM on December 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I found reading the Knock Em Dead series by Martin Yates helpful. If you're in the US, your library almost certainly has them.
posted by hoyland at 4:44 PM on December 10, 2019

Short. Focused. Hirer's don't have time to read an extensive resume. Tailor your skills and experience to the requirements of the job. No fancy; no colored paper; just one font; bullets.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:01 PM on December 10, 2019

Get your resume done professionally the first time.

Subsequently you can re-use the original after updating with your current info.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:02 PM on December 10, 2019

It would absolutely be worth paying someone to help you do this. I don’t know if a recruiter would do just a few hours work, but maybe! Or a career coach. I’d expect it to cost a couple hundred dollars ($150-300) for the initial “interview” with you/working session and a couple revisions.

Given your extensive project work, I would make personal portfolio website if you don’t already have one. I have done a lot of hiring and I look at LinkedIn and portfolio websites more than resumes, especially for designers/creatives.
posted by amaire at 6:50 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

More thoughts:

- Most job applications nowadays involve either uploading your resume + cover letter (and likely some other basic information) to an online portal, or emailing your resume attached to a cover letter in the body of the email, so make sure to check that your materials are readable in plain text.

- Keep in mind that your materials might first be screened by some kind of algorithm/AI before getting to an actual person, and that these filters are searching for various buzzwords/key terms from the job posting, so incorporate as many of those buzzwords/key terms as you can in your posting-specific submission materials.

- When saving to PDF, open the file and check the PDF before submitting/emailing it to see if any weird re-formatting occurred, awkward line breaks, something got moved over to the next page, etc.

- Keep some kind of spreadsheet or list of what you've applied to and when, any contacts, what type of resume/materials you've sent, what format, what date you've sent/submitted your application, and so on. Some of my friends are especially intense about job applications and literally have applied to hundreds during a job-search period (sending out multiple applications a day), so you'll want a way to keep track of all the resumes and cover letters and whatnot you send out. I also suggest making a separate folder on your computer for each position you apply for (which will also help you keep the master documents separate from the individually tailored/tweaked versions).

- A common sequence of events after you get selected for potential interviewing: first, you get an email or phone call back, to schedule a phone interview. Sometimes the phone interview might be one of multiple phone interviews before you actually get to an in-person interview (which could be one of multiple, but that'll be later down the line) But! Sometimes the call back might be to screen you right away, so be prepared to know your materials well enough to answer questions about them without any warning.

- Have 3-5 professional contacts (people who know you from previous work) available for references, who can vouch for your work's quality and your personableness and all that jazz. First, ask if the potential reference is ok with being a reference (this is also an opportunity to let them know you're searching, and they might even know someone who knows someone, and/or maybe have more industry-specific advice). Provide them with a copy of your resume and cover letter (even if they're not available for whatever reason, they can likely be another pair of eyes for your resume/cover letter). Generally you end your resume or cover letter with "References available upon request" but sometimes an online portal might ask you to list names and contact information right away, so be prepared to get emails, a good number to call them at, and their current job title etc just in case. When you get to or past the interviewing stage, that's usually the stage at which prospective employers start contacting your references.
posted by rather be jorting at 6:55 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think that what you want is a project-focused resume. Basically, if you've been freelancing, you put "Freelance, whenever - whenever" and then the bulk of the resume is "selected projects" where you pull out specific gigs that you think are the most relevant for the job you're applying for, and then what you did on those projects.

I sometimes interview/hire software developers who are moving from freelance to in-house, and this is what they do.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:22 AM on December 11, 2019

I do some hiring. I agree with the recommendation of Ask A Manager and her emphasis on achievements in resumes rather than job descriptions, second rather be jorting's excellent advice, and also:

"what the hell am I supposed to list as skills"

Use the Skills section for specific software programs you know like the back of your hand, certifications you have, and other technical skills relevant to your field. I do not recommend listing things like "writing" or "teamwork" in Skills and I also don't recommend listing basic office suite software like Microsoft Word.
posted by capricorn at 7:23 AM on December 11, 2019

The Brooklyn Public Library may be able to help you - they do one-on-one resume help, among other things.
posted by lyssabee at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2019

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