You’re accomplished. You’ve got hard-earned, specific skills. You are a standout in your field.
And no one’s hiring.
This is the position that many of us have found ourselves in as we wade through this COVID-conscious world. Slight disruptions and temporary shifts are beginning to look a lot more long-term than we anticipated. Musicians, fitness instructors, flight attendants, daycare workers, hotel managers, teacher’s aids, conference organizers, directors of wedding venues, tour guides, and countless other professionals who work primarily in group settings are staring down furloughs or unemployment. And even with state lockdown measures slowly lifting, the economic downturn isn’t letting up anytime soon.
I am an opera singer with a master’s degree and a summer festival that’s been postponed until 2021. My profession has been radically altered for an indeterminable time. With large gatherings of people in close proximity now considered anathema to safety and health, what’s a musician to do?
Much of my time over the past month has been spent exploring ways to pivot my skills into other professions — if not forever, then at least temporarily. But when I look up jobs on Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn, I struggle to imagine myself in any of them.
One of the biggest struggles I’ve encountered is modifying my career-specific resume into a concrete set of skills and experiences palatable for a wider world. I have spent YEARS studying CV formatting and website layout for my very, very niche job. Here are some suggestions that have helped me back up and re-evaluate how I can present my skills with the value they deserve.
See the bigger picture
If you have world-class certification as a fitness instructor, with thousands of followers and in-demand scheduling, this current situation probably has you banging your head against the proverbial yoga mat. But what are the things you do that MAKE you so good at your job?
Think about the specific skills that you use every day, and then widen your lens. What constraints do you work around? What populations do you serve? Do you “design and develop programs to communicate vital information to a non-homogenous population”? Does your career mean you have “the ability to see and immediately react to individual needs within a group setting, while keeping the group integrated and on track to meet company-wide goals”? You are not JUST the current position you hold. Imagine describing your job to an alien who’s never heard of airplanes, gyms, weddings, or music.
Dig into those side-gigs
A few years back, while I was waiting to start a full-time job I’d accepted, I took a short contract role to help a friend-of-a-friend with her small business. I made Instagram stories and ran a Facebook page for a local business. When I sat down to rewrite my resume when the coronavirus hit, I realized this experience was a treasure trove of skills I could easily draw out in a resume aimed at marketing: I created integrated social media content, and coordinated it over multiple platforms with relevant SEO optimization (i.e., I had some good hashtags). My “stop-gap” job, which was listed at the bottom of my resume, is now the centerpiece because it required skills I am currently leaning into.
As a professional musician, I spend a lot of time updating my website and Instagram. You know what this means? I’m a personal brand management specialist with creative skills in Wix, Squarespace, and Canva.
Choose the best format for your skills
It blew my mind when I realized a few years ago that resumes don’t have to list experiences in chronological order. You can format them according to skill, so you can collect all of the professional footnotes related to your desired pivot career and design a map that leads directly to your new job. Once you’ve teased out all of your “big picture” experiences, as well as your specific skills, organize them into groups based on similarity, not timeline.
Kill your darlings
This is the hardest part of writing a resume for a new career. I was invited to be an institute fellow this summer, I’ve earned multiple music scholarships, and I have an award for secondary education. Can I lean on those “impressive credentials” when I’m gunning for a job in marketing? Nope. It took me weeks of going over edits from friends to admit that the accomplishments I hold so dear not only belong at the bottom, but should probably be scrapped all together. A resume is an audition, and I’m not auditioning for a school or an opera right now. I can’t show up to the casting office of a sci-fi thriller wearing a cowboy hat, just because I’m a really good cowboy.
Nail the basics
Across the board, the most important part of a resume is making sure it is clean and grammatically correct. A recruiter told me this week that if there is one period (.) out of place or one misspelled word, a resume is tossed. You must go over it with a fine-tooth comb, and then go over it again.
If you are doing the tedious work of submitting a resume online, make sure you read the words in the job description and pepper them in somewhere. If you don’t have a resume that reflects the exact wording of a posting, the gate-keeping bots won’t tag it for review.
This is hard. Especially for people who have built a career by earning achievements and developing industry relationships. This is really, really hard. It demands humility, and it only works if we find the grace to let go. My prayers are with you, and with everyone whose livelihoods have been affected by this virus. May we lift one another up.