I have spent the last couple weeks working on a new profession I had not even been previously aware existed: textbook punch-up. Have a dry, academic-sounding textbook? Call a comedian who majored in philosophy! Now your textbook is full of logic jokes!
This has prompted me to think: while I think my resume looks pretty good, no one gives a shit. My editors at TheGloss haven’t seen it. No one at the textbook company asked for it. At the company I teach test prep classes for, it was a mere formality: my resume was looked at to ensure that I had teaching experience, and then I had to nail an hours-long audition. Once, I did some consulting for a local PBS affiliate because someone had googled “math” and “comedy.”
That is, your resume is nowhere near as important as it used to be. Your personality is your biggest competitive advantage. The personality qualities that make you indispensable are (obviously) not taught in school, but are adoptable by nearly anyone, with some practice and motivation.
Also — if I may be so bold as to suggest — if you have young children, here are some qualities and abilities I think you should guide them towards possessing. The New York Times is constantly, of late, running articles on the state of unemployment among “the so-called millennials, 18 to 29 — whose unemployment rate of nearly 14 percent approaches the levels of that group in the Great Depression.”
The explanation oft repeated: today’s millennials were raised with lots and lots of praise from doting Baby Boomer parents, and those young people who went to college persevered through the toughest college admissions atmosphere ever, so they tend to have extremely high standards for entry-level jobs, despite many of them having to move back in with Mom and Dad. Also, sadly, achievement is a bit of an arms race: if every other person your age has been keeping pace with you, you still don’t stand out, despite killing yourself over seven AP exams, internships, a double major, etc. The bar has simply risen, and many hiring managers (i.e., older people) simply don’t like the personality qualities on display from these young people. There’s no point saying who’s “right”; it is what it is.
An impressive resume is the new high school diploma. You need more.
Here are some skills and personality qualities most college graduates have not developed, and which can allow you to beat those people at everything:
Pitching Things — In the freelance world, the value of pitching is obvious. You pitch an idea, you get the gig, you deliver on schedule, you pitch again. You should be great at pitching. You should have enough good ideas that you can pitch several things to different people in a single day and not get hung up waiting for replies, because you know you’ll have more good ideas where those came from.
However, pitching is extremely important even in traditional jobs. Here’s what I mean: individuals move faster than companies. Or, at least, they should. If you’re waiting for a job opening to be posted on a job site, that company’s need has gotten so acute that the company has already gone through a dozen or more slow, bureaucratic moves to try to fix their problem. At that point, it’s resume versus resume. You want to get in there first. Even a shitty entry-level job gives you that opportunity. If you answer the phone at the front desk, you will learn enough to be able to spot problems and suggest ways to fix them — ideally, ways that involve a new, expanded role for you. If you don’t already have a foot in the door, plenty of people have made jobs for themselves by tracking down the president of a small company and saying (tactfully), “I know how to market your product better,” or “I can rewrite your web copy so you’ll sell more of your product,” or “This is great — I can help you take it to the Spanish-speaking market.”
You have to be able to pitch. In school, the only pitching I remember is occasionally having to come up with my own paper topic and get it approved by my English teacher. But there was no benefit to coming up with a better paper topic over a mediocre one; this isn’t really pitching. A teacher who wanted to teach pitching would say: “We’re going to spend the next three weeks working on this big science project, and you’ll be turning in X for a grade. However, if you can think of a way that you, personally, would learn more about this topic doing something else and turning in a different end product, please come convince me after class.” Make this offer, and the vast majority of children will ignore it. The one kid who takes the teacher up on the offer will then end up skipping all the boring stuff and doing something awesome that he actually cares about, and the other kids will be jealous. Next time, the teacher gets a few more pitches. By the end of the year, the teacher gets pitches all the time without even making the suggestion that he or she is open to them.
Whether you are a student, an employee, an unemployed person, or an entrepreneur, you are fortunate enough to live in the age of the internet: pitching can be as easy as sending an email to someone whose email address is on the internet. You can pitch 10 good ideas in a day. You can pitch in the middle of the night. Try getting something published somewhere — if you’re not expecting to get paid (yet), this should be easy. If you’ve never been published anywhere, that can actually give you more credibility, provided that you are writing about something you do know: even professional science writers are trumped by actual scientists who stop doing science long enough to pen an op-ed. If the guy who cuts my hair wanted to comment on celebs’ new looks, I’d be way into it. When people who aren’t writers bother to get something published, it’s usually because they really have something to say. (Of course, not all pitching is about writing. Pitch yourself as a hitting coach for the local Little League team, I don’t care. But it’s easy to open doors when you’re creating those doors yourself).