Evaluating Your Unwritten Résumé

Your professional reputation is a marketing document itself.

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Marla Gottschalk
Marla Gottschalk
"Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room." - Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon

While our formal résumé helps to define our relevant skills, abilities and experience during a job search, there is an entirely different kind of résumé that can also have a significant impact upon our work lives. It is the unwritten or "invisible" résumé that lives in the minds of our co-workers, trusted colleagues and supervisors. In a 2009 blog post for Harvard Business Review, Dr. Vicky Gordon, the CEO of the Gordon Group, explains this invisible résumé captures what others are thinking (and sharing) about us when our names are mentioned in workplace conversations. This alternative source can touch every facet of our work lives, in ways that we might not have expected. As such, this question becomes critical: How do we determine the contents of our unwritten résumé?

Revealing its components can be challenging on a number of levels, but worthwhile to pursue. Part and parcel to this process is gaining a real-life, real-time view of your work-life reputation. What areas might be included? Think of topics such as attitude, openness, timeliness and follow-through on promises. In some cases, a supervisor or colleague might openly offer a piece of information included in this unwritten document. Beth Comstock, the chief marketing officer with GE, explains in a recent LinkedIn post how her former boss, Jack Welch, chided her for being "too efficient" during meetings. While Comstock believed her communication strategy to be quite effective, in fact, this behavior caused her to be viewed as "abrupt and cold."

The truth is, we can be a poor judge of our own qualities and it is a wise to seek alternative perspectives. In some situations, what has worked for us in the past has long passed its expiration date, yet no one is honest enough to call us out on our behavior. On the other hand, we may be viewed much more positively than we think, and are underestimating our worth. Ultimately, this lack of awareness can negatively influence our career path going forward.

Some solid reasons to explore your unwritten résumé:

  • You've been passed over. There is nothing more frustrating than working toward a valued goal that does not materialize. When you felt deserving of a promotion or project and the opportunity doesn't occur, it may be time to assess. If things just do not add up, it may be time to gather more information.
  • You have your eye on a leadership role. If you are considering a change of focus or responsibility, then it is important to gather a complete view of your potential. In some cases, the skills that have brought us to our current level are not fully sufficient to lead us into the next chapter.
  • You aren't making progress. There is nothing more confusing (and disturbing) than having your career stall. If you are having issues gaining momentum and are unsure as to why, something unsaid may be getting in the way.
  • You are targeting development goals. Forming a list of your development must haves can be tricky business without an accurate view of current skills. An honest appraisal is necessary to craft a plan that is sound.
  • Keep these points in mind:

    • Focus on the future. Be keenly aware that the information included within your unwritten résumé can help power your career forward. This may help you process what you might uncover. Remember that what you don't know can hurt you.
    • Build a network. Build a trusted group who will offer a realistic view of your performance in a variety of workplace situations. This group should be robust, and include those that can speak to your performance in a team setting, how you handle challenge or frustration and your ability to develop ideas.
    • Review often. Set up channels to review your invisible résumé at frequent intervals. For example, after completing a project or proposal, ask each member how they viewed your contribution.
    • Above all, strive for a 3-D view. Attempt to see yourself from all perspectives, and become completely open to areas of strength and weakness. All in all, information is power.
    • Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who specializes in workplace success strategies and organizational change. She helps individuals, teams and organizations develop intelligently—to meet work life challenges with a sense of confidence and empowerment.