If you are holed up in your head and sitting behind your computer answering job postings and crafting the perfect resume or cover letter, you are not actually doing much for your present or future career. Your resume, no matter how well put together is not that different from all the other resumes that show up on the desk of a hiring manager, and all those jobs you are applying for cannot possibly be right for you.
Relationships are critical to any professional who wants to succeed in a service profession—or almost any profession. The time you are spending perfecting your digital or paper image could actually be better spent showing off the more important elements of you: your friendly manner, your warm smile, your enthusiastic ideas, your genuine interest in other people. Employers don’t hire resumes, they hire people they want to be with day in and day out, nice people like you, who attract and create good energy.
Relationship building begins with an interest in others, and an awareness of how you might positively affect the lives and wellbeing of those you encounter. You have to encounter them, of course, so you have to get out from behind the keyboard and screen.
Here are five ideas for those of you who find that more challenging than you wish you did:
1. Schedule a daily (okay, maybe three times a week) walk to a place where there are people (not a library or a place where you can’t interact). That’s all; just start by going somewhere that people go.. When you get there, make eye contact with others, strike up a conversation, or just be accessible—if you are open, an extravert like me will find you and start talking about something.
2. Speak gently to someone you don’t know, every day. You don’t have to introduce yourself; you do have to be present and pleasant. The line at the grocery store, the guy next to you at the gym, the woman walking her schnauzer. They all count. Speaking gently is easier than being clever, funny, or compelling. And a lot easier on the listener.
3. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while and reconnect. Ask about his or her family, job, school, or hobbies, and listen. And don’t complain. About anything, not even the weather.
4. Volunteer on a regular schedule for something that is active and visible. Not, for example, grant writing or any kind of writing. Writing is great experience and very rewarding, but if this theme is resonating with you, you probably do enough of it. If you need ideas for active volunteering, call your most extraverted friend and ask for help.
5. Find a team game or sport to play, sign up and show up. Not Farmville.
None of this is easy, if the thing you are focused on is your discomfort, unease, or fear of looking or being somehow wrong. The conundrum is that if you are thinking of others, your head is already headed in the right direction, no matter how uncomfortable you feel.
People hire people they like or think they will like; the point of the resume is only to get you into a conversation. The resume that shouts PERFECT can be a turn-off, believe it or not; making it all that good can be experienced as highly competitive. Your efforts and your time are better spent on your friendships—creating them, building them, and strengthening them.
Good relationships are nourishing, above all, and are destinations in and of themselves; they create and advance careers, something your carefully crafted paperwork cannot do for you.