The 'road not taken' resume

Mar 25 2014 by John C. Read Print This Article

There are few documents of greater personal significance than our resume. As job-seekers, we agonize over every word to extol our virtues and mask our shortcomings, determined to demonstrate in two pages or less that we are achievers, not merely 'doers'.

Crafting this perfect sales document demands a good deal of personal reflection. The truth needs to be established before it can be extrapolated, forcing us to consider what we have done and what we have achieved.

But what if we were to apply the same critical thinking and reflection to writing an entirely different sort of resume – one that pays less attention to the lipstick and more to the pig? A record of what we decided not to do, rather than what we did.

A Road Not Taken Resume can shed an entirely new light on our profile and attributes. While it might ever see the light of day, this document - or more accurately the thought that went into it - could add significantly to the next conventional resume that does.

Not so long ago, jobs and careers could be for life. Now, in this more dynamic and unstable economy, employment security is non-existent and job changes are a part of everyone's work experience. You don't need to be approaching retirement for there to be an appreciable number of these forks in the road under your belt, and mapping backwards through the choices you've made can be instructive.

My RNT Resume would look something like this:

Professional Folk Singer and Song Writer: Dropped out of college to pursue a career in music.

Advertising Associate, Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove: Copywriting and client support for various accounts.

Candidate, U.S. Congress Massachusetts 8th District: Ran as a Republican against Joseph Kennedy and lost.

President & CEO, Ben & Jerry's: Selected when the poetry contest failed to produce a viable candidate.

Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service: Recommended by Treasury Secretary and confirmed by the Senate for a five year term.

What these entries have in common is either an opportunity presented and not pursued or a job offered and not accepted. As such, each mark a period of (I'd like to think) thought and reflection leading up to a decision. Each of us in the workforce has them; these signposts marking a road not taken, and this version of a resume has the purpose of lining them up in the order in which they occur. Collectively they represent the interchanges and exit ramps that shape our careers and our lives.

Your RNT resume might well begin with educational choices - where not to go to college, whether to pursue a graduate degree - and extend to job leads not pursued and even personal matters like relationships allowed to lapse. Document and make visible those occasions when you've reached a fork in the road and made a choice.

If you are like me, you will have identified many more 'forks' than you suspected. Your RNT resume may reveal pathways or patterns more appealing or more profitable than your actual career. These alternate routes may be a source of some amusement (IRS Commissioner - really!) or they may engender feelings of regret over what might have been.

To What End?

What this resume identifies are the critical decision points, and periods of critical thinking in one's life. They offer rich and fertile territory for insight into how these decisions were made and are available to you now for reflection since they probably received all too little of it (reflection) back then.

In respect to the career and personal choices we make, too often we approach these intersections unexpectedly and with little preparation. Job offers and terminations can come out of the blue and with limited time to decide. If you find yourself out of a job and looking for work, the timing of one opportunity versus another is invariably 'off' and the match between what you thought you wanted (function, title, compensation) and what you have in front of you is less than perfect. To make matters worse, stress levels can be intense at such times, depending on family and financial circumstances. The net effect is akin to a Metro North train approaching a 30 mph curve at 85 mph.

However rapidly it unfolds, the act of choosing is a process, with certain steps taken before others and certain factors proving more decisive than others in what ultimately is decided. The balance struck between deliberation and deliberateness may not spell the difference between rounding the curve and a train wreck but it can lead to choices made by default (you just flew by the exit ramp) versus explicitly.

In reflecting upon the career choices one makes, consider how the choice was made rather than the road not taken. Careers today are more a process of laying down tracks behind you than choosing among established routes. Roads not taken, in other words aren't roads at all. A different choice would have yielded a different result from what you saw then or see now in the rear-view mirror. For better (profitability, status, wealth)? Or worse (cultural misfit, poor performance, job elimination)? Who's to say and, frankly, who cares!

Your process is what matters and it is both circumstantial (where you are in your career) and unique to you (what's important in your life). In reflecting upon how you made these decisions, you will likely observe steps that always seemed to come early in your process or that should have, and factors that proved a decisive influence on the choices made, whether they should have or not. Your RNT resume can provide a roadmap for how to make this decision-making process better, since the next fork in the road will be upon you sooner than you think.

Resumes have become such an important part of how we present ourselves to the world. While returning to the missed opportunities of your prior experience may not help you write the real one, they can offer insight and realism about who we have been. Whatever else may be true of resume writing, the Road Not Taken resume may be the only one where humility is a potential outcome!


About The Author

John C. Read
John C. Read

John C. Read served as president and CEO for both Outward Bound USA and SeriousFun Children's Network, Paul Newman's global network of camps serving children with serious illness and their families. He was previously CEO of a $400 million truck parts company, Assistant Secretary, US Department of Labor, and chief economic adviser to the Governor of Massachusetts.