What I've Learned As A Resume Writer

My name is Steph, and I’m the founder of Off The Clock Resumes. I’ve been a Certified Professional Resume Writer since 2015, and I don’t typically write much about my story. Before Off The Clock Resumes, I was a job seeker too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my story and how much I’ve learned in such a short amount of time. I hope my story can provide some peace of mind for job seekers and encouragement for up-and-coming resume writers.

 What I've Learned As A Resume Writer | Off The Clock Resumes

My First Resume

I’ve looked everywhere for it, and it’s probably best to leave it lost in cyberspace. My parents wanted me to have a part-time job as soon as I could drive; so naturally, my first resume was a very boring list of irrelevant “skills” (because who really has any skills at 15) and high school activities.

My dad gave me his resume to use as a template (It wasn’t much better… and I did rewrite and design a more modern resume for him later.), but it was still an uninteresting bullet list consisting of:

  • Communication skills
  • Organization skills
  • Computer skills
  • Time management skills


Fortunately, the resume did help me land my first part-time job in customer service. As time passed, the resume gained a few extra lines but not much more.


My First Job

I did help out a small business that my mom did bookkeeping for two summers before I could drive. I sat at a desk and did by far the most boring data entry tasks that I’ve ever been asked to do in my life. I don’t even count that job as my first job.

My first job that I secured with a resume as a customer service and cashiering job at a small knick-knack store owned by a classmate’s mom. I was supposed to help customers, process purchases and returns, and keep inventory stocked up. My work ethic was so poor in this job that I mostly wandered the store, sampled the food products that were out for customers, and contemplated which knick-knacks might actually be worth purchasing as gifts for people I knew. I was 16 years old; I’ve grown a lot since then.


My Worst Job

My first adult job turned out to be my worst job. I wasn’t qualified for anything after high school, so I stuck with targeting customer service and retail-related jobs. I was hired as a Customer Service Associate at a sports retail store where I was supposed to keep the apparel section clean, recommend fitness clothes to customers, and occasionally run a cash register.

Instead, I spent most of my shifts hiding from my horrible boss in the apparel department closet which housed the vacuum and our purses. Again, my work ethic was horrible; but my boss didn’t treat any of her employees with respect. She played favorites (and I was not one of them), changed the schedule weekly to give me minimal hours on the schedule which made it difficult for me to pay my bills, and undermined me in front of clients (“Of course we allow returns on mouthguards (gross…)! My associate clearly doesn’t understand our return policies…” which clearly stated that there are no returns on opened mouthguards. Obviously.).

I gave up trying. I wasn’t valued, I wasn’t paid, and I wasn’t positioned for success.


My Best Job

What also didn’t help this situation was that my worst job was preceded by my best job. Prior to my first adult job, I got a part-time job at a grocery store when I was 17 which became a full-time job before I left for college. No, a grocery store isn’t a glamorous job; but I worked with amazing people.

My supervisor was supportive and driven to give me more training and responsibility. My co-workers became close friends and we always helped each other out. Within a year, I was offered a small promotion with more responsibility. When I graduated high school, I was offered full-time hours to help me save up for school. This business cared about their employees.


My Last Resume

Since the grocery store, I’ve had several resumes (each better than the one before it!) and several jobs. I’ve transitioned from retail to hospitality (also a great job!), from hospitality to office administration, and from administrative support to marketing. In between these jobs, I embraced my passion for freelance writing and discovered resume writing as a career path.

During my moonlighting days, I perfected my resume to secure jobs that I was certainly NOT qualified for. In fact, my last resume positioned me as a Social Media Manager with less than a year of experience (mostly promoting my freelance writing services). That resume secured a Social Media Content Specialist job with a local small business and a short contract with a large corporation as a Recruiting/Social Media Coordinator.

That resume had a modern design with colored headings, a Branding Statement, an easy-to-scan Key Skills section, and bullets beneath each job position I had held highlighting the results I had achieved (as small as they may be).


My First Client

That brings me to my first resume client (other than myself). This client was a referral from someone I worked with who knew about my moonlighting. My husband and I still laugh about this. This client was probably the most difficult resume client I could have received as a first client.

He was a retiree returning to the workforce. He wanted a high-paying job in sales but had no sales experience at all. His previous career (before his 10+ year employment gap) as all mining labor. He had never had a resume before, so the background information he brought me to work with was all over the place. I was barely comfortable working with currently employed, standard-industry-with-related experience clients. This challenge was unreal.


My Worst Day

A year or two later, I greatly improved in my resume writing skills. That didn’t prevent my worst day ever from almost shutting me down. I had been working independently for almost a year and was still struggling to make any profit off of my self-employment. I wouldn’t say I was completely discouraged, but I was on the brink.

I enjoyed working with most of my clients, and I was learning how to resolve conflicts such as unrealistic expectations (from my clients) and miscommunication (from myself mostly).

On my worst day, I submitted a first draft for review. It was summertime, and I admit that I rushed it a bit. Very quickly after I received a furious phone call not from the client but from the client’s wife. Through the rudeness and yelling, I discerned that I had overlooked a typo (or two) and clearly didn’t meet the client’s wife’s expectations regarding how his new resume should look. I tried to explain my strategies for the resume layout only to be cut off and told that my “strategies” were a joke. After offering to make adjustments during the revision period (a standard clearly stated on my website), she refused and demanded a refund. I recall her hanging up on me as well.

I could help it. I broke down in tears. I felt like such a failure. I felt this personal attack on me and my business was valid, and I considered canceling my website.


My Best Day

It really is hard to pinpoint my best day yet. Every time I make a large resume sale with additional services, I still get silly-happy. Every time I get a raving review from a client saying they secured interviews within days of applying with his or her new resume, I get silly-happy. Every time I get a referral from someone who already thinks the world of me based on the opinions of a previous client, I get silly-happy. It doesn’t happen too often, but occasionally I’ll get an email from a client months later thanking me because he or she landed the dream job.

I can say that my best day ever is every day that I achieve a milestone like my first $500+ client or my first month with over $1000 (or $2000) in sales. I know these seem small, but every milestone is a victory. Every victory is my best day.


What I’ve Learned As A Resume Writer

Why do you think I am telling you all of this? Each chapter of my story has taught me a lesson in resume writing, job searching, career development, or self-improvement.

From my first resume and my first job, I learned that a resume does not dictate your success. Your resume is not the only way to secure a job. Networking and referrals are often more effective in securing a job especially when you are not qualified.

From my best job and my worst job, I learned that working for a company that truly values its employees is critically important for me. I learned that had I done more research or targeted my job search, I would have found a better work environment sooner. I likely would have had better early career experiences too.

From my last resume, I learned that personal branding can have more of an impact than years of experience. I learned that having confidence in my goals and my achievements (as small as they may have been) can influence a person or employer to believe in you and take a chance on you.

From my first client, I learned that everyone’s story is unique. I learned that there are no cookie-cutter clients, that each client will pose a challenge in some way, and that my career choice will require me to never stop learning.

From my worst day, I learned that as much as I love helping my clients I also need to help myself. Sure, I’ve improved my time management; but most importantly, I’ve created a Terms of Service that each client has to agree to before ever paying me. That Terms of Service reminds my clients that I am human and I will make mistakes but that doesn’t constitute grounds for a refund and ultimately a free resume.

By protecting myself, I’ve also noticed that my clients have more confidence in my abilities. The power of transparency is truly amazing.

And from my best day(s), I’ve learned that I’m doing exactly what I was meant to do with my career. No, I’m not happy every day. Some days are more challenging than others, and I still get discouraged from time to time; but the discouragement never lasts very long.


My Advice To Job Seekers

All of this said, I have some very specific advice for the job seekers reading this:

  • If you don’t have very much experience to support your career goals, don’t give up; start networking.
  • If you’re not happy with your job, figure out why and then look for a company that shares your values and invests in you.
  • How you present yourself to employers (on a resumes, online, etc.) can make or break your job search.
  • If you’re looking for a resume writer or career coach, understand that you are working with another imperfect human being who may need some grace from time to time.


I also have some advice for the freelancers out there exploring resume writing as a career path:

  • Take the time to get to know your clients; there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter client.
  • Protect yourself. You need a written agreement with your clients to establish code of conduct, prevent miscommunication, and protect both your time and reputation.
  • Enjoy the little victories; focus on them when your days get challenging.
  • Don’t give up; if this is what you’re meant to do, remember that the discouragement will pass.