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Want a new job? Don't update your resume just yet

Monday - 9/10/2012, 2:04pm  ET

If you already have a job, but know it’s time for a change, what’s the first thing you do? Update your resume?

No. Writing your resume is the fourth thing you should do.

Most people write their resume like it is some boring assignment you’d write for history class. It is a lifeless recitation of all the dry dates and facts that happened after they graduated. These resumes are boring to write, and excruciating to read — they tell no story. And they don’t work.

Before you are ready to write your resume, you need to think about who will be reading it and what impression you want to create. Take a cue from the artist Pablo Picasso. Legend has it that Picasso was sitting in a park, sketching. A woman walked by, recognized him and begged him to draw her portrait. He agreed and started sketching. Moments later, he handed her the portrait. The lady was ecstatic, and gushed about how wonderfully it captured her very essence. She asked how much she owed him. “$5,000, madam,” said Picasso. The lady was stunned and asked how he could charge so much when it only took him 5 minutes. Picasso looked up and without missing a beat, said, “No, madam, it took me my whole life.”

Similarly your resume must indicate how your whole life has prepared you to excel in your next position. Your resume needs to take all the messy zigzags of your career and weave it into a logical, cohesive, comprehensible story about what you have achieved already, how you have progressed and what experiences you have gathered that will prepare you for your next job. So obviously it’s going to take some editing — you’ll need to decide what to put in and what to leave out.

What do you want from your next job? If you’re like most people, you might not be entirely sure. You are capable of handling many kinds of jobs. But not every job will draw out your best work or be equally satisfying. The key is to find a work environment that places a high value on what you do best. Here is how to understand your strengths:

• Think about when you were really happy at work or in a volunteer setting. The times you thoroughly enjoyed. What kinds of work gave you more energy? What activities and environments drew out your best work? What did you accomplish? Write it all down.

• You may not recognize your own strengths very well. So ask your trusted colleagues what they think your strengths are — and then believe them. Write it all down, even if you think it’s easy.

People often overlook the things they find “easy” and put more value on the skills that were harder to acquire. Employers are the opposite: They treasure and reward employees who make difficult things look easy. Employers don’t want hard work nearly as much as they want results.

So the first step in the job search is to know your strengths.