The BIGGEST mistake to avoid before you update your resume — Don’t do this one thing

Sarabeth Berk, Ph.D.
4 min readNov 16, 2020

(This piece of advice is for professionals of all types — experts, generalists, and definitely hybrid professionals.)

You’re looking for a new job — maybe you haven’t needed to apply for awhile — and what’s the first thing you think to do? For most people, it’s updating or rewriting their resume.

Since resumes are required for most job applications, this makes sense. But, this is NOT the first place to start.

The major mistake professionals make who are on the job hunt is jumping straight into resume updates. Of course, you’ll need to polish all of your resume sections eventually, except you’re skipping a really key step if you go straight to this. And, most career advisors and resume writers don’t talk about this step even though they’re helping you do it!

Instead of starting with your resume, do this.

Step one, clarify your work identity. Step two, update your resume to reflect who you are at work.

For anyone on a nonlinear career path (isn’t that everyone these days?), a work identity recalibration (or even makeover) is in order on a regular basis. Just like getting an annual checkup, or doing spring cleaning or a little home remodel, our work identities need tuneups as well.

The step BEFORE updating your resume is getting clear on who are you NOW. Whether it’s been 5 months or 5 years since changing jobs, your professional identity shifts as you accumulate more experience and expertise. Hybrid professionals have multiple areas of expertise and knowledge, so their hybridity likely changes over time as a result of acquiring more career capital.

Your professional identity is what you call yourself in your work.

Just because your last two titles were Director of X and Director of Y doesn’t mean you were directing the same things. You’re not just a “director.” What type of director are you? Would you rather call yourself something more than a director, like idea architect? Is that more accurate for you? In all likelihood, you’ve been more than your job titles all along. So what does that make you? Who are you really?

When a recruiter or hiring manager looks at your resume for the first time (and probably for 10 seconds), they’ll see your name and your work history and quickly try to put a picture together of WHO they think you are. Instead, make things more efficient by directly stating how you want them to see you. You can write a title for yourself at the top of your resume, beneath your name (see my post on resumes) so that from the first second they have a title to associate you with.

Be weary of taking the easy road and using generic titles. Calling yourself a “Leader, Program Manager, Operations Specialist” doesn’t say much about you. Spend time really thinking about who you are and what you’ve been doing over the course of your work history. The words you choose matter. They convey something. Pick ones that really capture your unique strengths and talents. (See examples of other hybrid professionals).

In my case, I place my hybrid title of Creative Disruptor at the top of my resume because it sets the stage and establishes a through line of how all my professional experience fits together. Plus, it’s how I see myself and want to be known. Then, my work experiences support my creative disruptor label and my accomplishments echo it as well. My hybrid title becomes the frame for how I present myself for future jobs. I don’t let a recruiter try to decipher me. Let’s be honest, my work history is complicated. There’s a lot of explaining to do and reading between the lines. I leave the guesswork out of it and lead with my identity.

“Your professional identity is the first piece to focus on when embarking on a job search or career transition. You have to make sense of who you are before you’ll make sense to other people. If you can’t clearly explain what you do, how are other people going to understand you?”


I’ve spoken with resume writers about this topic, and they agree. It’s hard for them to work with clients who don’t know themselves. They can’t make your resume shine without your self-awareness of who you are. The resume is a tool that reflects you, and you are not just a list of bullet points.

My advice to you

Spend time analyzing, self-reflecting, and mapping out your professional identity before jumping into your resume (this is what the first three steps are about in my hybrid professional identity workbook). If you need more help redefining your professional identity, then reach out to me. I’d be happy to answer questions. The importance of professional identity is what I’ve been studying for years because I see it is imperative yet hardly discussed in the workforce.

Your professional identity is a label you give yourself to tell future employers. Saying, “Hi, I’m a Head of Sales and a Product Manager” does not have the same compelling ring to it as an introduction that goes “Hi, I’m a Creative Disruptor and I lead innovation strategies in radical ways.” How are you going to craft your professional identity to pitch yourself? Put that in your resume.

(This post was orginally posted on



Sarabeth Berk, Ph.D.

Creative Disruptor I Innovation Strategist I Systems Builder #MoreThanMyTitle #HybridProfessional