Skill History and Resume Building

One of the important things to do when building your resume is to take note of the skills you learned in each position you’ve held. This is slightly different from your job description because it focuses on what you’ve learned rather than what was assigned to you. What follows is the early part of my professional bio, which is the sort of story I try to extract from resume customers. Bear with me if it’s a little longer than usual; the goal is to help you to think about your own “story” and how you can use it to craft your own resume.

That first job

For example, my first long-term job was working as a stock clerk at the Jewel/Osco Drug chain in the Chicago suburbs. “Oh, come on!” you might be thinking. “What can this possibly have to do with my technical writing resume?” Okay, if you’re in your upper 20s and beyond, you probably won’t have your high school/college job on your resume. But you still have the skill set you learned doing that job. In my case, I had six years of experience with customer service, stocking, hauling pallets, ordering, “facing” (aligning things neatly on the shelves), cleaning, running a register, handling cash, and taking inventory. A lot of that isn’t glamorous work, and odds are I came home in desperate need of a shower. But I was learning how to interact with customers, getting used to doing hard work well, and doing what I was supposed to when I was supposed to. Those are good “work ethic” skills to pick up in high school and college. Oh yeah, and I also got a paycheck, so I was able to save for college and pay for my expenses while I was there.

Getting started at Disney

Once out of college, I went to work at the Walt Disney World Resort, where my first job was in merchandise, selling t-shirts, pins, back scratchers, and other souvenirs off a cart at Epcot. I got the job by having the basic skill set and a positive attitude in the interview. Of course the job wasn’t just about rehashing the skills I’d used at Osco in a different location. I had to learn the Disney way of doing things, which included a vigorous dose of guest (not “customer”) service training. And unlike Lombard or DeKalb, Illinois, Epcot had a lot more guests from other countries to interact with, which meant applying my semi-okay Spanish or doing my best to help people who with whom I spoke no common language. It also meant learning as much about the Florida Disney property as possible. Does the guest have a trivia question? Are they looking for a particular attraction (ride), merchandise item, or place to stay? Anyone who’s heard about or taken a Disney vacation knows how complex and overwhelming it can be–and even “cast members” selling t-shirts and back scratchers are expected to absorb that kind of knowledge.

My least favorite job

While I liked working in the park, I wasn’t getting full-time hours or benefits. The Disney Resorts were offering both, so I started looking. The first place that was hiring was the front desk for Disney’s Dixie Landings Resort, now Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside. I’m not going to lie to you–and I’m sure if you asked my managers from that time, they’ll tell you as well–that job did not make me happy a lot of the time. It’s a large operation: 2,048 rooms spread over multiple buildings, with hundreds of check-ins and checkouts per day (the “record” while I was there was 1,200 out, 800 in). Male cast members wore a shirt and really ugly tie, burlap(!) vest, and blue trousers. Female cast members wore a blue dress that looked like something out of Little House on the Prairie with a bow on the back and a plaid blouse underneath. The pressure was on to be friendly yet expeditious as we checked people in, gave directions, explained theme park tickets, took payments, answered questions about the parks and the resorts, ran deliveries, and fielded complaints. In the back room, cast members answered phones, counted theme park tickets (they were paper way back when), assigned rooms, set up and monitored schedules, and handled deliveries. I recall having nightmares my first month or two in when a hospitality friend reminded me, “It’s not rocket science, it’s putting butts in beds.”

But what else was I learning? I learned, in addition to the above, how to handle complaints diplomatically, how to manage reasonable service recovery if there was a legitimate complaint, how to address large groups of people and handle crowd control, how to train others to do my job, how to supervise others, and how to interact within the larger Disney “system.” I was not always as diplomatic as I should have been and learned several painful lessons the hard way, but I did learn. I also learned, after checking in several dozen people a day for months at a time, that I was an introvert because after all that time being sociable and nice with the guests, I had very little energy for being social after work. However, I also made my best friends at Disney in that job as we all faced the excitement together.

Wearing my own necktie

It’s a different experience moving from the “front line” area of Disney where you’re wearing a “costume” (not a uniform–yet another piece of Disney Tradition) to an area where you’re still wearing the oval name tag and your own professional clothing. I spent nine months in Group Reservations, handling hotel bookings for conventions and weddings. This work involved many of the same challenges as the front desk without the face-to-face interactions. The job required a lot of attention to detail as well as a lot of diplomacy–imagine having to tell the mother of a bride that she can’t book the room she wants because the block is full.

I was hauled back to the front desk for a month or so before I got my first writing job, Guest Communications. While Disney doesn’t like to say the word, it was in effect the complaint letter department. This was a great education in corporate public relations and in observing how individuals argued their case when they had a complaint. While I handled the letters for Dixie Landings and Port Orleans (now Port Orleans French Quarter), I also inherited the “miscellaneous” pile–letters that applied to multiple parts of the WDW Resort or asked esoteric trivia. The job exposed me to working with a database, which I was able to write the training manual for as a grad school project.

All of this experience–these skills–came before I ever got an actual tech writing position. In part 2 of this discussion, I’ll discuss skills I acquired in the actual technical communication business. What I wanted to lay out here for those of you looking to get an entry-level position in the field is that the aptitudes and attitudes you pick up in previous jobs can and do serve you well as you move from one field to another. It’s all a matter of how you look at it.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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