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Steph Cartwright: “Remember that busy doesn’t mean successful”

Busy doesn’t mean successful. I spent my first couple of years focusing on being busy rather than setting actionable goals. Learning how to prioritize work, manage my time, and be productive instead of busy made the second biggest shift in my company’s success. As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had […]

Busy doesn’t mean successful. I spent my first couple of years focusing on being busy rather than setting actionable goals. Learning how to prioritize work, manage my time, and be productive instead of busy made the second biggest shift in my company’s success.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steph Cartwright, a Certified Professional Resume Writer and the founder of Off The Clock Resumes. Since 2014, she’s been helping job seekers get hired faster by creating resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and cover letters that present them as the best fit for the job that they want. Steph is certified by the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches and an active member of the National Resume Writers’ Association.


Thank you so much for doing this with us, Steph! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Yes, and thank you for the opportunity to share my story with your readers!

My story starts as a serial job seeker. I jumped from customer service, hospitality, and office administration jobs as I chipped away at a two-year liberal arts degree. I postponed a four-year college experience because I had no idea what direction I wanted to go in for my career. I knew I was a strong writer and loved writing, but I didn’t know how I should translate that into a career.

I started freelance writing in my free time, tried a little bit of everything from website copywriting to manuscript editing, and still struggled to find that niche that was going to give me a sense of purpose and fulfillment. I found most of my writing gigs on freelance websites like Upwork, but I’d occasionally scroll through Craigslist for local full-time jobs. Again, I was a serial job seeker.

I fell into resume writing completely by accident. I came across a Craigslist ad looking for freelance resume writers, no experience needed and as many projects as I wanted to take on each week. I realized that my resume had never failed to get me the job that I wanted, so I gave it a try.

I realized that the training videos used to get “no-experience-needed” resume writers up to par only scratched the surface, so I sought out experts and organizations in the career services field to learn as much as I could on my own. The more I learned, the more I loved resume writing and the more I disagreed with the business model and client communication practices enforced by the resume company I was freelancing for. I took on a few clients independently, friends of friends and family members, but I wasn’t fully committed to a career in resume writing yet.

I was still working a comfortable, full-time office administration job when I was contacted by someone on LinkedIn who wanted me to join his startup as a writer. I’d be ghostwriting his book, writing articles and website copy, and managing the startup’s social media which I thought was my dream job at the time. Two weeks in, I realized the startup was a scam. I had to choose between groveling for my unfulfilling office job back or dive headfirst into launching my resume writing business.

I launched Off The Clock Resumes in 2014, and I’ve enjoyed helping others land new and better jobs that give them a sense of purpose and fulfillment ever since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

A few years ago I was starting a resume project for a Program Manager targeting a job at Amazon, and I was shocked to hear her say she was referred to me by multiple people she had spoken to at Amazon. I attract about half of my clients through word-of-mouth, so having my company’s name floating around a large tech company like Amazon is exciting.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Yes, my first client independent of the company I was freelancing for was a referral from a co-worker at my full-time job. I was told by my co-worker that he was in his 70’s and was returning to work after a decade or so of retirement. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I was given a previous resume and questionnaires to work with for freelance projects, but this client had never had a resume before. The cherry on top of an already challenging situation was that he wanted to change careers, and, at that time, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make a 30-year career in mining and retirement hobbies relevant for a sales job.

I had no idea what questions to ask or how to structure an interview with him. He brought me notes that he had written up with what cars he’d owned, his skills with his iPhone, and anything else he could think of that might be helpful. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.

I managed to create a decent resume for him that landed him the job that he wanted, but I learned right away that knowing the right questions to ask a client is critical to learning and retelling their unique story in a way that presents him or her as the best fit for the job that they want.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I don’t outsouce any of my client projects. When you work with Off The Clock Resumes, you’re working with me through every step of the process.

When I started Off The Clock Resumes, I was in my early twenties and feared that I was underqualified in every way. I made the mistake of thinking that my clients would only take me seriously if I looked like a big, established corporation even though I was a one-woman-show behind the scenes. In the last year or two, I’ve started to embrace being the face of my company. I’ve added more photos of me to the website, shared more vulnerable stories on social media, and noticed that job seekers are reaching out to me more frequently as a result.

Many of those job seekers have just worked with a big, established corporation that handed them off from one person conducting their intake interview to another for the writing process and another for general customer service like an assembly line. I’m answering your questions on Facebook and Instagram. I’m taking your calls. I’m reviewing your resume, writing your first draft and revisions, and available for updates throughout your career.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’ve been working on a handful of different projects to communicate the importance of your digital footprint and networking at all stages of your career. Artificial intelligence and automation are rapidly changing hiring processes and the job search overall. LinkedIn is the industry leader, so job seekers need to have a profile and learn how to actively use the site. Even if you aren’t looking for a job right now, you can be working on boosting your profile and growing your network before you need it.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Delegating responsibilities in a way that maximizes each team member’s strengths is essential. Positive encouragement and on-going support are other keys to success in helping a team thrive.

While not a traditional team, this has been my experience with the National Resume Writers’ Association. I don’t see other members as industry competitors. The community is not only helpful, uplifting, and supportive but routinely refers clients to others within the organization in the best interest of the client. We each have our strengths and recognize when someone else may be a better fit for that person’s background, field, industry, career goals, special circumstances, and so on.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I can’t stress enough the importance of communication. A high-performance team needs to know and understand the company’s overall mission, vision, and immediate goals as well as specifically how each role contributes. The most effective way to communicate this is by considering yourself part of the team rather than above the team.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mom has been an amazing support and sounding board. My first encounter with entrepreneurship was my mom. She started her bookkeeping business as a full-time working mom, owned and operated various businesses since then, and makes it look easy. She’s always had great advice to help me navigate challenges and has been a cheerleader through it all, the rough months and record-breaking months.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

When I can improve a person’s life with a resume or LinkedIn profile, it’s amazing. It can manifest in different ways: a pay increase that changes their family’s livelihood, a better job-person fit that gives that client a sense of purpose and fulfillment that they were missing before, a boost in confidence in their own strengths and accomplishments, and so on.

It’s absolutely miserable feeling stuck in a job that doesn’t maximize your strengths or undervalues your efforts. Feeling stuck in your job search adds even more frustration and discouragement. Getting unstuck in your job search and, in turn, your career can have a cascading effect on your life. I love when I can be a part of that.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1 | You’ll be forced outside of your comfort zone. I’m not great with numbers, and I’m intimidated by legal-ese. I’ve had to learn about accounting, finance, taxes, and business law to grow this business the right way. I’ve had help along the way, but it wasn’t easy for me.

2 | A big corporate image isn’t always the most effective branding or marketing strategy in a service-based industry. I already mentioned this, but trying to do what you think everyone else is doing or blend in didn’t work for me. My company struggled until I embraced being the face of my company and refined my end-to-end client experience.

3 | It can be lonely being responsible for your own company. I wish I had joined professional associations, attended conferences, and met others in my field sooner. Having a community of support, even if it’s a geographically dispersed community, made the biggest shift in my company’s success.

4 | Busy doesn’t mean successful. I spent my first couple of years focusing on being busy rather than setting actionable goals. Learning how to prioritize work, manage my time, and be productive instead of busy made the second biggest shift in my company’s success.

5 | The company shouldn’t be a 24/7 priority. I learned this the hard way in the last year when stress became debilitating anxiety. You can’t serve your clients, team, spouse, or family if you can’t take care of yourself. Setting boundaries that give you time for self-care and relationships outside of work should be non-negotiable.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

So few people I speak with recognize and want to share accomplishments in their careers. There’s this negative connotation around ambition, achievements, and even celebrating the small advances toward achieving goals professionally. It sounds like bragging. It sounds arrogant. It’s not significant enough to matter.

I’d want to inspire a movement that eradicates this negativity toward growth and success.

Instead of comparing yourself to others, tearing yourself down, or discrediting what you have achieved in your current role because you think it’s insignificant, look at the facts. Recognize your value. Don’t be ashamed of taking pride in what you’ve accomplished.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Great things never came from comfort zones.” Another way I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone is in marketing. Those who know me well know that I’m a private person, and I’ve struggled with social media personally and professionally. I’m also a perfectionist so video marketing has also been a challenge for me, but I’m getting better at it. Overall, stepping out of my comfort zone has allowed me to learn new skills and grow as a person.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’d love to hang out with Rachel Hollis. When I read her books, I related to her in so many ways and felt like she was speaking to me directly. She’s so passionate, genuine, and inspiring. Those are the people you should surround yourself with.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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