Living the Writer's Life: Donald Burns
How did your diverse career background progress into resume writing?
In 1990 — as I approached age 40 — I hated my sales-management job at Motorola. But the more I hated that job, the faster the bonuses rolled in.
Just two years earlier, I had been promoted into my dream job, an important step up the ladder. I had invested much time and energy pursuing it — up to my eyeballs in electrical engineering and MBA — but within a year, I hated my dream job, particularly contracts.
Things looked great on the surface, so bailing out seemed impossible.
I had to support a family, including my two young kids. And the idea of bailing out of Motorola would never have occurred to my father, who had worked for General Motors without even one sick day for 40 years.
My family exploded when I told them my plan to jump ship and graduate from Columbia Journalism. My “friends” fled like New York City cockroaches — fearful of catching my “mid-life disease” and going crazy themselves.
I procrastinated for about two years. Then I passed a high-intensity writing-and-reporting course at NYU’s Journalism school, which pushed me overboard into tech journalism and, later, B2B copywriting.
What kinds of writing do you do now?
My current work focuses 80% on resumes, bios, personal branding, video scripting, and anything related — including copywriting for tech start-ups (a natural extension of resume writing).
You can imagine how my own “jumping into the abyss” story resonates with my resume clients.
Many of them wrestle with the same fears I faced years ago. They’re ambitious and motivated — sometimes extremely successful — but hate working for a boss other than themselves (usually they don’t know that until I tell them). They pay me to repeat my story and hear me say, “You’re NOT crazy!”
What drew you into resume writing and career coaching?
I accidentally stumbled into resume writing in 2008, when Wall Street crashed. My main client — 80% of my work — involved Samsung (a client of mine since 1994). In late 2008, an investment banker from Lehman Brothers surprised me with a request for resume writing. My client had worked at Lehman for 20 years, and Lehman Brothers filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2008. Neither he nor I had used a resume in 20 years, so we were well matched. He loved my work and referred me to all his peers and that jump-started me into high-end resumes. After five years, I built a national reputation in the resume niche — now it’s 80% of what I do, the perfect “retirement gig.”
You do a lot of video marketing for your business. How does it fit into your marketing mix?
Video is my #1 marketing tool. I send my “A-list” a substantive video on some topic related to careers. They’re are my #1 referral source.
I also use video to introduce myself to prospects. People find my website or my LinkedIn page and — and after a few videos and a phone call — they send me an electronic payment for, say, $1,500.
And I use video for tutorial purposes — instead of explaining the same thing ad infinitum, I send prospects a link to one of my videos.
What big successes have you enjoyed so far?
Many of my clients are quoted in the business press — or I’ve seen a few on CNBC when I’m running on the treadmill in the gym. My most famous client was the head of BP — about six months after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, he left BP and I did a package for him.
What’s your advice to newcomers?
I suggest joining one of the resume-writing groups. When I got serious with resumes, I was surprised to discover this parallel universe of resume-writing associations (CDI, CTL, NRWA — and more!). You’ll learn useful shortcuts and accelerate your business. Second, enter a resume-writing competition and win awards for resume writing. Sounds crazy? There is an association and a competition for everything. If you win a bona fide contest, your phone will ring.
Donald's Living The Writer's Life story was originally published in Barefoot Writer. To learn more about how you can start living your dream writer's life too, click here.
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