Having enjoyed the joyous experience of a complete laptop crash the other day (my machine did battle with a full glass of water — and lost!) the topic of “backing up” one’s data is painfully fresh in mind.  Luckily, I was able to resurrect all but a day or two of the information I’d lost, but still, these occasional experiences remind us that there are only two types of hard drives in the world: those that HAVE failed and those that WILL fail at some point in the future…

As a result, I thought it would be appropriate to chat a bit in today’s post about the concept of “backing up” as it relates to the career management arena.  For starters, in terms of physical computer files and such, most serious job hunters do end up accumulating a large number of important files on their hard drive ranging from their resume (including multiple versions, most likely), cover letters, networking contact information, accounting records, job search activity logs, and the like.  This data can be very hard to replace, if lost, and most people would not relish the challenge of rebuilding their resume from scratch or having to track down current contact information on all the individuals in their network.  In fact, over the years, I’ve had dozens of clients contact me in a panic asking whether I had a copy of their resume on file (which I always do, if I helped them write it) given that they had experienced a computer calamity of some kind.

The solution to this potential vulnerability?  There are many of them (tape drives, CD/DVD backups, external hard drives, prayer, etc.) and I’m sure  IT experts out there would argue the various merits of all these different possible avenues.  Speaking from personal experience, however, I’d recommend that job hunters consider using one of the many automated online backup solutions now in existence, since there are services now that allow home users to store up to 2 gigabytes of data at no charge — and these backups can be set to run invisibly in the middle of the night over your Internet connection.  This solution also has the added benefit of being off-site, so in the event that your home may become severely damaged by a fire or a flood, let’s say, your data will be safely tucked away in Kansas, or Texas, or somewhere far, far away from the danger zone.

To this end, I did a little research the other day, and have personally switched over the Mozy backup service since I liked many of the features it offers.  There are definitely other worthwhile competitors out there you could explore, however.

But let’s leave the world of bits and bytes for a second and talk about another form of “data backup” that’s fairly significant to the average professional.  For a great many people who find themselves suddenly unemployed, one of the biggest challenges they face is to actually remember what they’ve done in all of their past years on the job.  You know the feeling.  Try to recall some of your major contributions over the past year and chances are you’ll do pretty well.  But how about the year before?  Or five years ago?  Or 15 years ago, which was the last time you needed to look for a job and therefore the last time you updated your resume?  It can be excruciating to try to remember some of your key career highlights years after the fact, and yet, this information is often vital to the preparation of your resume and your ability to thrive in behavioral (i.e. example-based) interviews.

Based on this reality, I’d suggest that people follow a career management “best practice” and make a point of maintaining a master resume file that contains not only your formal one- or two-page presentation, but an extra third page (or more) where each year, you set aside time to dump in a bunch of raw text related to your key achievements over the last 365 days.  You don’t necessarily need to make it look pretty, at this point, you just need to capture some details of the projects you’ve worked on so you don’t forget them down the road.  This will make your life much easier should the time come when you need to look for a new opportunity.  You might also (within legal boundaries) purchase a thumb drive and keep a copy of any work samples or project documentation on this portable storage device, taking it home each night, just to make sure you have your essential files handy in case your access should suddenly get cut off.

In closing, in a world where computer hardware has become absurdly cheap, it’s worth placing the bulk of your attention on the one truly valuable asset you’d hate to lose — your data!