Albert Einstein's genius extended in many directions, including how to write. Einstein gave this advice: "If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to to the tailor."
In my writing, I try to use language that is plain and direct. Too often, I read resumes that are cluttered with details that are not relevant to hiring managers. In many cases, clients use jargon that will only be understood by their current employer, the job they want to leave. How can you avoid this problem? Read what you write through the eyes of you intended audience. For resumes, that means recruiters and hiring managers. Use language that speaks to what they need and understand. Simple and clear wins the day.
I was recently working with a client I'll call Mary. She was very worried about having been out of work for two years while she was an at home parent. Following the advice of a resume book, Mary wanted to "hide" her time out of work by talking about volunteer work that was unrelated to her career in sales. I told her that this was a bad idea. Instead, we used one line to inform potential employers why Mary was out of work and what she was doing. The rest of her resume focused on her 10 year career in sales and her many achievements. Most employers will understand that some very good employees take time off to care for children or sick relatives. Rather than telling them about experience that has nothing to do with the job they need to fill. Mary was focused in her job search, and she landed a job in a little over a month.
Employers screen and read resumes with one question in mind: Can you do the job? Any information that you include that is not relevant to that question brings your resume closer and closer to the recycling pile. The biggest mistake I see in resume clients bring me is dated information from early career jobs or school. You might be very proud of the study abroad you did 10 years ago. However, most employers will not care. If you’ve been in the workforce for more than 10-15 years, most employers don’t care about early jobs. Finally, many job seekers add technical skills to their resume without taking off software that is outdated or programs they can no longer use. Keep your resume focused on what you are doing now and what is relevant to the employers’ needs. Everything else? Hit the delete key.
Recently, I met with Jake (not his real name), a mid-career sales professional, who said he wanted a basic resume. Jake told me, “The facts speak for themselves.” It’s not that simple.
I want to be honest in representing clients, but it’s important to do so in a way that highlights each individual’s qualifications and strengths. The resume also needs to show qualifications for the job you are applying for. Too often, clients have given me resumes that are very detailed – very factual – about jobs they want to leave behind. A good resume will demonstrate what you can do for your next employer, not the last one.
I worked with Jake, and together we produced a strong document that will speak to the kind of employers he wants to work for. Because we’ve called out some of his strongest selling points, we’ve taken the facts and made them show Jake’s value over other applicants. If you can do that, the phone will ring.
Soft skills are qualities that reflect what kind of employee you will be. In reviewing job posts, I found that employers are looking for employees who are self-motivated. Here are a few suggestions of ways to present yourself on resumes and in interviews as an employee who doesn't need to be told what to do.
1. Tell a story that begins with these words: "I took the initiative to. . ." or "I volunteered to. . ."
2. Talk about a time you saw a problem and fixed it.
3. Use the word the employer is looking for: "Demonstrated leadership and self-motivation by . . ."
Every boss dreams about having employees who know who to do the job and care about what they do. If you can communicate that you are this type of person (and you have the right kind of experience and hard skills), you will get the employer's attention and be well on the way to a job offer.
Some people say always at the end.
Some say always at the beginning.
I say: "Be suspicious of people who say 'always.'" They usually follow rules without having any reason for doing so.
I put education where it does the most to help a client look like a highly qualified candidate. In most cases where a client has relevant experience, education goes last. However, if a candidate has recently received a new degree or certificate that enhances her marketability, why not put that information first? Similarly, most new graduates should have education as the first element on their resume because that is their primary selling point. But this is not always the case. Some new graduates have worked while in school and have relevant experience. In those cases, education should be placed after experience.
My simple rule is: What does the employer want to see? Put those elements first.
Huffington Post tells the story of Jose’ Zamora who found a job by changing the name on his resume. Calling himself Joe rather than Jose, Zamora started getting calls on his resume. I have recommended that some clients follow a similar strategy. As the article states, people with more common names tend to be called more often, as much as 50% more. Some people are reluctant to change their names, and I respect their opinion. However, as Joe Zamora’s story shows, a small change can make the phone ring
Clients often ask me to look at cover letters. In most cases, the problem is the same: Too much detail that repeats what is in the resume. A cover letter is a business document that introduces whatever it is sent with. For example, a cover letter sent by a bill collector would tell you that you have to pay a bill. A marketing cover letter would tell you why you should read a pamphlet or other brochure that is enclosed or attached.
If you’re looking for work, a cover letter should introduce your resume. Keep it short and touch on key selling points that the employer is looking for. I also like to include soft skills that are often hard to convey on a resume. For example, a cover letter is a good place to talk about being self-motivated, paying attention to detail, or describing your personality or work ethic.
If it’s true that employers scan resumes in a few seconds, why are they going to take the time to read a thick cover letter?
I was discussing revisions with a client, and he said, "Clay, I want to add some bullets." I asked why and he didn't have a good reason. Many resumes are nothing more than point after point, bullet after bullet.
When I write a resume, I use a paragraph to describe job duties and bullets to call out achievements. I'll also use bullets at the top of a resume to call out key words/skills. My problem with the all-bullet resume is that it gives an illusion of order when the opposite is often true. Some people have told me, "bullets are easier to read." That's not true. When we read a paragraph, we know how to move from sentence to sentence quickly, skimming a document. We've been reading that way since the second grade. Bullets meant to make us stop. A resume that has too many bullets is actually harder to read because it is constantly telling the reader to stop, stop, and stop. If all bullet documents were easier to read, why are books, newspapers, magazines, and letters still written in a paragraph style?
Well used, bullets are a good tool for formatting any document. They should be used to call out as items of equal or similar performance and used to make it easier to read a document. If you're using a bullet to format a document, know how and why you are using it. Have a reason. "I read it on the Internet" is not a good reason.
Every job posting asks for a combination of experience, knowledge, skill, and education. Another way to think about this is "weight." The employer wants to know that you can carry the load of a given job. For example, an entry level job will ask for less weight than one that looks for 3-5 years experience or a background supervising or training employees. In writing your resume or presenting yourself at an interview, you need to be able to show how and why you are qualified to do the job. Look carefully at job posts for positions you are seeking and identify the kind of weight the employer is seeking. Show that you can carry the load.
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