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 Finally, many job seekers add technical skills to their resume without taking off software that is outdated or programs they can no longer use.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.
I was called recently by a client I’ll call Mary. Mary first worked with me over ten years ago when she first graduated from college with a degree in Marketing. Her first jobs focused on creative functions. Mary was talented and quickly became a manager. However, she also learned the ins and outs of how companies sell online. Two years ago Mary was promoted to Director of E commerce for a company that sells exclusively over the internet. Almost without knowing it, Mary changed careers.
Last week I talked with Mary about updating her resume. She knows her industry very well and decided to have three different version of the resume. In one, she will make a lateral move and pursue a position as Director of E commerce. To give herself more opportunities, Mary will also pursue positions as a Website Director, a position which would give her full responsibility for the website, not just E commerce. Finally, Mary also could use her technical skills as Director of Optimization, a position that focus on improving how customers move on a website, especially in getting them to purchase products instead of leaving them in the digital shopping cart.
Mary’s story is a good example of someone who is managing her career, not just looking for a job. She understands how technology has changed. By learning how the technology works, she has given herself more opportunities. Is there a similar opportunity in your industry? Have you learned new skills or mastered a new technology that opens new career paths?
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.
What is the most important element on your resume? Contact information.
If an employer cannot reach you because your phone number or email are incorrect, it will probably move on to the nest resume. Take an extra minute to review your contact information. Make sure it is correct and easy to read. This is especially true of email addresses. I recently had trouble sending email to a client because she used zero after a letter. I assumed it was the letter O. If need be, change the font or font size so it is easy for someone to read your email address. After you check your phone number, test your voice mail or answering machine. If an employer calls and finds that your message box is full or that you have not set up you message box, you might be losing an opportunity.
Finding a job is never easy. Don't make it even harder by making it hard for employers to reach you. Check your contact information, and make sure that your voice mail works.
Clients often tell me how much they hate networking. They don’t want to ask anyone to help them find a job. I agree with them for a very different reason. No one wants to be asked in such a direct way. I recommend that you start your networking campaign by identifying people who know your work and want to help you. This group can include relatives and friends. Try to meet with your network contacts for lunch or coffee in a space where you can be relaxed and have a conversation.
Start by explaining your situation and what you are looking for. If you are changing careers, be sure that you talk about how your new role will be related what you have done in the past. Now is the time to start networking. Begin with this question: “Based on your experiences with me, what advice would you give me in starting this job search?” Listen carefully and take notes. Some people will be slow to respond. Try to warm them up by asking follow up questions that remind them how they have worked with you or how they know about your skills.
If a network contact mentions a company or a person, then it is fair game to ask for a favor. Don’t start by pushing a resume. Find out if they know anyone at the company they’ve mentioned or if they would introduce you to the person they know. Remember that your contact is doing you a favor and try to follow their advice.
Networking is never easy, and it is often frustrating. At the same time, it is often the best way to have access to jobs that you will never find online. Don’t be afraid to ask people to help you, but, at the same time, remember to help them. Networking is a two street, and – with a little luck – it can lead to a new job and better career.
One of my clients is worried about getting laid off. Three people in is his department have been let go. They are all higher paid employees age 50+ who have been with the company for more than ten years. He has been with the company for 15 years and makes more money than the people who have been let go. His boss has reassured him that his job is not in danger, but my client knows that his former co-workers were told similar words of encouragement.
Could my client take action against his employer for age discrimination if he’s laid off? He could, but he doesn’t want to go through the hassle. What he’s doing instead is being proactive in updating his resume and starting a job search before he gets bad news. He’s not happy with the way the company has changed and would probably want to look for a new job even if he wasn’t worried about getting a pink slip. His income has been flat over the past few years. The best way for him to get ahead is to find something new. Don’t look back unless you’re doing so to move forward.
Should the language of a resume be specific or general? Really, this isn’t a good question. The language of a resume should fit the kind of job you are applying for. It should show how you are qualified to fill the level of responsibility that the employer needs. Sometimes the terms will be broader. If you’re looking for a sales job that cuts across different industries, you will talk about sales in more general language. However, if you’re only seeking a sales job in IT, your language needs to reflect your background in that industry. That language needs to be more specific.
Beware of simply taking the job description for your current job and repeating it point by point. That language works for the job you are leaving, but it doesn’t show your next employer how you fit her needs. I recommend gathering 5-10 posts for the kind of job you’ll be seeking. Write your resume to appeal to the needs of these employers, speak to their key words, and match your technical skills to what you see in the job posts. A good review of the job posts will tell you how specific or general the language in your resume needs to be.
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