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Demonstration Speaks Louder Than Words
I had a client this week who was concerned that the new resume we were going to develop for him to communicate to the reader his unique personality. He said, “The key to my sales abilities is my personality. I interview very well. I’ve never been on an interview where I didn’t win the offer. My problem has been trying to capture that personality in the resume. I just haven’t been able to get it across, at least not to where it makes the phone ring.”
I found this an interesting comment because it showed several misconceptions that most job seekers have about the resume and how it works for them. The first misconception they have is that they can effectively communicate something that is intangible in their resumes – personality. Sure, it’s possible to get style woven into a resume and it’s important for the resume to be written in a tone that is similar to the client’s, but really being able to communicate a personality in a resume is very difficult.
The second misconception is that employers want to know all the nuances of personality before they can make a decision to call a candidate. Employers are primarily concerned about the results a candidate can achieve. They look for information concerning past performance in the resume as it relates to achievements, job scope, education, etc. Past performance gives them clues to future performance (kind of like mutual funds). If the employer is impressed with the performance that shows in the resume, they will set up an interview. It is in the interview that the personality is gauged. Only in the interview can personality traits be shown to the employer – not in the resume.
The third misconception is that soft skills like ethical behavior, communication, honesty, etc. can be described by stringing adjectives together. For example, the phrase “Strategic thinker with well-developed, intuitive communication skills, strong organizational abilities, and keen negotiation skills” is a typical sentence we see in summary sections that are written by job seekers. In this sentence, there are eight adjectives. There are only fourteen words total. All those adjectives strung together in noun phrases do not have any power. It’s overkill.
Soft skills like “detail-oriented” and “strategic thinking” should be anchored to results. For example, an accountant who had worked in auditing could say “Identified $200K in fraudulent expenses through detailed investigation of budgetary line items.” This SHOWS detail-oriented skills rather than just claiming them.
Many people throw high-sounding adjective-heavy noun phrases in a resume but don’t think about if they truly apply. They sound good so they must be effective. Unfortunately, most of these phrases are so overused that they are becoming trite and have lost their impact. It also sets my teeth on edge when I read “detail-oriented” in the summary and then identify 23 mechanical errors in the document ranging from misspellings to verb tense shift. That is why demonstrating evidence of the soft skills through the results achieved is always better than just claiming the skill by itself. If you demonstrate it, it has more power.
He Wants a Management Position
As part of the resume development process, we pay particular attention to the clients’ goals and job search target because we write very strategic resumes designed to hit their mark. If we don’t know what the mark is, it’s difficult to construct a resume that works for the client. Most of the time, the client has a good idea what type of position he or she is seeking. It seems that the more senior the client, the clearer the target or, at least, the better the client is able to communicate his goal to us.
Occasionally, we will have a client like Jim (not his real name) that has particular trouble enunciating his job search goal. Here is the conversation we recently had with Jim.
REZ: So Jim, tell me what you type of job you are targeting.
Jim: I was thinking a management position.
REZ: Okay, can you be more specific?
Jim: I want to manage an operation.
REZ: What kind of operation?
Jim: Something that is customer-centric and progressive.
REZ: Your experience has been in corporate IT training. Are you targeting something along those lines?
Jim: I’ve worked with a lot of organizations in developing their internal training programs. Several of them are interesting. I’d like to target some of them.
REZ: And those would be….?
Jim: Oh, some Fortune 1000 organizations. I’m particularly interested in companies in the Southwest.
REZ: Okay, maybe I’m not making myself understood. Jim, what industry are you targeting? ALL industries have management positions. Can you be specific?
Jim: I’d like something in sales.
REZ: Let me clarify what you’ve told me. You want a management position in some kind of sales with a progressive, customer-centric Fortune 1000 organization located in the Southwest.
Jim: That’s right.
REZ: Jim, have you had any sales experience? I don’t see anything in your information or on your old resume that shows you’ve been in marketing and sales.
Jim: No, but I have worked with many sales forces in my career. I know how to manage people. I have an MBA. That should be a good start.
You get the gist of the conversation. It didn’t improve much from there. “Management” isn’t an industry! It is a function! Sales is a function! Sales is not an industry! When you are considering your job search, don’t just think in terms of job titles and job function. Think industry! Think knowledge base! Think skills!
Duck and Cover - The Bullets Are Flying
Today, I saw a “first” in my twelve-plus years of resume writing – a resume that had numbered bullets. The summary section had eight bulleted items in two columns, and each bullet had its own number. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more bullet-riddled resume, either. The job seeker had quite gotten carried away with the bullet feature and “shot” his resume to death.
Bullets are great little design elements that allow certain bits of information to be separated from the rest of the document. The purpose of bullets is to draw attention to the information next to which they are positioned. Too many bullets, though, and you lose the effect that bullets were meant to achieve. Often, I will see all the information in a resume bulleted out resulting in long lists of sentences. In those situations, the bullets are useless for drawing attention and simply mark the beginning of the next sentence.
There are some rules for using bullets that job seekers need to attend to when working with the content of their resumes.
Select the information that is to be bulleted. Never bullet job description because description is better read in text form (like a paragraph). Instead, use bullets to draw attention to the important information like achievements and results-statements.
No more than five-in-a-row. If you have more information than five bullets will cover, reconsider either the information or the need for bullets. Long lists of bulleted items are not effective in grabbing the reader’s attention.
Don’t mix your bullets. Be consistent in the type of bullet you use all the way through the document. Don’t mix round dots with squares, or checkmarks with diamonds. Keep them all the same.
Don’t bullet your bullets (or number them either, for that matter). A resume is not an outline so you won’t have big bullets with sub-bullets and sub-sub-bullets. Use one set of bullets. If you feel like you have more information that needs to be sub-bulleted, reconsider your information; you are probably getting too wordy.
Keep bullet statements short. Don’t bullet a sentence that is more than two lines long. That’s not a bullet item. Shorten it to the main idea and save the description for the interview. Paragraphs should never be bulleted and neither should job titles. Lists such as technical skills or classes may be bulleted but keep the list short.
Don’t get goofy with your bullets. Keep the animated finger that points to the information out of the resume. You can stick with the standard bullets or you can create your own using the Insert Symbol tool. There are some neat little symbols that can be used very nicely for bullets and make your resume different.
Predators and Prey
I had a great opportunity yesterday to be present at the release into the wild of a rehabilitated red-tailed hawk. The bird had been hit by a car several weeks previously and had had to have surgery to pin its wing back together. After several weeks in “hawk ICU” the bird was well, recuperated, and ready to go back to the wild. I was invited by the rehabilitators to watch as they released the bird and I gladly accepted because it was such a unique event.
Prior to release, the bird was transported to a rural area in a cardboard pet carrier. To say this large bird of prey with a wingspan of about three feet didn’t like being cooped up in a box was an understatement. The bird was mad! Upon arrival at the release site, the box was opened and pointed away from the crowd (so no one ended up with a face full of mad red-tailed hawk). The bird jumped out, took two running steps and flew to a nearby chestnut tree.
It perched on a large branch and looked around at the new surroundings. After several weeks in a small cage, the sense of freedom must have been delicious. She sat on the branch looking at everything around her and casting disparaging glares back at us humans every few minutes. After about five minutes, the other feathered wildlife discovered her and sounded the alarm. Shortly, the bluejays and the mockingbirds were organizing a defense and started swooping down on the hawk and pecking her on the top of her head. My thought for the songbirds was, “If you knew what kind of a day that hawk had, you wouldn’t be within reach of those talons.”
The hawk hung around the area for about an hour, moving from one tree to another, finally making some sort of peace with the tiny songbirds. Just as dusk was approaching, she took wing and flew out across the valley to find a quiet place to roost for the night and to start her new life in the wild. As I was watching her sail off on those magnificent wings, I thought how she represented some of the clients we work with. These clients are hawkish in their ability to get the job done, are not liked sometimes by co-workers who don’t have the same standards for excellence, and tend to go their own way, moving through their career with great success and determination. They are survivors who have great resiliency and are respected by their superiors for their keen eye for solutions to problems. They don’t rely on birdfeeders to provide their meals – they go out, hunt down their prey, and kill it to provide for themselves and their families. They are aggressive, smart, and masters of their domains.
Are you a hawk or are you a mockingbird?
Positive Resume Comments
I always ask clients if they have been using their old resume and how it’s working for them in the job search. This gives me a better picture of their efforts to date and usually leads them to telling me more in detail about their career targets. One of the most common comments I receive is “I’ve gotten a lot of positive comments but no interviews.”
Okay, people, allow me to clue you in on a little secret. Positive comments on a resume are generally a nice way for the hiring manager to say the resume doesn’t excite him. I would rather have a resume inspire enthusiasm and further discussion instead of generating “positive comments”. Many people also say they have shown the resume to friends and relatives and they have had nice things to say about it. Unless the friend or relative is actually in a position to hire you, it does not matter what he/she has to say about the resume.
My team and I perform free resume reviews every day. We strive to provide comments in our resume reviews that are accurate, helpful, and to-the-point. Many of our comments are not positive but they are always specific. We don’t review resumes to make the job seeker feel good. We review them for potential effectiveness in the job search.
Occasionally, we will have someone who has sent his resume to us for a free resume review get his feathers ruffled because we didn’t laud it with positive comments but rather gave him specific guidance on what needed to be improved. That’s understandable; the resume represents the job seeker and criticism of the resume feels like criticism of the job seeker. It’s an emotional response. Criticism of a marketing document, though, is not criticism of what is being marketed. We do not review a job seeker’s career potential or career value. We review how effectively and aggressively that value is being marketed via the resume.
In writing, marketing, and pretty much any profession, a hallmark of a true professional is if he can hear criticism of his work, view it objectively, and take action to improve based on recommendations. If you are your own harshest critic, all other input will seem less threatening. Clients who send us their resumes for a free resume review aren’t professional career marketers. They only have to conduct a job search every few years so they don’t have much practice in writing resumes. On the other hand, we write resumes every day and we know what works and what doesn’t work. We offer our experience and knowledge free in the form of free resume reviews. We offer it but we can’t make the job seeker take it. It is up to the job seeker to consider the suggestions we make and decide on a course of action.
Recipients of our free resume reviews get specific comment on various aspects of their resumes including comments on content, mechanics, design/format, strategy, and effectiveness. We could be like other services and give vague comments alluding to insignificant issues, but that would be a disservice to the job seekers who need sound advice and direction about their resumes. Our resume reviews are like the resumes we develop – effective, aggressive, and pointed. We are not engaged in handing out positive comments in our free resume reviews for the sake of making people feel good. We are here to help.
Is your resume on a diet? It probably is. Most resumes I see that are submitted for review are either on a diet or should be on a diet. When I say “on a diet” I mean that the resume is thin – thin in information that is useful to the reader. Most job seekers believe if they just put down the basics on the resume, that is all that is needed. Unfortunately, the basics won’t sell well against other well-qualified candidates that do a much better job communicating their value.
When constructing a resume, it is important to do several things all at once. You must engage the reader so he/she will become interested in finding out more about your qualifications. You must describe your background, level of responsibility, and scope of work vividly without being verbose or over-dramatic. You must show the reader how you have made a difference for the good for each of your employers. You must show the reader the level of performance you have demonstrated. And finally, you must do all this better than the other candidates against whom you are competing and whom are just as qualified (perhaps even more so) as you. That’s a tall order.
Most people don’t think about this when constructing their own resumes. They struggle simply to get down the what, when, and where of their careers. Never mind the how and the why. As a result of this struggle and inattention to content strategy, most resumes are skinny and thin. They don’t offer much meat to the reader and don’t generate any excitement or interest.
On the flip side is the resume that needs to be on a diet. Such a resume is usually constructed by someone who knows there should be some strategy in what is included, what is excluded, and how to put it all together but hasn’t the foggiest idea where to begin. The job seeker who experiences this struggle often wrestles with the resume for hours and hours only to give up in the end and just put everything in the resume. The job seeker hopes he/she covers everything and hasn’t left out one minor detail that might make the difference in winning the interview. The result is a resume that is fat, overloaded with unnecessary information, and drones on and on, relentlessly describing minute details that have no relevance to the job seeker’s goal.
Strategy is key to constructing a powerful, effective resume. Choosing what content to include and how to write it is very important. Usually, the simpler the language used in the resume, the better. You don’t want complex sentences with high readability levels because it makes it hard to read quickly. An employer may have several minutes to read a report but he/she will only have a few seconds to glance at a resume. Don’t bog him down with $3 words when simpler words would work much better.
A resume needs to be a lean, mean sales machine. Every word should have a direct contribution toward winning the interview. The organization and order of the content should have strategy behind it. All the mechanical issues such as spelling, punctuation and capitalization should be correct and top-quality. Remember, the resume isn’t a biography – it’s a sales brochure for your career.
Do you know where you are going in your career? Do you know where you have been? It is important to have an objective in mind when preparing your resume but that goal should not appear on the resume in the form of a category named “Objective”. When making a career change, you must have a goal or a target in mind in terms of job type, industry, salary level, responsibility level, and maybe even geographic area. These specifics are important because they give you a target. It is not necessary, however, to write an objective statement for the resume. It is better to prepare an executive summary for the resume that sells your best assets right up front.
We always pay particular attention to the goals of our clients because we cannot devise a career marketing strategy unless we know what the target is for the client. Occasionally we will have a client say “I don’t know what I want to do. Something in sales would be nice.” If the client cannot be more specific than this, there is not anything we can do as far as the resume goes. Now, there is a lot we can do in regard to career coaching for indecisive clients but that’s another article. You must have a target if you are going to hit it. You must know what your objective is in your immediate career goals in order to construct the resume to support that objective.
Why not have an objective on the resume? Here’s an example of the typical objective we see on self-written resumes-- “Sales management professional with proven track record seeks position with opportunity for growth with a progressive company.” That stinks. It is vague. It is trite. It is pretty much useless.
Objectives are inherently weak because they don’t support the goal of the resume which is to sell the job seeker’s assets to the employer. The resume is a sales and marketing document, like a brochure. It speaks to the employer on how the job seeker can fill the position, do the job, meet the employer’s needs, and solve the employer’s problems. An objective doesn’t do that; instead, an objective speaks to the wants and needs of the job seeker. Let’s look at the objective example above phrase by phrase.
“Sales management professional” – The only thing this tells us is the fact that the job seeker is in sales or wants to be in sales. It doesn’t tell us what industry. It doesn’t tell us what level the job seeker is targeting – is it a mid-level management slot or a C-level management slot?
“with proven track record” – Proven? Proven how? “Proven track record” is a trite phrase meaning it has been so overused as to have no meaning anymore. Sounds good – means nothing.
“seeks position” – What kind of position? Is there a particular name for the job or perhaps opening number? Is this sales management professional seeking a management position or a sales position or a position as a mail clerk? We don’t know. It tells nothing.
“with opportunity for growth” – Would someone be seeking a position that doesn’t have opportunity for growth? Does the phrase clarify that the worker is not seeking a dead-end job? This is like saying “how dead is dead?”
“with a progressive company” – Define a progressive company. Can’t really do it, can you? What is progressive to some may not be progressive to others. Progressive in what way? Again, the phrase tells nothing.
My whole point in this little exercise has been to show you how important every single phrase in the resume can be. It is important not to fall into writing what sounds good but has no real meaning or impact. Don’t fill the resume with fluff. Make every word count.
I have a good friend who was recently heavily courted for a new job as a City Manager. Note I said “courted” and not “recruited”. My friend is an outstanding engineer who has worked with a leading civil engineering firm for ten years. In that time, he has worked extensively with the mayor of the town and the heads of the departments of the municipality and the governments of surrounding cities. When the job of City Manager came open, the mayor and the entire city council personally all called my friend (let’s call him Bill) to beg him to take the job. They advertised the job as was required, but he was the only candidate considered. They offered him a spectacular package and he took the offer.
The day he went to visit the city council to accept the position, the mayor asked the interim City Manager to take Bill around to introduce him to all the department heads such as Manager of Waste Water Management, Manager of Water Utilities, Manager of Roads and Infrastructure, etc. The interim City Manager had been brought in from an outside firm to fill in after the retirement of the previous City Manager and had had hopes of being hired on permanently. You can imagine how “excited” he was to take the winner of the job around to meet everyone.
At the first stop, the water department, the interim started to introduce Bill and before he could get out “Let me introduce you to our new City Manager”, the water department manager jumped up and exclaimed, “Bill! I am so glad you took the job! How’s your wife and that new baby?” The interim was surprised to find the water department manager knew Bill but figured they knew each other socially somehow.
The interim’s surprise continued at each stop. At each department, the manager and staff all knew Bill well and no introduction was needed. The interim became more and more silent. Finally, they stopped at the fire department. The interim was pleased to discover the fire chief did not know Bill. He completed his introductions and the fire chief asked Bill if he knew anything about fire-fighting. Bill replied, “Well, my father was a volunteer fireman for years in the next county. I used to tag along on calls.” The fire chief remembered Bill’s father and they immediately struck up a conversation. The interim threw up his hands and exclaimed, “I give up! You know everyone!”
The cause of the interim’s frustration was not that Bill knew everyone. It was that everyone knew Bill. Because he was so good at his job, he had been rapidly given more and more responsibility in his job with the civil engineering firm. That firm held the contract for many towns and cities. It had been Bill’s job to attend all city council meetings as a representative of the firm and as lead engineer on most of the projects. As a result, Bill had an extensive network. That network served to bring this new opportunity to him (not the first one he’d ever had offered to him). His outstanding work ethic and performance had built a reputation for him that was well-known and respected.
When you hear career professionals talk about building a career brand, think of Bill. He is the perfect example of what a good career brand is all about. Simply put, career brand is just an outstanding reputation built over time through excellent performance and honest work ethics. A resume can put a career brand into words if it already exists but it can’t build a brand out of thin air. It’s up to you, the job seeker, to build your brand through being the best at what you do and working fairly with everyone with whom you come in contact. Pay attention to the choices you make and work hard at building your network. Both will serve to bring opportunities your way that wouldn’t otherwise.
Your Resume is Speaking
I see hundreds of resumes a week that have been submitted for review to our firm. I rarely meet these people although I do get to know many of them when they contract with us to have their resumes professionally written. In fact, I get to know some clients very well because they return to us year after year for updates, they refer their friends and colleagues, and even sometimes send Christmas presents!
I’ve notice over the years that resumes “speak” about their owners. It’s not necessarily a matter of words but rather a matter of seeing the thought, or lack of thought, that is behind the words. For example, a resume that is sent to us that contains a picture of the job seeker tells me the job seeker is either not seeking a job in the United States or is ignorant of the hiring laws here that disallow pictures.
Here are a few things that resumes “say” about their owners:
Stuck in the 70’s. I see so many resumes that look like they were written before computers. They follow the old style of large left margin, plain typeface, no design elements, etc. Sometimes, they will have “Confidential Resume” at the top. Most of the time, these resumes are written by people who have several years of experience with one company and haven’t had to worry about a resume in a very long time.
NOT detail-oriented. Spelling and other mechanical mistakes occasionally occur in resumes, usually because people have come to rely on spell-check and don’t pay attention to proper proofreading. When it becomes a problem is when the owner of the resume has proudly declared him- or herself “detail-oriented” in the summary section. A programmer that does not catch syntax mistakes would give any potential employer a reason for concern.
Knows the value of first impressions. I will occasionally see a resume that has good design elements and is appealing to the eye. I recently saw one that was very nicely done with a color border at the top, good use of margin for pull-out sections, and had excellent organization. Unfortunately, that’s not common.
Knows how to use Adobe Acrobat. I just love pdf formats for resumes. The reason is because I know they will open without anything screwy happening to the format when it defaults to my system specifications. Recruiters like them too. I don’t know how many times I’ve opened a Word resume and the resume’s owner had left the track changes button on so all the edits showed on the final document. The Template Wizard is another frequent pop-up on documents. Put it in a pdf and you don’t have to worry about it.
Bob’s Resume.doc. Bob? Bob who? How many resumes of Bobs have I seen? Just the name of the file tells me if the owner has thought of the end-viewer or not. When someone thinks about the presentation, I know that person would be someone who would think about the presentation made to the interviewer or on behalf of the new employer to customers. Resume file names that don’t have both first and last names are like cans of soup with the labels removed. You never know what you are going to get until you open it.
Probably the most important thing a resume says is whether or not the owner cares enough about his/her career success to invest in a great marketing document. That investment can come in the form of hiring a professional to prepare it or simply come in the form of hours and hours devoted to strategizing and developing a great resume. That investment can also come in the form of knowing when to let a professional handle the job rather than attempting to do a specialized job armed only with the tools of the amateur. What does your resume say?
Forces of Nature
Several years ago about this time of year, I was attending a job fair in a major metro area where I was providing resume reviews and classes on resume development. It was spring and the weather was typically spring-ish – scattered thunderstorms. The job fair was being held in a sporting arena, a large concrete structure surrounded by glass windows that extended from the floor upward about thirty feet or so. The windows provided a lovely view of the city skyline, the street outside full of tourists, and the thunderous weather that was in the area that day.
About halfway through the afternoon, as I was taking a break in a classroom on the interior of the arena, a tremendous blast occurred followed quickly by an announcement on the PA system for all building occupants to proceed to the nearest stairwell and descend to the basement. A tornado was ripping through downtown and the blast I had heard but not seen was the windows being blown inward by the wind.
All the recruiters and job seekers rapidly moved into the basement area where the locker rooms and parking structures were located. The only light was from emergency lighting and there was no cell phone reception at that depth. We were perfectly safe in the basement so people began to relax and chat while we waited for the all-clear.
It was in this unexpected venue that I saw some astute job seekers take advantage of the opportunity to get extra face time with recruiters. Since the environment was atypical, the traditional “interview” situation went out the window (along with a lot of the furnishings and signs) and job seekers and recruiters were able to talk beyond the normal interview questions.
We were stuck there in the basement for approximately 45 minutes and then no one was allowed to leave the arena later for at least two more hours because the streets were blocked with debris and emergency responders. All that extra time to talk with recruiters was an unexpected benefit for the job seekers who were there that afternoon. I’ve often wondered how many people were hired as a result of that tornado.
Don't Put It On Your Resume
Having been in the resume writing business for over twelve years, I am still surprised by some of the things I see on resumes that are submitted to us. You would think that I had seen it all by now. Some old ideas are hard to die, though, so I might as well outline some types of information that you shouldn’t put on your resume.
Your birth date. This tells the employer your age and it will automatically get your resume disqualified. Under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot discriminate based on age, race, ethnicity, etc. etc. When you tell the employer your age by using your birth date, the employer cannot make an unbiased decision about your candidacy so they usually discard your resume to be on the safe side.
Your church affiliation. Many job seekers list their volunteer work at their church on their resume with the idea that the experience will help their candidacy. The problem is this information falls under Title IV as described above and will again give the employer pause in consideration of your candidacy. Unless you are a professional minister or pastor and you are seeking a similar position, do not mention your religious affiliations on your resume.
Reasons for leaving. Never put your reasons for leaving a job on your resume. Your reason for leaving does not support your candidacy for future employment. If an employer wants to know why you left, he/she can ask in the interview or request that you fill out a job application that requires that information. Many feel compelled to include their reasons for leaving if the reasons were a layoff or the company went out of business or some other reason that was not their fault. It doesn’t matter what the reason was – it doesn’t go on the resume.
Salary history. Your salary history does not appear on the resume. What you made in past jobs is not necessarily relevant to what you can make in your next job. Most people’s salaries tend to increase incrementally but not always. And if the salary hasn’t increased, it might be for very good reasons. If you list salaries on your resume, you are automatically shooting yourself in the foot in your salary negotiations. Prospective employers know exactly how much you “cost”. Sometimes it might be too much so you are eliminated from consideration. Sometimes it might be too little and you are eliminated because the employer thinks you are too lightweight.
Hobbies and interests. Hobbies and interests have nothing to do with your ability to do the job. Some hobbies might even serve to brand you as a nutcase. Some may cause concern to the employer. If you list a hobby that is time-consuming, requires extensive travel, or is physically dangerous, the employer might be concerned that your hobby would interfere with your work.
Your work email. Use your private email. A work email gives the impression that you conduct private business on company time.
None of these types of information should be included on your resume. The rule of thumb is to look at what you have chosen to include in your resume and ask “Will this result in an interview?” If not, leave it out. Resume space is too precious to include information that has no relevance on your job performance.
Designed to Win
One of the most common shortcomings we see in resumes submitted to us for review is the lack of good design and organization. Everything in resume writing is about strategy, including the design and appearance of the document. Strategy is organizing the information so that it flows from most important to least important. Strategy is formatting the information so it is easy to follow visually. Strategy is creating a great first impression before the first word is read. Strategy is creating something unique that will stick in the mind of the reader when the reader can’t remember your name. All this is incorporated into design and format.
Most people are aware there are three basic formats of a resume – chronological, functional, and combination. By far the most successful is the traditional chronological format. It is successful because it is what the hiring manager expects and wants, because it shows career progression, and because it is logically ordered.
The functional resume format is at the other end of the scale. Employers and recruiters detest the functional format because they have to read every single word of the resume before they can get a good feel for the candidate’s background. Bottom line – they don’t have time to do that so they just go on to the next resume in the pile. Functional resumes also send up big red flags of warning because the functional format is generally used when trying to hide something detrimental in the candidate’s past. Recruiters know that so they automatically put functionally formatted resumes at the bottom of the pile.
Combination format resumes are somewhere in between but are still not as effective as a traditional chronological format resume. Combination resumes are usually used when trying to affect a huge career change from one industry to a completely different one. They can be useful in that scenario but since that rarely happens, the combination format is rarely used.
Once the format is selected, it is important to have an attractively designed resume. A resume that has design elements such as lines separating sections, text boxes (used conservatively), good font and font sizes, attention-grabbing headers, and good-sized margins will be attractive. Good use of header and footer sections is also a benefit. A resume can be attractive visually and still maintain a conservative appearance.
I wish I had a dollar for every resume I’ve seen that has been created using the Word resume template – I could buy Microsoft. Templates are for lazy people or people who don’t know how to use the basic formatting functions in Word. Why do you want your resume to look like about 35 billion other resumes? You don’t! You want to stand out in the crowd! Don’t ever use a template or resume software to create your resume. If you look at your resume and there is nothing in it style-wise beyond bold, italics, underline, or larger font sizes, you need to redesign it. You don’t want your resume to look like it was created on a typewriter or Word 2.0.
You would not go to an interview in a cheap suit or a pair of sweatpants. Nor do you want your resume to land in a hiring manager’s inbox wearing poor design. Your resume speaks for you. Make it shout out class, style, value, and professionalism when you aren’t there to do it yourself.
Work Email is Not Private
I am amazed at the number of resumes we receive for review that either have the job seeker’s work email listed on the resume itself, or have been sent to us from the job seeker’s work email account. I always cringe because I know the job seeker has unknowingly set him- or herself up for potential disaster with the current employer by sending that email.
All employers monitor email. They are not necessarily snooping to see what you are doing or saying on your company email but rather they are making sure they are not being opened up for potential charges or litigation due to the actions of their employees. Most job seekers who are not technically astute do not realize that copies of their email messages are retained on the company servers and those copies are usually downloaded and stored for future reference if needed. Additionally, emails are randomly monitored by the technical staff to watch for potential legal exposure or misuse of company resources.
When you use your company email on your resume or use it to send out any material or messages related to job search, you are automatically opening yourself to a potential termination for misuse of company resources or for conducting personal business on company time. You may also be providing a reason for the employer to withhold a severance package if you conduct job search activities from work prior to an upcoming layoff. When you are at work, you are there to work, not look for other work.
Many say, “My employer doesn’t care.” That may be so, but your potentially new employer probably does. When a hiring manager sees an email on a resume that is obviously the candidate’s work email, he/she automatically experiences a mental check against that candidate. Think about the impression that using your work email makes with a new employer. The new employer sees that you have no compunction in using company resources to look for new employment, that you use compensated time to conduct personal business, and that you are not savvy enough to know you are messing up in the first place. He is correct in thinking that if hired, you would take advantage of your new employer in the same manner.
Most employers will initiate contact with you after receiving your resume in one of two ways – by telephone or by email. A hiring manager with a direct competitor of your current employer might be very hesitant to email you at work. He knows the emails are monitored and does not want the competition to know someone with the company is communicating with you.
The same principle is applicable to work telephone numbers. A potential employer will generally NOT call you at work. It is best to list a cell number and a home number. You may even want to consider setting up a computerized voice mail box number just for job search purposes in order to be assured of not missing any calls.
Play it safe and be ethical at the same time. Use a private email for your resume and job search efforts. Use your personal cell or home phone for telephone contact. Don’t give potential employers the impression that you are unethical – it’s not a good image to portray.
The Customer is NOT Always Right
The traditional thinking is that yes, the customer is always right. Give him what he wants, even if it’s not what he needs, what is best for him, or what he can afford. Feed the monster whatever it wants because if you don’t, the monster can eat you. As a career professional, it is my job to make sure our clients are well-prepared for a job search in the materials they will be using to market their careers. It is also my job to make sure they understand the challenges they will be facing and how to surmount those challenges.
Many (or even most) clients come to us fairly ignorant of the job market, how to conduct an effective job search, and how the process of having a professional resume developed works. That’s not unusual. Most people only have to look for a job every few years so they are not practiced in job search techniques, current on trends and demands, or savvy in how to market themselves. That’s okay. A great deal of our job is to educate our clients on these things. We’re consultants; we help people through their job searches.
The clients who enjoy the best results from our efforts are the ones who come to us in a teachable state. These clients know they need the knowledge and assistance that we can provide and they are willing to work cooperatively with us to prepare for the job search. They are open to suggestions, read things which we suggest, and provide us with lots of information to help us help them. These people are gems and seem to enjoy the best success. It could be because they have such good attitudes to start with and apply that attitude to their career searches. Or I like to think they didn’t blindly demand what they wanted but rather listened to our suggestions.
At the other end of the spectrum is the client who comes to us on a high horse. He or she knows exactly what is wrong with his/her current resume and just wants us to make the edits they suggest. He does not listen to suggestions or advice about what works and what doesn’t work in job search. He knows it all. He demands (not asks) that everything be done precisely to his minute specifications. Such a client is impossible to please in any way and tends to have the worst results in job search, whether he is our client or not.
I have a responsibility to our clients to make sure they have the best job search preparation and career marketing documents on the planet. Because of this responsibility, I cannot say in good conscience that the customer is always right. A client might be emphatic that he wants his resume designed in purple font type but that is not what is best. Another client might insist on a one-page resume because her college professor advised it (fifteen years ago) but that is not what works in today’s market. It is my obligation at that point to NOT give the client what he/she wants because to do so would impede success rather than enhance it. I will work extensively to try to better educate the client and usually I can do that. I will work to find some sort of compromise that satisfies the client while not crippling his/her success potential. Sometimes, though, the client just cannot be educated or refuses to listen to good advice.
If I adhered to the adage that “the customer is always right”, I would be doing my clients a grave disservice. They hire our firm to advise them and help them in an important undertaking in which they are weak and need assistance. To do less than our very best by only giving them what they want rather than what they really need would be unethical.
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