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Sunday, March 25, 2007
Red Flag Issues
Nearly everyone has something in their career background that they really don’t want to appear on a resume. It may be something innocuous like a mediocre college GPA or it may be something significant such as a prison term. A resume should be written to highlight the value of a candidate and downplay bits and pieces that would play against the candidate. That is why strategy is such a huge part of designing and writing a resume. Most people don’t think about strategy when they are writing their own resume; they are simply thinking “Did I get down what I do?” Strategy is key, though, and using strategy to your advantage is what a winning resume is all about.

I have seen resumes where people have taken pains to try to hide things in their past that they don’t want prospective employers to be aware of in the selection process. Some issues are truly “red flag” issues while some are more “mountains out of molehills” and are only significant in the minds of the job seeker. Some true red flag issues include the following:

Prison Term – I know you keep thinking I’m harping on this issue but I’ve seen many professionals who messed up at one time or another in their life and now don’t want to trumpet their mistakes to the world. One client in particular stands out in my mind. He was a pharmacist who ended up with a significant prescription drug habit following a bad car accident. He was downing the inventory and the authorities got wind of it so he thought burning down his pharmacy was a wise decision. He spent five years in the can for it. He was out of prison, clean and sober, when he came to us and wanted to start a new career in IT. Dealing with that five years and a career change on a resume was a challenge.

Job Hopping – Frequent job changes are considered a red flag issue to employers. It could mean many things, not all of which are negative. The negative causes could be the candidate is incompetent in his job, is difficult to get along with, or just jumps at any offer of a slightly higher salary. Employers sink a great deal of money and time into new hires and they would like to get their money back in productivity before the employee moves on so they steer clear. A possible positive cause of job hopping is that the candidate is a rising star – someone who is extremely talented, well-known in the industry and highly recruited.

Time Gaps – Time gaps are best handled by telling the truth. If you’ve taken time off to raise children or care for elderly parents, say so! By trying to hide it, you make it into a red flag issue.

Education – The same holds true for education, especially lack thereof. Many people will leave off the education section altogether if they don’t have a college degree even if they have 25 years of experience with all kinds of training. Leaving off the education automatically draws attention to it and creates a mountain.

Notice I haven’t listed age as a red flag issue. That’s because like lack of a college degree, it’s a molehill rather than a mountain. Sure, age discrimination exists as does nepotism and gender bias and every other kind of bias you can think of. It’s not rampant, though. In fact, with the Boomer generation retiring, there is a “wisdom drain” occurring in the job market and those who have “been there, got the t-shirt” are looked at as good investments.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I was thinking this morning about time and how quickly it passes. It seems like just yesterday I was using an IBM WheelWriter typewriter and I thought that was great because it had correction tape built in so I didn’t have to erase or use correction fluid. Now we have computers with my favorite key – the backspace key! The backspace takes you back so you can change things, fix things, say something differently, or choose not to say anything (often the wisest choice).

The first PC I ever used was an Apple IIc and I really cut my teeth on the IIgs. When I moved up to the “pizza box” Mac, I was in high cotton. The first computer I actually purchased was a Pentium I. I also purchased a laser printer at the time because of the quality of the printer over dot matrix. I was stylin’! Of course, I was not hooked up to the Internet at that point but I did have a couple of dial-up bulletin boards I checked daily and then there were user groups on Usenet which was sort of the Internet. I can remember the first time I logged on to the real information superhighway at a speedy 2400 baud. Wow! And when technology migrated from 5.25 inch floppies to 3.5 inch disks – man, what an improvement! No more “Insert Side B to continue”.

Hopefully, by now you are wondering what in the world this little “blast from the past” has to do with your job search or resume. Let me connect the dots for you. Does anyone still use any of this technology daily? No – it’s in the Smithsonian. (Except for my trusty laser printer which is still chugging along believe it or not) No one uses this technology and none of you care that I learned the skill of typing from dear Mrs. Chumbley back in 1982 rather than keyboarding. So tell me – why do you think information from that far back in time has any relevance to your job search today? There must be a reason because you keep putting all this old information on your resume even though employers don’t need it and really aren’t interested in it at this point in time. I see resumes everyday that go back twenty or more years in time. I saw one the other day that listed jobs all the way back to 1963! I kid you not.

Keep the information on your resume relevant to today’s job market. Everyone’s career is built in layers. You start out at one level and then build on what you learn. At some point, the earlier layers need to disappear off the resume so more space and attention can be focused on what is recent and most relevant to today’s market. Employers generally want to see the past ten to fifteen years of experience on a resume. If there is information from before that point that has relevance to your current goal, there are some strategic ways to bring that into the resume.

People get attached to achievements in their lives, achievements that are long past their prime (very much like my old laser printer), and they don’t want to let them go. Inclusion in a resume of scholarships won thirty years ago or an Eagle Scout designation from your teens is emotional rather than logical. One of the benefits of having a professional develop your resume and cover letter is the objectivity that comes along with the expertise in developing marketing materials that really sell you. As an objective party, we can see what is relevant, what needs to be included, what doesn’t need to be included and what needs to be emphasized. It’s called strategy and it’s the first step in writing a great resume. Without good strategy, you just get a listing of layers.

Sunday, March 11, 2007
Scannable Not Text

Remember the days when the only format choice you had for your resume was whether it was done in Pica or Elite type and if it was typed on white or ivory paper? Boy, that’s a blast from the past! Things are a lot different now than they used to be. Now, you have a myriad of design choices – hundreds of fonts, graphics, elements, embedded keywords, scannable or fully formatted, Word, PDF, HTML or text. It can be a little confusing, especially if you are not familiar with what all this means.

One of the most common confusions is the difference between text and scannable. Many of our clients ask if we prepare text format resumes. The answer to that is yes and no. We prepare scannable resumes that are in a text file format. Text is a file format whereas the term scannable refers to a way a resume is laid out to be easily read by a computer and a human. Many people think that a text format is just the regular Word document saved as a text file, but that’s not correct. Technically, you can do that but have you ever seen the end result? It’s awful!

A scannable resume is a resume that is designed to follow certain rules for spacing, elements, character width, etc. so that the resume is not only compatible with resume databases but can also be read by a human being. To prepare a good scannable resume, changes in paragraph layout are often needed, and wording sometimes needs to be slightly honed for keywords and to be more noun-based. Scannable resumes should not only be readable by a computer but must be readable by a human in terms of flow, visual organization, and design. Strategic use of text-friendly design elements such as all caps, asterisks, and other characters you see lurking on your keyboard can help the human eye make sense of what is a fairly ugly document.

When the scannable resume is prepared, it will sometimes have additional keywords added or have some sentences rewritten to be more noun-based. Resumes are searched on noun phrases such as “Quality Control” or “network design” but resumes are written as verb-based documents for the most part. A bit of tweaking to the content of the scannable can make it more effective in the search process.

Quick – pop quiz. What is the difference between a text format and a scannable resume? A scannable is saved in text format but follows certain rules of design. Do you need a scannable resume in your job search? Yes!


Friday, March 02, 2007
CV or Resume? What’s the Difference?
Many people believe that a CV and a resume are the same document but that is far from accurate. “Back in the good old days”, which means in the last century, a CV (which stands for curriculum vita or “life book”) was used by all white collar professionals when applying for a job. Slowly, many professions went to a shorter form and called it a resume. At the end of the nineties, most professions were using a resume for job search with only academics, medicine, scientific research, and attorneys still using the CV format. Seven years into the new century, and even that is now starting to change in the United States.

So what is the difference between the two documents? Where do I start? Let’s consider geographies first. In the United States and Canada, a resume is used 99.9% of the time for job search, even by those in the professions mentioned specifically above. In Europe and other countries, a CV is still being used for the most part but the resume is gaining ground in western countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia. Many job seekers who are not in the US but are seeking employment here do not realize that a CV is not appropriate for a US job search and are hurting their job searches by using one.

The next difference between the two documents is the type of information included in each. In a CV, it is common to list personal information such as date of birth, marital status, children, health details, etc. CVs often include a photograph of the job seeker. All of this directly violates US hiring laws and can cause employers to shy away from the candidate out of fear of a lawsuit for hiring discrimination. A resume should never include personal information or a picture.

CVs are very long documents, often stretching to six or eight pages. The term “life book” applies because everything, whether relevant to the current job search or not, is included in a CV. Education details, publications, articles, speeches, presentations, detailed job histories, references – all are commonly seen on a CV. On a resume, the information is kept focused on the goal. The award of Eagle Scout would be listed on a CV but not on a resume.

CVs are written in a very “vanilla” language. They are meant to be life histories rather than a marketing document. A resume is written to sell the attributes of the job seeker that qualify him/her for a position. Phrases are shorter, written with stronger language, and a strategy is imposed to position the job seeker as THE best candidate for the job.

Employers in the US expect a resume from job seekers. The resume and cover letter combination are written and designed to not only present experience and background but present it in a way that markets the job seeker well. A CV is a listing of events and experience without consideration for positioning. It’s analogous the comparison between an encyclopedia and a marketing brochure. The brochure is designed to sell while the encyclopedia is designed to inform.

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