I’m reading a book on career management that dismisses resumes as “historical.” While it’s true that resumes summarize work history, their more important function is forward looking – to show why you are qualified for the kind of job you want, not the one you are leaving.
Many of the clients that ask me to review resumes fall into the historical trap. They focus on their most recent jobs and are very detailed in discussing that job. Being overly specific often makes it hard for an employer to see how a candidate fits their needs. This problem is even worse when a job seeker uses the language of her old company, language that only someone who works for that company would understand.
I frequently recommend that clients find 5-10 job posts and send them to me. I review them to understand the requirements and skills employers are looking for. I also track the repeated “key words” that are so important. By looking at these documents, I am able to focus the resume on the jobs my clients will apply for.
The key to a successful job search is to keep looking forward. You should only discuss your past to the degree that it shows how you are qualified for your next job or career move. In writing your resume and interviewing for jobs, keep your focus on what your next employer needs. It’s all about the future – and finding a better job.
I’m seeing a trend in resumes clients are bringing to me for review. Many are nothing more but a list of achievements. The theory behind this resume style is that employers want employees who have a history of making a difference. Of course, employers want employees who achieve and exceed goals, but they need to know more than that.
The problem with employment-focused resumes is that they often fail to tell employers what they are looking for. Examine several job posts. Do any say: Send in a list of achievements? Instead, they ask for experience, skills, education, and certification. A good resume blends what the employer is looking for along with relevant achievements.
Like most things in life, balance is the key. Identify key words by reviewing several job postings. Demonstrate why you have the skills and experience that the employer needs. Include achievements that will show an employer how you will be an asset. A good mix of these elements is the recipe for a winning resume.
Clients often ask me, “What’s the best way to get hired.” The simple answer is networking, and I strongly recommend that clients make networking their first priority. However, finding a job is never that easy. Some clients get hired by responding to job postings or by posting their resume on job boards such as Careerbuilder or Monster. Some people transition from part-time/temporary to full-time positions. Others are placed by recruiters.
Just as job seekers don’t follow one path, employers use diverse means to source, evaluate, and hire employees. Some take an active role in identifying and pursuing talent. Others ask existing employees for referrals. Many still collect and review resumes. The same company may recruit different positions in different ways.
It’s impossible to have a one size fits all approach to finding a job. The best kind of job search employs several methods. Some employers will miss you (or you miss them) because they are looking for employees in a way that is different from the way you are looking for employers. That will happen. Factor it into your search. Stay patient, positive, and active. It’s not an easy solution, but it’s also the most realistic way to find a good job.
How can you improve a skills or gain experience in a time when it’s hard to find a job? Volunteer. Many organizations need volunteers, and they will let volunteers learn on the job, a luxury many companies cannot afford. According to a recent article in the New York Times, 41% of employers consider volunteer work as important as paid work. 20% of employers said volunteer experience was a factor in their hiring decisions.
Be selective and strategic if you are volunteering to enhance your resume. Be sure that you are going to develop skills that are relevant to the job you will be pursuing. You will probably have to turn down some opportunities because they do not fit your goals.
Once you are established in a volunteer position, keep track of your actions and accomplishments. Build good relationships with your supervisors because they will be important for job references. You can also ask them to write recommendations on LinkedIn, which many employers now review as part of recruiting and employee background checks.
Will a volunteer position lead to a new job? Not necessarily. But it can help you develop skills and experience that smart employers will value. Find a way to help yourself while you help others. It will look good on your resume.
Postscript: The Times article mentions VolunteerMatch as a website for people seeking volunteer opportunities.
Every career expert claims to have the magic answer to writing a thank you note. As I’ve written before, I don’t claim to have all the answers. My strategy for writing a thank you note follows these principles:
- Keep it short
- Keep it positive
- Focus on what the interviewer cared most about during the interview
- End by saying you want the job
I’d recommend no more than 6-7 sentences for a thank you letter. First, thank the company and mention the position. Second, speak to the interviewer’s concern. Three, ask to move forward and say you want the job.
What about format? Handwritten or email? I think email works if you take the time to craft a good letter. Some people that I greatly respect insist that handwritten is the only way to go. If you want to take the time and make the effort to send a handwritten note, be sure you do so the same day you interview.
Here’s a good trick for learning what matters most to an interviewer. Most interviewers will let you ask questions. Your last question should be: “What is the most important quality you are looking for in a [sales manager]?” If the interviewer says someone who can build a team, briefly affirm why you are a team builder. If she says somebody who hits the number, talk about how you meet/exceed goals. Next, when you’re writing your thank you letter, come back to this point and again affirm that you can deliver the most important quality.
Don’t send generic thank you letters. They only say I don’t care. Speak to the person who interviewed you and show that you care about her biggest concern. That will be the best way to make an impression.
Some people say education should be put on a resume before experience. Some say it should always be placed after work history. My philosophy is that education should be placed according to what the employer would want to see. Play your best card first. For some people that means work first. For some, school gets the first place.
I’m currently working with a client who wants to transition from a position in print production to something related to marketing. Since graduating from college, he has worked in production capacities that have some link to marketing. His strongest credential in this area is probably his undergraduate degree and internship. In this case, I put education first even though the client has some work experience.
Think about potential employers. What do they want to see? The answer to that question will help you know where to put education on your resume.
What’s the best way to find a job? It’s still networking. After that, responding to jobs posting is where most job seekers go. What if you could make your search more targeted? You can by thinking strategically and doing a little research. Use LinkedIn to find people who have similar professional and educational backgrounds. Where do they work? Where did they work at their previous jobs? What titles have they held? You can then look at those companies to see if they have open positions. You can also use the titles you found to perform more focused online searches. Your job search will be more focused, the more you research and analyze people who have a similar background. This method is more work than simply responding to posts, but it gives you more control over your job search. Give yourself a better chance. Take control of your job search.
I was working with two different clients today. Both were young women in their thirties who were seeking to change careers. When they described what they had done so far, both expressed a paralyzed feeling. They couldn’t pursue new career options because they had no experience in those fields. They were making one of the biggest mistakes in a job search: Closing the door. Potential employers close the door all the time. That’s their job. Don’t close the door on yourself.
I pointed out to both clients that they had worked in areas where they did not have experience. Employers will favor experience, but they need someone to do the job. If a career changer can show that he or she has the relevant skills or training, many employers will open the door. It is important to frame your skills so the employer can see how they are transferable. Look at the language of job positing and find parallels between your old career and where you want to work next.
It is very easy to find fault, and that skill is deadly in the job game. If you are changing careers, take the time to analyze what the employer needs and why you are qualified to do that job. Then you must demonstrate those qualifications in your resume and during interviews. Don’t fall for the trap of “experience.” Find a way to keep the door open.
In The Job-Hunter’s Survival Guide, Richard Nelson Bolles talks about everyone having a “New Resume,” which is the record we leave online. A person’s online reputation can make or break a job search as Andrew Sullivan demonstrates in the Daily Beast. I don’t believe that 50% of employers check all applicants, but I would put serious money on their checking people before scheduling interviews. It’s important to keep your “New Resume” clean.
How can you protect your reputation? Keep personal social media private. Ask friends to take down any information or photos that an employer might find objectionable. Whenever you post something online, think about how a stranger might look at it and judge you. Think twice about that person if he or she is a potential employer.
A client recently sent me a resume to review. The first half of the first page says nothing that indicates his profession or the level of responsibility he is seeking. He offers a list of skills that could apply to any number of professional fields. Employers don’t have time to figure out or guess what job a candidate is seeking. Let them know by including a simple objective or profile in your resume.
A simple objective should state what job you are seeking. An example might read: “To obtain a position as Assistant Marketing Manager.” I recommend using an objective if the job title of positions you are seeking changes from posting to posting. On the other hand, if the direction of your job search follows your recent career path, the profile could be replaced with an objective. I recommend beginning this kind of objective with an “Experience” phrase. An example of this would be: “Experience: Retail store manager who has supervised operations, staff, and customer relations at large operations (+$4 million annual).”
A good resume will quickly tell an employer what position you are seeking, and it will establish why you are a good candidate. Get to the point, and you’re phone will start ringing.