One of my favorite writers is the marketer and blogger Seth Godin, author of The Dip, Poke the Box, and several other books. Godin frequently urges his readers to “ship,” to do their work and get it out to customers. Similarly, Jason Fried, Co-Founder of 37Signals, wrote an essay in Inc. about the importance of knowing when to stop “tweaking”a product and put it out on the market.
I’ve seen similar issue with a few clients. People pay me to rewrite their resume, and then they rewrite what I’ve written. I ask why. The response is always some form of “It’s not ready. It’s not right.” The problem here isn’t the resume. It’s the problem of being perfect, which is really an excuse we use to avoid doing what we fear. When we begin to network and post for jobs, we know there will be rejection. It’s easier to say my resume or cover letter isn’t ready.
What’s the solution? When Jason Fried and his colleagues were blocked in their first release, he called an adviser, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who broke the problem down to simple questions: What the biggest missing piece? What’s the next biggest problem? Fried and his team identified one problem, which they fixed. It was time to ship. It’s that easy. Find the problem. Fix it and ship.
This morning a radio news report said there was no white or black smoke coming from the White House during the president’s meeting with congressional leader. The person who wrote the news report was trying to be cute. Black and white smoke are the signals the Vatican uses to announce voting on a new pope, which is another issue currently in the news. However, by mixing these details the news writer’s attempt to be cute resulted in confusion.
We can fall into the same trap in writing resumes and cover letters. Heavy use of jargon or specialized language often does more to confuse than enlighten. Some people also try to sound impressive and rely on multi-syllabic words that make reading difficult. For example, most words ending in -ize are nouns or adjectives pretending to be verbs. Another word trap is using the language used by former employers. Companies often develop their own language, which is meaningless to anyone who does not work at that company.
Test everything you write by asking these two questions: Would a perspective employer understand this? Would she care? These questions will keep your resume and cover letter focused on what the employer needs, which is all that matters. When it comes to words, cute does not sell. Usually, it just leads to confusion.
I was recently working with two experienced professionals who were making a career change based on completing a master’s degree. In both cases, my clients felt that they were limited by a lack of experience. I frequently hear a similar complaint from new college grads. In one sense this concern is legitimate. Employers often prefer to hire people who have worked in a given industry or job function. However, that type of candidate is not always available, which is how doors open for career changers and new graduates.
If a job seeker doesn’t have experience, what can she offer employers? She has two important qualities to sell: knowledge and hands-on skills. Almost every kind of academic program teaches skills that employers need. Rather than fill a resume with classes or irrelevant extracurricular activities, present the skills that the employer is looking for. If you know how to do something, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have experience at a workplace. Highlight work done in projects or class activities. Another key point that grads often ignore is the knowledge that they bring to an employer. New grads often bring the latest knowledge and ideas. That’s a valuable asset, and one that should be promoted in resumes and job interviews. As Daniel Pink writes in his fine career guide, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need: “Think strengths, not weaknesses.”
Everyone wants to describe themselves in resumes and job interviews by using general terms like “hard working” and “team player.” There’s nothing wrong with these phrases, but you can go deeper in telling an employer why you are the kind of person she is looking for.
Here are some examples::
Word/phrase: Took initiative to
An assistant retail manager might say: I noticed that the store manager was spending too much time doing inventory. I took initiative to learn an inventory control system, which let my manager focus on other duties.
Word/phrase: Volunteer to
A nurse might put on her resume: Volunteered to work extra shifts and be on call for holidays.
A sales professional could say in an interviewer: I have always been elf-motivated in following up with clients and solving problems in a timely manner.
A hotel employees might write in her resume: Worked proactively to identify and prevent customer service issues.
Some looking to move up from an entry level job might say during an interview: My supervisor always called me reliable because I never missed a shift, and I’m always on time.
These are just a few examples of how you can present your personal qualities in a way that will make an employer want to hire you. Think about how you go above and beyond what is expected and make sure that you communicate those qualities on your resume and during interviews. Find the right language to show what makes you an ideal employee.
Why should I care?
Every element of a good resume should put itself under the microscope of this question. If you’re including information that the employer doesn’t care about, you’re wasting that person’s time, which means your resume will quickly end up in the recycling bin.
How can you know what an employer is looking for? Start with some good old fashioned research. Put together a market profile by collecting 5-10 job posts for positions that interest you (I recommend 10 if possible). Note what elements are repeated from post to post. Those are your keywords. Pay attention to aspects like skills, certification, and education. Taking a little time up front will let you know what the employer wants, which should be the first step in writing a resume that gets you noticed.
A prospective client called me today. He kept asking how quickly I could produce a resume for him. He wanted to meet immediately. I knew the man was feeling anxious and tried to clarify his goals. Simply put, he needs a job fast.
That’s a problem. In a normal job market, it can take 3-6 months to find a job. I think that average is still pretty viable for someone who looks for work the right way, which is a good mix of networking, applying for open positions, identifying specific companies, and using passive search tools like LinkedIn. What can someone do who can’t wait 3-6 months? How can a job search be expedited?
I recommend the following steps. First, focus your networking. Start with the people you are using as references. Meet them, let them know your situation, and ask for their advice. Let them know that you are open to alternative career paths because you need to start generating income quickly. Second, build a thorough market profile by reviewing 8-10 job posts for the kinds of position you are seeking. Know what employers are looking for and be sure that your resume reflects those qualities. Third, apply for open positions every day. It’s very frustrating to spend 45 minutes filling out an application and attaching a resume only to hear nothing in response. That frustration is part of the job game, and if you need a job fast, you need to live with it. Fourth, try to find a way to generate income that can help ease your financial burden. Look for consulting or free lance gigs and part-time jobs. The trick is to balance this kind of work with your more important work: finding the right full time job as quickly as possible.
There are no guarantees. You can do everything right, and still not land a job quickly. However, if you don’t make the right moves and stay persistent in your job search, one thing is certain: You will remain unemployed.
Stay focused and patient. That’s the key to success.
We take certain things for granted in the age of smartphones and iPads. Technology is great, but we have to be sure that it works properly. Two times this week, I called clients and found it impossible to reach them. In one case, the client had a new phone and had not set up voice mail. In the other, the phone simply gave a message that the client was unavailable.
Be sure that the contact information on your resume is correct. Check your voice mail. If employers call and cannot reach you or leave a message, the odds are very good that you will not get a second chance.
No answer + no message = no job.
Writing in Huffington Post, Stacy Johnson critiques our culture’s need to create experts. What I like most about Johnson’s argument is that he cuts to the chase: the alleged experts often don’t know what they are talking about. He gives some great examples of how this game works.
In posts over the past few months, I’ve taken on experts who claim
- The only way to get a job is to be employed.
- You should never have an objective on your resume.
- All bullet resumes are easier to read.
These are just three example of silly declarations made by would-be career experts.
I urge readers to test every kind of advice or “truth,” and I don’t exclude my own claims. We only learn when others correct us. The problem with experts (Paul Krugman calls them “Very Serious People”) is that they are never wrong.
Almost every resume lists communication skills. However, it is important to discuss your communication skills in a way that fits the job you are seeking. For example, a sales person needs to be able to present information, persuade a customer, and close a sale. A teacher also has to make presentations, but she might have to explain scientific concepts or describe technical features of poetry. Every job has its own special communication requirements.
A few days ago I was working with a professional whose work does not scream communication skills – a photographer. What I learned dealing with this client was that communication was vital to her work. She needed to win the trust of people who were going to give her permission to shoot photos, or she would need to get them to sign a release. This meant being persuasive and building rapport, often dealing with people in times of crisis or grief. This client is now changing careers, so the communication skills she learned as a photographer can be transferred to her new field.
When writing a resume, take the time to be specific in showing an employer how you can communicate on the job. It isn’t enough to say “communication skills.” Represent those skills in a way that shows your ability. Making your communication skills job-specific will give the employer confidence in your ability, and it can be a big factor in getting called for an interview.
One of my clients moved to Chicago and started looking for work about 8 weeks ago. Today she called to tell me that she landed a job. How did she do it?
1. She targeted the type of company she wanted to work for and made a list of those companies in Chicago. At the same time, she networked whenever possible and checked job boards every couple of days. She stayed active, focused.
2. We wrote her resume to play up her ability and willingness to play more than one role. It’s one thing to say, “I am a team player.” It’s another thing to show how you can be one for you next employer.
3. Once she started looking for a job, she didn’t stop. Too many job seekers quit looking after a month. Or they quit when they don’t hear from the job that “was perfect for me.” Or they stop because they are interviewing with a company. Simple advice: Don’t stop looking for a job until you have one.
4. She knew when to say, “No.” A network connection led to an interview soon after my client moved to Chicago. The job only offered $9 an hour with no benefits. She politely declined the offer and put her effort into finding the kind of job that fit her qualifications.
5. She was flexible about the locations in which she would work. The job my client took is a little longer commute than she wanted. However, the job pays what she needs and offers a chance to move up.
Can everyone find a job in 8 weeks? Of course not. However, the more a job search is focused, disciplined, and persistent, the more likely it is that success will come quickly. Know the market. Know what you have to offer the market. Go out and sell hard. Don’t stop until you hear, “Yes.”