Posts Tagged ‘how to write a resume’

Extreme Candidate Makeover – Ex-Recruiter Show

April 22nd, 2011

(Originally aired February 8th, 2010)

Listen in as career coaches Karen Siwak, Dawn Bugni, Janice Worthington, Jeremy Worthington and Karla Porter give feedback and advice to two jobseekers on what works, and what isn’t working, in their resume.

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Jobseekers, Bland Is Not a Good Look for You

August 17th, 2010

I was ready for a change. There were things that weren’t making me happy. I was bored with the same-old same-old. How hard can it be, I thought. People do it themselves all the time. If you listen to the ads, they make it seem so easy. Just buy the right off-the-shelf product, follow the easy instructions, and voila, a brand new me. At a fraction of the cost of hiring a professional. So I did it. And now, I have orange hair. Orange is not a good look for me.

There are some things that are worth spending money on to get the right professional. For me, hiring a colourist is clearly one of them. For a jobseeker, hiring a professional resume writer may be another.

Why Hiring a Professional to Write Your Resume May Make Sense for You

  • Having worked with hundreds, if not thousands of clients, an experienced resume pro will have a good idea of who your competition is likely to be. This means that we have unique insights on what it will take to make you – specifically – stand out from the crowd. We can be objective about what to include or exclude from your resume, and can create a profile that grabs the right kind of attention from the right target audience.
  • Our skill isn’t just in the writing, its in the questioning. Good resume pros know what questions to ask you in order to get the gems to put in your resume. We have honed the art of interviewing, probing, pulling out the details that can be used to create a compelling career story.
  • Good resume pros dedicate hours each week on researching the job market. We know what skills are in-demand, what keywords are becoming passe, which employers use which job boards, which employers don’t use job boards at all. These insights mean that we can fast-track the time you would otherwise have to invest in getting ready for your job search.
  • While we typically work arms-length from recruiters in order to be a neutral advocate for our clients, good resume pros take the time to nurture strong networking relationships with recruiters. This means that we can get a heads-up on hiring trends. We can tell you why calling yourself a Farmer instead of Hunter right now will leave you dead in the water if you are looking for a sales position, for example, or why using “Public Relations” instead of “Public Affairs” could result in greater hits on your resume.
  • By leveraging our recruiter and HR network, good resume pros are able to get independent feedback on our product, in order to make sure that it’s going to work for our target audience. After all, it doesn’t matter if you are tickled pink about your new resume, if recruiters aren’t impressed.

Just like off-the-shelf colour kits, there are many books on how to write your resume. You can find tons of samples, many of them submitted by resume professionals. You should be aware though that we rarely submit our best work for publication. Why? Part of it has to do with protecting competitive intelligence. An edgy format, a unique design, really meaty content, loses its edge if its copied by 10,000 other jobseekers. Mostly, it has to do with the target audience for the book – in order to appeal to as broad a range of jobseekers as possible, the samples tend to be fairly generic and bland. Jobseekers who copy them end up looking fairly generic and bland too. And jobseekers? Bland is not a good look for you.


Afraid You’ll Be Laid Off? Don’t Be Passive, Take Control!

July 31st, 2010

I came across a couple of interesting surveys this week. The first one, an employee attitude survey, indicated that nearly 1 in 5 people who are currently employed fear that they will lose their jobs due to corporate downsizing. The second survey, from Mental Health America, indicated that 82% of people, when faced with a stressful situation, turn on the television or rely on other forms of distraction. There are probably few things in life more stressful than facing a real or potential layoff, but this is no time to be passive or numbed out. If you think your company may be considering layoffs, take control.

  • Make sure that you remain a superstar in your current position. Without being a total sycophant, demonstrate through your performance how you add value to the company, and how you contribute to the big picture.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to participate in special projects, especially projects involving other departments. The more people in the company who know you and can attest to your strengths, the easier it will be for you to remain gainfully employed, regardless of which side of the retain/layoff tallysheet you end up.
  • Psychologically and emotionally prepare for the worst (or for some of you the best) case scenario, that you will be let go.
  • Get your home front in order, which includes preparing and sticking to a tight budget.
  • If you haven’t been doing it all along, start putting together a portfolio of your success stories, the projects you’ve worked on, copies of your performance reviews, any emails or letters that you’ve received with positive feedback on your performance.
  • Take an inventory of the strengths and expertise you have to offer – your value proposition in today’s job market. What kinds of problems are you good at solving, and who currently has those problems? This will help narrow down the target for your job search for your next career move.
  • Get your networking tools up to date – names, titles & contact numbers of suppliers, clients, industry associates, company colleagues. This is easier to do while you are still in your job.
  • Implement a networking plan that should include online-connecting with at least a couple of new people per week and warm-connecting with people in your current network.
  • Start researching companies that you would be interested in moving to, and see who in your network of contacts might have leads into these organizations. Consider current suppliers, clients, consultants and competitors as likely candidate companies.
  • Find niche job boards in your field/industry. Set up alerts to let you know when new jobs are posted that fit your target criteria.
  • Identify reputable recruiters who specialize in your field.
  • Once you have a target for your job search and know what and to whom you are marketing yourself, prepare your resume and LinkedIn profile. For the investment of less than a few day’s salary, you can enlist the services of professional who can help you create a distinctive, targeted career marketing package.

The more you take control of your career now – before you receive notice – the less likely you are to feel paralysed with fear about layoff decisions over which you have no control.


What Is Resume Strategy Anyway?

July 7th, 2010

Today I completed my 600th free resume critique (wild-stab-in-the-dark estimate, but my point is it’s up there). I always take the time to review each resume in detail and provide very specific advice on resume strategy (unless you’ve given me something truly horrendous, I rarely comment on format). But it occurred to me as I was typing up my comments today that I am often repeating myself. It’s not that I’m getting lazy, it’s that I see the same kinds of mistakes being made again and again. So, as a procrastination move because it’s 98 degrees out and much too hot to pack for the trip I will be taking shortly, I’ve decided to put together some of the suggestions I’ve offered this year, as a kind of who’s who on resume strategy.

Objective Statement

  • “Instead of using an objective statement, use the title of your target job. It’s okay to change it each time you send your resume out, but if you aren’t sure about the target yet, its premature to write your resume.”


  • “Consider your resume as a marketing document, you have to write with a particular audience in mind, and you have to know what it is you are selling them.”
  • “What is your ideal next company? Is it a mid-sized firm who is looking to take their enterprise infrastructure to the next level of integration and needs a Business Analyst who can bridge the language and thinking of business and technology? Is it a consulting company who helps other firms? What are you particularly good at, and who could use those skills? What ever it is, take the time to define your audience (if you have more than one, you may need different versions), and get really clear on their pain points. Then, write a summary that speaks to their pain points and demonstrates why your background and experience makes you the ideal candidate to solve their problems. In total it should take you less resume real estate to say than it did for me to explain it.”
  • “It can be tempting to try to keep your resume general so that you can use it for several different positions, but this strategy will work against you. If you have several different interests or opportunities, then tailor a different profile for each of them.”
  • “In today’s job market, everybody is describing themselves as a dynamic, problem-solving team player. It’s the equivalent of ‘new and improved’ in product marketing – nobody buys it.”


  • “Your list of skills should only include things that are directly relevant to the target job.”
  • “Put together a list of ten or twelve terms and phrases that describe your expertise – look at sample job ads to make sure you are hitting to top keywords”
  • “Make the skills focused on your target job only – somebody who is hiring an IT sales guy doesn’t care that you are good at desktop publishing unless their product or target client is related to desktop publishing.
  • You have 26 skills here, and the important stuff is getting lost. See if you can get it down to the top ten. Start by skipping the fluff, because your reader almost certainly will”


  • “Since you did a master’s degree, I’m guessing that there was a master’s project, this would be a good place to describe it (one or two bullets at most)”
  • “The fact that you are a certified reflexologist is of no relevance to your career goal as an accountant. No, it doesn’t demonstrate your commitment to continuous learning, and no, it doesn’t show that you have a lot of interests other than accounting. Get it out there.”
  • “Have your credentials, degrees and professional development in the same section, or at least close together, or a hiring manager may not notice that you have your PMP, MBA and CGA”
  • The important part here is the degree that you obtained, not the school you went to. Make sure *that’s* the thing that jumps out.

Experience (New Graduate)

  • “Instead of dividing your experience between volunteer and professional, divide it between Relevant Experience, Additional Professional Experience, and Community Involvement. For the items that fit under relevant experience, indicate whether you volunteered or were paid”

Experience (Seasoned Pro)

  • “You’ve committed a lot of resume real estate to laying out your responsibilities, but there is nothing attention-grabbing here. Your resume should tell a good story of your career. What was your mandate when you came on board, and how did it change over time? What was happening in the company when you came on board, what challenges did you have to face, what kinds of problems did you help solved. Who did you help, and why did it matter?
  • “As you consider what to write here, keep the target in mind, and ask yourself so what, because they certainly will.”
  • “No idea what this means, and that’s a bad thing. Give a brief description of what you were actually doing, emphasis on brief. All these ten bullets can be consolidated into one tightly written description – leaves room to focus on accomplishments”
  • “You held two different positions with *****. Was this a promotion? If so, its worth showcasing this point – why did they pick you?”
  • “This is not a five-verb accomplishment. By over describing it this way, you are diluting it’s impact”
  • “Read your resume out loud. Does it sound stilted when you say it? That’s the way it will be perceived by somebody else. Too many adjectives, adverbs and four-syllable power words makes it hard to read, and can come across as ostentatious. Remember, your goal is to make the reader’s job as easy as possible. “

Dated/Non-Relevant Experience

  • “This takes up a lot of resume real estate, and unless this is an area you want to get back into, you can cut the details out and summarize this into “previous experience includes four years as a ***********. This will make room for more information/accomplishments on your more recent jobs.”

IT Skills

  • “It’s going to be the rare hiring manager who cares that you’ve used Windows 95.”
  • “Go through this list with a ruthless editing pen and leave in only the software, hardware, middleware, and methodologies that are in demand for your target job – unless your target company is one with out-dated systems, in which case, leave it in.”


  • “Separate out the professional associations from the philanthropic ones.
  • “For the professional associations, did you just pay the annual membership fee, or were you actively involved. If involved, briefly describe how.”

Other Interests

  • Knitting reading gardening walks on the beach stamp collecting photography
  • “International travel: Asia, South Africa, Brazil, Eastern Europe *** this is good to keep in if your target job could require business dealings with other countries”
  • “Three-time Ironman competitor (2nd place and 4th place finishes) *** I like this. It demonstrates your drive to succeed and ability to set and achieve goals”

I will continue to provide free critiques, and I will continue to do them one by one, in detail, no template statements. But chances are that if the candidate wasn’t thinking like a marketer when they wrote their resume, my feedback will include some of the points above.


What is Resume Strategy Anyway? An Interview with Karen Siwak

April 22nd, 2010

Ex Recruiter Paul Paris interviews Karen Siwak on what makes a resume stand out.

Listen to internet radio with The Ex Recruiter on Blog Talk Radio

Compassionate HR – An Interview With Karen Siwak

April 22nd, 2010

(Originally aired December 13, 2010)

HireFriday Founder and Compassionate HR host Margo Rose interviews Karen Siwak about the do’s and don’ts of writing a storytelling resume.

Listen to internet radio with Margo Rose on Blog Talk Radio

The Art of a Good Resume: Everything I Know About Storytelling, I Learned in a Canoe

September 15th, 2009

I have yet to meet a client who doesn’t have at least one fascinating story to tell. Whether it’s the Administrative Assistant who pulled her boss’s ass out of the fire through some exceptional behind-the-scenes public relations work, or the Operations Executive who orchestrated a pre-dawn helicopter evacuation of his expat employees, it’s the stories that make each of my clients “one of a kind”. And it’s the stories that energize my days and keep me passionate about my work.

Uncovering the stories isn’t always easy however, and it can be a mind-altering experience for clients who are not used to talking about or even thinking much about themselves. I liken it the “third day” phenomenon of canoe tripping.  Anybody who has gone wilderness canoing with a group of strangers will know exactly what I mean.

On the first day, we are all on our best behaviour, our conversations are polite, the topics of discussion all fact based and superficial. By day three, all pretences are gone, and each of us has been revealed for who we are, in all our glorious colour and complexity. We will each have had at least one FGE**, perhaps involving a misjudged river rock, a portage from hell, a close encounter with wildlife, or a dispute with a canoe partner (typical conversation: “Go left… Left…. NO OTHER LEFT!!!”).

These FGEs are character building. They cause us to confront our foibles and take ownership of our strengths. They create the emotional space for self examination and questioning. Why am I here? Where am I going? Who do I want to be with? What do I want next? A five day canoe trip can do more for a couple’s relationship than six months of marriage counselling.

A kind of quietude descends at the end of the third day as each tripper sits in introspection. Any traces of the rat race have been shed, and when eyes connect there is a glow of authenticity that comes with self-awakening and a new sense of self assurance. It is usually around the campfire on the third day that the “good” stories come out, the ones that will ultimately transform a group of strangers into life-long friends and trusted allies.

My goal as a Resume Strategist is to fast-track this process of self discovery, and I love it. I love getting people to open up about themselves and reach a place of personal authenticity from which truly unique and distinctive career stories can emerge. I love asking the probing questions that create “aha” moments. I love working with my clients to find exactly the right words to tell their stories. Any good marketing professional will tell you that stories sell. Ask any recruiter about a memorable candidate, and chances are that it will be some element of their story that stands out.

I sometimes read career columns advising people that they shouldn’t pay for a professional resume writer, but do it themselves with the help of  a “reverse chronology” formula or template.

Resume strategy isn’t just laying out a reverse chronology of your career path. It’s about telling a clear, succinct story about who you are and why you are the perfect solution to some company’s problem. It stirs interest and invites connection. It creates the opening for an interview, and lays the groundwork for you to be able to expand on your talents, strengths and insights.

A recent client summed it up well after landing an interview with his new resume. “Karen, I know we got it right. This is the first time that I didn’t spend the whole interview defending my resume. We jumped straight into my story – what I can do, what I can offer, how I will fit. It didn’t even feel like an interview.”

And that, as the saying goes, is why you pay me the big bucks :)

** FGE: (Expletive Removed) Growth Experience


Resume Integrity – The Truth and Consequences of Dumbing Down Your Resume

August 4th, 2009

I remember cringing when I first read the Wall Street Journal article that talked about job seekers dumbing down their resumes in order to land a job. As a Certified Resume Strategist who has worked with thousands of clients at all stages of their career, I knew that there were alternatives to selling oneself short, and I found the whole notion of “dumbing down” a tragic waste of talent.

The issue came up for me again when I came across a recent advice column in which the president of a large Canadian resume writing and career coaching firm provided advice on how to dumb down one’s resume. Wow, I thought, has it really come to this, that even the professionals in our industry are offering recommendations on this approach? So I decided to dig a little deeper to determine whether job seekers were finding success with their “dumbed down” resumes. I posted a discussion on LinkedIn, issued a “Help a Reporter” request, and scanned the internet for anecdotal evidence. Not surprisingly, given the state of the economy and rising unemployment rates, there has been a lot of cyber-ink dedicated to the issue. Here’s what I found.

Dumbing Down Your Resume – The Job Seeker’s Perspective

The vast majority of job seekers that I talked to who tried using a dumbed-down resume did get more interviews, but still weren’t landing the job. One HARO respondent told me, “I nearly always dumb down the resume but I haven’t had much luck– rarely the interviewer would like to have more info so I end up sending more. But I haven’t been hired one way or the other.” Another said, “I wasn’t getting any calls for interviews before, and now I am, but so far, I’m still looking.” A consistent pattern seems to be that these job seekers are coming in as second or third candidate of choice, but they can’t hide their knowledge, experience or age when it comes time for the interview.

Of the job seekers who were successful in getting work with a dumbed-down resume, many expressed, “off the record”, that they hated their new job. A former Marketing Manager who re-branded herself to Marketing Coordinator in order to find gainful employment told me, “It’s a balancing act, I have to tell you. I really thought I could do it. I was sure that I could step back, do my job with dignity and professionalism. But I have to admit, it’s harder than I thought. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about your work when you are reporting to somebody in flip flops who is comfortable using ‘icky’ in her business  conversations. And frankly, I’m BORED!!!! All those advice columns were true. I try to keep my energy up, to find ways of making the job more interesting, but… I guess the worse thing is, now that I’m working full time, I don’t have as much time to look for the job I really want. But at least I have a paycheque, right?”

Another contact who dumbed down his resume during the last recession said that his career never recovered. “I didn’t really think about it at the time, because I really, really needed to start earning some money, but I wasn’t just dumbing down my resume, I was dumbing down my career. When the economy recovered, I couldn’t get back into my old career stream, because now I was trying to market myself with a lower level job on my resume.”

I did come across people who were both successful and happy that they opted to undersell themselves. “I was having trouble getting a job and so began leaving off my MA thinking that employers would think I’m too young to have one (I was 23). Long story short, after doing so I received 5 offers for interviews and got a job. Few months later I told my boss about that casually and he laughed and told me I never would have been hired if he knew because he would have thought I’d want too much money. Unfortunately our society punishes very educated individuals sometimes.”

Dumbing Down Your Resume – Recruiters’ Perspectives

Hiring managers who discover that candidates are dumbing down their resumes told me that they are instantly suspicious. As one recruiter described it, “I have access to tens of thousands of resumes through job boards, and I occasionally come across alternative versions for the same candidate. If they have Director in one version, Manager in a second, and Analyst in a third, I have to wonder what the heck is going on. Same thing if the titles on their resume don’t match what comes up on their LinkedIn profile. I can’t afford to recommend a candidate to a client unless I have complete confidence in their integrity – I can’t afford to let them make me look bad. And somebody who is prepared to be less than truthful on their resume is a high risk for making me look bad.”

In our LinkedIn debate, Mike Muyal, Director of Marketing at Levelor, had similar sentiments, “If ‘dumbing down’ means making one’s achievements seem less important, or eliminating some of them entirely…hmm..not too sure about that. If it means making an over-qualified candidate look more appropriate for a junior job so they can ‘get their foot in the door’…well, I wouldn’t like that either. Especially since I could have a star performer in a lower-level job, who in turn becomes more difficult to keep motivated and engaged…and I’ve got nothing to offer her.”

Mike’s concerns are not unfounded. I talked to one business owner who discovered during the interview that a candidate for a mid-level operations position was presenting himself as less qualified than he really was. “He admitted it in the interview that he had an MBA, and used to be a Director in a different industry. I was worried that he would be bored. Our company is small, so I knew that I couldn’t provide him with a lot of variety. But he was very persuasive, and I thought what the heck, I’m getting really good value for my money. I was wrong. He started with oomph, but within two months he was questioning every decision I made and trying to completely rebuild my company. Some of his ideas were good, I’ll admit, but I don’t have time to implement every new-ass MBA idea, I have a business to run. I could see that he was frustrated, and it started showing in his attitude. In less than a year, he quit for something better, and I had to start all over again.”

Dumbing Down Your Resume – Perspectives from Career Services Professionals

Many of the career services experts who have waded in on the issue come down on side of “don’t dumb down”. In fact Sharon Graham, founder of Graham Management and Executive Director of Career Professionals of Canada, was stimulated by our LinkedIn discussion to devote a podcast on the matter.

Others, such as Megan Pittsley, Job Center Manager at City of Livermore, are more pragmatic. “I personally have always found job titles flexible (both as a resume writer and a recruiter), since they vary so greatly from organization to organization. A Director at a small company is similar to a Manager at a large one, government job titles are terribly unfocused, etc. As long as a point is made during an interview to state why you chose to use a functional title versus an in-house formal title no one really cares (if you can sell it). Instead of putting “Director of Marketing”, just put “Marketing” and allow them to see what you accomplished without a discriminating title attached to it.

I don’t feel it shows a lack of integrity whatsoever; just being smart on how you mold your professional image so that people clearly understand what you did.  Sometimes people do actually need to tone down or dumb down their resumes if they genuinely seek a lower position because there aren’t any at their level available and they need a paycheck (I love to be idealistic but now is a time for reality), or because of personal reasons (want less responsibility, job is close to home, etc.) Recruiters can and will toss out resumes for overly experienced or educated applicants before even speaking to them.”

Dumbing Down Your Resume – Some Final Thoughts from a Certified Resume Strategist

I have empathy for job seekers who are desperate to find a job, any job, and think that dumbing down their resume is their only chance. However, I think it is short-sighted, and further, I think that in the very near future it won’t even be an option. With new tools like Applicant Explorer, recruiters are going to be able to build a comprehensive picture of you based on your tweets, your Facebook content, your contributions to discussion forums, your blog posts, and any other web source in which your name appears.

In today’s internet-driven job market, jobseekers are going to find it very hard to try and market themselves under multiple “brands” with conflicting data. Many job boards already sell their candidate lists, and some corporations have agreements to pool candidate submissions (after, of course, they have already on-boarded their top candidate). Jobseekers will no longer be able to assume that a resume submitted for a position with one company won’t end up on the desk of a totally different firm or recruiter, which means that discrepancies between resumes are going to turn up.

If the basic facts of your resume aren’t consistent from one version to the next – the dates, the company names, the job titles, and the academic credentials – then, as the Cuban band leader liked to say, “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.” And chances are that a recruiter or hiring manager is never going to give you the chance to do that.

In the face of touch-of-the-button convergence of web data about you, it will be career wise to ensure that you are presenting a consistent and compelling personal brand across your entire web footprint. This doesn’t mean that you should use the exact same resume for every position you apply to. That isn’t strategic, and it won’t work. It is strategic to tailor your profile and selected accomplishments to the target job – recruiters expect this, and welcome it. As Mike Muyal said, “As a hiring manager, the easier it is for me to focus and get to the gist of a candidate’s qualifications, the better.”  It is strategic to focus on your past ten years – five if you are in IT.

Finally, it is strategic to use your resume as part of a well-thought out job search plan, rather than in scatter-gun approach. This means making the extra effort to thoroughly understand the motivating factors of the target company so that you know how to pitch your qualifications. I’ll close my contributions to the discussion with a terrific example of a strategic resume in action, brought to me by Edward Chance: “The best resume I ever read began like this: ‘My father was in charge of the men’s lavatory at the Ritz Hotel. My mother was a chambermaid at the same hotel. I was educated at the London School of Economics.’ Ray Taylor got the job as a copywriter at Ogilvy and Mather. He had a glorious career. Taylor knew who scrutinized resumes at O&M – agency founder David Ogilvy, who took great pride in raising himself to fame and fortune from the genteel poverty of his English childhood.”


Job Search Strategy – What You Don’t Know About Resume Screening Software Could be Sabotaging Your Job Search Plans

July 22nd, 2009

Ten years ago, only large recruitment firms and big-budgeted corporations could afford to use résumé screening software as part of their talent acquisition process. Job seekers who were applying to small-to-mid-sized companies were immune from the vagaries of these tools.

With the proliferation of the “software as service” delivery model, this no longer holds true. Even fairly small companies can afford to adopt some kind of résumé extraction, screening and management software, either directly or through a full-service hiring solutions firm such as Staffback Inc. This means that job seekers have to be much more savvy about the technology if they want to ensure that their résumé gets noticed.

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Anatomy of a Good Executive Resume – Advice from Recruiters

July 9th, 2009

As a Certified Résumé Strategist, I like to take the “pulse” of recruiters and HR professionals to ensure that the documents I create for my clients are going to be well received by the target audience – the people who will make decisions on which candidates will get an interview, a recommendation, an offer of employment. Ordinarily I do this as part of my week-to-week networking activities, but I decided that, in the face of a rapidly changing employment landscape, it was time to take a more broad-brush approach. Thanks to the wonders of HARO, I can share these words of wisdom from leading experts in recruitment, staffing and career services from across North America.
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Meet Karen Siwak

An award-winning Certified Résumé Strategist, Karen has crafted top calibre career transition packages for thousands of clients. Her specialty is helping people identify and articulate their unique brands and value propositions, and she is passionate about empowering clients with the tools, strategies and confidence to take control of their career search. Read more...

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