Posts Tagged ‘Resume’

Be Volunteer-Savvy for Your Career

September 19th, 2011

Some of my favorite business entrepreneurs worked pro bono for many months in order to acquire the skills and knowledge they needed to make their next career move.  Others felt deeply committed to give back to the community – locally or globally – in some capacity, or were driven by a passion for a cause. Whether you are motivated by altruism, professional development, or both, volunteerism can be a great tool to boost your value in the job market.

VolunteerA LinkedIn survey found that 41% of professionals considered volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience when evaluating job candidates, and 20% of the hiring managers made a hiring decision based on a candidate’s volunteer work experience.

Drawing on the success stories of my clients, some kinds of volunteer work are more valued by potential employers than than others, particular in terms of demonstrating transferable skills and experience. Some things that you can do to maximize the “market value” of your volunteer efforts when it comes time to find paid work:

  • Choose volunteer opportunities that align with your career objectives, and allow you to develop and showcase your professional skills.
  • Have a clearly defined and documented deliverable (ideally with metrics or evaluation criteria that can be verified), or a specific problem to solve, and know how you are contributing to the big picture goals and mandate of the organization.
  • Look for opportunities to lead a team. As challenging as it can be to build and motivate a paid team, overseeing a group of volunteers can be ten times harder, and many employers know it.
  • Ask your team leader or supervisor if they would be willing to give you a performance review, which can be particularly valuable if you don’t have a lot of professional experience under your belt yet.
  • Cultivate your network. Volunteer organizations bring together people from a wide range of industries and backgrounds, and you will never have a better chance to broaden and diversify your network of first degree contacts.
  • When it comes time to write your resume, describe your contributions using the terms and keywords of your career target – if your goal is to be a project manager for example, speak in terms of project management; if your goal is marketing manager, speak in terms of marketing and marketing communications.

Ready to become a volunteer but not sure where or how? Check out the website of your favorite cause for information on how to volunteer, or visit sites such as (USA) or (Canada) or (UK)** to see who may be able to benefit from your passion, expertise, and time.

** Thanks to Paul Williams (@PaulWill1977 on twitter, who works with the UK Stroke Association) for this link.


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.


Don’t Fill Your Resume With Sea Junk

July 30th, 2010

I am an inveterate beachcomber. One of my soul-satisfying delights when I’m on vacation is to find interesting bits of sea glass, seashells, broken pottery, and rusty something-or-others, and at the end of a seaside walk I will inevitably return with a few new treasures in my pockets. Over the years I’ve amassed quite a collection of odds and ends, which until recently have been tucked away in boxes, baskets and whatever is handy around the house. This week I decided to consolidate my collection into a single location, and was dismayed to realize exactly how extensive it was. If I didn’t want to be overwhelmed with sea junk, I needed to cull, and I needed to be ruthless in doing so.

Beachcombing Collection

Beachcombing Collection

Maintaining your resume over the years can be like that. You create a document to land a job, add bits to it as you progress through your career, until one day you realize you have six or more pages of “sea junk” and no clear idea of how to cull it down into a useful document again.

If you don’t have a clear career brand, if you don’t know who your target audience is, if you don’t understand what their buying motivators are, then it can be hard to decide what to include and what to cut out. Your resume is your career marketing document, a key component of your job search arsenal, and every word, every phrase, every formatting decision must add value from the reader’s point of view. The better you know your target audience, the easier it will be to decide what to include and what to exclude from your resume. By researching your target companies and understanding their pain points, you will be able to go through your resume with a ruthless “so what” editing pen, to ensure that what remains provides a clear and compelling picture of why you are the perfect solution to your target audience’s biggest challenge.


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.


Bad Professional Habits that Can Harm Your Career, and What To Do About Them

November 30th, 2009

When I have a pause in my day, I slump. Literally. I lean forward in my chair, rest my chin in my hand, and ponder what I’m reading and writing about. It’s a posture that feels right to me. It requires no thought or effort. It’s the pose I used for my online picture. You might even call it my comfort zone. As it turns out though, my slump is not working for me, and has actually been doing me some harm.

I got my wake up call last week when I went to the chiropractor for a pinched nerve in my neck. By slumping in that particular position, I have managed, over time, to knock my neck, jaw and shoulder out of alignment. So now, in addition to enduring some sounds-like-gun-shots chiropractic adjustments, I am having to do ‘sit up straight’ exercises so that I don’t fall back into my slumping habits. I can tell you, it isn’t easy.

Our careers can be prone to slumps – professional bad habits that become our comfort zone, but are highly detrimental to our long term career health.

Ten Signs You May Be Career Slumping

  1. Your answer to ‘How was your day?’ usually involves gossip or complaints about your colleagues and clients.
  2. The last workshop you took was a company-mandated workplace safety course two years ago, and you can’t remember anything except the chocolate-chip cookies that were served.
  3. You haven’t added any new people to your network of contacts in the last month, and some of the contacts you do have won’t take your calls anymore.
  4. You used to belong to an industry association, but you dropped out because FILL YOUR OWN EXCUSE IN HERE.
  5. Your response to people’s suggestions automatically starts with ‘Yes, but…’
  6. When asked to get involved in a special project at work, your first thought is ‘oh no’, ‘why me?’, or ‘does this mean I have to stay late?’
  7. Your boss’s boss has no idea what you do. Or worse: Your boss has no idea what you do.
  8. You are under 45, and are already day-dreaming about your retirement.
  9. The only person you’ve thanked in the last week was the person who handed you your change and cup of coffee.
  10. Your reputation at works has started to include the preface, ‘Oh. He’s an interesting guy’.

If your answer is ‘Yes’ to any or all of the above, you are either in or headed for a career slump. The longer you let it go, the more painful will be the adjustment when you get the ‘sit up straight or else’ wake up call. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take immediately to de-slump yourself.

‘Sit Up Straight’ Exercises to De-Slump Your Career

  • Hop off the gossip-train. The power trip you feel when you have ‘the dirt’ on somebody is nothing like the strength you feel when you really get to know them.
  • Make learning a priority. If you can’t afford to enrol in a course, then look for free webinars and downloadable courses. Learning isn’t just about acquiring new skills and knowledge, it’s also about shaking up our stale assumptions and misguided preconceptions.
  • Talk to somebody new each week. Ask them about their interests, their challenges, their families. Business may be powered by money, but it is nurtured by personal connections.
  • Join an industry association – and not just so you have something to put under Professional Affiliations on your resume. The payoff in terms of networking opportunities, early insights on industry developments, and heads-up on emerging opportunities will be invaluable.
  • Pay attention when people make suggestions. Fine, some of them will be just plain dumb or impractical, but some of them will contain a grain of truth or even brilliance, and you won’t know which is which if you haven’t taken the time to listen.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to do things that are outside of your job description or comfort zone. Not only can this be a chance to acquire new knowledge and skills, but it can be a great way to de-slump other people’s understanding of who you are and what you have to offer.
  • Make sure your higher-ups understand how you are contributing to the big picture. Make sure YOU understand how you are contributing to the big picture. There is no employee easier for a decision-maker to cut when it comes to downsizing than the one whose job is a mystery to everybody else.
  • Find something right now that turns your crank and energizes your day. Make at least one personal and one professional goal that is realizable in the near future, and put the action plan in place to achieve it.
  • Adopt an attitude of gratitude. I’m not talking about being relentlessly and annoyingly chirpy, I’m talking about taking the time to recognize and acknowledge the people to whom you owe a thank you.
  • If you are being described as ‘interesting’ in quotation marks, chances are you’ve slipped over the line of chronic sarcasm, cynicism or bitterness (acknowledgements to Dave Howlett for this insight). Bitter, sarcastic cynics may have funny and repeatable one-liners, but that’s just about all they are good for. They don’t make good team members, they can’t be trusted with referrals, and they don’t get promoted or recommended for new opportunities. Except in the ‘we’ll make him available to industry’ kind of way.

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


Unpaid Intern: To Be or Not to Be?

August 31st, 2009

Over coffee recently, I listened as a soon-to-be new graduate lamented the fact that there were few job prospects for somebody in her field. She was asking for advice on whether or not to accept an unpaid internship in order to get her foot in the door. To help with her decision, I laid out my personal experience as a soon-to-be graduate.

By fourth year university, I had a diverse and storied portfolio of part time and seasonal positions under my belt:

  • Sorted Christmas overflow mail for Canada Post; learned the meaning of the phrase “go postal”.
  • Took messages in a call answering centre whose clients ranged from restaurants to call girls (yes, really); learned that you have to pay really close attention to whose line you pick up before you answer the question “what’s on the menu.”
  • Sold encyclopaedias door-to-door; learned that some people will buy anything.
  • Solicited participants for market research studies; learned that some people will say anything.
  • Flipped burgers and pushed French fries; learned that some people will eat anything.
  • Painted house exteriors with College Pro Painters; learned that the top of a 45-foot ladder is not the place to be when the wind picks up from Lake Ontario.

While my “career” path thus far proved that I was willing to tackle anything, it did not give me a whole lot of marketable skills for a Mass Communications and Computer Science graduate who would soon be launched unceremoniously into a job market that was recovering from 9.6% unemployment rates.

In my final year of university, my fortunes turned. I was offered an unpaid internship with a university-based research group. Through this internship, I learned how to design research studies; how to prepare grant submissions; how to source hard-to-find information & resources that aren’t available in the college library; how to edit research papers for publication; how to collaborate with a team of professionals who had conflicting interests and perspectives; and how to think critically about complex issues and prepare cohesive arguments so that I could be heard above the voices of 15 intellectuals. I also developed a network of connections who were able to help me when it was time to land my first full-time job as a Policy Analyst with the Ontario government.

Many successful CEO’s started their careers as interns (see the Forbes article “From Intern to CEO” ). One of my favourite stories involves Robert Herjavec, who waited tables while working for free for six months in order to get practical experience in the computer industry. As he described it in an interview with TVO’s Paula Todd, “I realized that nobody was going to pay me to learn the skills that I needed in order to get ahead.” He went on to earn millions from the sale of his internet security software, and is best known as one of the venture capitalists on the Dragon’s Den.

I have often heard the argument that unpaid internships are exploitative, that they take advantage of students. I tend to disagree. (I say tend, because I am completely against the pay-to-work model offered by Dream University, in which wealthy off-spring pay thousands of dollars for the chance to attach a corporate name to their resume).

Some internships are better than others, and the deciding factor is not the money, but the kind of experience that is offered. A well-designed internship can provide invaluable professional growth opportunities. In an interview in Fortune online, Christi Pedra, President and CEO of Siemens Hearing describes what I would consider an ideal internship model:

“First… we make a big deal for our managers to get interns. Department managers submit a proposal for a project that can be completed in 10 weeks. It must have a measurable outcome and benefit to the business. The best proposals are granted interns…. Second, we make it challenging. We give interns assignments that matter to them and to us…. Third, we make it real…for example, our interns simplified manufacturing tool kits, audited and redefined work instructions, developed internal communication campaigns and validated software.”

I recommended to my young friend that she seriously consider the internship offer. Yes it would mean a few more months as a part-time waitress to pay the bills, but it could also represent the turning point in her career. As Pedra describes it, “Ten weeks ago, they entered as students, and now they will be leaving us as professionals.”

There are hundreds of links to sites that offer advice and listings for both paid and unpaid internships. Here are some of my favourites:

Career Edge: Internships for New Graduates (Canada)
Ability Edge: Internships for People with Disabilities (Canada)
Career Bridge: Internships for Internationally Trained Professionals (Canada)
Campus Access: Directory of Internship Programs (Canada)
International Youth Program Internships
United Nations Internships
USA Internships for International Students
CollegeRecruiter Internship Listings (USA)
Interns Over 40 (USA)
USAID Volunteer Internships (USA)


Considering a Job Change Once the Economy Picks Up? Be Proactive

August 24th, 2009

I had lunch last week with a senior HR Manager who was contemplating leaving her job after more than 20 years with a large corporation. “I’m having trouble living with the disconnect between what the company claims are its core values, and how it is handling staff relations during this recession.” She went on to describe a litany of incidents, from a service agent who was terminated after revealing she had cancer, to an entire team that was being laid off so that the division director could meet his cost-cutting targets for his performance bonus.

In a recent LinkedIn Q&A, Jeff Lefevre, Managing Partner and Founder, JTL Services, posed the question: “Over the past 6 months employees have seen a drastic attitude change from their managers. This attitude of ‘well be happy you have a job’ is wearing thin. Have you noticed this change?”

I responded that, based on what I’m hearing from my clients and contacts, there is going to be a tsunami of job searching once the economy picks up, and some of the most active job hoppers are likely to be HR personnel who are disgusted with how companies have chosen to treat their staff.

More than a few people, from both HR and non-HR backgrounds, contacted me directly to applaud my answer and reiterate my observations. In one contact’s words, “a huge changeover in staff is coming, and I don’t think management understands exactly how deep into the organization this discontent has spread.”

If you are considering making a career change once the economy picks up, be proactive.

Don’t wait for a “tipping point” incident. Take control now by mapping out your career plans for the next six months to two years and equipping your job search arsenal.

  1. Take some time to think about your personal and professional values. I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough. It is much easier to figure out whether a new company or position is going to be a good fit for you if you are really clear about what is important to you.
  2. Go through your files and start collecting the material for your resume: projects, positive feedback, performance reviews, KPI reports, anything that you can use to support your success stories.
  3. Define your value proposition – what are the key strengths, expertise and experience that you have to offer.
  4. Investigate companies that you would like to work for. Go beyond the financials. Listen to what current employees are saying. A good source for getting the inside scoop on how employees feel about their company is the anonymous reviews in the
  5. Look at who is hiring in your target job market, and what qualifications they are looking for. Determine whether you need training or credential upgrades in order to be more marketable.
  6. Create at least two versions of your resume. I recommend having a detailed resume that can be easily customized to apply for specific job openings, as well as a one-page high-impact synopsis that is better suited for networking.
  7. Get a non-business email account, if you don’t already have one.
  8. Bring your LinkedIn profile up to date, and claim your web identity on Naymz and ZoomInfo.
  9. Identify and join the LinkedIn groups and industry associations that will best support you in your career transition. Start following the discussions. Stay current on the key issues, news, and trends in the industry. Find out who the “people to know” are.
  10. Make networking a priority. Find time in your calendar to make at least one new contact per week. Focus not on what they can do for you, but what you can do for them.
  11. Reconnect with colleagues from the past. It is much easier to network and reconnect when you don’t have the pressure of “need a job right now” hanging over you like an invisible sign.
  12. Not comfortable with networking? Learn how. Consider seminars such as Breaking Down Silos, where you can get some practical tools and strategies for successful networking without feeling like a snake oil salesman.

Taking control of your career plans has two positive benefits. One, it can help to minimize the sense of powerlessness that comes with being stuck in an unfulfilling job. Two, it will ensure that, when the right opportunity comes along, you have the tools in your arsenal to land your next great job.


Recruiters Have Attention Deficit Disorder, and Other Truths About Job Search Strategy

August 14th, 2009

The web is flooded with conflicting advice about how to write a resume: Gotta be one page. Gotta be two pages. More than two is okay. Keep it brief. Keep it detailed. Use keywords multiple times. Don’t repeat yourself. Get creative in formatting, so that you stand out. Don’t get creative in formatting, or it won’t work. And the list goes on.

The problem is this. There are two different kinds of “gatekeepers” who will read a resume and make a decision about the candidate’s suitability for the job. They each have very different information needs, and the each use very different reading styles. A resume that is designed for one kind of gatekeeper won’t necessarily work for the other.

Recruiters & Hiring Managers Have Attention Deficit Disorder

ADD: “Easily distracted, miss details, frequently switch from one activity to another, become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable, have difficulty processing information”

Recruiters and Hiring Managers often don’t have the time or inclination to read a resume in detail – at least on the first go round. Faced with a two inch pile of resumes, they need to be able to look at your document and tell within a few seconds whether you fit the bill. They may suffer from resume fatigue – after 30 or 40 resumes, all candidates start to look the same, and anything that creates visual distinction is a welcome relief. They don’t want to flip pages, and they don’t want to work too hard to understand what you are trying to say. When resume strategists advise using a one pager with short bullets, and a creative layout that can be easily scanned by the eye, this is the gatekeeper they have in mind.

Resume Screening Applications Have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder

OCPD: “a preoccupation with details, rules, lists, order, organization, and schedules; very rigid and inflexible in their beliefs”

Resume extraction and screening software – the kind that gets used to pull resumes from job boards – is the opposite. These applications use fairly rigid algorithms to read your resume and decide whether or not you make the grade. Much like Search Engine tools, the more detail, the better. Miss a keyword, and you may get screened out. Try to get too fancy with your formatting, you may not get parsed properly. Try to use graphics, and you just create confusion. When resume strategists advise using keyword-rich content and standard resume layout, this is the gatekeeper they have in mind.

So What’s a Jobseeker To Do?

Tailor your resume to your job search strategy.

Most job seekers are already aware that “one size fits all” doesn’t work if you have multiple career objectives, and tailor different versions of their resume to different kinds of jobs. But they don’t always realize the importance of tailoring their resume to the job search tactic they intend to use.

The Cold Job Search, or “black hole” as it is aptly nick-named, involves applying for advertised job openings online, and posting your resume on job boards. The most likely gatekeeper is going to be some sort of Resume Screening Application, and your resume needs to be optimized to work with the software.

An optimized resume for a cold job search has keyword rich content about both your duties and your accomplishments, with “the balance of power” tilted toward accomplishments. You still need to be concise, no run on sentences, no long paragraphs, because eventually your resume is going to be read by a “live body”. There are occasions when three or more pages are okay, but as a general rule, stick to two pages.

There are many different kinds of  Extraction & Screening software in use today. With older versions, you may be required to cut and paste from your original resume to fit pre-defined boxes. More up-to-date software will accept your MS Word or .pdf version, but can still be finicky about how you format, so stick with tried and true layouts.

The Warm Job Search, or “networking and relationship building”, involves developing and reaching out to warm contacts. You can be reasonably sure that you’re resume is going to be looked at by a live human being, and your goal is to get them to sit up and take notice. Anything that you can do to demonstrate that you value this person’s time will be welcome.

The ideal resume for a warm job search is a one pager with enough details to layout the facts and tweak the reader’s interest – this is no place for information overload. Select a half dozen of your top accomplishments to showcase who you are and what you have to offer.

You can get creative with formatting and layout on your “warm search” resume, but be aware, one person’s “wow, great resume, love the creativity” is another person’s “oh my gosh, what were you thinking”.

The response on your Warm Job Search is going to be one of three things:

  • Sorry not interested. Okay, on to the next contact.
  • Let’s meet or talk: Great, resume worked!
  • Can you send me a copy of your detailed resume. Note, this is not a sign that your Warm Job Search resume didn’t work, it’s a sign that it did. You got somebody’s interest, now they want to know more.

The “Come Find Me” Job Search, or passive job search, involves establishing a strong web presence so recruiters and hiring managers will seek you out. The goal of the “Come Find Me” resume is to create a distinctive personal brand identity, elevate your name in search engines, and make the recruiter’s job of getting to know you as effortless as possible.

Whether you set up your own website or use online tools such as VisualCV, you have a great deal of latitude in terms of content and design. Using well thought out layout and menus, you can include much more detail than you could with a traditional resume.

Think about including links to articles and blogs. Provide video clips and PowerPoint presentations. Crosslink with your LinkedIn and ZoomInfo profile. Use Twitter to share insights and information, and establish your reputation as an expert who gets followed.

A word of caution about using Facebook for your “Come Find Me” resume. Once its published, Facebook owns the content. Forever. A resume you post today may still be accessible 5 years from now. Do you really want to give up that kind of long term control over your brand identity?

Be Smart About Your Job Search Strategy

Today’s job seekers are facing one of the most complex job markets in recent history, not just because of the huge competition for a limited number of openings, but because the very nature of what constitutes a smart job search has changed. Gone are the days when you sent out a thousand resumes and waited for the phone to ring (I have to wonder if there ever was a day when that strategy worked).

Savvy job seekers today know that they need to launch a multi-pronged attack if they want to edge out the competition. They use “cold”, “warm” and “come find me” tactics, and they keep multiple versions of their resume in their job search arsenal so that they can use the “weapon of choice” to land their next great job.


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.”


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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