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By my own count, I have read well over 1,000 resumes and probably closer to 2,000. Without an analytical study, I would say only 15% of those resumes were resumes that screamed a loud “YES, hire me for this job!” Probably another 30% were just mediocre and I would estimate that a full 50% actively worked against the candidate.
I am asked all the time what makes a good resume. The short answer is a resume should scream – “Yes, pick me, pick me.” It should clearly show your qualifications for a position. A good resume should have clear easy to read bullets or paragraphs that make sense to someone who has never met you. A great resume should list accomplishments and what you have done at your previous positions using the method of “showing, not telling.” A good resume incorporates quantitative, measurable results. The general rule of thumb is less than 10 years of experience is less than a page and 10+ years can work up to two pages. There are some specialized cases, e.g. Federal, highly technical, where longer resumes are acceptable.
Even if your resume is scanned by a computer, there are some tips you can use because at some point a human will lay eyes on it.
1. Grammar / Spelling / Typos – Have at least three people, who are careful and detailed, read your resume. This works even better if the people reviewing your resume do not know you because they are less likely to “fill in the gap.” Your resume cannot contain any grammar errors, spelling mistakes or typos. If I am reviewing a resume, depending on the egregiousness of the error, I will forgive a single error because we make mistakes. However, if your resume contains multiple typos, all you are doing is signaling sloppiness and laziness to the hiring manager and sending them on to the next candidate.
2. Unintelligible bullets – A person must be able to understand each bullet and/or sentence on your resume as a stand alone sentence. For example, do you know what this means? “sell multiple digital and online solutions for clients” Neither do I. What were the exact solutions? What were the results? How many clients? What’s the difference between digital and online? A better phrasing would be – “Sell B2B customer relationship management software for more than 10 clients resulting in $32,000 in additional revenue.”
3. Misuse of verbs – Actions in the past should use past tense verbs. Sounds very easy, but it is not. Again, this is where a review of your resume would comes in handy to make sure that your verbs are aligned in tense. If verbs are not in agreement, it makes it hard to read and understand.
4. Descriptions that are overly generic – You are a hard worker. Great, so is everyone else. What does that even mean? People remember and notice specific details. Tell me you lead a team of four people across three time-zones, not that you lead international teams.
5. Combining multiple formats – If someone is reviewing your resume, either in person or online, they will spend less than a minute reading it. Make sure it is easy to follow by ensuring your format is simple and consistent. This includes small things like making sure you are using one font for your resume. Also make sure if you are using bullets they are all aligned. Generally speaking, bullets are easier to scan and digest for the reader than a paragraph. However, there are ways to incorporate both depending on the specific requirements for your professional experience.
6. Not using a cover letter – While some positions require a cover letter, if I am applying for a job that I really want, I ALWAYS write a cover letter. The majority of candidates online will not use a cover letter, even if the position application specifically requests one. Also if any of the following apply to you, you should definitely use a cover letter to explain your qualifications and transferable skills:
7. Not customizing your resume – It is absolutely critical to customize, at least partially, your resume for each position. Or if you are working full-time and trying to job hunt, have at least three versions of your resume that you can use for positions. One easy way if you are applying for a position that might use a computer scanner is to update your resume with the language used in the job posting/description. When doing this you should never lie or exaggerate your experience. However, switching verbs such as “Managed three analysts” for “Supervised three analysts” is fair game if the job description uses the word supervised. In certain industries, e.g.Federal Government jobs, there are certain requirements that are necessary for a resume. Before applying, consult with an industry expert to make sure your resume meets minimum expectations.
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Do you know there is one tip that is guaranteed to help you advance your career? Do you know that it doesn’t require much effort either, but almost no one uses it.
It is simply – ask for feedback.
Let’s discuss feedback for a minute. For the majority of us, we get lackadaisical performance reviews once or twice a year that don’t really offer any insight into our performance. At best, they are mediocre yardsticks and at worst the potential for politics run amok.
But, if you want to push ahead to the next level you have to ask for feedback regularly and proactively. You can’t adjust your behavior if you don’t know what adjustments you need to make. Also, feedback discussions, if you have a good manager, allow you to build rapport with your manager and your team.
Below is an action plan to get you started.
1.Learn how to ask for feedback
The first step in using feedback, is to know how and when to ask for it. People who have studied organizations or even animal behavior (Thanks Pavlov!) know that feedback needs to be timely to be useful. The worst thing ever is finding out months or years later that something you did, which could have been corrected,
2.Open yourself up to criticism
We all know that one person. The person who asks you for your “honest opinion,” but then fights when you tell them something they don’t want to hear. Don’t be that person. If you ask for feedback, the first step is you have to be open to receive it. Our automatic response is to get defensive, but the first thing to remember is that most feedback isn’t personal.
3. Learn how to give feedback
There is an art to giving feedback. Part of the corollary to #1 is that not everyone knows how to give feedback that is useful to the person receiving it. Some folks browbeat you, some folks make it personal and some aren’t specific enough. Before you give anyone feedback, know what outcome you would like to achieve. This will help you structure the conversation.
4. Create an action plan for how you will use feedback
Feedback is useless to you if you don’t act upon it. After you have received your feedback session, create an action plan for how you will incorporate it to make changes. Ideally this should be done with your manager so that you can create action items that you can measure your progress against.
Feedback is the most useful tool you aren’t currently using.
So I am in the midst of looking for a new job. I really liked the work that I did at my last company, but unfortunately the company decided to go in a different strategic direction and we mutually decided to part ways.
This has led me to determine what my next career step is. One of the first things is that I did not feel rejected and I did not feel less than capable. This happens all the time to a lot of people. It does not mean that I am not talented and it does not mean that I am less than capable of handling another role.
What it does mean is that I am forced to make several deliberate decisions about my career and my path moving forward. So I am keeping a blog of my progress to help highlight several do’s and don’t and misconceptions about the career hunt.
My very first thing I did was go home and rest. Because you can’t do anything while you are stressed out. So take a few days and let it process. During this time I was selective about who I told because many people will have a lot of opinions, but you first need to process it.
So by now, you have defined your goals. You have a plan for what you want to get out of the career fair. You have a resume that speaks to the positions that you are targeting and you have researched the companies that will be there. Now there are just a few more steps to take to have the best career fair ever!
Understand your Value Proposition
You have one minute to sell yourself to a recruiter. At least to sell yourself enough that they will want to follow up with you further. In order to this this you need to be able to clearly articulate what value you will bring to the company and why they should hire you. You should know your skills and strengths and how they fit in for the position you are seeking. Also, do you have a list of your key accomplishments that you can discuss? Think of that first contact as a mini-interview. You want it to be clear and concise and stay away from the dreaded “well, I can do anything.” Be specific about what you can accomplish for the company.
Here is where you can stand out in a memorable way. You can stand out by highlighting your confidence, your executive presence and your ability to sell yourself. Here is where you want to wear comfortable, confident clothing. It is better to overdress and make sure everything is groomed. Women, this is not the time to wear your uncomfortable heels or new shoes (trust me I have been there). Men, make sure you have a suit that fits. If you don’t have a lot of budget, a neat trick is to by a suit and have it slightly customized. Women, wear your hair in a way that it won’t get in the way and you won’t have to keep checking on it. If you decide to wear a scent keep it very very light as many people are scent allergic. Now is the time to shine and not be infamous. Some mistakes people make are bad breath, too much cologne, begging for a job and having no idea what the company does. These are the people we share stories about and not in a good way. Lastly, if you are waiting in a line to chat with someone, be mindful of your phone habits!
I wrote an entire piece about following up, so I won’t rehash much here except to say that many jobs are lost by people either following up too little or following up too much.
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Ahhh, the career fair. In my neck of the woods, there is at least one career fair a month. But it’s at best a cattle call with people swarming recruiters and company representatives. The recruiters are looking for the diamond out of dozens, if not hundreds of duds. And you just want to get a job. I have been attending career fairs for over 10 years and spent 90% of that time as a recruiter/company representative. During that time I have interacted with thousands of candidates (no that isn’t a typo). I have interviewed you, scanned your resume, handed you my business card or referred you somebody or someplace else. So here it is, your definitive guide to being successful at a career fair from an insider.
I have successfully navigated career fairs including interviews and job offers and so I decided to help other people.
My approach to candidates is based on three phases. This is Phase One which is ultimately the hardest and most difficult for most people, but will make all of the difference in your success. It is the hardest because you have to spend the most time with yourself and be honest with your intentions and answers. Most of us haven’t looked at why we are working where we are working in years. And it also requires at least some answer to the question “What do I want to do?”
For your phase one, what you need to do is spend some time with yourself and figure out the answers to the following questions:
Define your objectives at the career fair
Do you actually want a job? Are you exploring opportunities? How soon are you looking to move?
Most people show up for a career fair with some form of “I want a new job” but they have no idea why or when or what they are looking for with regards to said job. Defining your success in a specific, measurable way actually makes showing up at the career fair easier to navigate because you know how you will approach every contact.
For example, if you are not looking to move immediately you goal at the career fair might be to make contact with three recruiters to create a network. Having this particular goal will influence how you approach the recruiter, how you follow up with them and the way you present yourself and tell your story. Once you have collected your three contacts, everything else just becomes cheese gravy (yum).
If you are seeking a new job, then your approach changes. Your elevator pitch (and if you don’t have one, then create one and practice it) is crucial to getting to the next step. You can only do this if you know what position (or department). Many people approach the recruiter with only the” idea” of a position, but your elevator pitch becomes MUCH more valuable if you can tell me in 30 seconds “I want THIS job and here are the five reasons that my background make me a perfect fit.” Then I, as the gatekeeper, can take a specific action.
Ultimately, all of your behaviors at the career fair will lead you to an outcome, but if you don’t have a plan in place before you step foot on the floor, you will never meet your goals.
Review your resume (and if necessary have multiple version)
When is the last time you have had a your resume reviewed by someone that is NOT a friend or family member? A resume is a sales pitch and should tell an immediate story of why you are qualified for the positions you are seeking without the need for a backstory. If you haven’t reviewed your resume in awhile, take five minutes a day to update it rather than trying to do a marathon session. Then have it reviewed by a professional. Now, if you are looking for several different positions, then it is completely acceptable to have multiple versions of your resume. For example, you might have a version that speaks of your industry experience and another version that highlights the specific skills that you bring to a position. The best resumes are clearly tailored for the position. You should have a clear and concise viewpoint on the skills you have and why you are a good fit
Research all of the companies that you will be targeting
EVERY career fair has a pre-published list of the companies that will be hiring or looking to hire at the fair. Now depending on the purpose of the fair – for example in DC secret clearance is always popular – you should know EXACTLY what position you want to apply for when you get there. The #1 way that people fail in career fairs is they come and say “Well, I just want to work for your company and I can do anything but can you tell me what your company does?” No you can’t. If you tell me that I have researched your company and I want X position in Y department and here is why I ‘m a GREAT candidate for that position, guess what? You have just made me your ally. You have now shown me that 1) you understand the company and position and 2) have a good understanding of the work that we do and 3) given me a specific action step to fight for you. You want the recruiter to fight for you, but they can’t do that unless they know your story.
So here is your action plan for Phase One:
1) Define, with specificity, your objectives for seeking a new job
2) Make sure your resume is up to date
3) Do your research
After any encounter, if you want it go further than just someone you met somewhere, you need to follow up. These days a follow-up is almost done entirely on email.
Now, here is where many many leads are lost (I myself am quit guilty of this). We collect business cards, we collect emails and iffy LinkedIn contacts and are told and encouraged – follow up with me so we can connect further on <insert topic>. Sometimes, you are asked to follow up because there isn’t time at said event to discuss the topic in-depth. Other times, you are following up on an application (the hey, did you forget about me), or after an interview (the thank you note) or sometimes you need someone to take an action. I can tell you, out of the thousands of people I have spoken in front of and shared my contact information, less than 50 have followed up directly with me afterwards.
So, even before you read this post – commit to following up with everyone for a month.
However, all follow-ups contain a few key common elements.
First, remember that if you are following up, you have already had an encounter with the person. It’s a really wonderful thing to start off with a warm contact. This could be someone you met at a networking event, a speaker, an interviewer. In your note, make sure you indicate how you met and feel free to utilize something to help them jog their memory (I was the one who told the story about hand-gliding). I know it seems obvious, but depending on the length of time since your last point of contact, they may not remember you. It also sets the stage for how you will structure the rest of the message.
Second, keep it professional. I have heard story after story of how people lost the job, or ended the connection because they were “too familiar” with the person, or over-shared or something else that wasn’t professional. Generally, if you are following up, you want something from the person. You need them to do something for you (meet with you, hire you, etc.). This means pay attention to your grammar, and don’t say things like “Wow, it was great seeing that not all middle-aged people are blowhards.”
Third, think about the content of the email. This follow-up may be your last shot (if it’s a thank you note for example) or should set the tone. Do you want to highlight aspects of your experience, you didn’t get to talk about in the interview? This is where you need to be deliberate and specific about your request of the person. If you need an in-person meeting, then state that. If you need them to respond to something then state that too. However, if this is a follow-up from a networking event, this is NOT the time to ask them – hey, can you hire me. Or if you interviewed, this is NOT the time to ask “How did I do?” or “What are my chances?” If you aren’t the best writer, ask a friend to review the email before you send it. Before sending emails where I want a response, I often type a first draft. Wait at least an hour, come back and read it and then check – Is it clear? Does it have a specific ask? Does it outline what’s in it for them? Does it push my brand? Are there any typos? And be warm and friendly.
Last, don’t stalk the person. I have been a victim of the “professional stalk” and all it does it turn me off from wanting to help me. Remember that people are busy. You should allow at least one week for a response. As I said in my earlier post on The Cold Email, you don’t want to stalk people.
Over the last several weeks I have received emails from people seeking things. Sometimes they are “warm” emails, meaning a follow-up from an event where I spoke and invited the audience to reach out to me. However, I have received a few “cold” emails from people on LinkedIn. The cold email is where you email the person out of the blue. Even if you were introduced by a mutual acquaintance, the email is still cold, unless the acquaintance did the introduction.
Now there is lots and lots of advice on how to write great “cold” networking emails, but here are a few tips of what will actually work.
1) Do keep your email short and well-written
Your email is going to be the first introduction the person has to you. Let me know why you are choosing to contact them. Write your email as if it is being read on a phone. Make is clear and concise. Bullets help, but make your bullets relevant. If you are using a form email, have someone read it before sending it out. This email may be your only communication with the person and you don’t want it ignored simply because you didn’t know the difference between your and you’re (and stay away from contractions in general). A good writing tip is to keep it simple. Trying to sound smart in an email generally comes off as arrogant. Do not type these emails on your phone (or replies). Trust me, the autocorrect errors are worse than anything you could come up with on your own. Another tip is to write your email and then wait a day and re-read it before sending it.
2) Do do some research on the person prior to emailing them
Several times I have received emails addressed to Mr. A simple Google search or search on LinkedIn would have prevented this very careless error since my picture and information is very clearly displayed all over the web. At a minimum, making a mistake like this shows me that you are just either mass emailing, or not taking the time. It’s an immediate put off. The other benefit is that researching allows you to connect with your subject in a very personal way. You may find an article they have written or a panel discussion they have sat on in your field. There is absolutely zero excuse to doing research on your contact.
3) Do not immediately ask for a job or job help
To the person you are emailing, you are a stranger. You are unproven. What you are asking them to do is use their political capital to get you an “in.” Capital is a resource and is limited. Don’t ask for a referral until the person knows you and is actually willing to vouch for you. Why should I use my political capital on a stranger? A better option is the informational interview. I may be willing to help you out after I have met you and have gotten to know you better. I still may not, but don’t badger me which leads into…
4) Do not follow up incessantly
I have read various articles and in some cases they recommend following up in as little as 2-3 days after sending an email. You shouldn’t follow up for a least 2 – 3 weeks. Again, you have no idea what the person is going through in their life right now. They might be in the midst of a wedding, childbirth, switching jobs, or anything. You should be respectful of their time. And at most, a second follow-up is all you get. I will not respect you for your persistence as several articles have suggested. I am busy and you want something from me. Even for people I KNOW and want to reply to, it could easily be a month before I get through and reply. This was even more true when I was a consultant. I was managing my work inbox, a client inbox, my personal email and flying thousands of miles a month. Well, you get the picture.
Remember that you are dealing with people in real life when you email. While it may seem like it’s not a big deal, you always want to have your best foot forward.
Recently, thanks to my own executive coach (because even the coach needs a coach. She’s wonderful), I’ve been reading “The Empress Has No Clothes” by Joyce Roche. It’s a wonderful book about how many times when we achieve success, we feel inadequate or like we didn’t deserve it. We feel that we aren’t deserving of such success and that we will be “found out.” I have spoken to many people and this is a phenomenon that transcends gender or race. It’s a problem not just applicable to corporate America. It’s that feeling that when we meet our graduate school classmates and one founded some billion-dollar start-up and the other rescues bald eagles on the weekends that we are the charity admissions case. I have coached more than one women entering business school with a non-traditional background, i.e. not consulting or finance, who has minimized her efforts. I have spoken to young men who feel they aren’t good enough despite evidence to the contrary.
In Joyce’s book, she talks about the syndrome as a need to work ever harder and prove your value. I have the syndrome, but in some ways I did the opposite. I knew I didn’t belong and set myself up for failure. I self-sabotaged and always waited for the other shoe to drop. I would leave assignments have finished, or procrastinate, or just do things to so that expectations would be lowered. When people spoke of my talent, I didn’t believe them. Deep down inside, I didn’t feel I deserved what I had, so externally I made myself look like what my internal felt.
I can remember very vividly when I received my last job. The EVP was extremely excited for me to join and spoke very highly of me. Yet, inside I didn’t believe that I was capable or worthy. I could name half a dozen people who would have the drive and the ability to succeed. My first thought was not “Heck yeah you want me on your team because I’m amazing,” but it was “Darn, what if I completely fail at this? I have no idea what I am doing.”
This syndrome is different than insecurity. The hard part is that we know we are talented. We just believe we aren’t “good enough” or just aren’t as talented as the next person. We believe, despite all the external evidence to the contrary, that we are fraudsters, waiting until someone calls us out for having no clothes on.
There is no singularly way to let go of the feeling. In her book, several of the essays take a multitude of approaches. Some turn to yoga, some have an epiphany, some turn to therapy. For me, here’s what work. The first step in overcoming the syndrome is to admit that you have those feelings. Share them. Find people, your alma mater, a networking group. Meet with them regularly. Discuss your feelings. Journal (blog like I am) but find a safe way to discuss it.
The second step is to figure out a plan to fight it. Every case is different, but work with someone to create a plan. Create steps that you can measure, that are small.
The third step is the hardest – list out every single accomplishment you have had over the last five, 10, lifetime. List out all of the wonderful things people have said about you. Keep it in a book. Write it down. Make it count. Realize that you did all of these things because of the talents you possess. Make a dream board.
Additionally, there are several very good articles including this wonderful list by Joyce herself – http://shriverreport.org/10-ways-to-overcome-impostor-syndrome-joyce-roche/
So what about me? I wish I could say that things changed suddenly, but like everyone else it is a journey. But I can tell that they have changed and that feels better than having no clothes.