Your resume needs more than content – it needs context

Let’s talk about your resume.

Most resumes I see contain a career history; a list of jobs where the person has worked, and often some description of their duties or responsibilities.  But what is missing is context.  Someone may tell me they managed this, or implemented that, but there is nothing to suggest that they managed it well or what impact the implementation had on the organization.  Without the context, their “responsibilities” are interesting, but not particularly helpful.

A list of accomplishments tells the recruiter what you’ve done and how successful you’ve been. It provides context to your work history.  The premise is that what you have accomplished for prior organizations, you can accomplish for the next one.  The good news is, that premise is usually accurate.

Separate your career history (which you still need) from your accomplishments.  Include a section where you quantify what you’ve accomplished.   A “responsibility” might read: “Responsible for managing a staff of 14 with an operating budget of $500,000” which is impressive.  But imagine instead that the “accomplishment” said “Successfully managed a staff of 14 with an operating budget of $500,000 with turnover substantially below the organizational average and expenses within budget,” then we’d know a lot more about you.

Put together a list of 10-15 of your career highlight accomplishments, then pull the 5-7 that really fit the job you are applying for, and sort them by order of importance to the job you are applying for. Now you have a customize resume for a specific position.  In your cover letter, highlight the top one or two accomplishments.  Tell the hiring manager how much you increased sales or profits, reduced expenses, expanded market share, etc.  That is what will open their eyes, and get you the interview.

If you are struggling with your job search, this might help.  https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/


New Year – New Resume

For a successful job search, you need three consistently good pieces of paper (or electronic documents for you young ‘uns). You need a resume, a cover letter, and a target list. (I’ll talk about the Target List next time). If you search this blog for Resume or Cover Letter (and I encourage you do that) you’ll find lots of good information. Resume Magic Parts I & II and The Second Most Important Bullet in Your Gun are great starting points. But for the impatient reader, here are some highlights:

Both documents must look good – clean, well-formatted, PERFECT spelling and punctuation, good white space, one font, etc. They need to look like they came from the same person – same formatting, same letterhead, and same style. Here’s the deal – if you cannot execute a flawless resume and cover letter – how can I trust that you can do your job correctly – whatever job that might be?

They need to be specific to the job you are applying for – highlight your quantified accomplishments that prove you have the ability to do the job you are trying to get. Make the recruiter want to know more about you. Sequence the information so the most important information is on the top half of the first page.

You must submit both documents every time. A resume is a like a photograph of you – who you are and what you are made of; but the cover letter is the background of that photograph, the context that explains why you are sending this resume and adds more color about your interest and excitement. A resume without a cover letter is lost and uninteresting.

Include lots of enablers and avoid the limiters (read more). Don’t put your photograph on either document.

Include your full name and contact information (mailing address, email address, phone number) on both documents. Make sure you are using a professional email address like bob.smith@gmail.com instead of kitten42@hotmail.com.

Your cover letter should reference the job you’re applying for. Throw in some facts about the company so that you can show you’ve done your research and you really are interested in this job for this organization.

Whenever possible send the documents to a specific person. Use LinkedIn or other sources to find out who the hiring manager is and send it to her/him. If HR says you must apply via their processes do that too, but always try to get to the hiring manager. If you’re sending it to HR try to find out the name of the recruiter, or the department head. If you are stumped, send the letter to “Dear Hiring Manager” or Dear Human Resources Professional”, not “To Whom it May Concern.”

I had not planned for this post to be a “best of” kind of post, but I’ve given you several links to posts with more information and more detail.

The bottom line is that if you want to start this new year off with a bang, you need to have the best looking, most complete resume and cover letter you can. Take the time, do them right, and they’ll open doors for you.

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If you want more advice on how to write a resume, how to, network or just how to find a job, check out I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another. Click here for more details.


Resume Enhancement – Think Twice

Let’s face it; very few of us have truly reached the pinnacle of our careers.  Many have earned good educations, held responsible jobs, and been respected in a communities.  But there still may be (or we think there are) holes in our resumes.  It can be awfully tempting to “enhance” that resume to fill those holes and make ourselves more desirable to recruiters.  Some might call this “putting the right spin on your experience.”  In more extreme cases others might call it “lying.”

Let me be crystal clear, I do not advocate in any way or at any time lying on your resume.  Listing jobs, responsibilities, accomplishments, education, etc. on your resume that are not true and accurate is wrong and should not be tolerated.  If you hire someone who had blatant likes on his/her resume or application they should be terminated immediately for a lack of honesty. Never, never, never lie on your resume (or any other time for that matter).

That being said, there is also no reason to draw a red circle around every hole in your resume and intentionally bring those issues to that attention of every recruiter you talk to. Let’s try a simple example.  Say your job was eliminated from company X on February 4 and you found a new job with Company Y on November 24.  If you use the full dates in the Job History section of your resume it will be obvious to everyone that you were out of work of just over 9 months.  However, if you simply list the year on your resume the only thing that is obvious is that your changed jobs in 2009, but the gap disappears.  You’ll want to be honest about that gap if it comes up in an interview or when you complete an application, but there is no need to volunteer the information.

When constructing your job history, it’s okay not to list jobs that don’t fit your career objective.  If during the gap in previous paragraph you worked at McDonald’s because you needed income, you don’t need to list that on your resume, unless it supports your career objective.  You should include it on a formal application, but let it come up in the interview, rather than when your resume is being screened.  Similarly, if you’ve had lots of jobs (I’ve had 10 professional jobs since I graduated from college) there is no need to list all of them on your resume – unless they show a clear progression that supports your career objective.  Only list the most recent ones that best support the position you are applying for.

What I’m advocating some might consider simple common sense.  Make sure to include factual information that supports who you are and why you are the best candidate for a position.  At the same time, don’t include anything on your resume that does not support that same objective unless leaving it off will create more questions than including it.  Your resume is just that, your resume.  You get to decide the best way to present yourself.  You choose the format, the style, and the contents.  Choose the things that present you in the best possible light.

Honesty is clearly the best, and the only acceptable policy.  But, discretion may be the better part of valor.


Resume Magic Part II – Accomplishments vs. Responsibilities

You’ve been working on creating the perfect resume.  But something seems to be missing. What is it?

For most resumes that I see, what is missing is context.  Someone tells me they managed this, or implemented that, but there is nothing to suggest that they managed it well or implemented it successfully.  Without the context, their “responsibilities” are empty statements.

A list of accomplishments tells the recruiter what you’ve done and how successful you’ve been.  The theory is: what I’ve accomplished for my prior organizations, I can accomplish for you.  The good news is that theory often holds up.

Rather than highlight your career and various functions you’ve been responsible for, your resume needs to quantify what you’ve accomplished.   Your resume might say “Responsible for managing a staff of 14 with an operating budget of $500,000”, but what it does not say is if you did those things well.  If instead it said “Successfully managed a staff of 14 with an operating budget of $500,000 with turnover substantially below the organizational average and expenses within budget” then we’d know a lot more about you.

Showing that you’ve improved operating margins by X percent or reduced expenses by $xxx gives context to your statements.  Tell the recruiter how much you increased sales or profits, reduced expenses, expanded market share, etc.  That is what will open their eyes, and get you the interview.

Here are a few more resume guidelines to consider:

When emailing your resume, send it in a PDF format rather than in Word (or your word processor’s format).  This will ensure that it looks like you want it to, rather than how their word processor formats it.  This also avoids problems if you have a newer version or an incompatible software.  (There are several free software packages to publish your documents as PDFs.)

While a well formatted resume is great, often times a company wants you to copy and paste your resume into a text box on their website.  That typically means that all formatting is stripped away and your once beautiful resume is not very functional.  So, keep a .txt version handy.  After you’ve “finished” your resume, convert it to plain text and clean up the formatting so that it looks good again.  This will ensure that those nasty uploads work well and still look good.

Back in the day when I was starting out we were taught to put a “Career Objective” as the first thing on our resume.  We’d craft a bold statement like “To use my education and analytical skills to allow me to grow with a strong and forward looking company.”  While that might have been good advice in the early ‘80s (emphasis on might have been) it’s not anymore.  Now recruiters want to see a 2-3 sentence (or bullet points) elevator speech that tells them exactly who you are and why they need to read the rest of your resume.  Words like proven, experienced, customer-focused, market leader, etc. show energy and drive.  Craft your summary so it makes peoples say “wow, tell me more.”

I imagine some of you are shaking your head or rolling your eyes.  I’ll admit, some of these suggestions are a lot easier for me to say than they are for you to do, but trust me, they work.  If your word processing or editorial skills aren’t up to the task, get some help.  Find a friend who can help.  If necessary, use a consultant.  But if you get help, make sure they give you “your” resume and not “theirs”.  Make sure it reflects you, because that’s what you’ve got to sell when you land that interview.

A great resume can open doors.  Spend some time on yours and you’ll get more interviews, which will lead to getting the job.  Happy Holidays!


Resume Magic – What Makes a Great Resume – Part I

There are lots of resources on the Internet for making a resume with tips and templates galore.  Out of all that, what is the most important?  We’ll I’ve talked with some search pros and we’ve put together these suggestions for creating resume magic.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get all of these tips in one post, here is part I – stay tuned for the remainder.

Let’s start with why you’re doing this at all.  What is the purpose of your resume?  Is it simply a written version of your career history?  Is it your opportunity to tell others your goals and aspirations?  Is it a chance to detail everything you know and highlight your incredible mastery and technical expertise?  Well, yes … and no.

The purpose of your resume is to be your personal brochure and sales pitch indicating why someone should hire you.  With a resume you’re not trying to meet your needs, you’re trying to meet the needs of the recruiter and hiring manager.  You are attempting to show them that you are the perfect candidate for the job they are trying to fill.

Your resume is a paper representation of you.  It should be a personal statement that reflects your technical skills, competencies, expertise, involvement, awards and accomplishments.   While templates and sample resumes are great for giving you ideas, your resume needs to be distinctly you, not a template.  As you expand your brand, make sure that your cover letter, reference page, thank you letters etc. all have the same look and feel.  They need to consistently support your brand.

Here are some guidelines to remember:

  • Choose the format that is best for you – Chronological vs. Functional (we absolutely prefer chronological).  Use your career progression to support that you know what you know.
  •  Lead with your strengths. Start with a summary of why you are the best candidate. Add your accomplishments to support those statements. Show your career history as proof of your success and list your education as the foundation for it all.
  •  Be concise and keep it to no more than two pages – and one page is better.  Remember, if you are lucky a recruiter will read the first half of the first page.  If you haven’t caught their attention by then you are not going to get that job.  If they have to wade through 4 pages of jobs, references and citations you have no hope.
  • Customize each resume based on the position and/or company you are applying to.  Research the company and tailor the resume to fit what they are looking for.
  •  Be industry specific, but here’s where some balance is needed.  You should include industry buzz words so that companies who use computers to scan and evaluate resumes will find the keywords they are looking for.  But, don’t include so much jargon that others can’t understand what you are talking about.
  •  Be truthful – enough said.
  •  Make it look good.  Use a bright white paper and clean, simple font.  Make sure you have sufficient white space so it doesn’t look cluttered.  Use formatting to make it easy to read and to highlight the most important parts.
  •  Make it perfect.  Use multiple proofreaders.  Your spelling, grammar, and punctuation need to be perfect.  Your formatting (bold, underline, italics, centering, line spacing, etc.) needs to be consistent. Your margins should match.  Take the time to do it right.

A great resume won’t get you the job, but a bad resume will keep you from it.  Stay tuned for some more tips and a focus on accomplishments, the real key to success.


Happy Thanksgiving

This is a strange holiday weekend. A few days ago, we celebrated Thanksgiving Day. A day dedicated to family, friends, and being grateful for what we have. Then the next day is Black Friday where we are expected to shop ‘till we drop, grabbing “bargains” and spending more than we can afford. And Monday will be Cyber-Monday where again we’re encouraged to spend with abandon, but online. Who put those things together?

If you are job hunter, I want you to mentally go back to Thanksgiving Day. I hope that for you that was a nice, energizing day. I know that large family gatherings can be stressful. I also know that for some, the absence of the large family gathering is also stressful, or sad. But let’s take this back to the roots. Thanksgiving is a chance to assess where we are, and to be thankful for whatever it is we have.  It might be meager or bountiful, but regardless, we can still find gratitude.

Find that peace. Relax. Assess.

As a job seeker, the next 30 days will be difficult. Traditionally, the job market slows way down after Thanksgiving. Hiring managers are focused on their holidays, getting things cleaned up for year-end, and using their vacation time so they don’t lose it. In this wacky economy, I still expect all out hiring in retail, warehouse, and food services, but I expect the professional hiring world to slow way down.

Take this time to recharge and get yourself ready. Polish your resume. Practice your interview question responses. Send thank-you notes to your network. And get ready, because I expect the 2022 labor market to start off hot.  If you need some tips on how to make the most of your search, this might help https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/.


Networking 101

New to networking? The skill of building a network of contacts is crucial to finding your dream job. Here is a set by step guide. It’s easier than you think.

  1. Make a list of everyone you know – not just the people you think might have good contacts – everyone.
  2. One-by-one, contact them and ask them if they would help you.
  3. At that meeting, tell them your elevator speech.
  4. Hand them your resume.
  5. Ask them if they know anyone you might talk to about your job search.
  6. If they say no, show them your target list and ask if they know anyone who works at one of these companies.
  7. Ask them if there is anything you can for them.
  8. Thank them.
  9. Using the list of names they gave you, return to step 2 and repeat the process.

Depending on your personality, networking might be fun, or daunting, but it is by far the most effective way of looking for a job that you’ll really love. it is rarely fast. For most of us it is exhausting and frustrating. But it works – consistently.

Over the coming holiday season, the job market will slow down, but the networking season can ramp up. People will be feeling more generous, and they may have more time on their hands. Use this time to work on your network, and when the job market opens in January, you’ll be ready. If you want more help with networking, this might help https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/.


The Grammar Police

I recently reviewed resumes for a very senior position. I was blown away with problems of grammar, spelling and punctuation.  These were people with PhD’s!  You would think they would know how to spell and write in complete sentences.  Regardless of their qualifications, their inability to write correctly lost them the chance to be considered.

Now, in full disclosure, we all make mistakes.  I know that I’ve made some typos in this blog. I typically read every post 3-4 times before I post it, and I still make mistakes. But, I believe that you, friendly reader, are a bit more forgiving.  I’m trying to help you (and suggest you buy my book). I am not trying to get you to hire me.

Don’t let simple mistakes in your key documents derail your chance at your dream job.  Have someone else proofread your documents before you submit them.  When you read what you wrote, you know what it says, and your eyes tend to skip over the mistakes.  Make sure you are using a current version of whatever software you are using, and make sure you turn on both the spelling and grammar checking.  If you can get access to use, use a product like Grammarly, it’s phenomenal.  Finally, if English is not your native language, you need to do all of these things. Don’t miss a shot at a great job because you didn’t pay enough attention to your written documents.  Make sure the spelling and grammar are correct.  If the carpenter’s rule is measure twice – cut once, the job hunter’s rule should be proofread 3 or 4 times – submit once. If you are struggling with your job search, this might help.  https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/


The Name Game

Any Shakespeare fans out there?  You’ve heard this phrase before, but did you know it is from a piece of classic literature? “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.”

This is a lovely sentiment, and when it comes a person’s given name it’s probably true.  For the most part, we can’t control the names given to us by our parents.  Sure, you could change it or go by a nickname, but your name is your name, and it’s part of who you are.

The same cannot be said of your email address.  Maybe it’s because I’m just old and grumpy, but I think if you are going to go out into the professional job market and look for professional job, you should take the ten minutes that are required to set up a professional sounding email address.

As an HR person I see lots of emails and resumes, and if Shakespeare is right, it shouldn’t matter; but I have trouble sending a job offer to kitten42@hotmail.com. I have a friend whose high school nickname was Pammy-Cakes.  That makes a great personal email address for her – or for Facebook – but not a resume.  Does it help or hurt if you apply for job with the email LovesToCook14 or GolfAddict27?

Set up an email address that is a variant of your name like bob.smith, bsmith2014, robert.m.smith, whatever.  You may need a use a number that makes it unique (there are lots of Bob Smiths) but don’t use your birth year- they don’t need to know how old you are.

I’ve written before about the importance of a first impression.  Don’t let that impression be marred because the recruiter gets an email from IHateWork@gmail.com.

BTW – The quote is from Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II – Juliet says this to Romeo suggesting that she has no problem with him being a Montague when she’s a Capulet.  Now you have some culture in your job search. 🙂 Be professional in all aspects of your job search, including your email address. If you are struggling with your job search, this might help.  https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/


Happy Labor Day

It’s another holiday weekend – the end of summer.  On Monday we’ll celebrate labor, honoring the contributions the workingman has made to America. If you are unemployed, you may feel left out of this party.  But fear not, the right job is coming toward you as we speak. The economy is growing. The pandemic is waning (ever so slowly) and there are help-wanted signs everywhere. If you need a job, you can find one. 

It’s not just fast food and warehouse jobs that are open. The total “Quit Rate” in June (the last month that data is available) was almost 3.9 million people which equates to 2.7% of the workforce.  That is almost a full percentage point over June of last year.  Without any facts to back me up I going to assume that the vast majority of those people quit because they found a new and better job.  I’m also going to assume that companies then sought to fill virtually every one of those jobs.

There is a lot happening in this job market. If you want to be a part of it, and be able to rightfully celebrate Labor Day, jump into the pool.  Start networking.  Work on a killer resume and elevator speech.  Apply for jobs, and I bet you can be working in a manner of weeks.

If you are struggling, this might help.  https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/