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How to Write a Resume Summary Statement That Brands and Sells

8 Dec

An effective introductory Summary statement at the opening of your resume is a critical component of effectively branding yourself to a prospective employer.  This is the first part of your resume that a potential employer will read, and the goal is to communicate clearly what your

Photo by Brent Nelson (Flickr)

expertise is and why you are qualified.  Often an “Objective” statement tends to focus  more your own interests as the job seeker, while a “Summary” statement communicates what you can bring to the table in the targeted role for the organization.  Why should they hire you, essentially?  This is communicated by highlighting the most relevent strengths, skills & core competencies that are unique to you as a candidate, versus a trait or skill that’s an industry or professional standard (i.e. “multi-tasker” or “team-player”).

A cover letter basically addresses similar points, but in more detail, and allows for a certain amount of personalization to shine through.  The Summary statement should be approximately 4-6 lines and speak only to your professional background, and not address any outstanding circumstances (employment gaps, change of career, personal experiences, etc.). Continue reading

The Importance of the Details: 7 Critical Ones for the Employee-To-Be

1 Dec

I’ve had the flu, or something of the like, for the past two days.  Neither my wit, nor my mental acuity are operating at peak levels right now, but I’ll try my best to offer something of value here. Nonetheless, the gratitude-subscribing coach within me realizes, “Hey, at least I wasn’t sick for Thanksgiving!”  Glass half full my friends, glass half full.

Speaking of both gratitude and optimism, I found my pants.  The laundromat, trying to be helpful, removed them from the rest of the pile after they realized they were still damp, and tossed them into the dryer for an extra cycle.  Unfortunately, they forgot to take them out, and they ended up in some other Brooklynite apartment, someone who was nice enough to return them to whence they came.  So thank you, whomever took the time to do that.  It’s the smaller gestures that can truly brighten someone else’s day, or your own.

Little things are important indeed.  Little ways in which you communicate, in which you present yourself, in which you brand yourself – they’re little, yet they can make all the difference.  For example, I hate when candidates have “Objective” statements on their resumes.  I tell everyone to remove them and replace them with a 4-6 line “Summary” statement.  Why?  Because an objective statement communicates what YOU want out of a company, as if they’re bringing you into their office to interview you so that they can fulfill a favor for you.  A summary statement communicates your strengths and core competencies, and instead presents the idea of “Here’s what I can do for YOU…Mr. Hiring Manager at Company X”.  It seems trivial, but sometimes a trivial detail is what separates you from the  new hire.

Here’s another one. When you’re thinking about communication, especially in the professional sense, remember this: Only 7% of your message comes through via what you actually SAY.  The other 38% is intonation and the remaining 55% is body language.  So you might have most well-crafted answers to every interview question in the history of man, but if you’re going to look down at your interviewer’s shoes, or around the room, speak incoherently  and lace all your sentences with “like” and “um”, you might as well throw in the towel right there.  Same deal if you walk in smelling like smoke or heavy perfume.

Because sometimes a trivial detail is what separates you from the new hire.  Details are important, and unfortunately ten years of fantastic experience and accolades won’t necessarily overshadow 1 hour of careless, hasty  judgment.

Here are a couple of details to keep in mind whether you’re starting or already knee-deep into your job search:

  • Invest in at least one interview-appropriate outfit, and make sure it fits in with whatever the standards of dress are for your industry.
  • Do a quality-control check on your resume Summary (or Objective) statement – what message are you communicating?  Is it about YOU, or about THEM? (Hint: It should be about how You can HELP them.)
  • Do not use BCC or CC fields when emailing your resume. You should be sending it to one person, if possible, and tailoring it to fit the company and role to which you are applying.  Yes, it’s more time and effort-intensive, but far more likely to yield a positive return.  No decent recruiter or hiring manager will ever reply to an application that is generically blasted to multiple people at once- it shows lack of initiative.
  • In addition to attaching your resume and cover letter as documents, include them in the body of your email.  I realize computers never fail and the chance that the file might not open correctly is slim… but you never know.
  • Creativity is great, just not when it comes to fonts and formatting on your resume. Likewise, unless you’re Stan Lee, keep Comic Sans out of your professional email signature.  Ariel, Courier, Times, Verdana or Calibri are all safe bets.
  • Set your Facebook profile to private, for God’s sake.
  • And then Google yourself. Be fully aware of what information about you is available to the greater public and what messages are being communicated.  This effects your personal brand as much as your LinkedIN profile does, so keep it professional.

Get a Life. Get a Job. Whatever You Do, Get Creative.

8 Oct

When I was applying to colleges, I heard this story about a wanna-be ivy league-er who wrote their admissions essay to Brown University on Post-It notes.  They were accepted.  Doubtfully due to their perfect grammar or well-structured paragraphs, but because they were innovative, and their vehicle for communication, however unconventional, sent the Brown admissions committee a clear message:  “YOU WANT ME! And now that I’ve got your attention, here’s why…”

This is kind of how I feel about cover letters.  I’m not a fan of the old standard.  Yea, they’re “professional”, but unless you’re saying something that really has value to your reader, usually the person looking to hire you… it’s not really worth it to regurgitate the same resume babble everyone else does.  Granted, in some cases, it’s still just required.

Applying to college was the first time we were faced with the challenge of how to be distinctively creative in our communication while still remaining credibly professional.  Nowadays, as job seekers and career changers it’s something we toil with on a daily basis.  How does one creatively make their brand stand out above hundreds others, while keeping the professional face of the subject matter expert?

I worked in recruiting and talent management for the creative industry for close to 7 years, with hundreds of fantastically talented graphic and web designers, developers, producers and writers.  I love the creative industry and people involved in advertising because they perfectly illustrate this idea – boring self-promotion doesn’t work.  I had more people come into my office in faded jeans than business casual, and this was perfectly acceptable within that population.  Because when you’re vying for a job at one of Boston’s top advertising agencies, you don’t strut into the interview in a Canali suit and briefcase.  No, you rock a messenger bag and t-shirt that you designed for your last brand-name client and show off how awesome you are, because in reality, you ARE getting hired for your awesomeness.  And your Flash design skills.

Granted, that’s far from appropriate for other industries.  But regardless of industry, there needs to be a high level of awareness around who your target employer is and how and what your personal brand is communicating, the second your credentials come across someone’s desk.  Very often in the creative industry, a standard format cover letter detailing who you were and why someone should hire you was not very effective.  Particularly in a profession like design or advertising where your creativity is the driver of your success, it’s imperative that your ability to walk the talk is clearly communicated when you present yourself to a prospective employer.

Walk the talk. I’m not saying don’t write cover letters, ignore standards of professional dress or to not follow appropriate formatting guidelines for your resume – not at all.  The type of company and the nature of your targeted industry will dictate what’s acceptable for those items.  What I AM saying is that no matter what industry you are in, there is competition, and you need to differentiate yourself in an effective, creative and credible way if you’re going to beat candidates 1 through 56 into the door.  Boring self-promotion doesn’t work.

Answer this question: Why should I hire you instead of the person who came in right before you?  You know nothing about their credentials or experience, only that you have something great to bring to the table and you’ll bring megawatts of success to the company.  The other person probably has something great to offer as well.  What makes you different, and how can you highlight that in a way that is memorable, appealing, appropriate and makes the person interviewing you or looking at your resume say, “We HAVE to have this person on our team!”  Hint: it has nothing to do with money or blackmail.

A former boss of mine was pitching her recruiting services to a new department in a well-known Boston advertising agency.  The agency had just won a lucrative contract with a well-known beverage brand, and while they hadn’t publicized it yet, surely they would be looking to build up a new creative team to support the account.  I love what she did next.  She did her research and thought outside of the box of how to approach this potential client who pretty much every other recruiter in Boston was calling on as well.  How could she stand out in a saturated, competitive market?  She bought a case of the agency’s new client’s beer, and emptied out the bottles (I’m not entirely sure by what means), and in each bottle, she rolled up a resume scroll-style of 12 different candidates whom she thought would be great for their new team.  She was still presenting resumes to a prospect, but she got their attention.  And unlike the competition, her delivery shouted, “Hire me!  And now that I’ve got your attention, here’s why…”

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a one-stop formula on how to be creative with your resume presentation and win the affections of your potential future boss.  It simply comes down to knowing your target prospect, what keeps them up at night, how you can solve that for them, and then how you can communicate that ability to them in a way that makes you look irresistible.  Make them have to have you.  At the very least, get their attention, and create the venue to tell them why you’re the best person for the job, instead of waiting for it to present itself to you.  Take control – create an opportunity for yourself to communicate your worth.  While your message may not change the world, it can certainly change your life.  But nothing changes if you don’t allow anyone the opportunity to listen to you in the first place.  So go out there, create opportunities for yourself, and then tell the world what they’ve been waiting to hear – “Your perfect candidate has arrived!”

I’m Just Going to Say It: Bad HR Practices Make Everyone’s Life Difficult

2 Aug

So…what are your thoughts on the idea around telling a potential employer that you’ll “work for free”, as part of an effort to potentially get yourself in the door at a company?  If you’re an intern, sounds like a great idea.  Even for you entry-level folks who could eventually monetize that extra experience.  But outside of that, I question such desperate tactics and the message a candidate would be sending about the value of their talent.  Punk Rock HR wrote a good article last week about why candidates ought NOT to work for free, which sounds pretty common sense in normal circumstances… but given the state of the job market, maybe not so outlandish an idea for some people.

And I agree with PRHR.  That idea sucks.

Because now more than ever are people struggling to make ends meet and pay the bills.  If you’re a resident of NYC or Boston in particular (and probably any other equally-indebted metropolitan area), transit fares are on the rise, while service quality is on the decline.  Congress is “talking” potential tax breaks, while adding in other places.  And sales tax in some states has risen exponentially in the last 18 months alone.

The lengths that job seekers will go to these days in attempts to impress, or even satiate, HR alludes me sometimes.  Granted, there’s a certain air of desperation floating around the professional atmosphere, but to what degree should job seekers be reduced to begging at the feet of some recruiter or hiring manager, to get a couple of scraps of employment?  Aren’t we all better and more highly skilled than that?  Of course we are.  Unfortunately, economic circumstances remain as they are.  So with that in mind, what are we, as HR professionals and business owners, doing to shift that perspective and better the situation where we can?

I have hired, fired, fought and questioned the legality and ethics of numerous employment situations in my tenure as a recruiter and career adviser. And on the other end, I have been the intern, the job seeker, the hiring manager, the newbie, the senior associate, the boss and the owner of various companies, and I’ve found one thing to be fairly consistent – my disdain for the American HR system.  Now do NOT confuse that with a lack of respect for HR professionals, because at the end of the day, we are all just doing our jobs, and many of us simply regurgitating orders from a higher power that we may, or may not, agree with. Now it’s a known case that third-party recruiters and internal HR folks aren’t always on the same page when it comes to recruiting processes and details.  It helps if you are, as it’s a partnership.

And despite classifying myself as a former HR professional, I was very often miffed by the manner in which my candidates were treated by either internal recruiters, hiring managers or department heads with whom they were interviewing.  While I worked with literally hundreds of fantastic companies whom I absolutely loved partnering with, others I found to be misleading about either the terms with which they were talking to my candidates, or establishing a so-called business partnership with my recruiting agency.  In fact, I’m happy to share my top ten complaints around bad human resources practices, as they best relate to you (and once upon a time, me) as the job seeker:

10. HR filling their pipeline with resumes, “just in case” they decide to pull the trigger on hiring for a particular position.  Why?  Because unemployed people don’t like to sit around hoping and praying any more than they already have to.

9. Overlooking very relevant skills for the exact wording of a job title.  Marketing Associate and Communications Coordinator… same thing.

8. Assuming that someone who has worked in all corporate environments cannot physically function or breath, let alone work, in a casual or agency environment.  In some cases, this may be true, but not always.

7. Knowing in advance what a candidate’s salary expectations are, and after three mutually successful interviews… offering them $15K less.

6. The “Hurry Up & Wait” tactic.  Company X needs someone in that chair YESTERDAY, and when the perfect candidate comes strolling in, the hiring manager is out on maternity leave, with no one to replace her.  Call back in three months!

5. HR generalists recruiting for specialized areas, in which they have no knowledge of applicable skill sets.  “This candidate knows ActionScript 3, but I see NO mention of Flash on here… Can you explain that please?”  Of course I’m never allowed to email the resume to  the Creative Director… DIRECTLY!

4. This conversation: “Hi Janet, just following up on my email and my previous voicemail regarding that great candidate I sent you on Friday for the Marketing Manager role.  Please let me know if this is still a priority for you, as he’s considering other options as well.  Thanks.”

3. Rejecting a candidate without any explanation of where they didn’t stack up.  Unfortunately, this one will never change, and likely it’s because they “weren’t a good culture fit”.  Although in HR’s defense, try saying that without royally offending someone, and inspiring a potential legal retaliation.

2. 3 in-person interviews for a contract or freelance position.  Generally, the interview process should span less time than the job itself

1. Hiring a new employee and providing no support or on-boarding process whatsoever to get them acclimated to their new role.  It’s not a matter of hand-holding.  It’s expensive to hire new people… and it’s three times as expensive to hire their replacement when they quit.

And as an amendment, one more that makes the list, and unfortunately, will always remain on it:  Sh*tty recruiters.  They don’t return candidates’ emails, calls or inquiries, they submit their resumes without informing them first, and generally treat them like another paper in the stack.  I was a good recruiter, as were my colleagues and my agency in general.  So I say in all honesty that as a job seeker, perhaps you have to be most cautious about this one, because in some cases working with a recruiter can do more harm than good.  That’s an article for another time, as well as a few good tips on how to circumvent ALL of the situations above…

Stay tuned!

“I Don’t Get It: I’m the PERFECT Candidate…”

5 May

Any recruiter, career coach, advisor, HR professional, friend, colleague or cousin will give you their own spin on “why that company hasn’t gotten back to you.” There is always the possibility that you just weren’t qualified enough, or outright lacked an important skill or credential that someone else DID have.  Still, the biggest complaint I hear from job seekers is that it really wasn’t that obvious to them why they were passed over, and they’re left scratching their head when they initially thought they were the “perfect candidate”.  So what might have happened?  Here are a few possibilities that can easily go overlooked when you start to play the ‘ponder and assume’ game of “what happened to my resume?”

  • You applied with an out-of-state address.

“But I will move as soon as I get a job!” This one is a double-edged sword, and very commonly an obstacle, unless the positions that you qualify for require very very specific credential/qualifications/clearances, making locality a non-issue due to the narrowness of the candidate pool to begin with.  Or, you got lucky because the company already exhausted their local talent pool, pushing them to look outward.  The concern companies have with out-of-state candidates is often the transition time from “you’re hired” to “welcome to your first day”.  When a move is involved, whether they’re right or wrong, it’s often assumed that the candidate will need longer to sort out their affairs, and the company is looking for someone to start in the role ASAP.  You can always put a local address on your resume, but prepared to answer to the expectation that you’re available immediately to interview and start.

  • You stated your salary range in your cover letter… without knowing what the job pays.

By all means, if the salary range is listed in the job description, or the recruiter tells you upfront, if it’s within your range – say so.  However, even if you’re pretty sure of what it might pay, be wary of stating your range up front if you’re not specifically asked to do so, because you risk pricing yourself out against other candidates, or conversely, you risk undermining your value by going too low.  Save this discussion for the interview, if possible.

  • Despite your stellar skills, you lack “industry experience”… and someone else doesn’t.

How much weight is put on having the exact industry experience of what the company is involved in?  If you have a major cell phone company hiring for a print project manager with tele-com experience, and you have 10 great candidates with tele-com, and one amazing candidate who’s worked in everything but, there’s no guarantee that amazing candidate will make the cut on skills alone. There are reasons why industry-specific experience is critical to some companies –  language and nuances and practices and other aspects that are specific to each industry.  Even if the job is the same, it is likely that a company doesn’t have resources to train in those areas, and they just can’t take the risk on that new hire not coming up to speed quickly enough.  If that’s the case, it may simply be out of your control.  Move on!

  • You Lack a critical skill component… that you didn’t consider critical.

Same thing if there’s a required software element. It may seem like a small thing to you to not be an expert in “Software X” (you can learn on the job – you pick things up quick, etc. etc.). But if 3 other candidates have it and you don’t, you might be out of luck. Again, most companies lack the time and resources to train someone in the required software or skill areas, even if it’s something minor, and let’s face it, EVERYONE  “picks up new technologies quickly”, so that’s not likely to hold any weight.  Research in advance what type of applications or software knowledge is important to the company and the role, and look at online software training resources like Linda.com to get even the basic understanding of the tools, and you will increase your chances of getting noticed.

Sometimes you’ll just have to rest on the fact that you have no idea why a potential employer may have passed on your resume.  There are a number of circumstantial reasons that can come up – someone was promoted internally, the position was put on hold due to lack of funds, the candidate after you had the same alma mater as the HR Manager, they already have 5 people named Harry who currently work for the company and they want to avoid any further confusion with the email system.  Focus on the areas where you do have control to optimize your candidacy and your chances of getting noticed.  There are tons of “rules” and “how-to’s” out there, but the most important thing is to really pay attention to the company you want to work for, and what it is they want out of that perfect candidate.  Target, personalize and then sell yourself as the fantastic front-runner you are!

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