Resume Myth: Be Creative with Your Resume Format

Showcasing your creative talents in your resume formatting can distract from the actual content and your true abilities do not shine through.

Multicolored resumes are normally a turn off. I’ve seen some that are 3 – 5 different colors and styles of font, on a colored background with clip-art embedded throughout. Or, even worse, including your photograph. If you’re absolutely convinced your photo needs to be on your resume, at the very least make it a recent business professional version.

Columns are also not a good idea. For companies who scan in the resumes, it comes out as sentences from left to right, so whatever is in the left column gets merged with the right column and makes incoherent sentences. While it might look good on paper or on your computer screen, once the formatting has been removed, you have a mess. I’ve seen two page resumes formatted as columns, end up being 10 – 20 pages long once the formatting is gone…and no one will look at that much information.

When it comes to your resume, what is important is clearly and concisely capturing your skills, experience and general knowledge in a way that attracts the attention of the hiring manager and encourages them to schedule an interview with you.

Resume Myth or Just Plain Bad Advice: Keep your resume to one page

In reality, unless you have just graduated from school and have absolutely zero work experience, a one page resume is not only almost impossible it’s not serving your best interests.

Two pages is the standard resume length. Three is even permissible. Anything over three and you had better have lists of publications, patents and very, very impressive information to share. Otherwise, you’ll be perceived as being egotistical.

I’ve seen recent high school graduates with two page resumes. All that community service work, volunteer projects, helping out with the family business and school committees actually can be seen as work related skills.

While you don’t want to list it as official “Work History” or “Work Experience,” this is still experience, especially if it is related to the job for which you are applying, so go ahead and include it on your resume. You can title it “Volunteer Work” or “Community Service” and highlight the skills, experience and general knowledge you gained from this experience.

Over the years, I’ve met some very impressive high school graduates who have suggested and managed volunteer projects, done presentations to a formal board of directors, created and/or maintained a non-profit web site, etc.

Until you have actual work experience to fill up the pages, showing that you have some transferable skills will help you get your foot in the door.

If you have twenty years of work experience and you are trying to cram it onto one page, stop it!

You are expected to have at least two pages of information. You don’t need to list everything you’ve ever done for each employer. However, the work you’ve done that is relevant to the job and any impressive accomplishments will go much farther towards getting you an interview than a one page resume.

Ten Unwritten Rules of Internships & Co-ops

You are about to start your first internship, co-op or training job. Perhaps you need actual hands-on work experience in order to meet the requirements for graduation or you are working on gaining experience to improve your chances of employment upon graduation. The skills, experience and knowledge you gain from an employer willing to take you on before you’ve graduated will be valuable.

Take it from someone who has seen many students go through a wide range of companies and industries in a wide range of positions. There are some unwritten rules that employers never tell you, but you really need to know. Some may seem obvious, some may be surprising. They are here to provide some help and insight and hopefully some humor.

1. You are new. You are green. You have no actual work experience. You do NOT have all the answers to all the questions and no one expects you to. So, jumping into the middle of a conversation with how you would solve the problem will most likely end poorly. The odds are you do not have all the information nor can you see the big picture. So while your solution to whatever the problem is may sound brilliant to you…it may be totally destructive to the company, project or product you are working on at the time. You don’t know what you don’t know and that can be dangerous.

If you are asked specifically for your input on a discussion, by all means provide it. This is your opportunity to shine. Speak clearly, concisely and understand that this is your opinion based on what you know about the question/issue/problem to be solved. But don’t take it personally if it’s not the actual solution the company goes with in the end.

2. This is a job. Dress accordingly. Showing up to an interview or your first day dressed in anything less than business casual is an insult to the company. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to work for a company that wears jeans and t-shirts most of the time, feel free to blend in (within reason). However, under no circumstances should your t-shirt have an opinion of any kind printed on it and definitely nothing risqué.

For females, do not dress like a little girl or a hooker. There are many TV programs showing women dressed in short skirts with low cut blouses that are not actually something a true business professional would wear to work.

You want to be taken seriously, you want people to respect you and listen to you when you speak and value your opinion and technical skills, so try to stay neutral. You don’t want the main focus to be what you are wearing.

3. Opinions in general can be dangerous. Do not discuss politics, religion or any other topic that may be viewed as controversial. The safest thing is not to discuss anything other than work. Possibly puppies and kittens…but definitely not controversial subjects.

4. If you are assigned something to do. DO IT to the best of your ability. Ask for further information, clarification or whatever you need in order for you to do the work yourself; however, do not attempt to assign it to some other intern or employee. I’ve seen this happen first hand. You were not hired to delegate work. You were hired to help out and to learn.

5. Do not make faces, roll your eyes, sigh, swear, or indicate in any way that you feel the assignment is beneath you. It’s tempting to let it out if you feel that making copies or filing or running an errand is really not why you are there. And while it’s not going to help you learn about your specific field of study, it is going to teach you humility, team work and will give you a glimpse into what it’s really like to work for a company. Doing whatever needs to be done, whenever it needs to be done and being someone who can be counted on to pitch in, help out and in general has a positive attitude, will make you a better employee in any field, doing any type of work.

6. Salary. Assuming you are paid for your internship, do not discuss your salary with anyone in the company except for your direct supervisor and/or whoever is designated as the contact person for payroll. If you have questions, talk with only the appropriate person.

Brace yourself: There will be taxes withheld. Yes, most people know this; however, I’ve seen at least one intern start screaming that no one has the right to take money out of his pay check. If someone has to call your Mother to calm you down, you won’t be working for this company when you graduate and any credibility you’ve established up to this point is now gone.

7. Do your best to get along with everyone in the company, no matter what department they are in or what position they hold. This is great practice for your future. Cross-departmental collaboration and teamwork are more than just a bunch of buzz worlds. Being able to work with everyone is vitally important to your career.

8. Many companies have what is referred to as an “open door policy” – meaning if you want to talk to someone, you’re free to come in and do so. Even the most casual companies, would still expect you to knock on the door first or politely ask if this is a good time BEFORE launching into whatever you wanted to talk about.

9. This really should go without saying but if you report to someone and go over his or her head, behind his or her back or in any way communicate with someone they report to and leave them out, it will not be viewed favorably. As a concept an open door policy is a good idea, however in practice you still need to respect the hierarchy and your direct supervisor. The only acceptable time you can get away with bypassing your direct supervisor is if you’re being harassed and need to report it to human resources or someone higher up the management ladder. Follow the rules of the company if you have this happen to you.

10. Traveling on Company Business or Business Meals – just because you can, do not order the most expensive thing on the menu. Don’t over eat. Don’t drink alcohol. Yes, that’s what I said…don’t drink. Or at least if you are in a social situation and do drink, do not, under any circumstances get drunk. I could write an entire book on how alcohol has destroyed a career.

There are many other unwritten rules, but these are the ones that seem to cause the most problems and while it is assumed everyone knows these things…well, there’s a saying about assuming too.

Communication Skills Required

More and more job postings have something in them about having strong communication skills, oral and written communication skills and/or presentation skills.

This seems like such a simple thing, you might wonder why it’s even posted as a requirement.You might think everyone is capable of communicating at least on some level.

In reality though, so many people communicate by text, email, skype using abbreviations and acronyms and letting spell check change words however it sees fit…the ability to communicate verbally seems to be lost.

When I see this as a mandatory requirement, what it means is you must be able to speak, understand, comprehend and write clearly. And, unless otherwise noted, this is expected to be in English.

It saddens me to receive resumes from candidates with stellar GPA’s and a beautifully written resume, only to call them and discover they cannot speak or understand English. Not all of them are from other countries.

When I ask a question and the answer is the same words I just said rearranged into an incomprehensible sentence …You’re in trouble.

Entry or senior level, hourly or salaried, whatever type and level of candidate you are…if you are answering every question with a yes or no…You’re in trouble.

While this may seem to be an efficient way to respond, it doesn’t help you prove you are capable of holding your own in a conversation or that you actually comprehend the question you were just asked.

When I ask for feedback on why someone did not get offered the job, the majority of the time, the answer has something to do with inability to communicate.

The art of conversation is important. Practice with friends and family if you need to brush up your communication skills.

Targeting the Hiring Manager

Email from a Job Seeker

I keep seeing articles about how to get my resume into the “right hands” and suggesting that I write a compelling cover letter and mail it directly to the hiring manager. According to some, this is the best way to get noticed and communicate clearly that I’m the right fit for the job. I even saw a statistic the other day saying 25% of people who do this get the job they are going after. What do you think?

Regards,
Frustrated Job Seeker

Dear Frustrated Job Seeker,

I believe there is no right or wrong answer here. It “could” work. It “could” also backfire. A 25% success rate sounds like it may have some merit, but what happened to the other 75%?

While I believe you should not only craft a cover letter that targets the position you are applying for, I also believe you should highlight your relevant skills on your resume. Sometimes the letters and the resumes get separated. Sometimes, gasp…no one reads the cover letter you spent all that time writing.

I think pursuing the hiring manager “might” work in your favor, but mostly that seems to help in a very large corporation. If there’s a computer scanning for keywords between you and the hiring manager, you “could” get noticed by trying to go direct…IF the hiring manager actually receives your resume.

For the times I’ve seen it work, I’ve also seen it go completely wrong. Hiring managers have human resource professionals, support staff and a variety of other team members who can still end up with your resume. If it’s your job to screen resumes and someone deliberately bypassed you, how favorably would you be viewing the candidate? What message is it sending to someone who could be your co-worker or your peer? What message is it sending to the hiring manager? For every one who views this as a positive thing (assertiveness), there’s an equal number who see it as desperate, aggressive or sneaky.

If it’s a smaller company, a start-up or a professional recruiter working for a company … somewhere there are actually people reading your resume… bypassing these people may not work in your favor. Some of us can and will help.

Golden Handcuffs

Wikipedia defines “Golden Handcuffs” as “… a system of financial incentives designed to keep an employee from leaving the company. These can include employee stock options that will not vest for several years, but are more often contractual obligations to give back lucrative bonuses or other compensation if the employee leaves for another company.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_handcuffs

It used to be this expression applied to high level executives, highly educated employees who were likely to change jobs frequently; however, I am seeing it happen now to people right out of college.

What do you do when the first job you get right after graduation pays exceptionally well, has tremendous benefits and you HATE IT.

It’s very hard to walk away when something more exciting, interesting or challenging comes along, but the salary is just not there.

On the plus side, there are numerous articles written about how to get out of this type of situation, but they all require you to walk away from the money. Maybe the old saying money can’t buy happiness has some merit.

What a Recruiter Wants to See

A Tongue in Cheek Overview

What do recruiters see when they look at a resume?  What makes them want to stop and read yours word-for-word and what triggers the impulse to skip on to the next one…

I’ve had several conversations recently with job seekers who all seem shocked when I tell them to “hone” their resume.  Make it perfect.  Make it a marketing piece.  Make it stand out.  Tell me clearly and concisely why you are the right fit for the job and why I want to meet you.

I recruit full time, I love recruiting.  I’m passionate about people and jobs and finding the right fit.  I freely admit that I sometimes spend way too long looking at a resume, but the majority of recruiters do not.  We are all buried under with resumes (especially in this economy).  I recently posted a job for a technician and within one hour, I had over 100 resumes in my in box.  Two weeks later, I’m still receiving them.  Time is precious.

The exact amount of time most people spend reviewing a resume varies, but most often I’ve heard anywhere from 10 – 30 seconds.

There’s not much in this world that anyone can do “well” in that amount of time, but after years of recruiting, I can tell you roughly what someone is looking for on a resume in 10 – 30 seconds.

Location?  Do you have a degree (if I need one)? Job titles? Company names/industries? What have you done that applies to this job opening?  Are you a US Citizen (if I need one)? What makes you special?

Anything beyond that is lost in the clutter of a resume.

From a recruiter’s standpoint, give me what I need up front.  Don’t make me search for it.  Everyone knows it’s a highly competitive market and if I have to spend too long looking for what I want on your resume, well, I’ll move on to the next one…PASS.

Why do I want to know your location?  Are you local to my company or are you looking for relocation assistance?  Do I have to fly you in for an interview or can you get here in ten minutes?  Maybe I don’t care, but if I do care and you don’t tell me you live down the street, I’ll assume you live in Timbuktu…PASS.

Degree?  Do you have one?  What school did you attend?  If you just list the college, what does that mean?  Are you hiding the fact you didn’t graduate or are you assuming that I know that listing a school means you got a degree?  Was it an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, PhD? What did you major in? If I have to guess or I have some doubt…PASS.

Job titles?  Maybe it’s not applicable to the job you are applying for, but if you don’t tell me what your title was, I’m likely to have to guess and I’ll always guess you were the janitor (unless you are applying for a janitorial position, then I’ll guess you were the president).  Too much room for doubt…PASS.

Company names?  Have you ever worked for any of my competitors?  Do you have similar industry experience?  A1B2C3 Company is meaningless.  Tell me what industry it was in.  Even if you worked for Microsoft or some other well known company, I need help knowing where your background experience came from.  If I need someone from a manufacturing industry and none of your employer’s names include the word “manufacturing” I won’t know the industry, so …PASS.

Job description, duties and responsibilities?Tell me in the first few lines under each job what you did there that applies to what I want you to be doing in the job for which I am recruiting.  If the fourteenth bullet point under your last job title is exactly what I’m looking for, I’ll never see it.  If the fourteenth bullet point under your last job title says “discovered the cure for cancer” no one will ever see it…PASS.  It’s a shame, isn’t it?

US Citizenship?  If I’m recruiting for a client who requires a US Security Clearance, I’ll need candidates with US Citizenship.  If you are a US Citizen, even if your name is George Washington, put US CITIZEN on your resume.  If I’m in doubt and have to call to find out for sure that’s going to take too much time…PASS.

What makes you special?  I need to see it, in writing on your resume.  Never assume that because you had the title of … Electrical Engineer … that I know automatically you know how to design a printed circuit board.  You could be an Engineer and drive a train.  You could be an Electrical Engineer and never have anything to do with PCB design.

Read the job posting.  Analyze it and make sure your resume highlights the skills that are requested.  Tell me where you did the same or similar work and how successful you were at it.

And, last but not least, follow directions.  If I ask for a Word version of your resume, please send a Word version of your resume.  If I ask for your salary requirement, please tell me roughly what you think is acceptable.

“Negotiable” means something completely different to everyone who sees the word.  If I’m worried that I’ll get all the way through the interview process with you and then find out that your definition of negotiable is twice what the top of my salary range is…well…it’s just faster to…PASS.

By the way, if the resume is loaded with typos and spelling and grammatical errors…PASS.

Sometimes recruiters look for totally different things in resumes, but then it depends on the job requirements, the company culture, and any number of variables.

In general though, the same rule applies:  Give a recruiter what they want to see on your resume as quickly and clearly as possible and it will get our attention.  Any time over 10 – 30 seconds might just be long enough to find out you should come in for an interview.

The Good Part of a Job Search during the Holidays

All of the year-end holidays are quickly approaching.  Looking for a job this time of the year can be even more frustrating…delays in responses from the hiring managers added to the stress of being unemployed or unhappy in your current position, make this a particularly difficult time of the year.

The silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud of job searching is this fact:  So many job seekers give up this time of the year thinking it’s not worth the effort to apply, that quite frankly, the candidate pool is smaller.  The competition is less and you may actually have a better chance of being hired than you think.

While it’s true companies have holidays and vacations and some people are out of the office, there are still some companies who have funding budgeted for a hire in the fourth quarter and are trying to get new employees in place before the first of the new year.

Happy holidays and DON’T GIVE UP!

The Secret to Getting Your First Job Right Out of College

The short answer is:  CARE!   Show you care.  Demonstrate, at every level that you care and you want the job.

You have your degree, presumably in a field where you have some level of passion, excitement or at least a desire to work.

Why are the companies not beating down a path to your door?  Why are you not getting calls for interviews?  Why are you getting the interview and not getting the job?  What are you missing?

This is not intended for everyone.  Up front, let me say I know there are thousands of graduates out there who are doing everything right and still not finding the job of their dreams.

This is for the others…the ones who haven’t figured it out yet.

This is going to seem pretty basic.  I find that many recent graduates are not looking for work, or they are looking for the wrong kind of work.

Looking for a job IS a full time job.  Use the services of your college career center. Use the on-line job boards. Use social media.  Know what you are looking for and how you fit.  Not just how you fit, but how you can make a difference and how you can shine.

Start with your resume.  Is it perfect?  If it’s not perfect, fix it.  Simple, right?  If you have a single typo, spelling or grammatical error on your resume that will be what the hiring manager sees.  Nothing else will show up, just that you didn’t care enough about your resume and the application process to make sure your resume was perfect.  That attitude will likely be carried over into the work environment and no one wants that employee.

If you are a recent graduate, submitting your resume for any position that has the title of “manager” or above, you are not likely going to get any response.  On the other hand, if you submit your resume with a cover letter (in the email) stating that you know you are not qualified for this one, but if there is an entry level (or more suitable) opening you would appreciate being considered for it.  NOTE:  There should not be typos, spelling or grammatical errors in your cover letter either.  This is not where you showcase your ability to use emoticons or acronyms or see how few keystrokes you can use.

Tailor your resume for the job you are going after.  If you have any experience that is relative to the position or if you have specific course work that covered the requirements for the position, make sure that is on your resume.  Assuming the hiring manager knows what you can do is a huge mistake.

If you are fortunate enough to get an email or a call from the hiring manager or anyone at the company, ANSWER the email or the call.  Be polite, professional and respond as quickly as possible.  I’ve had people answer me weeks or months after I’ve sent an email or left a message.  The job is gone by then or at the very least the company is in the process of narrowing down the search.  And, even if they are not and are still looking for the right person, your lack of responsiveness is a reflection on you.  You just sent a message:  You either don’t care about the job or you are too unorganized to follow up or you are lazy.  It’s very difficult to overcome any of these perceptions.

Once you have an interview scheduled, whether it is a phone interview or an in-person interview with ANYONE in the company, be sure you know everything you can about the company and the job opportunity.

Not knowing what you are interviewing for or what the company does means you are lazy, don’t care or are unorganized and didn’t have the time or inclination to research it before you spoke with them.

Going on the interview in person.

Dress professionally.  Jeans and a tee shirt may be what everyone wears once they are employed with this company, but for the interview, business professional is required.  No one has ever failed to get a job offer because they wore a suit or a tie or looked professional.  On the other hand, I’ve seen several people get the job because they were the only candidate to show up dressed professionally.  It shows you care.

After the interview.

Follow up.  Send a thank you note.  Email is fine.  Typed letter is fine.  Handwritten is fine (assuming you have nice handwriting).  It shows you care.  Down to the finalists, all things being equal (same degree, same GPA) the one who sent the thank you note almost always gets the job.  Everyone “says” they send a thank you note.  Not everyone does.  Stand out from the crowd.

Are You Too Old

There is no denying there is actually age discrimination in the world.  There are various forms of age discrimination.

The preconception that someone is too old for the job because they won’t have the energy of a younger employee, the recent education of a younger employee, the new technology skills of a younger employee or the ability to stay awake during the meetings…Oh wait…I’ve seen people of all ages nod off during particularly long-winded meetings.

There is also the concern that someone older will not want to work for a younger boss.  Or they will make their younger boss look bad because they have so much more experience.  Is that actually discrimination or is it fear?

One of the tougher hurdles to overcome is the idea that you have 30 years of work experience, so you will want more money than is budgeted for the position.  And even if you take the job, you will leave as soon as something better comes along.  That’s a tough one, because while it’s a preconceived notion…it also really does happen frequently.

By and large, the absolute worst form of age discrimination is when I hear it from a job seeker about him or herself.  “I can’t find a job because I’m too old.”  In that case, the job seeker is stating a fact; a fact that they have created and chanted over and over until they believe it at their very core.

So walk into an interview, thinking you are too old for the job and you are too old for the job!  One of the hardest obstacles to overcome is the self-inflicted kind.

You have the education, the skill set (taking courses to brush up and stay current on the technology), the experience (in spades) and the desire to work with a work ethic that goes along with your generation (most likely).

Whatever you do, don’t convince yourself you’re too old for the job.  No matter how hard you try to hide this, if you truly believe it, this will come through in an interview.