Highly Commended Paper Award Winner 2013 – Presented by Emerald Literati Network of Excellence.
In this week’s article, we’ll take a look at 10 ways to improve a flawed résumé. The résumé up for examination is the “Curriculum Vitae of Roberto Dimla Abayon Junior,” an actual sample résumé posted on a job site from the Philippines. Perhaps résumé standards are different in that country, but Abayon’s résumé serves as an excellent example of ways that your own résumé might be flawed (and easily improved). Let’s take a look at 10 current problems with this résumé:
Be aware of over-the-top titles like this one. While you might be tempted to include the words “curriculum vitae” in your résumé to make it sound like you are educated in the classics, this should be avoided unless you are applying to work at a university (or at the Vatican, I suppose). A curriculum vitae, or CV, is not the same as a résumé in Canada or the United States. It is used exclusively in academic and medical careers, and lists things like publication history and academic credentials. A more common mistake is the inclusion of multiple initials, middle names, or titles. In most cases, these things will harm, rather than help, your job chances. Hiring committees in this century are not looking to hire someone named Baron Herschel L. Q. Williamsburg III. Instead, they are seeking employees that are personable, teachable, and able to connect with team members and customers alike.
Although posting a personal head shot is essential for an online networking site like LinkedIn, traditional résumés in most fields should be composed strictly of text. Employers want a résumé to impress them with experience and accomplishments. Personal appearance and social skills will be demonstrated if you manage to get an interview.
There is only one purpose for listing personal information on your résumé: so that the hiring committee can contact you for an interview. For this, all you need is an email address and one telephone number (companies should not be hiring you based on this information, anyway). See the article, 3 Things to Leave Off an Executive Résumé, for more on this topic.
The goal of your résumé should be to separate your name from the rest of the pack. That is why listing generic objectives will actually hurt your résumé. If you are going to list objectives on your résumé, align them to the goals of the company you are applying for. Make it seem like this is a position made just for you; share your passion! And always show that you care for things other than just earning money.
Your résumé should be able to display your experience in a clean and simple format. This résumé lists Company, Position, Date, and Nature of Work one after another, when a cleaner format is readily available. Dates and locations of your positions should be right-aligned and put on the same line as the company name (right where the #5 is on the résumé).
While some graphic designers might be able to enhance their résumés with flashy designs, this résumé shows that such attempts usually look cluttered and unprofessional. Few styles can offer an improvement over a black and white design with strong lines.
There are only two reasons to include job responsibilities on your résumé: a)if they are the same responsibilities that will be needed in your new job, or b)if they demonstrate an accomplishment or useful skill. Who knows what this job-seeker means by his work maintaining the speed of computer? Be specific, and use numbers.
The job seeker in this résumé does have skills in a number of software programs. But these skills get lost in the bullet points along with the other responsibilities. Even worse, this same list is repeated in the job listed directly below. Luckily, this problem can easily be solved by adding a quick point-form list of skills directly below the Objectives section.
This résumé is full of small mistakes. Always double check your résumé for typos and capitalization errors, or have a professional service compile your résumé for you. The highlighted line in this résumé should read “Conceptualized, prepared and designed in-store displays” – bullet points should also not end with periods unless they make a complete sentence. Obviously, typos like this will show that the candidate does not pay attention to details, nor does he have strong communication skills—two talents that are essential for almost any office job in our day.
Every résumé should include a section on education, even if only to list a high school diploma. A failure to do so will immediately raise concerns. This becomes even more important in skilled trades and knowledge-based careers. A college education can make up for a lack of work experience. A degree in graphic design or high-school training could drastically change the prospects for this résumé to succeed. Right now, the lack of listed work experience and the trend to stay at jobs for less than a year are some of the many flaws that this résumé has to overcome.
The cover letter has been one of the necessary evils of job hunting since the 1950s, when résumés and job applications were still sent to companies through envelopes using the town post office. Nowadays, nearly 100% of job applications are sent through internet forms or email inboxes. Cover letters no longer “cover” anything—they seem to be just another attachment to send off along with a résumé. So why do we still send them? Aren’t cover letters just a waste of time?
Some professionals do think cover letters are a thing of the past, according to Anne-Marie Baiynd, President of TheTradingBook.com: “[The] recruiters I know don’t even read cover letters,” she says. “The managers don’t read them either because it’s all fluff.” But Baiynd’s claims don’t match up with the facts. February 2012 survey by the California-based company Office Team shows that 91 percent of executives still believe cover letters are valuable when selecting a job candidate. 79 percent say they still expect or receive cover letters for online job applications.
So, while cover letters of the future might look different than the cover letters of the past, they will never go out of use. Why? Because cover letters are, in whatever form, the only link between an impersonal résumé and a specific position. They needn’t cover letters in our digital age may be written directly in emails, website forms, or LinkedIn messages. Thus, successful job hunters now need to be able to adapt the principles of fine cover letter crafting to countless new forms.
Cover letters, no matter what their style, all share the same purpose: to professionally introduce yourself to a company that is hiring. A cover letter is to your résumé what a first impression is to a job interview. If you show up before a job interview wearing tattered clothing, acting rudely to the receptionist, or holding your mother’s hand, you will lose your chance at the job before any further questions are asked. Conversely, someone well-dressed, courteous, and friendly may win over interviewers and office staff as soon as they walk into the room. A good cover letter provides this same professional introduction to your résumé.
According to Forbes magazine’s George Bradt, the only three true job interview questions are: Can you do the job? Will you love the job? And can we tolerate working with you? Each of these three questions asks how you would fit into that specific company and that specific position. Your cover letter should try to convince the reader that the answer to all of these questions is Yes, you would be a good fit for the job.
You must write whatever it takes to convince the reader that this is true. Try to do this all in three paragraphs or less (depending upon the medium):
Address the hiring professional by name, and mention any personal connection you have to the company (“Dear Rhonda White, I heard about this job opportunity from my uncle, Richard Collingham, who has worked in your parts department for 25 years”). This will go a long way towards showing that you will be a tolerable employee and a good fit for the job environment. You must also provide a brief statement answering if you can do the job—say how many years you have worked in the industry and any related education you have completed.
Explain how you meet each of the additional qualifications listed in the job posting. If the posting mentions required character traits, work background, or software knowledge, list these things in the second paragraph (if you possess them, of course!). You can also list any impressive work achievements or explain how you acquired the skills mentioned above through work or volunteer experience. Do not repeat yourself.
Demonstrate that you would have a true passion for this job and this field of work. Make sure to mention if your interests line up with any items on the organization's mission statement or core values. End by providing your contact information (this should also be listed on the top of the cover letter, if a standard letter format is being used) and making a polite request to expand upon your résumé in person. Finally, sign off with a quick thanks followed by your name!
There are, of course, no guarantees that a strong cover letter will get you the job you are looking for. Nevertheless, they provide a crucial first impression that can convince a hiring committee that your résumé is worth serious consideration. And this is why the cover letter, though it may change in format, will never go out of style.
Photo from Robin Hood, 1938
Many job-seekers come to us frustrated and exhausted. They have good job experience and have sent out their résumé to dozens of companies-but why, they ask, are they still not getting results? The truth is, many of these people are following the wrong strategy by using a one-size-fits-all résumé. They are hoping that they'll eventually hit the target by firing enough shots. But in a hyper-competitive environment, this tactic is simply not effective. A skilled job hunter knows that in order to be the best, each shot must be made only after taking the time to focus.
You need to target your résumé to each specific job you are applying for. Nowadays, job offers posted on the internet routinely receive hundreds of applications. Only the best of the best stand out and make it to an interview. A generic résumé always leads to a generic impression. Hiring committees follow the old adage that a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. With so many applicants, they can afford to look for a specialist in the field, because specialists require less training and tend to stay in particular jobs for a longer period of time.
Demonstrate that you are a specialist, even if you have qualifications in other areas. Leave out experience and training that is not directly related to the potential new role (unless it demonstrates a skill or accomplishment that would be considered a strong asset to the job). Above all, ensure that the skills listed on your résumé line up with the ones sought out in the job posting. Express these skills in your own words, and if possible, link them up with your previous work experience.
Of course, this takes time. This is why it is better to focus on a small number of strong targeted applications than a large number of generic applications. But even this is too time-consuming for people in many roles, especially those who are trying to job-hunt while still working at another organization. For these people, a résumé service company is an invaluable resource. But job-seekers must not assume that all résumé companies or services are alike. Some will only offer to produce the same generic résumés that will lead to the same unfulfilling results.
That's why it is essential to find a résumé service that understands the importance of a targeted résumé. We don't like to use this blog to tout our own skills, but Best Résumés is one of the few reputable résumé services that recognizes this need. We've made a dedicated effort to be specialists ourselves-our team has dedicated experts in the oil and gas industry, in massage therapy, and even for writers and editors (yours truly). These experts know what it takes to get noticed in each field and can help to tailor your résumé to each job you want to apply for. You can even point us to specific job postings and we'll create a custom résumé and cover letter for that job-hitting the target every time.
Most candidates for executive positions are much more familiar with giving interviews than being interviewed. Many of our clients are executives that have worked in the same company for decades, or those who have managed a family business without ever having to go through the hiring process. Thus, most executives consider the interview to be one of the most intimidating parts of seeking work with a new company. But by carefully following these preparation and interview guidelines, you can complete any job search with confidence and position yourself as the candidate of choice.
Before the interview, there are several documents that you should review. First, go back to your prospective employer's website, and, if possible, try to find the original job posting. Both of these will provide clues on the expectations for this position and the company's core values. All hiring committees will want to ensure that their new manager shares the company's vision, goals, and ethics (eg. environmental concern, design excellence, workplace safety, etc.). Make a list of these key values and think of how your past experience promoted these same values. In many cases, the successful candidate will be the one that is best able to articulate these ideals.
After this, review the résumé and cover letter that you submitted to the prospective employer. The points you stressed on these documents were strong enough to win you an interview, and you should be able to recite and expand upon the key facts and stories during the interview. Memorize values (eg. yearly revenue increased by 15% to $3,000,000) and be able to explain your previous roles and character strengths in a clear and concise manner.
Lastly, prepare a short list of questions that you can ask at the end of the interview. These questions should express a genuine curiosity in the company and should show that you are already looking ahead to situations you would encounter after being hired.
Go into the interview with poise and confidence. Know that every candidate selected for an interview has already been judged to have sufficient credentials for the role. The successful candidate will now likely be the one that demonstrates the appearance and attributes of a leader.
There should be no debate about what to wear for an interview at the executive position; your best suit should be used regardless of whether the new business is a Fortune 500 company or a landscaping business. Arrive ten minutes early and leave a good impression on every member of the office that you meet, starting with the receptionist.
When you are called in to the boardroom or office for the interview, greet every interviewer with a firm handshake. This will show that you believe you are qualified for the position and that you consider yourself a leader on the same level as those who are conducting the interview. Throughout your interview, conduct yourself in a friendly but professional manner.
During the interview, look for chances to convey key pieces of information. Remind the interviewers of the chief strengths that you highlighted in your résumé and cover letter. Encourage them to ask you more about your former successes. Tell them memorable stories that illustrate your main leadership qualities. Demonstrate that you have knowledge about their company and the business that they are in. Try to erase the doubts they might have about your weaknesses (whether you are too young, too old, have too little experience, or too much experience in another field) without calling too much attention to them. Provide one succinct answer to each question and end each answer with confidence—you will reveal your insecurity with an answer if you provide a second illustration without being asked.
End the interview, when asked, by using one or two of the questions that you prepared beforehand which were not answered in the earlier parts of the interview. Use this opportunity to ask questions that show your knowledge about the field of business or the direction of the company. If the interviewers have not informed you, it is acceptable to ask them how long they expect it to take before a hiring decision is made.
Use your discretion on whether a follow-up to the interview is advisable. If so, the best means of communication is often a letter or email of thanks that subtly expresses your continued interest in the position. With any luck, the next time you hear from the interviewers will be when they call to inform you that you are their company's new executive.
There is one question that seems to be a constant worry for job seekers: “Is my résumé too long?” The question is of particular concern for long-time executives, who have heard—from a friend, or some advice column on the internet—that a hiring committee will immediately throw out any résumé longer than one page.
The truth is, a résumé is not a magic formula. There is no guaranteed method or string of words that will grant you the job of your dreams right away. But with that said, there are still guidelines you can follow that will help to increase your chances of getting that elusive interview.
There are two basic components of every résumé: form and content. In a great résumé, these two factors will work in harmony. If you are a recent post-secondary graduate, your résumé should look different than a manager that has been in the workforce for 30 years. Why? Because the content will dictate the résumé's form, and vice versa.
Your work and education history make up most of the résumé's content. A strong résumé will begin with a summary of your best job titles, achievements, and skills, and then elaborate upon these things in your work history. Because the end goal of every résumé is to impress the hiring committee to schedule an interview with you, the résumé's form and length will necessarily depend upon the volume of content it contains. As a general rule, young professionals should be able to condense their résumé into an effective single page. Long-time managers with a variety of accomplishments or job titles should aim for two pages, which will suggest a solid body of experience while also demonstrating the ability to be selective.
Once the form is established, the question then becomes a matter of choosing which information to include or highlight. Every item you put on your résumé has an effect on the way the hiring committee will see you. It will either a)increase their opinion of you b)be ignored or c)raise possible concerns. Some information will be impressive to a wide range of hiring committees. Some information might impress some hiring committees and be ignored by others. Whenever possible, tailor a résumé to the specific job that you are applying for.
Beyond that, there are a few guidelines as to what kind of content you ought to include. First, it is never a good idea to include items on a résumé that raise possible concerns from the hiring committee. Avoid including jobs where you have worked for less than a year unless this was clearly a term position. Avoid including a recent position where your job title was a step down from a previous role. Also avoid being silent when some explanation is necessary (what were you doing between 2006 and 2010, anyway?).
In an ideal résumé, every item provides new information that increases a hiring committee's opinion of you. Long-term service, upward mobility, and impressive achievements will always produce a positive response. If you have so many impressive achievements that it is simply impossible to include them on just two pages there are a few things you should do: first, make sure you're not exaggerating or overconfident—a good hiring committee will detect this quickly in an interview, and take a pass on you for their position. If this still doesn't whittle the résumé length down, include only your most recent achievements. A full work history for someone of your calibre should be provided on a personal LinkedIn page, with a link to this page included on your résumé above your email address.
Of course, not everyone has the experience or accomplishments to produce an ideal résumé. There is an art to discerning what job titles, credentials, and skills a hiring committee is looking for. In many cases, your résumé could benefit from the eye of a résumé professional, who can provide invaluable help in bringing your best qualities to the forefront.
Try to avoid a one-and-a-half page résumé. A résumé will look most professional if entire pages are used. Fill up space by elaborating on job tasks and achievements rather than by altering font and margin sizes beyond easy readability.
Sometimes, these jobs will demand unorthodox résumés or complete work histories—in such cases do not be afraid if your résumé reaches 5 or 6 pages.
With increased competition and a still-troubled economy, it's a difficult time to find a job that's right for you. The tools for success in job-seeking today are a lot like the tools needed to succeed in your own business: you need both a strong product and a strong marketing campaign.
When looking for a job, your résumé is your main “product” that you put out on the market. Hiring committees will be looking at your product and comparing it with the competition. A savvy hiring committee will select the product that they think is the best fit, all things considered. A strong résumé, like a strong product, requires quality materials and a quality presentation.
You must have quality material on your résumé to be considered for quality jobs. If you do not have the work history and education needed for the position you are applying for, no amount of proper presentation can get you an interview. A problem with quality material can be fixed, but it will take time. Reinforce your résumé by volunteering in a related field of work, or by taking classes to give you some background in the area. Half a year of correspondence studies or work experience can make a great difference in the eyes of a hiring committee.
Once you are confident that your résumé materials are up to the quality of the posted position, you should turn your attention to quality presentation. You need your résumé to highlight your best qualities and achievements so they will get noticed by the hiring committee. You need a bold, yet professional format. And you need to remove any needless or detrimental text (you can find out how to do this by reading our article, called “Is My résumé Too Long?”). To ensure that your résumé has a quality presentation, you must have it looked at by an experienced résumé service.
A professional résumé service can also help with the second element of the job hunt: a strong marketing campaign. To put it simply, you need to get your résumé into the hands of people that are hiring in your field in order to have success. In this way, job hunting becomes something like advertising. One way to find a job, of course, is to sift through the classified ad section of a newspaper, or to do a search on job titles through internet sites like Craigslist, Workopolis, or Monster. But these searches can take hours of your time, and can go on for weeks until a suitable opportunity is listed.
A better method is to find other people to do this searching for you. Each major region has dozens (if not hundreds) of recruiting companies dedicated to providing this service. The best part is that most of these services are free! Of course, it can also take hours to find a list of the recruiting companies in your area, let alone to find the contacts at these recruiting agencies who will accept your résumé. Fortunately, the same experienced résumé service company that you asked to polish up your résumé should have access to a full recruiter list in the area. For a small fee, they may even be able to send out your résumé to each of these agencies. Within hours, your résumé could be delivered directly to the companies that would be most interested in hiring you.
But a successful marketing campaign does not end there; any international business these days needs to recognize the power of social media. A successful job seeker must also recognize the power of this tool. First, potential job candidates need to take control of their online image. Knowledgeable hiring committees will do a background check on their candidates; therefore, any public comments and pictures posted on Facebook and other social media sites could come under scrutiny. Ensure that your image is professional by deleting profane language and pictures of that Saturday evening party.
You can develop this professional online persona further by creating a LinkedIn page. Essentially, a LinkedIn profile operates like an online résumé, without a page restriction. But there are several additional features that makes LinkedIn an indispensable tool for job seekers: networks and groups. Networks are created by finding other LinkedIn users that you have had previous contact with. Because the majority of LinkedIn users are currently professionals and executives, a network can provide job seekers direct access to people that are making hiring decisions at a company. You can even send direct messages to people in your network to ask if they are actively seeking to hire someone with your skills.
LinkedIn users may expand their networks or get updates about job postings by joining groups related to their field. Each group has a message board where discussions and new job offers are posted on a daily basis. These posts can be forwarded to an email inbox so that you never miss a job opportunity.
As you can see, job hunting in the 21st century requires a set of skills that were completely unheard of a few decades ago. If social media and LinkedIn accounts sound like a foreign language to you, do not despair. Once again, there are other people that can help. In many cases, that same résumé editing service that you used to create your résumé and cover letter will have professionals on hand that can design and automate your LinkedIn page, which will make your online job search as easy as checking your email!
In those halcyon days of high school—sometime between Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet—our teachers taught us the fine craft of résumé writing. Back then, the whole concept sounded rather abstract. Few of us had any real job experience at that point beyond cutting grass in the local cemetery or running the canteen at the ball diamond during summer holidays. And because graduation was still a faint hope in the future, none of us could even fill in the EDUCATION section. But there was one section that ended every résumé that even then we could understand: the references.
We all had one or two people in authority that knew about us: a hockey coach, a piano teacher, a youth pastor. A good reference, our teacher told us, could vouch for your character and personality in a way that the rest of your résumé could not. This made sense, and the practice of adding references at the end of my résumé stuck with me for years after high school was finished as I went out into the job-seeking world.
All this has changed over the last few decades, and references on a résumé have now gone the way of old Romeo. If references really added something to a résumé, why did this happen? The truth is, references are still a valuable part of job seeking. But they are most useful only after an interview, when an employer has already narrowed down the field. I don't know of any employers who call references before an interview; for this reason, they have become unnecessary space-fillers on a professional résumé. It is much more effective to add a few lines of description about your work achievements or skills than to add a list of references on your résumé.
But this does not mean that references should be neglected. Find three to five strong references, preferably people who were your superiors at recent jobs and who spent enough time around you to be able to assess your skills. You should also make sure that they had a positive view of your time together. It may also be valuable to find one or two references that know you from outside of work, particularly if they are tied to volunteer or religious organizations.
I have seen some résumés that have attached written letters from past references. This may not be appropriate in every job field, and it may be ignored by some hiring committees, but as a rule I believe a strong reference letter would immediately increase a candidate's chances of landing the job (or at least an interview).
If you cannot obtain a written letter, affix no additional reference information on a résumé and focus instead on creating a succinct document (for more information, see our article, 10 Ways to Improve a Flawed résumé). The goal of your résumé is to get you an interview. It is only after this point that your references will be needed. Most interviewers will ask their candidates to send them a list of references at the end of an interview. Create an email with these references as soon as possible (within a few hours of the interview at the latest). You do not need to follow a specific format, but you will need to include the reference's name, position, work location and phone number (email addresses should also be included, if you have them). Following this, the job search is out of your hands. Hope that your references win over the hiring committee with their overwhelmingly positive assessment of your skills!
“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back,” Vince Lombardi once said; “That's real glory. That's the essence of it.” Lombardi was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1960, when his team lost a heartbreaking game for the NFL Championship. But Lombardi didn't let the loss diminish his faith in his own coaching skills. His team returned to the post-season 9 times after that—and won all of them.
Perhaps your work situation is leaving you like Lombardi after that first playoff loss. You may have been laid off or fired from a position that you loved, a job that gave you a vision and a certain future. A loss like this is never easy. But with the right steps, you will return to the workforce stronger and happier than you were before. Get ready for your glorious comeback.
Stop replaying images of the past. Do not blame yourself for a situation that was largely out of your control. Bosses, when they make personnel cuts, are most often driven by market changes and the need to drastically reduce expenses. Not your fault. In other cases, I've seen bosses fire people in the heat of the moment after an argument or, worse, because they feel a threat to their own job security. Once again, not your fault. If you have looked back on your experience and have found there are any areas for personal improvement that are in your power to change, write them down. Forget the rest. Take what you have learned from the past and move on.
Dwell on your strengths. Remember: you are the same person you were at your highest point in your old workplace. You still possess all of the talent, intelligence and skills that got you there in the first place. While it can be traumatic going from a job with a steady income to a position of uncertainty as a job seeker, there is no need to panic. You will find another job.
In fact, you can see your layoff as an opportunity to reevaluate your working career. Write down what you liked best about your old job and what were its biggest problems. Now ask yourself—is there any career that would allow you to reclaim all of the good elements without the down sides? The answer might simply lead you back to the same job title with a different company (hopefully their leadership or financial situation will be different). Or it might lead you in a completely different direction. You might decide to look for a new career field. You might decide to use your talents for a non-profit charity in your field. You might decide to start a company of your own.
Try to look at the situation realistically: is your industry as a whole on the decline? Do you have the self-determination and leadership abilities to manage your own company? Are you willing to sacrifice some annual income to find a job you truly enjoy? Is there something preventing you from applying for this dream job? If so, are you willing to take more education to boost your skill and knowledge set?
Don't feel like you have to go through this alone; there is no shame to job hunting. Always ask your loved ones and trusted friends for their advice.
When you have determined what kind of job you are looking for, it is time to reopen that old résumé file. Below your name, write down the new job title you are seeking. Your résumé must now be reshaped to show off your experience in this line of work. Remove work experience and education that no longer improves your chances of getting a job in this field. If you are unsure as to which skills you should highlight, or if you think your résumé looks outdated, this might also be an ideal time to get help from a Certified Professional Writing service.
Avoid getting angry when you have to put a fixed date at the end of your most recent job, in place of “presently employed.” Keep focused on the future, not the past. Do not give the reason for your termination on your résumé; a résumé should only serve as a highlight of your best skills and accomplishments (but do answer honestly if you are asked about why you left your last job in an interview).
Once your résumé is rebuilt, you are ready to get back out into the job market. Start your hunt by following our advice for job hunting in the 21st century. Your glorious comeback is almost complete!
If you are looking for a managerial or executive position, your résumé needs to emphasize the confidence, leadership, and experience that you want to portray as a job candidate. That is why it is essential to leave three things off an executive résumé that are often included in résumés at other job levels:
In your college days, when you were still working as an office assistant for the family business or a table-waiter at Montana's, it was important to list your job responsibilities on a résumé. These responsibilities were your accomplishments. You did the same thing day in and day out: demonstrating dependability and developing your skills. But when you take on a management position at a company, daily routine becomes unimportant and results are magnified. No prospective employer needs to know your daily routine (which is likely an uninteresting mix of phone calls, board meetings, and sending emails, anyway). Make sure every responsibility you list is attached to a number. This turns daily tasks into facts, and responsibilities into accomplishments. Try to be proactive by always recording positive quarterly financial reports. When you are an executive, your company's accomplishments become your accomplishments. Numbers make résumés powerful. For each bullet point under a job heading, provide percentages, dollar values, and headcounts. If sales increased during your tenure, say they increased by 15.5%. If you cut expenses, say you saved the company $50,000. If you were in charge of overseeing a team, say you managed up to 25 workers. If you do so, you will keep from falling into the next trap of things you should leave off an executive résumé:
As I've already discussed in my article “Too Long?”, in an ideal résumé, every item provides new information that increases a hiring committee's opinion of your skills and leadership ability. Obviously, leave any failures off of your résumé, just like you would avoid discussing your failed relationship history on a first date. If you honestly learned something valuable from an experience of failure that makes you look like a better person in the end, save this information for the inevitable interview question. The job of a résumé is to highlight your best strengths and successes—even if these are not in an accurate proportion to your shortcomings. Therefore, you should also avoid listing job titles that say you are anything but a confident, capable leader. If you left that managing job at a restaurant for a higher paying job as an industrial welder for a year, you should list the restaurant job and ignore the latter. People looking for work as managers and executives need to make it seem like this is the only role for them; they don't take orders, they give them. For this reason, they should also leave off the last executive résumé faux pas:
Some executives must think that including personal information on a résumé, like hobbies and volunteer work, will make them a more likeable (and therefore hire-able) candidate. This is rarely the case. Save discussions of your hobbies for the lunch room, after you are hired. Although you might have a passion for shuffleboard, puzzling, judo, or butterfly catching, including these things on a résumé is a sure way for a hiring committee to put you into a box (and not a box that's labelled “Company Leader”). Unless you are a leader in your hobby area (eg. a judo instructor or a published entomologist), including this personal information will diminish your professional reputation. In this same way, neither should you include a personal photograph or information other than your phone number, home address and email address. Keep the format of your résumé as clean and formal as possible to project the confidence that will lead you to the job.
As a résumé company, we know that having a quality résumé is essential for landing the job of your dreams. A résumé is the most effective tool at showcasing a part of who you are: your accomplishments, your skills, and your job titles. These things are, of course, important factors to consider for hiring decisions, and it is good for all of us to reflect on our successes and accomplishments once in a while. But whether you have spent months looking for a job without success or find yourself in the best employment shape in your life, too much focus on your résumé can actually pose a danger to your mental health. We need to learn when it's time to throw away our résumé mirror.
We look at ourselves through this résumé mirror every time we base our self-worth on our accomplishments and job titles. If our identity is formed by looking in our résumé mirror, we will always be left unsatisfied. Why is this? Because résumés only tell an incomplete story of who we really are. The danger comes in thinking that our worth is determined by our job title. With this way of looking at ourselves, we risk getting too proud when we get a raise, or falling into depression if that job title is taken away from us.
The author Henri Nouwen sees this as a symptom of a larger problem with our society. "Although the desire to be useful can be a sign of mental and spiritual health in our goal-oriented society, it can also be the source of a paralyzing lack of self-esteem," he writes. "More often than not we not only desire to do meaningful things, but we often make the results of our work the criteria of self-esteem. And then we not only have successes, we become our successes. When we start being too impressed by the results of our work, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where someone is listing the points to measure our worth. And before we are fully aware of it, we have sold our soul to the many grade-givers" (Out of Solitude, 18).
Nouwen realizes that our goal-oriented society places more importance in quantity than in quality. Our tasks are measured by whether we got the job done or whether we got a new job title, rather than how we got the job done. In reality, this ought to be a far more important contributor to our self-image. It ought to be a far more important factor in hiring decisions as well. It doesn't matter how many sales a job candidate made if he did so at the expense of his co-workers and supervisors. But these day-to-day interactions between peers and clients are how character and self-worth ought to be measured. At the end of the day, ask yourself if you acted fairly and honestly with these people during your work time. Doing so might mean you miss a sale here and there, but it will also build character-something far more valuable in the long run.
In the article, “Does Your résumé Hit the Target?” we found that many job-seekers are missing opportunities because they are trying to be a jack-of-all-trades instead of a master of one. But why would a company doing a serious job search want to hire anyone less than a master in their field? In order to increase your success at finding that fulfilling job, we recommended that you hone each résumé to target the specific job that you are after.
However, a job is not won based on a résumé alone. To really impress a company that is hiring, you need to be able to talk about what turns your skills into strengths. This talking doesn't only get done during an interview—it starts when you write your cover letter. Think of your cover letter as a trial run for a face-to-face meeting. You can use it as a chance to concisely formulate why your experience and skills make you the best candidate for the job being offered.
As we've mentioned before, many job postings still require or recommend a cover letter. Do not fail to utilize this powerful document that can set you apart from other candidates. But, like the targeted résumé, a cover letter will only help your chances of landing your job if you take the care and effort to specialize it for that job.
Specializing a cover letter can be done in a few simple steps. Before you begin, you should be familiar with our general instructions on how to write a cover letter. Once you know what a cover letter should do, it is time to aim at that target again.
Most people don't realize that first impressions aren't always made face-to-face. In our Twitter-centric world, we'll often interact with people via texts and emails long before we meet them in person. These interactions shape our opinions of each other before we step into the same room. Therefore, each word is important. Make your words as fashionable as a brand-new suit. Of course, as in dressing for an interview, remember to be crisp and clean, without too much flair (I'm guessing that a hiring committee would pass on a candidate dressed in one of Don Cherry's suits). Write a short, courteous introduction that addresses the hiring professional by name. When this person is not clearly marked in the job posting, you might be able to deduce their name by finding out which email address enquiries about the job posting will be sent to. Do not guess the marital status of this person, and instead use their name in full. When no name can be found, address either the human resources department or the company by name.
Start your cover letter off by making a claim about your identity that relates to the job posting. If the company is looking for an editor, say, “I am an editor with ten years of experience,” even if your work during that time involved periods of time when you were primarily a writer, for example. Many jobs can be classified under different titles than the ones given to you by the companies you worked for. Try to find a way to fit your work experience into what the company is looking for, while always keeping within the realm of truth. Of course, once you say that you have ten years of experience in a field, you should list some jobs where you used that experience, making specific mention of the roles that would be seen as most impressive.
Most of us have far more skills than the ones that we write down on a generic résumé. But when a job posting says it is looking for candidates with strong written communication skills, it would be a mistake to not include a particular mention of this in your cover letter, including, if possible, a proof of why you consider your skills in this area to be strong. Think of each qualification listed in the job posting like a question that needs to be answered. “We are looking for someone with strong analytical skills,” the job posting says. It is really asking, “How strong are your analytical skills?” Make sure to provide an “answer” to each of these required skills in your cover letter (sometimes, you can condense several qualifications into one response, in an effort to keep your cover letter concise).
The last thing a specialized résumé should do is show why you are uniquely qualified for this position. Say what makes you interested in this particular role or this particular company. Include accomplishments and awards that you have achieved in previous jobs. Include a one-line quotation from a previous employer that recommends your skills. Be creative, without making it sound like hiring you would be a gamble. Sum it all up by thanking them for their time and encouraging them to follow up with an interview.
That's it—your cover letter has been personalized for the job you are after! If you feel that you would like to specialize your cover letter, but find that you don't have time, ask us for help. We can tailor every cover letter to target the job you need!
In last week's article, I made the claim that a layoff may be a blessing in disguise. A layoff provides an opportunity to reevaluate your life and career before it's too late. Too late for what, you ask?
“My wife told me about a great quote the other day,” writes a commenter on the Canadian Finance Blog, “No one ever said, 'I wish I spent more time at the office' when they are lying on their death bed…'”
But the sad truth is, I've seen far too many people who find no joy in their career, yet keep at it, day after day, year after year. They live to work, not work to live. For them, work is a means to an end: making money.
Money has no inherent value on its own; it is only valuable because it can be traded for other goods and services that can improve our lives. While it might seem obvious, many workers get so caught up with money that they forget what their goal should be: living a good life. Aristotle says, “The happy person is one who expresses complete virtue in his activities, with an adequate supply of external goods, not just for any time but for a complete life.”
A good life, one that “expresses complete virtue in activities,” can only be lived when we use our strengths and follow our passions to make the world a better place. Each person has unique strengths and passions, and the world can be made better in a multitude of ways: from developing a new product that improves on old technology to getting involved with a parent-teacher association. Take time to consider how you could follow your strengths and passions in an ideal world, if you haven't already. What are your long term goals in life? What do you want your legacy to be? Once you discover these things, write out a personal mission statement. Then ask yourself if you are able to live out this mission statement at your current job.
“Wait—this sounds good,” you say, “but I can't switch up my career. I need the money! I've got kids to feed, and a mortgage to pay off.”
If you are thinking in this way, you have fallen into the money trap; you have lost control over your decisions. If you do not get out of the trap now, you will be stuck in it for the rest of your working life, and beyond. In reality, you have more choices than you think. It is time to take control of your money, rather than letting it control you.
When we work for a salary or an hourly wage, we essentially exchange our time and effort for money. We then trade this money for necessities and use what is left over for things that make us happy (like entertainment or vacations). Of course, after an 8 hour day of work, an 8 hour sleep, and 2 hours spent preparing for these things or eating, there are only 6 hours left, at most, to fill with things that we are passionate about. Why do we exchange a week of unbearable work for a weekend of enjoyment? Despite the money being earned, there is a foolishness to this economy.
Now, if we could cut our wage by a few dollars an hour in exchange for a few hours a day of enjoyable work—work that gives us the same joy as watching a good movie or going fishing or completing a puzzle—than the tradeoff would no doubt be worth it, providing that we could still make enough money for necessities.
The question each person must honestly ask is, “How much money is enough?” This is not just a matter for financial planners to consider—it is essential for everyone who wants to get the most of the limited years they have. Find out where your money is going by examining your bill payments each month. Each item that requires regular payment is a chain that constrains your work choices. You cannot take a job that generates less income than your housing payments + your transportation payments + your food payments. The lower each of these values is, the more job flexibility you have. Selling your car might seem like an inconvenience at first, but it might be able to open up a line of work to you that offers less pay but more satisfaction. Getting a smaller mortgage might cost you some storage space, but it might allow for you to chase after your ideal career.
Chasing after your ideal career doesn't mean dropping your life for an attempt to play Major League Baseball. It means finding a job that allows you to fulfil your personal mission statement—one that utilizes your strengths, is related to your passions, and does some good for your community. This is not one dream job—it is a range of possible jobs.
Some of the possibilities may surprise you: I know someone who left his career path as an architect to follow his strengths and passions—he opened up a quality coffee shop in a vacant downtown building. A year after its opening, the place is booming, the area around the shop has been revitalized, and he is going back to give a talk to the very architecture department that he left to inspire others to follow their ideal careers.
This is the simple secret of working to live—it is the same as living to work. The real issue is what we make life and work out to be. We need to bring both of these things into a harmony with each other and with our own strengths and passions. You'll know you've done this when Monday mornings feel the same as Saturday mornings to you. If you've followed your strengths and passions, both days should find you waking up with energy and purpose. By putting money in its place, we learn to chase after the things that really matter. Ironically, when these things are aligned, money often seems to follow; investors love giving to people with a purpose.