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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Avoid These Résumé Killers

Think about what a résumé really is and its purpose.  It is a marketing document with the sole purpose of helping you get an interview.  That is its only purpose.  Without question, the best way to get an interview is to know an influential person in the organization.  The second best way is to know someone who knows that influential person in the organization.  However, the method that most candidates are relegated to is the most common, which is to send the organization a résumé and a cover letter and hope for the best.  With competition so tight, it is imperative that if this is your way of introducing yourself to the organization, your résumé has to be very, very good.

As a recruiter, I have seen many thousands of bad résumés, but only a few hundred really good ones.  I have seen many more that would have been good, possibly very good, if they did not have one of these very common errors that make a recruiter or a hiring manager immediately discard it and go to the next one.  What are the big offenders?

1. The wrong form of a word, such as "to, too, two", or "there, their, they're", "capital, capitol".   Probably the most common error I see is with "its/it's."  "It's" is the abbreviation for "it is."  "Its" is possessive, but you would be surprised at how many people do not understand the difference.
2. The wrong word altogether. The most common offenders? "Loose" (adjective) when the verb "lose" is appropriate "quiet" rather than "quite", "lite" instead of "light", "write" instead of "right", "insure" rather than "ensure."
3. Any spelling error.  This is the quickest way to have your résumé discarded.
4. Run-on sentences, even if they are grammatically correct, tend to become confusing the longer they go. This is especially true to a reader who is looking at dozens or perhaps hundreds of resumes to select a few candidates for interviews. 
5. Redundant or unneeded modifiers (where the first word is unnecessary or has the same meaning as the second), such as "completely finish (it's either finished or it isn't, "past experience" (is there any other kind?), "one and only" (no such thing as "two and only"), "honest truth" (is there another form of truth?), "free gift" (if it's not free, it's not a gift).  The one I see more than any other is when someone is describing the "end result" of one of their accomplishments.

Early in my recruiting business I submitted a resume to a client company for a candidate that I had personally interviewed and had every confidence that this candidate would be an outstanding hire.  The hiring manager sent the résumé back to me with a spelling error highlighted and a comment that made it very clear to me that if this person could not take the time to proofread and spell-check the résumé before sending it out, there was every chance that he would be just as careless in communications with customers, which was unacceptable. What was not said, but was certainly implied, was that I should have caught that error before I sent it to my client, and my client was right.  Since that time I have triple checked every résumé that I send to clients.

The job market is very much a buyer's market now and it appears that conditions will not change anytime soon.  You have only one chance to make a good first impression, so take the time to ensure that none of these errors are in your document.

Ken Murdock is the owner of Murdock & Associates Recruiters and New Wave Résumés. He recruits for the manufacturing sector, oil & gas, construction, and the packaging industry. New Wave Résumés offers professional résumés and interview coaching for executives, mid-level professionals, recent graduates, and anyone seeking to take their skills and talents into a new career.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

It's All About The Packaging

Imagine that you are at the grocery store and that you need several different items in the packaged goods areas, that is, anything in a carton, can or box.  If everything you looked at had a blank front on the package and the only information available was the nutrition labeling, how much time and trouble would it take you to make a decision on what to buy, and how knowledgeable would you be about what the product could do for you?  Probably not much.

Of course, food is not packaged that way.  The boxes of brownie mix have images of fresh baked brownies that look attractive and delicious.  Canned goods often have the words "delicious" and "low fat" or maybe "excellent source of protein."  In other words, these packaged goods convey to the consumer the benefits they can expect to receive by purchasing and using the product.

The problem with most resumes today is that they resemble the nutritional label on packaged goods in the grocery store.  They are what I call "feature heavy / benefit light."  They convey all kinds of information about the candidate, but very few, if any at all, benefits that will accrue to the reader by setting up an interview and/or possibly hiring that person.  Most job seekers and most universities use and teach this old, tired model that was effective when we were in a strong seller's market prior to the economic decline that began in 2008.  Since that time we have been in a strong buyer's market, and one of the primary tenets of successful marketing is that when your demand conditions change, you must change your promotional strategy that is aimed at those you consider to be your target market.

Organizations today are very selective about the candidates that they choose to interview.  They can be this way because in a strong buyer's market there is no shortage of skilled, experienced, educated, and qualified candidates for every position (the nutritional labeling).  However, when a hiring manager or a recruiter looks at a resume and sees nothing but the ingredients (name, contact information, education,  and employment history), they are seeing a document that looks like everyone else who has the same data on their resume, and the candidate has given the reader no compelling reason to choose him or her over anyone else as someone worth bringing in for an interview.  That document is either discarded or goes into a tall pile of paper or an electronic file with very little chance of being chosen as a viable candidate worth a conversation.

If you do not provide some idea of the potential benefits that will accrue to the reader or the organization that the reader represents, you have very little chance of ever being invited in for an interview.  In today's market, you get one chance to make a good first impression, so you cannot afford to waste it with a poor resume that does not get you into the competition for the job.

You can avoid this by tossing the resume templates you usually find on the Internet and ignoring the guidance of career counselors who have not adapted their thinking to the buyer's market mentality.  The best resume writers today know how to present you in such a way that you not only have the right ingredients, as in the food label example above, but also as a candidate who can bring value and benefits to the organization.  That is what will separate you from the crowd and greatly increase your chances of getting the interview that you really want.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Good Riddance to the One Page Resume

Most high school graduates hear it.  Most college students are told the same story.  What is it that they are taught and what is so bad about it?  The high school and college experiences have several noble purposes...learning basic skills, maturing meeting new people and learning about other cultures, and one more very important train graduates with the skills they need to get a job that is the best fit for their skills, talents, and interests.

The way that students are the most ill-advised during their school years in preparation for their career is that their resume should be a one-page summary of their experience, skills, and education.

As a recruiter, I see the same practice in job seekers who have been out of school for several years.  For reasons that have no basis in fact, students and anyone else who is in the job market have heard that their resumes should be limited to one page.  By following this advice, what these job seekers are really limiting are their chances of getting the interviews they want for the jobs they seek.

There have been many reasons, none of them valid, that seek to justify the one-page resume model.  One of the most common reasons is that recruiters and hiring managers are busy people and they want everything summed up on one page.  Reality paints a much different picture.  Recruiters and hiring managers are focused on finding the best candidates for the position they are trying to fill.  It is true that they are busy people, but that fact is really why they want to know more than what a candidate can put on one page.   Businesses often have several objectives, but one that is common to all of them is that they do not want to waste time interviewing job candidates who are not at least reasonably suited for the job, and a one-page resume does not give them enough information to make a good decision about bringing someone in for an interview.

The hiring decision is really a buying decision.  Assume that this weekend you are planning on purchasing a new car.  You go to several dealerships to look at various models, and as you leave each one you ask for some information that you can take home with you to help you make the decision.  Car dealers produce booklets of several pages show the vehicle in various settings.  They have pages about the various colors, the power train, the interior, and even the safety features.  But what if when you asked for this material, the sales person said "I can give you this one page handout that has a lot of information on it...I hope it's enough to help you."  If you are about to spend tens of thousands of dollars on this car, doesn't it make sense that you would want a publication that gives you all the information you could possibly want to help you make your decision?

Organizations today operate in a fashion similar to the example above.  If they are going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to hire, train, and employ an individual, they want to know as much as possible about that person...and a one-page resume will not give them what they want to see.

In the late 90's and for the first seven years of this century, a brief document that provided only your name, education, work experience, and contact information was enough to get you multiple interviews.  That was when were in a strong seller's market. That market does not exist anymore.  Today employers are incredibly selective for one simple reason...they can be!  We are now in a strong buyer's market where the number of great jobs is much less than the number of skilled, qualified people to fill those jobs. If your job hunt is to be successful, you must separate yourself from the crowd rather than blend into it.

Hiring managers today want much more than just the basic information found on a one-page resume.  They want to know as much as possible about the person behind the resume and the specific skills that the candidate can bring to the job.  One of the most important priorities that employers focus on in today's job market is whether a candidate will be a good fit into the culture of the organization. 

The point to remember is this: If the best you have to offer can be summarized on one page, you have not done enough.  If you make the first page good enough, the recruiters and hiring managers will read the other pages as well.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Closing the Sale

One of the most common interview mistakes I see in candidates that have otherwise done well in job interviews is a failure to "close the sale."  The hiring process is really nothing more than a sales transaction, and you are the product.

If you are in the market for a new job, it will be very helpful to you to understand that we are in a strong seller's market.  That means that there are a lot of good to excellent candidates available for employers to choose from, and an attitude that is common to all employers is that they want to  hire people who want to be there.

Where job seekers make a mistake is in assuming that simply because they have an excellent resume, strong work experience, a good education, and think they did everything right in the interview process, they think that the employer will have no reason not to make them an offer.  But here is the secret that can put you in a different league than the other candidates.  If you actually ask for the job, your chances of getting it go up by at least 60 percent over those who do not ask for it.

Unfortunately, most candidates take the approach of simply smiling at the end of the interview and expecting the hiring manager to either make the offer right then and there, at least asking them what type of compensation expectations they have.  The reality is that the employer is waiting for you to express your interest in the position and to indicate that you want the job.

Failure to ask for the order is what separates average to mediocre sales professionals from the great ones, and remember, a job interview is a sales transaction.  Even if you know that you should ask for the job, but you get sweaty palms just thinking about it, here is an easy way to express you desire to have the job.

You can mold these comments into your own words, but the basic script goes like this:

The interviewer will ask you if you have any other questions, and you say, "Jim/Jane...I really appreciate this opportunity to visit with you about this position and how I might be a good fit for it.  Based on all I have learned about the organization and this position on my own and from our conversation today, I believe that this opportunity is a great match for my skills, experience, and interests.  I would very much like to have this job and join this great team.  What can I do to make that happen?"

Then, you simply smile and look the interviewer in the eye.  Don't say anything else.  The interviewer may or may not make you an offer right then, but you have established that you can do the job well and that you want to be a part of the organization...and companies want to hire people who want to work there.

When you leave, you should already have a note, envelope, and a stamp to write the interviewer a hand-written note that once again expresses your appreciation to discuss the opportunity and your interest and desire to have the job.  Write it and mail it that day.

If you follow both of these guideline...asking for the job and writing the will separate yourself from 90% of all the other candidates for this position and significantly improve your chances of receiving a job offer.