Five Reference-Gathering Tools & Tips

Specific, concise, results-centered references are an important part of a job search. Hiring managers and HR people want to know what others think about the candidate they are considering. In fact, many companies make this a mandatory part of the process. The HR folks will not be doing their jobs nor will they advance even the best candidate in the process without this box checked.

Here are the five things that you will make your references another compelling part of your career marketing package, supplementing and complementing your résumé, cover letter and LinkedIn profile.

Get them now. Don’t wait until you start your job search to get well-written recommendations into your portfolio. If you are especially marketable, the process could move faster than you thought. You don’t want to be empty-handed when asked for them.

Direct the reference writer. When you ask someone to write a reference for you, tell the person what you would like her/him to write about. Remind her about the project you worked on. Ask him to discuss your negotiating skills and how it helped your company get pricing concessions. If you don’t, all of your references will say “Jim is a great guy” or “Mary is a team player who multitasks well.” You don’t want generic mush. You want focused, valuable and diverse letters that create a comprehensive picture of you, your abilities and your accomplishments. You have to direct the process.

Learn more about LinkedIn recommendations & endorsements here.

Get durable contact information. By durable, I mean at least one way to contact the referrer that is not dependent on employment. If you and Travis worked together at IBM and Travis has since moved on to another company, what good will Travis’s IBM email address and phone number be? A LinkedIn profile address is good, as is a personal email address. Keep them current.

Make it easy. Make life easy for the person giving you the recommendation. Offer to write the letter for him or her. You write it, your buddy Travis reads it, copies it and pastes it into the letter format of his choice. Done! Don’t feel nervous about this. Instead, know that you are making it easier for people to help you. They are doing something that they wanted to do and you have done most of the work for them. Everyone wins.

Create a LinkedIn version. A recommendation letter may be several paragraphs long. A LinkedIn recommendation should be just a few lines. Depending on your relationship with the referrer, offer to write a condensed version of the recommendation and ask Travis to post it to your LinkedIn profile as a recommendation that the world can see. Then you can tell an interviewer that you have more complete letters of recommendation that support the LinkedIn versions.

If you do these things, you will be more marketable and more confident. After all, you already know what your referrers are going to say. That confidence will come through as you interview and you just might become the top candidate.

Bill Florin is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and Certified Employment Interview Professional, and President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, Connecticut.

Your Résumé Must Have These 8 Things

Are you nervous about your résumé format, concerned that it isn’t stylish and sexy enough to get you the interview? You aren’t alone. Here is a question that I just received, along with the answer that will benefit everyone struggling to write an effective marketing document.

Question: What are some of the best résumé formats you have seen?

Résumé formats are much less important than the information conveyed and the quality of the writing. If you have a good story to tell, nearly any document template will work. When I write for my clients, I start from the beginning every time and use fonts and layouts that best reflect the client’s personality, industry and career goals. Here are the must haves of your résumé:

  1. Use clear, readable font type and size. Print it and have a glasses-wearing friend read it. Is it clear and easy to follow? No? Redo it. Check spelling, grammar, punctuation and usage.
  2. Show contact information that makes you easy to reach. At a minimum, your name, phone and email address. Be sure that your outgoing voice mail greeting is professional sounding. Kill the ring back music. If I am a recruiter, I don’t want to listen to your favorite Stravinsky piece or Jay Z jam while waiting for you to answer. Be sure that your email address is professional, too. Create a new one if you have to.
  3. Start with a headline and concise professional profile. Avoid clichés like “results-driven detail-oriented professional with strong collaboration and multi-tasking skills.”
  4. Consider adding a “core skills” section to bullet your most marketable skills. Make it easy for a recruiter or HR person to see that you have what they are looking for.
  5. Use a chronological format for your work experience whenever possible. Your functional format is not fooling anyone, so why raise doubt by using this maligned format? Put your history out there.
  6. Limit the task descriptions that you use in favor of results and accomplishments. If you are an accountant, we know that you used GAAP and computers. Tell us how you led an audit that was supposed to take three months and got it done in half the time. Tell us how you created a new financial dashboard that was so well received that it is still being used today. Tell us why you are great. (See “Setting Interview Traps” for more on this idea.)
  7. Include relevant volunteer and community involvement information. If you are a sales person, your next boss might like that you are a member of civic organizations (you know people!).
  8. Finish it off with education and professional development. One exception: If you just graduated or are graduating soon, consider leading with education as it is your most marketable asset.

In summary, include information in an attractive, accessible way that will make employers want to talk to you. Make every word in your resume count, use a standard chronological format, and avoid gimmicks and fancy graphical flourishes. Substance counts much more than style.

Here are some tips on starting your résumé with power.

For some clean, professional sample resumes, see Resu-mazing Services Company’s samples page.

8 Job Fair Tactics

Job Fair Overhead Picture
Job Fair – Lots of People & Little Time to Impress

Have you ever gone to a job fair? Do you plan on it? If so, you have two choices. The first is to carpet bomb the place with your résumé. The second is to have a targeted approach and clear objectives. Guess which works better?

If you think that a run through the venue, where you will leave your résumé at every booth with a quick hello and a hand shake will bear fruit, you will be disappointed. If that is your plan, stay home and apply on line. As the recruiters and representatives at the booth receive these documents, they make quick decisions. There is the “no” pile and the “maybe” stack. Yours will not be where you want it.

Instead, have a strategy in mind and develop tactics that will give you a greater chance of success. Work to maximize the benefit of a face-to-face contact. Here are eight tactics.

  1. Research the companies and their jobs. Most job fairs have a website that lists the recruiting companies and the jobs available. Make a list of the ones for which you are qualified. Print it or carry it electronically. Work your list when you get there.
  2. Create a simple cover letter to go with your résumés. Each letter should be different and customized to each of the positions you want. At the least, include the employer’s name and two or three bullets on your qualifications relative to the requirements of the job posting. Use good paper and ensure quality printing.
  3. Have a concise introduction written and practiced. “Hi, my name is Bill Florin and I am here to share my résumé for consideration for the ____ job you are filling.”
  4. Be prepared to explain two or three things that make you qualified for the position. Again, you will need to research the job and review your talking points before approaching the recruiter.
  5. Have an answer for “What are you doing now?” Again, be concise. “My last employer went through a round of downsizing in the last two months, and I am looking to find a company that will benefit from my accounting expertise and drive for results.”
  6. Get business cards or other contact information if possible. Follow up immediately with a “Thanks, it was nice to meet you” email.
  7. Ask about next steps and the process to come. You will want to know this and set your expectations accordingly. You might not learn much, but it does not hurt to ask.
  8. Smile, say thanks, and move along. You don’t want to be a creepy job fair stalker, do you? Be good, be brief, and be gone.

Dress for success would be #9, but we don’t have to talk about that, right?

Hitting job fairs? Don’t forget these tips.

Nobody loves job fairs, but think about this: Would employers do them if they didn’t hire some of those attending? Not likely; they wouldn’t spend the time and money. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have a lot of success, but as they say about lottery tickets: Hey, you never know.

What has worked for you at job fairs? What hasn’t? Be sure to share your experiences by leaving a comment. Don’t forget to follow “Work” and share it with your friends!

Six Crucial Job Search Tactics

With so many job search options, where do you start? That was a question I received from a client yesterday, and one that’s worth a few lines of digital ink. After all, with the many job search sites showing duplicate content, often the same jobs scraped from other sites, it can be confusing and frustrating. Here is what I offered him, and I hope it helps you.

First, start with people you know. If you have a new résumé, you have a terrific reason to contact everyone in your network. Try this: “Hi Mary! I just reworked my résumé and I was hoping that you could take a moment to look at it. I respect your opinion and will appreciate any feedback you have. Thanks!” You can do that by email or phone. If your contact in your network is real, she probably won’t mind doing this for you. Follow up with a thank you and ask her to keep you in mind or pass your résumé along to anyone she thinks would be appropriate.

Identify target companies. Pick some companies that you want to work for. Make a list. Follow them through LinkedIn, Twitter and their corporate sites. Work your LinkedIn network to find someone inside the company you know, or a 2nd level connection to whom you could be introduced. Use Glassdoor and news searches to learn as much about the company as possible. Expand your list as you consider similar companies that you come to learn about in your research.

Pick a single search site, and work it. This is probably going to be your least productive tool, but an effective job search is like our national energy policy: All of the above. Decide which site you like best (See Resu-mazing’s useful sites: http://www.resu-mazing.com/Useful_Sites.html) and get to know it well. Set up search agents. If you are not currently employed, consider posting your résumé to make it searchable and findable by recruiters.

Don’t forget your LinkedIn profile. When your résumé is fresh and new, use it to update your LinkedIn profile. Set your privacy settings to allow you to be found by recruiters.

[See my LinkedIn e-booklet for tons of useful information to create a better profile.]

Remember keywords. As you search and read job postings, you will see the same words and phrases in the descriptions and qualifications. Do your LI profile and résumé reflect what employers need? If not, tune it up. Find different ways to describe your work and results, incorporating the key words that you identify.

Identify recruiters in your field. Remember that recruiters are paid by the employers, not by the candidates, so they are not going to work hard to find you a job. It is up to you to monitor their web sites and establish relationships so that you can present your résumé when they are working on a placement for which you are a credible candidate.

Here’s the straight story. Jobs can come from any of the channels described above. While it is true that personal connections and networking (social recruiting) will produce the best results, companies still find and hire people coming to them from advertising. If they didn’t, why would they spend the time and money doing it? I see good things happen all the time.

Work hard at your search, keep your activities going in each of the areas and stay positive. The interviews and opportunities will come.

Bill Florin, CPRW, is President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, Connecticut USA.

10 Year End Tweaks & Tips

Reindeer GuyWhat would the end of the year be without lists? Best books, worst movies, most dramatic failures, the most influential people; the list of lists goes on. In that spirit, but hopefully much more useful, are some quick tips and tweaks that you can complete in a few minutes each.

  1. How is your profile photo? If you aren’t happy with your headshot that you use for LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites, take a moment during the holidays to take a new one. You will probably be dressed nicely and with other people, and everyone has a camera, so do it. Don’t wear the reindeer sweater!
  2. Scroll through your LI contacts with this question in mind: “What good work do I remember about this person doing on which I can base a LinkedIn recommendation?” Start at Z in your contacts for a change, and work your way from the bottom. Write the recommendation. It will be a wonderful holiday gift that will be appreciated much more than the Scooby Doo Chia Pet from Walgreen’s.
  3. Review just your current job’s block in your LinkedIn profile. What have you done this year that isn’t included. Update this and your résumé with your 2012 accomplishments.
  4. Again, review your contacts. Whom have you not spoken with in a long time? Send a note or make a call. Check in. Keep your network alive. A “Happy Holidays!” wish is always a great reason call.
  5. Invest some of your downtime (New Year’s Day, perhaps) taking inventory of your volunteer work. You haven’t done any? Check Catchafire or VolunteerMatch for ideas, or look close to home. The Rotary, Lions, faith communities, and the Boys & Girls Clubs are great places to start.
  6. Start that blog you have been thinking about. WordPress and other sites couldn’t be easier to use. You have great ideas to share. What are you waiting for?
  7. Check your privacy settings in your social media accounts. Are they still appropriately set for your needs? While you’re at it, change your passwords to something more secure than 123456.
  8. Update your signature block in your email account. Be sure that it reflects your professional brand as it should and that all information is current.
  9. Actively participate in a different LinkedIn or Quora conversation once a day for a week. See what it does for your thinking, creativity and networking.
  10. Drop the cash for a box of personal business cards. 123Print and Vista Print are good, cheap sources to get your personal networking cards printed.

What are you working on? Do you have other ideas for quick-hit tweaks for the final days of the year? Please share them.

Do you want to know more about Catchafire? Read about my experience here.

Bill Florin, CPRW is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, CT.

3 Military to Civilian Career Tips

Army soldiers run computer networks. Airmen lead people to maintain complex aircraft. Marines lead communications efforts in the military and with civilian populations. Every job in the military has characteristics that translate to the civilian workplace. Clearly identifying them and being able to tell the story will be a big part of any successful military to civilian transition. Here are a few pointers to make that easier.

Keep records. A military service person will always be able to get copies of service records. I am talking about these but more detailed records of the work that has been done. I recently spent time working with a client who served in the Army in Iraq, where he was responsible for running his company’s computer network and ensuring that it was secure and available. We spent time discussing the size of the network, the number of users, any special configurations used and other details. Without sharing anything classified, I was able to get a good picture of what he did and described it in his résumé. He has had success in his civilian search.

Think about the next step. The sailor who has a goal for civilian employment can be thinking about the work that she is doing in the Navy and how it is similar to jobs outside of the service. The military is full of jargon and abbreviations that need to be translated into civilian-speak. Read civilian job postings and understand their descriptions, qualifications and requirements. Connect the dots in your résumé, describing how what you did on that destroyer is exactly what the ABC Company in Scranton is looking for.

Start building a network. It is easy to get caught up in the insulated world of the military, only to come out at the other end without connections in the outside world. Start working on it right away. There are many people and civic organizations that want to help you and get to know service members. Many are veterans themselves and they will help when the enlistment is over.

Thanks for your service, veterans! Feel free to ask questions or share other tips in the comments below.

Bill Florin is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company and served in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Confidence & The Casting Call

Anytime job seekers are thrown into a non-traditional interviewing environment, stress levels rise and anything can happen. If the experience isn’t one-on-one, heart palpitations and sweaty palms result. I heard from a client this past week who participated as a candidate in a group interview, and he did very well, winning an individual interview and the job. Here are some things we can learn from his success.

If you are faced with a casting call experience like this, where it is you and a crowd, be prepared to tell your story quickly. Those who rise to the challenge in this setting and make a strong positive impression are the candidates most likely to make it to round two.

Second, know your material and your success stories well. If a question is thrown to the group about results, accomplishments or anything else that you should be able to talk about, be ready to respond without hesitation. You want to get your story out. Be alert! Be sharp!

Third, and most important, be confident. Your confidence will come across in both your verbal and non-verbal communication. Speak clearly, with energy, and make eye contact at some point with all of the interviewers. Sit up in your chair, smile and show some enthusiasm. Be the person that the interview panel will notice.

These sessions are designed to do two things. They allow for efficiency and an easy way to eliminate people from consideration. The quiet person in the back of the room is going to get cut. They are also designed to get you to show your personality and confidence (or lack of both).

You have a lot to tell and accomplishments to be proud of or you wouldn’t have been invited to interview. Turn the confidence up, get your stories ready and shine. Make the impression that will want the panel to bring you back for more.

Bill Florin, CPRW is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company.

LI: Recommend or Endorse?

The LinkedIn universe has been buzzing lately about the endorsement feature. Is this a good thing? How is it different than recommendations? Should I do it? Here are some quick answers to clear up the confusion.

Endorsements allow a first-level connection to acknowledge that a person has the skills that s/he says she does. For example, Amee adds “customer service” and “project management” to the skills section of her profile. Jim, who worked with Amee, knows that she has these skills and clicks the endorse button next to the corresponding skills on Amee’s profile. Jim can’t endorse skills that Amee hasn’t indicated that she has.

Endorsements are a quick and easy way to add more credibility to a colleague’s profile. The endorser just taps the button and moves along.

Recommendations require more work and can be more valuable. Amee could either ask Jim for a recommendation, or Jim could write one without being asked. Either way, Amee can review the recommendation and choose to show it on her profile or not. Recommendations have the added value of being free form; their effectiveness is limited only be the recommender’s writing ability.

If you ask for a recommendation, be specific as to what it should say. If Amee thinks that Jim can say great things about her project management skills, she should ask for a recommendation focusing on that quality, maybe even offering an example to help jog Jim’s memory. Example: “Jim – Remember when we worked on the Alpha Project. Would you please write a recommendation for me about how I brought the project in 10 days early and $50,000 under budget?”

Both options, of course, allow LinkedIn users to validate what a person is already saying about him or herself. Plus, they help you build your network’s strength by helping others, a foundational concept of LinkedIn. Have some fun, brighten some else’s day and get going with your recommendations and endorsement.

Bill Florin, CPRW is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company.

Golden Rule Recruiting

First, excuse me if this sounds like a rant coming from the other side of the table. It’s not. My hope is that these are reminders about what you already know, and that they offer a perspective that you have not heard.

As a professional who assists and advises clients in their career marketing and search activities, though, I do hear a lot about some of the treatment they receive from recruiters. If you want to really feel some of that heat, attend one of my seminars that attract up to 30 people in a session. When we get to the topic of following up on inquiries and after interviews, the intensity and the volume both rise to a higher level. Here is the question that stirs the emotions of attendees:

The recruiter told me that I would hear something within two weeks, but it’s been a month. What should I do?

The question itself is simple enough, but the reaction it gets from others is powerful. There is a universal loathing for perceived fib-telling and forgetful recruiters, whether they are staff recruiters for a hiring company or third-party pros sourcing candidates for their clients. The howls of frustration are tough to hear and there isn’t much to say other than, “It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”

So what’s the difference? Why should the recruiter care? As if doing the right thing isn’t enough, it comes down to the impact on the employer’s brand. Whether a recruiter is an employee of the hiring company or with an outside firm, both have the power to enhance or damage the brand. This may be more true in consumer-oriented companies that might alienate a customer with shoddy recruiting practices, but it’s not limited to them. Even if the organization sells helicopters to the Chilean army, it still has a reputation to maintain. Every marketing dollar is precious, so why behave in a way that diminishes yours or your client’s credibility?

If you don’t think that people talk and share their experiences, head over to Glassdoor.com to see a concentrated sampling of stories told by happy and unhappy job seekers. Candidates treated with respect with a clear, consistent and fair process will give credit as it is deserved. Those who get something less will take full advantage to scream from atop their digital soap boxes.

Here are a few ideas that can help make everyone’s lives easier:

  • If you say that you will call back with a decision or next steps by a certain date, do it. Even if the decision has not been finalized by the deadline, an update with a new due date will be appreciated.
  • Shoot straight. If the answer is no, then say it. Your candidate will appreciate the opportunity to cross the possibility off the list and to stop thinking about it.
  • Set expectations at every touch-point and deliver. If your candidate is traveling, be sure that the details are addressed. If you made the appointment for 10 AM, don’t leave the candidate stewing in the lobby until 11.
  • Hold your peers accountable to do the same. Set the example and expect them to follow.

The extra attention and energy committed to treating candidates the way that you would want to be treated will pay off. And hey, you will probably be on the other side of the table someday, too. Pay it forward, recruiter!

Your Résumé is Foundational

60 Minutes ran a piece profiling the Platform to Employment program in Fairfield County, CT. In one clip, a lecturer tears a résumé in half, proclaiming it obsolete. Ironically, the same piece shows job seekers practice interviewing with the interviewer reviewing the résumé. Go figure. Articles appear from time to time proclaiming the death of the résumé. Did you waste your time and maybe some money creating and optimizing your résumé? No! It is a foundational piece of your search. Here’s why.

Your résumé is your mandatory ticket into meetings with recruiters and hiring managers. Can you imagine what would happen to the candidate who shows up empty-handed for the interview? “Do I have a résumé? No. You can Google me instead and find my web presence.” This would likely be the shortest and most awkward interview of all time.

[See my series of interviewing advice stories: Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, One Question and Awareness & Adaptability.]

Your résumé is a marketing document. The document tells your story and allows others to present and introduce you to others. I frequently get requests that sound like this: “A friend of mine asked me to send him my résumé so that he could pass it along to his boss.” A LinkedIn profile address might work in this scenario, but maybe not. Note that people are asking for résumés, not Klout scores.

The résumé writing process forces you to clarify your experiences and accomplishments. This, in turn, makes you better prepared for interviewing. The hard work of thinking about your career, identifying the most important results and accomplishments, and putting it all into your résumé forces you to reflect upon, rank and organize your thoughts.

LinkedIn profiles are built off of your résumé. Let’s keep this simple and talk about LinkedIn. You can either upload your résumé and have the system automatically build your profile, or you can fill in blocks that look very much like a traditional chronological résumé. The “obsolete” résumé is the foundation of your profile.

[Get your free e-booklet: LinkedIn Start Up & Tune Up]

Keep that résumé sharp, polished and up-to-date. Be sure that it grabs the reader’s attention in the first few sentences. Don’t worry about it being obsolete. The old-fashioned résumé still has a lot of life and many uses.

Bill Florin, CPRW, is President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, Connecticut.