Newsstand Résumé

Visit any airport news store or a Barnes and Noble, and you find rack after rack of magazines and newspapers, all shouting headlines to get your attention and your dollars. The same is true online, where we are all teased with silly phrases designed to get us to click (I still have never clicked on a “five weird tricks” link). Nobody does it better than the tabloids, though, with huge fonts and the promise of entertainment – and possibly a little news – for a buck.

Imagine your résumé up against this competition. Does yours have what it takes to get the attention of an overwhelmed, overworked and overstimulated screener? Does it say “read me” or “READ ME!”? More simply, is your best stuff in the top half of the first page? If not, your competition may get more attention. Here are a few pointers.

Compelling Headline. Does your headline make it obvious what you do and what you are looking to do next? Do you have a headline? If you can’t describe your career focus in a few words and display it in a headline, start now.

Concise Professional Summary. Develop a two to three sentence summary of what you offer your next employer. DO NOT include clichés that everyone uses and every recruiter hates. Out of the box self- starters with strong work ethics need not apply. IT professionals with experience in data centers and cloud-based application management experience…come right in!

Unique and Valuable Skills. If you have certifications, training or other formal credentials that are in demand, get them into the top half of page one.

You have seconds to make an impression and score an interview. If you are not getting calls, it could be that your résumé is boring and weak. Tighten it up, make it bold and make it work.

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Sales Basics and the Job Search

Everyone is in sales. Whether you sell for a living or have to influence others in some way, you are selling ideas, products and yourself all the time. Having your eyes open to that fact will work to your advantage as you conduct a job search, and understanding some basic sales tactics can accelerate the process and get you doing what you love, your career of choice. Having worked in sales and sales management, I hope that these concepts that I have learned – some the hard way – can help you.

Use Your Network. People buy from those that they trust. The best way to become trusted is with the recommendation of a valued and respected insider. Continue to build and energize your network, helping others as you can. The day may come when you need a favor (maybe you need one now) and the investment you made in time and energy will pay dividends.

Sell What the Buyer Wants. You must understand the needs of the buyer. You are the seller, and the employer is considering buying your services. What is important to the company and what are the qualifications of the role? What is the organization’s culture and how would you fit in? Study the job posting, read the company’s website, research the organization through other sources (including insiders), and be ready to explain how you can help solve their problems. Focus on the needs of the organization and how you will be a great asset with the track record to prove it.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. If you have ever been on a sales call, as the seller, the buyer or just an interested bystander, you know that a professional sales presentation can lead to success. The presentation includes the person (dress, grooming, professionalism), sales and marketing materials (leave-behinds, brochures), the content of the presentation and asking for the sale. As you sell yourself, you need to consider and plan for your interviews and other interactions. What will you say? What material will you present? How will you follow up?

Multiple Contacts Increase Your Chances. This comes back to the point of trust. We don’t trust everyone we see from the first contact. That’s why you need to work to get your name, face, and work in front of the buyer as many times as you can and through as many channels as possible. At a minimum, this will include your initial contact, a phone interview, a face-to-face interview and follow up (thank you letter). You enhance your chances with a recommendation from an existing employee (back to your network). If you are in a less aggressive job search, consider a drip marketing campaign with potential employers, contact them once every 30 to 45 days with something of value.

Ask for the Sale. When you have gone through the process, ask for the job. Your request could be as simple as this: “I really would like to get to work helping your company capture market share. What are our next steps to me joining your team?”

Consider these sales basics when marketing yourself, and put them into practice. Understand that as you enter the labor market you are a sales person, so be great at it.

Question 4: When Have You Failed?

Here is the question that everyone loves to hate. It has many variations. Tell me about a time a project did not work out? What are you not good at? They are all getting to the same thing: some point in your career when everything – including maybe you – was not perfect. What should you do?

Let’s start with what not to do. Do not talk about a failure with no “but”. “I screwed up the Johnson account” is not enough, unless you want the interview to end quickly. Every story that you tell in this scenario has to have a “but”. This horrible thing happen, but I learned this from the experience. This plan did not turn out the way we had thought, but I and the rest of my team learned…

The point is that your interviewer wants to understand how you think. Can you admit the need for improvement and development, a trait that we all share? Do you learn from mistakes? This is your opportunity to show some humility and to demonstrate the wisdom that comes with experience.

Here is the formula. First, pick a story that describes a challenging scenario that shows that you were stretched. Second, give some detail to illustrate the complexity of the situation. Finally, explain the outcome and the learning.

Now, here’s an example. “I was asked to lead the Alpha project, something that had been in the planning stages for over a year but had not progressed. We knew that it would be challenging because the company had never worked on something like this before. We delivered 30 days late, but as a result I was able to identify some organizational limitations that had previously not been recognized. We took that failure and converted it into a success with the Delta project three months later.”

Keep it simple. Think about something that could have gone better, what you learned from the experience, and finally how you applied what you learned in that experience to a future project. If you have two or three of these stories ready to go, you will nail this tough question. Let your competition forget about but.

If you found this helpful, see some other stories to help you deal with common interview questions.

Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself

Question 2: Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Question 3: Tell Me About Your Greatest Accomplishment

What If There’s Just One Question?

Book Review: Linchpin

I picked up the latest Seth Godin paperback release at the airport bookstore last week and devoured it. After being inspired by The Dip and The Big Moo, I was excited to have the opportunity to grab five hours of flight time for a Seth pep talk. It was worth the 16 bucks.

As an entrepreneur and someone who is constantly working to do remarkable work for my clients, Godin’s focus on artistry resonated and validated what I and many of my clients do every day: Engage in “artistry” (Godin’s term), rising above the pack to add that which cannot be described in a policy manual or procedure, adding that special something – creativity, emotional energy, caring – that sets my work above the rest. You probably do that too, and are at your best and most energized when you are in that zone. Godin profiles people including coffee shop employees, CEOs and sales executives, creating opportunities to identify commonality between the reader and Godin’s subjects.

One of the reasons that I still prefer paper books over the Kindle for non-fiction with lasting value is that I like to scribble in the margins. Stars, checks, lines, comments and other visual reminders of, “Hey, this seemed important at 30,000 feet,” make up my system. This book is now filled with them.

Are you working for someone else? Become a linchpin. Be indispensable be doing more than is expected, by adding the qualities that are unique to you.

Are you an entrepreneur? Work hard, work fast and give you best as a gift to your clients and employees. You too will become indispensable.

Godin’s point is simple, but profound in its ramifications. If your job can be described in a training guide or a policy manual, if it can be automated or given to someone else willing to do it at a lower price, you are cooked. He challenges us to think and act, working to be remarkable, indispensable artists of our trades.

I Can’t Take Your Money

A Note about Work: I am taking the Work blog in a different direction as it becomes more obvious every day that our economy and our work experiences are also shifting. In our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, working was about finding a good company, staying there for decades, and getting out with whatever the retirement package the organization offered. While this is still true for some (e.g. public school teachers and police officers), more of us are spending at least some portion of our work lives without the comfort of a paycheck. Instead, we have to spend some time, either by choice or by necessity, figuring it out for ourselves and earning some of our money in other ways. Our employment relationships are more contractual and much shorter-term.

It is with that understanding and the experience from my own entrepreneurial efforts that I am adding this dimension to the blog. While there will still be a lot of useful information (at least I hope that you think so) about job hunting and career management, this extra element will make the blog more reflective of the experiences that my clients, my colleagues and I share. My hope is that you can learn from them and me, both copying the wins and avoiding the mistakes. Please share your reactions and ideas.

Sometimes, you just have to walk away from the money. You get excited about the opportunity to close more business, send out another invoice and watch the money flow. It happens a lot if you are running a successful business – however you define success – but there are times when you just have to say, “No, I can’t take your money.”

I recently worked with someone who wanted me to review some of her work and possibly make some improvements and changes. She mentioned several times that she was willing to pay me for my time. Upon reviewing her material, I realized that it was already very good and that there was very little that I could do to make it much better. Maybe a tweak here and a little polish there, but that was about it. I told her what I thought, gave some advice for free and moved on, thanking her for the opportunity to help.

I am not sharing this to make you think that I am a saint, ready to work for free and give away my services. Instead, I share this because there is more to the story. Because of my decision, this potential client went public with the story and gave me a solid recommendation on a huge social media site. I also know – at least with some certainty – that if she ever has the opportunity to refer someone to me, she will.

Consider the value of the good will that you can earn by doing something for nothing. Whether it is in your own gig or while working for others, sometimes some free advice, a little extra effort with expectation of reward, and a “thanks for thinking of me” can pay bigger dividends than a few dollars in the bank.

Ready for Your Screen Test? Get Hired, or Not.

Have you heard about the latest launch that will have job seekers setting up their tripods and talking at their cameras? GetHired.com just hit the Internet and promises to give recruiters and hunters one more factor to consider and stress about.

Here’s the idea. Job seekers can post a résumé and an audio or video file to pitch themselves to recruiters. Recruiters can see your résumé, your location and whatever other content you post. There is more to it than that, but you can visit the site for yourself if you want to get all the details.

This concept is intriguing, and there may be value in it that we will discover if it gets big, but here are a few warnings that give me pause.

Recruiters: How comfortable are you with defending your decision while avoiding potential liability from perceived discrimination? What if the candidate has a solid résumé, but a video with all the production value of Plan Nine from Outer Space? A bad pitch, poor sound and terrible lighting could cause you to pass on a candidate who may have been considered if it were not for the video. What if the applicant is visibly in a protected class? How will you defend your decision to pass?

Job Seekers: As if being concerned about every letter of your résumé and cover letter were not enough, now you get to make a video. Then you get to wonder if it was the reason why you did not get the call. Won’t that be fun?

Here’s some advice. If you decide to use this tool, do the hard work of producing a quality video. This means having a script, delivering it well and both looking and sounding great. By the way, that will also require attention to lighting, sound (use a clip-on microphone) and the background of the shot.

The idea is compelling, and there will probably be some people who master the tool. Keep in mind that this is extra work, though, and a 60 second video could take hours of work. Should you choose to participate, work hard, and remember that the first step in the process is posting your résumé. That needs to be great, just like always, before you even start your video production.

The Terrible T’s, Shortstops and Quarterbacks

Consider this a counterpoint to the Three R’s (relevant, recent, results). The Terrible T’s are something that should be very limited in your résumé, only appearing if needed to tell your story.

The Terrible T’s are tasks, those phrases and sentences that fill some résumés with what one is required to do on the job, rather than the results achieved. Here are two examples from sports to make the point.

A shortstop takes his position between second and third base, fielding balls that come his way. The shortstop is often the key to successful double play tries, covering second when a ball is it on the right side of the infield. He also bats, taking his turn at the plate.

A quarterback is the leader of a football team’s offensive unit, calling plays, keeping the team together and driving the ball down the field. He uses a combination of running and throwing plays to get the job done, making snap decisions on what to do with the ball all while being pursued by defensive players who want to tackle him and strip him of the ball.

These are boring explanations of the jobs of shortstop and quarterback. Every person who has played either position recognizes it, from kids in their earliest games to pros making millions to do it and do it well. The previous paragraphs are unnecessary in most cases. Here is what is necessary.

Tom Brady had a record setting performance on Sunday, January 15th when he led the New England Patriots with five touchdown passes in the first half of the game. This has never been done in NFL playoff football and sent the Denver Broncos into the off season with a resounding defeat.

Derek Jeter entered the record books in 2011 by surpassing the 3,000 career hits mark. This was just one more milestone in a career with the New York Yankees, one that has included multiple Golden Gloves awards, All Star Game appearances and World Series titles.

Do you see the difference? Is your résumé describing you as a Brady or a Jeter, or just another journeyman player with no accomplishments to share?

TIP: Get a red pen and a copy of your résumé. Underline every statement that describes a task. Then get a blue pen and underline everything that describes a result or accomplishment. If you are seeing more red than blue, you have some work to do. Write your history in blue and leave the red to the employee handbook and job description documents in the HR department.