Differentiate Your Way to the Interview

Cans of bubbly, brown sugar water. Big stores where they sell hammers, plywood and toilet seats. Men’s black dress socks.

What is the difference? Coke or Pepsi? Home Depot or Lowes? Gold Toe or, uh…

The difference is all about the message the marketing teams of these companies create and blast out to the world. They tell us, through their marketing channels, ads, promotions and sponsorships, what they want us to know so we can make a distinction and a purchase decision. This is exactly what everyone searching for a new job must accomplish, too.

As I write this, we are in the final week of June. All those fresh, young college graduates have hit the market, ready to share their stories of internships, advanced PowerPoint skills, and, you can bet, excellent written and verbal communication skills. They all present themselves so similarly that a random selection from the electronic resume pile is probably as effective a way to select candidates as any other. The dart throw might beat the stock (uh, employee) picking.

So how do you differentiate yourself so you don’t seem like everyone else? Use current, marketable, valued skills and examples of times you have used them. This has not changed, but many people do not understand this vital, core deliverable of the effective resume.

Let me put it simply. You must tell recruiters what makes you special and different, not the same as everyone else. Answer this question: Why you? If you can make the case, you have successfully differentiated your way in the recruiter’s (read: buyer’s) mind. That can lead to the interview, a series of successful conversation, and a job offer.

If you want to be the human equivalent of a black-and-white generic can of “Cola,” just list your responsibilities and call it a day. If you want to stand out with a distinctive message and value proposition, if you want to be something an employer wants to buy, sell yourself with accomplishments and results. If you can do it, the interviews will come.

= = =

Bill Florin is president of Resu-mazing Services Company. He has written more than 500 resume packages for clients since 2009.

Your Resume Does 2 Things Well & 1 Not At All

There are limits on what your resume does in a job search. A resume can do at least two things very well, but one of them is not get you a job. This is an important distinction that should help job seekers decide where and how to invest their time and energy in the job search process.

Before we move any further, understand what a resume is. It is a marketing document. No different than advertising in other areas of life – the slick brochures at the car dealer, the glossy mutual fund promotional materials your broker gives you, and the constant bombardment of digital marketing – it is created with the purpose of getting a potential employer interested in a job seeker.

Here are the two things a well-written resume does very well:

First, it gets a potential employer to contact you. The employer has a need, an open position with a sets of skills, experience, and qualifications defining potentially successful candidates. Your resume, if it is targeted and fine-tuned to match the employer’s need, can get a recruiter to call you. That is exactly what you want it to do. From that point forward, your resume becomes much less important as you sell yourself based on your interviews, interactions, and follow up.

This brings us to the second benefit of your resume: a terrific interview. If written well, if it presents a compelling blend of stories to support the skills you claim to have, it will help influence the interviews you will face before getting an offer. This requires thought about the content of your resume, of course, in that you should share stories that will stimulate interest and conversation.

Don’t say, “I can build Excel spreadsheets.” Rather, say, “Built a macro-enabled Excel spreadsheet to automate routine auditing processes, saving approximately two hours of work daily.”

In the former example, you haven’t said much. In the latter, you explained how you used a skill to make a tangible difference that made work more efficient, people more productive, and maybe saved some money. If the potential employer wants someone with Excel skills, you might be asked to explain the project in more detail. This is where you get to shine!

The second benefit of a great resume is arguably more valuable than the first. While many people get calls, many fail to land an offer because they do not interview well. A strong interview filled with engaged conversation by both parties, rather than something resembling interrogation, is more likely to lead to a happy outcome.

So, what is it that a resume does not do? It will not get you the job. It will get you the chance to discuss the job, but it will not get you to the offer. Nobody ever or anywhere has said, “Wow! This is such a great resume. Let’s just make an offer without interviewing the candidate.”

Knowing this, it stands to reason that networking, interviewing, follow-up, and salary negotiating skills are as important in the successful search. Do not discount the value of a strong resume, but don’t be over-reliant on what it does for you, either. Preparation and persistence in all areas of the job hunt are well worth the effort.

= = =

Bill Florin is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), Certified Employment Interview Professional, and founder of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, Connecticut. Contact Bill at contact@resu-mazing.com for a free job search strategy consultation.

The Critical Skills-Example Link

Skills Need Stories. Give Examples.
Skills Need Stories. Give Examples.

Employers look for people with specific skills. If you can write code, manage a project, or sell, you have a specific marketable skill. That’s obvious. What isn’t as obvious is the need to make the link in your résumé between the claimed skill and a clear example of using that skill. Here is how it is done. The story supports the claim.

If your résumé includes a skills summary section, it probably lists a dozen or so things that you know how to do. This gives recruiters a quick summary of what you have to offer, and most résumés should have this section. Your challenge is to tell a brief story further down in the experience section to explain how you have used the skill. The following are three examples.

Skill: Advanced MS Excel

Example: Created complex Excel workbook using macros and pivot tables to capture and calculate inventory values for over 2,500 unique items.

Skill: Project Management

Example: Served as project manager for $1.5 million, six-month safety improvement effort that included installation of new equipment and life-protection systems.

Skill: Writing

Example: Authored more than 100 individual articles over 18 months and generated over 1,000 visits daily to company blog site.

Use these examples to tell your own stories. Remember, if you cannot give examples of skills used, you probably aren’t very good at them (at least that’s what the recruiters will think). Specific stories of skills used add credibility. Review your résumé, read every skill claim, and ensure that you have at least one story for each to make your document more powerful and believable.

===

Looking for more résumé writing tips? Search “resume” with this blog’s search bar for much more.

===

Your Résumé Must Have These 8 Things: More great information for building a great résumé.

Five Valuable Proofreading Tips

I will admit it; this is not one of the most interesting topics to discuss. But great proofreading must happen if your résumé, cover letter, LinkedIn documents and other written material will work for you. Here is some harsh reality: every time you apply with error-filled documents – even one error is too much – you are wasting an opportunity. You would have been better off to not apply at all.

Here are some tricks you can use to tighten up your writing.

Read it aloud. This means actual spoken words, not reading silently. I read every line of every letter and résumé I send to my clients because it works. It isn’t exciting, and the first few times you read aloud to yourself it will feel a little silly, but it will help. You will identify poor writing, poor or wrong word choices, and redundancy.

Get away from it. A little time between writing and proof helps a lot. Write it, save it, and step away. Come back later or the next day and read it after doing something else. Write, walk the dog, proofread – in that order.

Print it. I don’t like using paper and ink when I don’t have to, but a hardcopy version will give you a different perspective. Try changing the setting, too, by taking your paper to a different room or to a coffee shop. You will see opportunities for improvement.

Read it backwards. Get a ruler and read line by line from back to front, using the ruler to keep your place. This will change the context and you will notice bad punctuation, words and other errors.

Enlist help. Doesn’t everyone know a spelling and grammar freak? If you do, ask for a reading. It’s always easier to spot someone else’s mistakes than your own.

Remember that a single error on your résumé can get you discarded into the “No!” pile. Take the time and make the effort to have your very best work representing you in the career marketplace. Nothing less will do.

===

See The Thank You Letter of Doom for an account of a job search blowout. The letter killed all hope.

===

Bill Florin is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company. He can help you create and market yourself with error-free documents.

Annual Review Lemonade

Turn that big sour review process into tasty resume and LinkedIn lemonade.
Turn that big sour review process into tasty resume and LinkedIn lemonade.

Everyone hates annual reviews, right? Many are dealing with the process now, either writing their self-evaluations or thinking and writing about their employees (or both). The whole effort takes a lot of time, and many see it as just a necessary hoop that must be jumped through to placate the HR people to get to the raise on the other side. Here is another way to look at it: Use the time to capture the history of your best work.

Annual reviews are often the best source of information for people to use when writing résumés, LinkedIn profiles, and cover letters. It’s also a terrific resource to refresh one’s memory before a job interview. As a pro résumé writer, I love it when clients have reviews available as there will be solid and quantifiable information to include in the career marketing package.

Here are a few compelling points that should change your mind about annual reviews.

It’s a paid mini-résumé writing session. Think about the résumé creation process. You have to sit down and think about the work you have done and the accomplishments you’ve achieved. Isn’t that what happens when you do your self-review? You are writing about your year and putting your work in the best possible light to earn a big, fat, bell-ringing raise. Your employer is paying you to write this year’s section of your résumé.

You have access to information. When you write a résumé after leaving an employer, you may or may not have access to the data you need to tell your story. How much was that sales increase in 2009? You have access to information now that you can include in your review, and nobody will think twice about you researching it. If asked, you say, “I’m writing my self-review.” Done!

You get documented feedback from your boss. Many people complain that the only good feedback that they get is at review time. If that is you, capture this information and use it later if needed. Positive quotes can be showcased in a cover letter or (sparingly) in a résumé.

Get copies and bring them home. Be a freak about this! Ask for or make hardcopies of your completed, delivered reviews (with your boss’s comments and scores). Bring them home now and file them where you will find them later. Gather previous year’s reviews if you don’t have them.

Keep this in mind and use the annual review process as your time to document your year. Annual appraisal lemons can be squeezed into résumé lemonade later.

If you found this article helpful, please take a moment to share it. Also, be sure to follow this blog to get notifications of new stories. Thanks!

Bill Florin is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. After writing hundreds of résumés, he knows the value annual reviews in the résumé writing process.

Your “Me Too” Résumé Isn’t Working

Anyone who has ever me_tooworked on the receiving end of a job announcement – they get to swim in the résumé tsunami – says the same thing. “I’m busy, and I only have a few seconds to look at your résumé. If it isn’t obvious that you’re a fit, you won’t hear from me.”

Knowing that, why do people still fill their résumés with clichés?

Proactive, results oriented professional…

Strong attention to detail…

Team player with a strong work ethic…

Stop! Everyone says that! If you want to be like everyone else, and not get the call, use the same words, phrases, and sentences. Copy your résumé from a template or a book. At least you will have saved some time.

If, on the other hand, you want success, describe what you have done using key words and phrases that recruiters will search on LinkedIn and in other résumé posting sites. Explain how you used a specific technology, tool, or business practice to achieve a result. Describe it plainly. Eliminate adverbs (e.g., successfully, proactively, anything ending in “ly”) as much as possible. Use the space for real information. Here’s an example:

Implemented lean methodologies to reduce production time by 2.5 hours per unit, increasing productivity by 17% and gross profit by 22%.

Reduced geriatric patient hospitalizations by average of 1.5 days in first six months on new case management and follow up initiative.

“Me too” doesn’t work when you need to differentiate yourself and get attention. Eliminate the filler and replace it with hard-hitting detail. It will make a difference.

Three Reasons to be Bold

Understatement will hurt you in your job search. The essence of the work is marketing. Seekers create (either themselves or they pay a professional to do it) a batch of documents, both physical and electronic, to tell the world about themselves. Here are three reasons to be bold with your résumé, cover letter, follow up communications, LinkedIn profile and other activities.

Marketing Emphasizes Strengths. Hyundai doesn’t say, “The Elantra: Not a bad small car for the money.” PepsiCo doesn’t entice you with, “Mountain Dew: We’re not sure why people like this stuff.” Instead, marketers use all of their communication tools to sell the sizzle. What’s great? What’s exciting? What makes the product or service special? Do the same for yourself.

You Are Competing. Even though the job market has improved, many employers are still very cautious about their hiring decisions. They are still looking at their options, evaluating many candidates for each open slot. Every job seeker is in a battle with all the rest to get the interview and offer. You must outshine your competition if you are going to be successful.

Boldness Builds Confidence. Sometimes people say, “I don’t want to come across as over-confident, arrogant or boastful.” This is a good thought, and you won’t. But, by cataloging and presenting your accomplishments concisely and professionally, you will be in a better position to interview well because you will know your best stories and will have the opportunity to discuss them.

Your marketing activities and tools will not get you the job. They will get you the interview, and that’s what it’s all about. Review your résumé, LinkedIn profile and other documents. Ask yourself, “Are these doing everything possible to help me market myself? Am I bold enough?” If not, fix them.

Setting Interview Traps

gotchaHow can you get the interviewer to ask the right questions? You could try Jedi mind tricks. Wave your hand and say, “Ask about my performance review from 2011.” Or, you can write a résumé that improves the chances of the conversation moving in your favor.

A great résumé requires great strategy. Beyond its obvious function of getting you an invitation to interview, it needs to help influence the interview. It needs to convey results and accomplishments with just enough detail to get your future boss to ask for more detail.

Here is an example:

Your résumé says, “Saved $75K annually by re-engineering warehouse picking routines.”

Your interviewer might ask, “Tell me more about this. What did you change and how did you determine that this was the right thing to do?” When that happens, the trap you set in your résumé has been sprung!

When the question comes, you will have the chance to tell the story. Highlight your critical thinking and analytical skills along with how you influenced others, implemented change and created a more efficient business process.

Focus on results in your résumé and you will get to tell your best professional stories. Set those traps with great strategy and let your interviewer fall into them to your benefit. Leave the mind tricks to Star Wars.

See “8 Things” for résumé essentials.

Need some help with common interview questions? Start with Question 1.

Bill Florin is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company. He is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer (CPRW) and Certified Employment Interview Professional.

Four Job Search Truths: Take Nothing for Granted

“Should I customize my resume for each job?”

“Do I really need a cover letter?”

These are two questions that I heard recently from people concerning their job searches. Let me answer your question with a question. “Do you want the job?”

If the answer is yes, then the answers are yes to both questions. And that’s just the beginning. Here are some harsh realities of the 2013 job search.

Networking is essential. If you see a job that you really want, work to identify someone in your network who can get you in invitation to interview. This might be a second or third level LinkedIn connection. It may be someone you know in the “real” world. It will be worth your time to find the connection, because your competition is working to get the advantage of a warm introduction.

It’s You Versus the Machine. I’m referring to the ATS (applicant tracking system) machine. Employers are flooded with résumés from people with little or no qualifications, so they set their force fields on “high”. You must (must, must, MUST) customize your résumé and cover letter to match the qualifications and requirements of the position. Don’t do it and your résumé will never be seen by a human. You will be filtered out and auto-rejected by ATS.

Sell Yourself with the Cover Letter. The letter explains why you are the best candidate for the job, what special skills you have that make you a cultural fit, and addresses any easily identified obstacles or objections. For example, if you are applying for a position in a different city, explain your relocation plans and that you will NOT be looking for relo assistance. Answer the obvious questions. Each letter should be different.

It’s Hard Work. There it is! Finding work is work. You must take the time and invest the energy into making yourself appear to be the ideal candidate for every position that you want. If you don’t, someone else will. Quality of your marketing documents beats quantity, but you need quantity, too. You are facing intense competition for every position.

If you aren’t making a full-time effort at finding your next full-time gig, you are not working hard enough. Make a plan to conduct meaningful job search activities every day. Then do them. Take nothing for granted and assume that the competition will be willing to do the things that you don’t feel like doing. Work hard. It will be worth it.

Here are some earlier stories to help you jump-start your search and find your next job faster:

8 Résumé Must-HavesStart Your Résumé Strong!Get Busy!Do What You Can

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

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.