Your Résumé Can Be Too Concise

If you have spent any time working on your résumé and reading articles on how to make it effective, you have probably come across the advice to keep it clear, concise and as short as possible. That is great guidance, especially as recruiters and everyone else are so busy and have little time to spend screening any individual document and candidate. It has to deliver early to get attention. But too much editing and too little detail can hurt.

Last week I worked with a client for whom I was writing two résumés, a short version for a potential career change, and a longer, more detailed document for use in her existing career. The longer résumé was terrific. It had the right amount of information, shared her important accomplishments, and simply told her story well. The other shorter résumé was the problem.

This client was getting some advice from an internal advocate who kept challenging her to make it more and more brief. At one point, though, too many details that added context to this client’s excellent 15 year career history that has been full of achievement were at risk. We had to have a conversation that focused on this question: “If you didn’t know you, would eliminating these details hurt or help the reader understand you, your accomplishments and the unique value you offer?” She got my point and the potential edits were avoided.

This is not just a matter of opinion, though. Applicant tracking software (ATS) needs content to analyze, keywords in context, and if it isn’t there it can hurt a candidate’s chances of being considered by a human. The ATS package simply will not present you as a viable candidate.

Use the space you need to tell your story. Recruiters and the ATS software they use will reward your effort and decision.

Bill Florin is a Certified Professional Resume Writers (PARW/CC) and President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, CT.

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.

Three Career Reality Checks

As a pro résumé writer, I am constantly working with people in various stages of career transition. They range from the employed who are just starting to consider making a change to the long-term unemployed, people who have been out of work for a year or more and with few to no prospects for a new job. In every case, these people are in a reflective posture, considering their careers and how to make the next step. Here are a few common discussion points.

Career Velocity. Those doing the same work for years at a time, showing no advancement in their roles and responsibilities, are understandably nervous. They are concerned that the field may be passing them, and they are often right.

The Fix: Step forward and ask for new assignments. Take a class or earn a certification that will make you more valuable to your current and future employers. If employed, explore tuition reimbursement programs. You will still have to do the time and the work, but at least someone else can write the check.

Professional Network. Is your LinkedIn account a reflection of your real network, or is it just a bunch of names and faces, people you don’t really know? Here is a good test: If you called these people on the phone, how many would speak with you? If the number is smaller than you would like, get to work!

The Fix: Start contacting the people in your network. Reach out and say, “Hi!” Share something of value. Let them know what you are working on. Ask them what they are doing. Revitalize the network and make it more valuable.

Your Résumé. Is it current? You should view your résumé as a living document, something that is always current and ready to go in case of emergency. Are you an active job seeker? Are you getting calls for interviews? If not, a poorly written résumé could be hurting you.

The Fix: Invest your time and/or money into this critical piece of your career management strategy. If you don’t have the time or interest in writing it yourself, pay for help. If you do it yourself, review it quarterly and keep it fresh. If you don’t have anything new to add, ask yourself, “Why?”

Spend some time this week reviewing these points and how you are doing. I small investment in time actively managing your career could make a big difference in your long-term success.

Are You Leaking Jobs?

Spend six minutes in sales and you will hear that selling is a numbers game. You need to speak to a certain number of people each day and keep the pipeline or funnel full as prospects will leak out. A contact becomes a prospect and goes through the process until a sale is made or the prospect is written off and eliminated from the call list.

A job search shares a lot in common. The product being sold is the job seeker. The prospects are the potential employers that might hire the candidate. Simple stuff.

I spoke with a person recently whose story had me thinking about this. She had applied to over 200 jobs and had six or seven phone interviews, and not a single face-to-face interview or anything else beyond TBNT (thanks, but no thanks). Here are some points to consider about these numbers and what might be wrong.

Applications to Phone Screens Ratio: The APS ration is what percentage of your applications are generating calls. If the number is low (6 for 200 qualifies), there might be a problem. What does the résumé look like? Does it have obvious defects? Are there obstacles in the candidate’s career history that need to be handled more effectively? Second, is the candidate applying for jobs that s/he is not qualified for or for which the résumé needs an adjustment? It is more work to customize the résumé for every job, but it’s worth it.

Phone Screen to Face-to-Face Ratios: The P-to-F ratio (yes, I am making this up) is critical. Most phone screen interviews are simple and offer the candidate the advantage of being unseen by the interviewer. Notes and scripts should be ready to go and easily anticipated questions should be considered. Prepare answers. If less than half of the phone screens are resulting in interviews, it’s time for a tune up and practice.

You get the idea. Look at each point that could derail a candidacy and work to reduce the chance of a negative outcome. Notes, practice and awareness of the critical nature of each interaction can make a big difference.

Fix the leaks and land that next gig.

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?

Three Reactions to No

Not all news is great in career searches. A seeker will feel that the résumé is perfect, the cover letter compelling, and the job requirements a perfect match for her experience. The call comes, the interview is scheduled and completed, and she waits for the offer. Instead, rejection follows. It happens. What is next is completely up to the seeker. Here are three potential reactions.

Assume the fetal position and whine. Alright, maybe not literally, but in every other way. Job seekers take the rejection at the most personal level and retract into their shells, unable or unwilling to see that the opportunity may not have been as perfect as first thought. Or it’s possible that there was some bad chemistry between the candidate and the interviewer. Or there was an equally strong candidate willing to do the job for a lower salary. Or, or, or. No means no, but nothing more than that. Unless Connie Candidate had a total meltdown in the interview or committed some egregious faux pas, the reason for the decision will likely never be known. Move on before the rejection kills confidence.

Get mad. Much like the “Woe is me!” reaction above, this is just another inappropriate emotion for something that is not entirely in the seeker’s control. Anger and the accompanying reactions – denial, obstinacy and bitterness – will not serve the seeker well. The job search is, in part, a numbers game. There may be one job and 10 qualified candidates, or 100. While anger can offer some emotional fuel, too much can lead to irrational and damaging decisions.

Learn from it. This is the best option by far. A detailed self-debriefing can pay huge dividends, especially if it is done immediately after the interview. Thoughts on which to reflect could include the following. Which questions caused me the most grief? Which questions allowed me to give my strongest answers? How could I have told my stories more effectively and concisely? If I could go back and answer one question again, which one would it be and what would I say differently?

Rejection will come to all but the most fortunate job hunters. Prepare yourself for it and give yourself a pep talk on what you will do when it happens. Which will describe you when it happens: quivering mess, ball of rage, or wiser and smarter professional? Your reaction is up to you and one of the only parts of the process that you control.

Question 2: Why Do You Want To Work Here?

Every recruiter will want to know why you have gone to the effort of applying for a position with the organization. It is a natural question and one for which you need solid answers. If you sound uncertain and unconvincing, that could be the end of the road for this job prospect. Be ready with a great answer and you could engage your interviewer in a great discussion and a chance for the prize. The following are some tips to consider as you plan your answer.

  1. Include something about the employer. This is a terrific chance to demonstrate that you have done your research about the company. If you know your stuff, you can help the recruiter appreciate that you want to be there badly enough to have done your homework.
  2. Discuss how your skills will make a difference. This is the next logical step in your answer. After you have talked about the company, talk about how your skills are well suited to the organization and its mission.
  3. If you know somebody on the inside, talk about it. This can also help in that the recruiter will know that you have a better understanding of the company than someone without that relationship. Here are two words of caution about this point, though. Be sure that your insider knows that you will mention her name. Second, think about your insider’s reputation within the company. If you are endorsed by and have a relationship with someone who is not well respected, your candidacy could take a hit.

Here is a simple example of how you could handle this. Watch for points one and two.

“While researching career opportunities, it was important for me to find a position with a company that feels as strongly about great customer service as I do. I reviewed national service rankings and narrowed my target list down to just a few companies, including this one. I want my next position to be with a company that will best benefit from my superior customer service skills and where I can have the opportunity to demonstrate that skill every day.”

With an answer like this, you have shown an awareness of the company, your critical thinking skills about your job search process, and an understanding about how your skills match the organization’s priorities and culture. You could do a lot worse than this in answering this interview question in just a few sentences.

Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself

Question 3: Tell Me About Your Greatest Accomplishment

Question 4: When Have You Failed?

What If There’s Just One Question?

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.