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How current is that job search advice? | Responding to the dinosaurs.

Yesterday, I shared a university career center assessment of a cutting-edge, targeted, focused, differentiating career-marketing document I created for a soon-to-graduate student client. You can read more detail about the document here.

To refresh your memory, here is the feedback my client received, (copied exactly as forwarded):

“Your resume is very colorful and creative, however, it looks more like a print ad or bulletin board… Take out the top section and replace it with your objective statement (one line.. To obtain a position as a _______ teacher…) The things you have in this section are more for your cover letter or the interview conversation, not your resume. In addition, remove the quote from the faculty member…All reference information goes on a separate sheet (3-5 list) or in a reference letter, not on your resume itself. Be consistant with the bullets or crayons…I prefer the bullets…it’s looks more mature and professional. You are also missing a Professional Development section (workshops, presentations and conferences attended with dates…see sample)). If you agree with the suggestions and make changes, don’t forget to upload it to … [name withheld career center website.]

Differentiation is key in today's employment environment. Cookie-cutter doesn't cut it. Discover value in what makes you unique; embrace and extol it. (Photo of a poster at husband's work. If you know the source, I'll gladly give attribution.)

Let’s dissect the response:

“Your resume is very colorful and creative, however, it looks more like a print ad or bulletin board…”

The message: It doesn’t look like everyone else’s. It’s different.

My response: This highly-competitive market is about differentiation. Tastefully done, professionally-different (dare I say branded) material attracts attention and gets the resume content read.

“Take out the top section and replace it with your objective statement (one line.. To obtain a position as a _______ teacher…)”

The message: The employer cares about what you seek at this point in the job search.

My response: Nothing is further from the truth. Employers today, overwhelmed with floods of applications, and mountains of non-hiring-related responsibilities, know you want to land a job as an elementary school teacher (or whatever) with a properly done presentation. The format, content, strategy, headline, everything about document itself states the objective clearly without taking up valuable real estate stating the me-centric obvious. Besides, you don’t walk up and tell a complete stranger what you need – “I’m seeking …” – Tell them what value you bring and what you can do to help them, with a strong presentation of skills.

“The things you have in this section are more for your cover letter or the interview conversation, not your resume.”

The message: The cover letter is always read.

My response: First, the information in the section in question was a concise summary of what value our emerging teacher brought to her new school. It respected the reader’s time and told them what they wanted to know immediately, in the top third of the first page – prime resume real estate.

Always include a cover letter (unless told not to), but do not count on it being read in the order you intended, if at all. It is important for the resume to clearly state your value, and do that equally well combined with the cover letter or as a stand-alone document. Understand, the cover letter may not be read; once you hit send, it’s out of your control. A cover letter is not a me-me-me-centric narrative. It is a compelling introduction to go read the resume. Be respectful of the reader’s time. Tell them what they want to know quickly. If you don’t, they’ll quickly move on to someone who does.

“In addition, remove the quote from the faculty member…All reference information goes on a separate sheet (3-5 list) or in a reference letter, not on your resume itself.”

The message: It’s different. Don’t do it.

My response: Testimonials sell. The quote we selected contributed to her value proposition and has the potential to make a reader pause a while longer. It draws attention to the document and increases the chances of being read. If your resume looks like every other word-templated document out there, the chances of being noticed or read diminish greatly.

“Be consistant (sic) with the bullets or crayons…I prefer the bullets…it’s (sic) looks more mature and professional.”

The message: It’s different. Don’t do it.

My response: Would I use crayon bullets on a resume for a CEO? Definitely not. For an elementary school teacher, wanting to work with kindergarteners and elementary-aged students? Absolutely. Differentiating her academic teaching experience from her peripheral summer job experience visually with dividers and changing bullets makes it easier for the reader to determine what they want to know. I used square blocks for the additional experience, differentiating the experience, but further contributing to the elementary-focused theme.

“You are also missing a Professional Development section (workshops, presentations and conferences attended with dates…see sample)).” (sic)

The message: Everyone else has this section. You must have it too.

My response: I was not provided with this information from my client. Depending on the length of the list, I would probably not include it in the resume proper, but make it a supplement. If the job posting requested a specific conference or workshop, I would incorporate that into the body of the document. A resume is about what an employer wants to know; not what you want to tell them. You don’t want their eyes glazing over with a list of conferences and dates before they get to the value you bring because you’re “supposed” to have this section here.

“If you agree with the suggestions and make changes, don’t forget to upload it to the [name withheld career center website.]“

The message: If you’ll adopt a cookie-cutter, 1990 approach, losing the design, pop, and value message, and are willing to look like everyone else, you can upload to … [name withheld career center website.]

My response: Conform or you can’t upload? That is the most terrifying piece of all. I have no words.

An alternate approach:

In fairness, career strategy is what I do for a living. I immerse myself in hiring, recruiting, sales, marketing, writing, and presentation information every day. I interact with career professionals through various social media platforms and professional affiliations. This client and I spent several hours together on the phone. I spent several more crafting her resume.

I do not have to offer advice to thousands of students and deal with the daily duties and stresses of career center activities. I understand the need to provide quick and basic information to large volumes of students.

What troubles me, is rather than say, “I recognize you’ve invested in advancing your career and engaged a professional. Listen to the specialized, customized-for-you-and-your-search information provided. My information is basic for the masses. I’m here to support you in other ways. You’ve got the resume covered”

Instead, this center representative rolled out a cookie-cutter, look-like-everyone-else method and “suggested” changing her current presentation so my client could take advantage of the school job search resources.

Launching a career, after investing thousands of hours and dollars in pursuit of your profession with dated, ineffective career documents and look-alike advice can mean the difference between career success and failure; gainful employment and yet another month of searching. An inability to articulate a unique value proposition in relation to employer needs can cost thousands in starting salary and ongoing earnings too.

Vet your job search guidance carefully. One big clue. If “objective”, “seeking …”, and “this is the only way to do it” advice are bantered about, it’s best to move on. There’s nothing to learn there.

UPDATE:

On July 7th, 2012, my client tweeted this to me (via Twitter):

“Thank you for your wonderful resume help! I just accepted a position!”

Dawn – 1 Dinosaurs – 0

 

 

How current is that job search advice? | Beware the dinosaur.

photo by mcdittx via Flickr

I recently worked with a soon-to-graduate, elementary school teacher. She came as a referral from a close friend of hers. When working with students, I’m careful to explain my approach to resume creation and the reality of Job Search 2012. I go on to share, frequently, my techniques will not align with what they have been taught about resumes and job search along the way. I continue, many career centers and career preparation courses are up to speed on the rapidly-changing job search market. Sadly though, many are not.

I crafted a bold presentation taking skills gained through summer jobs, volunteer work, and student teaching assignment and projected those skills into the needs of the potential employer. We used job posting information, her knowledge of the industry, and my resume-writing experience to weave key words throughout the document. We responded to the needs of the potential employer with a solid demonstration of how she had what they needed.

I took it a step further. She wanted to be an elementary school teacher so I incorporated primary green into the format and layout. I used crayons as bullets in her academic experience section. I worked in a quote from her adviser further shoring up her value and potential as a new teacher. I created a strong skill summary immediately responding to company needs in the top third of the first page – a resume within a resume so to speak. I made sure the resume “said” “I am an elementary school teacher” from the first glance to final period. It presented her value boldly and truthfully. It was (is) an attention-grabbing presentation.

She was thrilled with the result, understood the strategy needed to compete in today’s employment environment, and grasped the difference between a career autobiography and a career sales and marketing document. She also knows career autobiographies don’t convey value. They tell what you did and leave the extrapolation of value to the reader. News flash. They won’t extrapolate for or about you.

She told me, part of her curriculum was to submit her resume to her campus career center. I reminded her of the potential for conflicting information. I reminded her career centers are often stretched, administering to thousands of students. They frequently have neither the time, staff, nor funding to have someone committed to monitoring the job search changes a changing economy brings or update the guidance and programs as hiring environments undulate. I told her, I frequently see job search guidance that worked in the ’90s purported as the way to conduct a job search today. NOTHING. I repeat, NOTHING is further from the truth. She submitted her information, eyes wide open to the fact what we had done would most likely conflict with what the center told her.

This week, she forwarded the career center’s response to our bold, modern, unique, branding, sales and marketing document:

Your resume is very colorful and creative, however, it looks more like a print ad or bulletin  board…  Take out the top section and replace it with your objective statement (one line.. To obtain a position as a _______ teacher…)  The things you have in this section are more for your cover letter or the interview conversation, not your resume.  In addition, remove the quote from the faculty member…All reference information goes on a separate sheet (3-5 list)  or in a reference letter, not on your resume itself.  Be consistant with the bullets or crayons…I prefer the bullets…it’s looks more mature and professional.  You are also missing a Professional Development section (workshops, presentations and conferences attended with dates…see sample)).  If you agree with the suggestions and make changes, don’t forget to upload it to … [campus career website - name withheld].

Fortunately, we were both braced for a negative response. My email back to my client was short and to the point:

They are teaching 1990 job search tactics and trying to pigeon hold you to look like everyone else. Quite frankly, I would not only ignore completely, I would run screaming from this type of guidance. It is as old as dinosaurs and ineffective in a 2012 job search.

In a 2012 job search: Target. Focus. DIFFERENTIATION is key. Cookie-cutter doesn’t cut it.

Next post, I’ll dissect the response line by line, outlining why this guidance is not only wrong and ineffective in today’s search, but also a little scary. Stay tuned.

Chasing job search butterflies

Every summer in Southeastern North Carolina, we experience a proliferation of yellow butterflies.

{My ex (the organic farmer) called them cabbage lopers butterflies. I’m not sure that’s the correct species; for our purposes, yellow butterflies suffices.}

Photo by Martina Rathgens via Flickr

They are everywhere. I can look out the window sometimes and count twenty or thirty dancing around the yard on a summer afternoon. Now. If I were to burst out the backdoor, intent on catching all thirty butterflies, all at one time, while they flitted about, according to their own plan, with no regard for my desire to catch them, I’d probably have little success catching any of them. Pursuing them all, hoping to catch one is nearly impossible.

However. If I focus on one specific butterfly. Study its movements. Watch its patterns. Anticipate its next move. Chances are I’ll have that butterfly in hand in no time. In theory, I can catch all the butterflies in the yard; as long as I focus and do it One. At. A. Time.

This week, I’ve had several calls from people “ready” to start work on their resume. Two of the first questions I ask potential clients are, “Briefly, what are your currently doing?” and “Where do you want to go next; what’s your target position?”

The first question nets, “I work in logistics”, “I’m an engineer”, “I’m a manager”, or something equally vague. The second question usually launches an eight-minute monologue listing everything they “could” do.

During the telling of how they are, and can be all things to all people, their frustration is palpable. They applied to all kinds of jobs online. They frantically watch all sectors while attempting to tell everything, to everyone, all at once, in hopes that nothing gets away, and they’ll capture something eventually. It’s clear to me why they’re not getting interviews.

They have so much to tell, they have no idea how to whittle it down. They don’t know what to say, what to highlight, or how to present their skills in a way to intrigue a hiring authority. They’re so busy trying to catch everything; they’re not taking the time to research their target market or determine the skill set valued by each position. Target determines strategy determines presentation determines content. (Probably the reverse of what most were taught.)

For example, from my caller notes, these are the desired career paths of just two of my, “I’ll take anything callers.”

Caller A:

1. Academic Counseling

2. Corporate Training

3. Government Contract Specialist

4. Banking Industry Analyst

5. Teacher

Caller B:

1. Retail Sales

2. Administrative Assistant

3. HR Generalist

These groupings share some common core skills. However, each position values skills differently making one-size-fits-all resumes ineffective. Without focus, the resume reader has no idea how the job seekers specific skill set can benefit them and they won’t take the time to extrapolate skills from a tell-all presentation.

Without focus and strategy, these, job seekers burst out the job search backdoor expecting to catch all those butterflies at once. Rather than methodically targeting, strategizing, and focusing on one position at a time, they’re grabbing at everything; and catching nothing.

You can pursue and probably catch all the butterflies you want, but not with an “I’m-going-to-go-after-them-all-at-once” approach. Job seekers and careerist can pursue and probably land job offers in as many different sectors as their talents allow. But those talents will go undiscovered with an “I’m-all-things-to-all-people-you-figure-out-where-I-fit” approach.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, just like a narrower focus nets more butterflies; laser-sharp focus, with a clearly defined and stated value proposition nets positive job search results, much more quickly.

 

**No butterflies were harmed in the creation of this analogy.

It’s your life. It’s your career. Stop apologizing.

Three times this week, (and it’s only Wednesday), I’ve had clients say to me, “If only I’d …”, or “How am I going to explain this gap in employment?”, “What will ‘they’ think, when they see …?” and other, self-deprecating comments about their career and the choices they’ve made in their lives. To which I gently SHOUT, “Stop apologizing for events and decisions you cannot change. Find the value or diminish the event, but stop carrying it around everywhere you go.” (Easier said, than done. I know.)

Photo by satguru via Flickr

Too often job seekers and careerists focus on the one thing they perceive as a lack and forget to dig deeper and find value in that one thing. To add fuel to the fire, not only do they apologize for life choices, they throw them up as red flags and roadblocks during interviews. Rather than keeping conversations focused on what they learned, they make excuses and apologize for the fact they weren’t “gainfully employed” or “weren’t in a normal cookie-cutter situation” while learning new, exciting, and marketable skills.

We all, intellectually, know we’re in a completely different job market. Fifty years with the same company and retiring with a gold watch are pretty much a thing of the past. Frequent job changes, gaps, sabbaticals, conscious decisions to take a break, relocate, go back to school, just sit and be are common pieces of today’s careers story. YET, we continue to act as if we took more than two seconds off since the age of 16, something is wrong and must be “explained away.”

I worked with a young man last year. He made astute investments and managed his money wisely. When he married, he and his bride traveled Europe – for a year. A dream vacation for them both; they had the time of their lives.  He came to me, ready to re-enter the work force. One of his first questions, “How do I explain the fact I didn’t work for a year? That looks bad doesn’t it?”

Hmmmmm. Let’s see. His target was financial analyst for organizations with a global reach. He saw a gap. I saw someone who:

  • Invested, saved, and managed his money well enough to support two people traveling for an entire year in Europe.
  • Learned about currency exchange and market fluctuations, first hand.
  • Embraced many different cultures; became versed in behavioral nuances and social expectations in each one.
  • Made lifelong connections building a solid foundation for a global network.
  • Troubleshot and responded to last minute changes and emerging situations.
  • Planned and arranged international travel.
  • Communicated frequently with non-English speaking locals, eventually attaining understanding.
  • Honed interpersonal skills through meeting so many people from so many different countries and navigating the first year of marriage. :)

After looking at the trip through career-value eyes, he no longer saw the time spent traveling as a roadblock, but rather a differentiator. He had the skills needed, like “every other financial analyst,” but now, he knew how to capitalize on the extra layer of expertise, derived from his travels, he brought to any employer.

I could tell you about the aspiring office manager who volunteered for a local charity during a two-year gap in employment. She thought she just answered the phone.” With prodding, she shared she built a donor database for the organization enabling targeted donor campaigns and boosting overall fundraising. She also helped create content and managed mail marketing campaigns. She thought she “didn’t do anything” for two years because she “didn’t get paid. In reality, she’d built solid office management, collaboration, and marketing skills.

Or we could discuss the person I spoke with the other day who started the conversation, “I’m sorry, but my degree is only in history ….” She didn’t see the value, knowledge, or skills derived from attaining the degree – time management, teamwork, research, communication, subject matter expertise. She’d decided that her degree in “history” was no help to her current career goals and led with a statement pointing out that fact. She didn’t see the thousands of people who would LOVE to have the opportunity to earn and hold a degree, or that (I’ve read repeatedly) a good many folk have drifted away their majors only five years out from graduation. She brought her own job search and interview roadblock with her and quickly flopped it into the middle of a conversation about her career goals.

{As an aside, she was doing marketable things in operations management and logistics. By the time she’d dazzled with all she could do from an operations, efficiency, and cost saving standpoint, a potential employer probably wouldn’t care if her degree was in eating bon-bons.}

Bottom line: life and career choices make up the wonderful fabric of you. Job searches and career moves are difficult enough without feeling like you have to apologize for anything falling outside the “fifty-years and a gold watch” scenario. Look at what you learned during the “non-traditional” times and rather than apologize for being different, embrace, tout, and flaunt the value being different brings.

Jobseekers: How are you making connections?

I found this email in my inbox this morning*:

Subject: Please contact me if you would like to be my Job Recruiter

Greetings Recruiters,

Sextant by stebulus via flickr

My name is John Doe and I am looking for a Sales Manager/Director position in “Some” County, Idaho. Please email me at johndoe4hire@geemail.com or call me at 555-555-5555

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

John Doe

555-555-5555

(*Information fictionalized to protect identity.)

I will give John kudos for blind CCing all the recipients. But it does make me wonder how many others received the opportunity to “be his job recruiter.”

I’ve written about asking for assistance during a search, here and here. (Read those too.) Following is a portion of what I responded to John, adding to my (unfortunately) growing collection of “don’t do this” job search posts:

Hi John -

I appreciate the contact. However I am not a recruiter. I am a career strategist, producing compelling, interview-landing resumes.

(Know your audience. Group email? No clue what I do for a living? Don’t I feel special? Ya. Let me hop right on helping … although I did.)

I’d be happy to take a look at your existing career documents to ensure they are up to competing in a 2012 job search. I offer a brief general impression at no charge or obligation.

(Since he’d made contact with me, why not take a moment to mention my services and offer an opportunity for engagement. As I’m prone to do, I went a step further and “stuck my nose all up in his bidness” in an attempt to help with his job search success – whether I heard from him again or not. I continued …)

And if you don’t mind a bit of unsolicited guidance. I am a former recruiter. To be boldly honest, there is very little chance, when I was recruiting that I would have done more with this type of email than hit the delete button.

Recruiters find people for jobs. They don’t find jobs for people. And, they frequently segment into specific niched industries, working with national and international clients. (My niche was the lighting industry).

This correspondence gives no indication as to the industry in question. And it gives no indication of what value you bring to “me”, as a recruiter, or what value and benefit you bring to “my” client, the hiring company. The message in this email does nothing other than ask a complete stranger to “do something” (call or email) without any indication about what’s in it for them. In today’s market, with the current unemployment rate, it’s an “all about them job market.” {“What can you (the candidate) do for me (the employer – or in this case, the employer’s representative)?}

When I was a recruiter I’d frequently come into the office to find more than 300 emails had arrived overnight. Considering the sheer volume of information to plough through on any given day, the individual who clearly succinctly conveyed value and projected current skills into targeted positions, matching my open job orders, caught my attention. Those applying a shotgun approach to job search or asking for a “favor” without any indication of the value they brought were dumped into the applicant database or worse, quickly deleted.

Will I ever hear from John again? I don’t know. Regardless, I do hope he at least ponders what I said.

PS: The irony to this story is John’s job target: Sales Manager/Director

No (successful) salesperson on this planet would walk up to a potential customer and say, “I need commissions so you need to call me and place an order.” Even a non-salesperson knows that approach doesn’t work. Yet here is a potential sales manager or director doing the equivalent of just that. (“I’m for hire; call me.” “I need a job; call me.”)

Talk about missing a stellar opportunity to demonstrate salesmanship. This almost throws his sales prowess and expertise into question from the first contact. If he doesn’t call me, I do hope he finds someone to help him navigate the treacherous waters of job search 2012. Right now, he doesn’t even have a sextant and is trying to compete in a market requiring a high-tech, finely-tuned GPS.

 

The power of value in salary negotiations

One of the best parts of writing resumes for folks; I frequently get to meet extended families. I’ve written for husband and wives and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters, and fraternity and sorority brothers and sisters and many combinations of the above.

Last year, I wrote for a wife; then her husband. They kept in touch and we’ve built an amiable relationship over time. Yesterday, I was working toward a hard deadline for a client. I took a writing break and checked my email. There was a note from the wife. The husband had a job offer.

What they thought would be a lucrative salary, turned out to be a much-lower-than-anticipated or originally-discussed offer. I could feel her disappointment through the email. Right then, I didn’t have time to do justice to salary negation coaching, but couldn’t leave them hanging either.

This is how I responded:

 “I’m on a hard deadline so don’t have time for a long answer, but will point you here:

www.salarynegotiations.com

Jack Chapman’s book (site above) is (also) usually in the local bookstores WORTH the investment!!

Also dig around on www.asktheheadhunter.com Nick (Corcodilos) has great advice about negotiations there too.”

Throughout her email, she indicated “the company could afford more than they were offering” and “job duties far outweighed compensation.” I empathized with her, but went on to say:

 “Also, allow me to be bold (like that’s something new, huh? LOL), “how much they can afford” is not your concern. Your concern is to clearly, succinctly define why he is worth the money he expects to be paid. Quantifiable, qualifiable statements of value indicating why the duties of the position require higher compensation will “win”. “I will add ‘this’ to the bottom line and operations will improve in ‘this’ manner, saving ‘this’ amount of money.”

He can also check market value for the area using www.salary.com. Also, Google ‘salary calculators’ and do a few comparisons to get a sound average. Knowing what the market will bear gives you power in the negotiation.”

I wished them luck, knowing I’d at least pointed them in the right direction. I went back to my project.

Today, I got a message from the wife (paraphrasing):

“He called the company today and let them know the offer was conservative. He told them why he was worth more, etc. They raised it 15k!!!!”

There’s power in articulating your value. There’s power in partnering with a career professional with career management knowledge and job search resources. There’s power in keeping your network alive. Had we not maintained casual contact during the past year, chances are I might not have responded so quickly. And the chance might have been lost.

Bottom line: Knowing and articulating value + building networks and maintaining relationships + a little direction from a pro = $15,000 boost in starting salary (for them anyway.)

WOOT!

My dad, Mr. B.

If y’all don’t mind, I’m going to take a moment to talk about my dad, Mr. B.

You see, my dad, Donald Sigurd Bugni, passed quietly in his sleep a little more than a week ago – December 23rd, 2011. On Wednesday, the 28th, friends and family gathered at the family church to celebrate his life – on what would have been his 85th birthday. It seemed fitting to bid farewell to this pragmatic, practical, precise engineer on the same day he said hello, 85 years earlier. It’s just like dad to make sure all the loose ends tied up nicely.

He had a sly, sweet smile with “little apple cheeks” that seemed to take his normally solemn face by surprise. He could also be crabby and set in his ways – at least I come by it honestly. :) He had a quick wit. I used to kid, “Dad knew snark before snark was cool.”

Dad worked for Square D Company for 46 years, and he and mom would have celebrated their 60th anniversary this coming Valentine’s Day. Talk about longevity! I learned a thing or two about loyalty from both of them.

I could go on and on and talk about all the wonderful memories of him that live in my heart, but won’t. Suffice it to say, I know lessons learned and wisdom gained from him are tightly woven in the fabric of me. And that’s a good thing.

He’s at peace now. And that has given me (and my family) peace.

I love you Mr. B. Godspeed.  

Donald Sigurd Bugni December 28, 1926 – December 23, 2011

He taught me how to change a car tire 

Don Bugni and friend Kenny July 20, 1942

 

 

 

 

Dad, in the Army

The Bugni Family - Christmas 1964

Audrey and Don Bugni (Circa 1980s)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taken New Year's Day 2011, it only seem right Dad takes us into New Year's Day 2012. Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You don’t know me. You need to help me.

A few weeks ago I received an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. It read:

What advice do you have for me as a teacher who is transitioning into technology? Please connect with me on LinkedIn. Touch a life and make a world of difference.
Thank you
[name withheld]“

I did not recognize the name. I belong to several job search and career groups on LinkedIn. The LinkedIn header indicated we were members of the same job search group. I honestly don’t participate in LinkedIn discussion groups like I “should.” I pop in occasionally answer a question and “disappear” until I spot something else I can and have time to answer. To the best of my recollection, I’ve never dropped into this particular group.

Photo by Seafarer via Flickr

So. Let’s take another look at that request from a complete stranger again. There was no “this is how we know each other” introduction. There wasn’t an “I follow you on Twitter” common ground moment. No mention was made of an article or blog post I’d written. None of that; only the “What do you have for me?” opening. If this were an in-person meeting, in essence, this person walked up, extended a hand and said, “Gimme, gimme, gimme.”

I shrugged my shoulders at the lack of “social” in this social media connection and overlooked the me-centric approach to job search and career management. I, sadly, see things like this every day. Rather than delete the inquiry with an eye roll, the business person and coach in me kicked in and I decided to respond. This could be a potential client. And even if this person didn’t end up using my services, I had a little time to offer some insight and help a stranger … in spite of a rather abrupt request.

I spent the next 45 minutes or so crafting a thoughtful response. I looked up and included the link to a blog post I had written about the topic to offer further insight. I put a lot of time into “stranger request” responses because they may be a client prospect and while I want to help; I also want to live indoors and eat regularly. In my eyes, I’m “interviewing” with a potential client every time I respond to one of these requests. I do not take the advice I give or the way I give it lightly.

I hit send on the email. A few hours later, the person responded:

“Love it. Looks like my storage unit of school teacher stuff. I joined _____ & _____’s career beta committee so I can computerize everything and reinvent my future. My future as a microsoft office trainer.
Thank you
[name withheld]“

(The “love it” refers to the picture of clutter in the blog post link I sent.)

The individual commented on the blog picture and went on to tell me about a free site they had joined to facilitate the career change they desired and stated their career goal with conviction. There was a thank you at the end. There was no mention of the information I’d provided – good, bad or indifferent.

Sure, they got the information they needed for right now, but at what cost. Call me an old curmudgeon, but to be quite blunt, after this exchange, I’ll be hard pressed to answer any more of their questions with much more than, “That’s a rather large question. I offer job search coaching at an hourly rate.” Multiply that response by the rest of this person’s network and they’ll see information and connection resources dry up quickly. “I need, I want, give me” message wear thin quickly.

In my heart, I know this person is excited about their career decision and is gathering every known resource to facilitate that change. They meant no harm. They have no clue as to how me-centric their message sounds. However, during this innocuous exchange, from my perspective, all I heard was “me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” (Wonder what a hiring authority will hear when they launch their search ….)

Opening the requests with a smidge of flattery or at least some information about why/how we’re connected or why they’re coming to me for help would have been a great ice breaker. And, at the end of it all, taking a moment to offer something back in return would have been nice too.

“Thank you for taking the time to respond. You’ve given me food for thought. Let me know if I can help with your future endeavors.”

I frequently tell resume clients to “step to the other side of the desk” and hear what they’re saying (read what they’re writing) from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know or care about them and doesn’t have intimate details regarding their career. Very often, taking an objective step back, they’re stunned by the tone and tenor of their communication, the assumptive stance they take and the incorrect way things can be perceived without important details.

Hopefully, in future connections, my LinkedIn correspondent will read and think about what they say and how they say it before they hit send. All take and no give does not build a network.

(Note, name and gender omitted to protect identity.)

Stop with the bad resume advice

I worked with a client recently. We spoke on the phone several times before she engaged my services. I had also provided a few samples, so she knew the type of document I produced and was confident in my capabilities and knowledge of best practices for this crazy, competitive job market.

Shortly after our intake conversation, I received a polite email from her.

“Hi Dawn,
I just spoke to a friend of mine … He said that now a days it’s best to keep your resume at one page and to let them know that references are available upon request in order that they will contact you for them and you will know what the status of the application process is …  I don’t know how mine can be limited to one page or if it should be at this point, but I trust your judgment.”

I shook my head. Oh no! Another job seeker thrown for a loop by well-meaning, but oh-so-wrong, out-dated guidance I started the process of unraveling two of the resume myths that linger … yet again.

Excerpted below is what I replied:

“Hi Audrey,

Whoa. You hit a hot button topic for me. :) I do not limit resume page length based on some arbitrary “rule” unfounded in any logic or reason. A resume should be as long as it needs to be to convey your value … and not one word more.

I have conveyed the value of a 30-year career in one page; I have written two-page documents for new graduates; I have created executives documents with three pages, plus addendums. Each was an effective approach based on the specifics of their search, the details of their positions and what they did in their career.

I have never, in 25 years of corporate experience (hiring & interviewing staff), two years’ executive recruiting and almost ten years in the career industry, ever had any hiring authority say, “Ya know, that Audrey really has everything we need. She can hit the ground running. She’s a perfect candidate, but golly gee, her resume is two pages. We can’t hire her.” (smile)

Putting “references upon request” on a document is a waste of space. Of course you’ll give references if requested. Plus, it’s 2011. Google is your reference too. Don’t submit the list without being asked. Make sure you have everyone prepped and ready, but there is no need to take up space with that information. I’d rather add more info about your value.  

In the spirit of gentle education regarding resumes (and job search too), if you try to take resume (or job search) advice from everyone you meet, your will quickly become overwhelmed and frustrated with all the unbelievably conflicted information. Quite frankly, your head will explode, your document will look like you took advice from 45 people, all with differing opinions and you won’t know which way to turn in your search.

I’ve written on this topic frequently.
“Hate resume writing: Here’s how to get it DONE”
(Scroll down. My contribution to the conversation is after the three young ladies.)

On my own blog:
“How are you asking for feedback?”

And I was interviewed by a US News and World Reports reporter and was quoted in an article regarding page length:
“The death of the one page resume?”

(I warned you page length was a hot button issue. :))”

She replied with gratitude that she didn’t have to sort through these things anymore. She knew she could count on me to do the right thing and agreed to stop listening to “everyone’s” opinion.

When you partner with a professional, partner with someone you trust; then trust them. And please … can we let the “one-page” rule and “references available upon request” statement finally join the objective and the rest of the out-dated job search dinosaurs in extinction.

How are you asking for feedback?

And what are you getting? And for that matter, what are you giving when asked?

In the past few months, I’ve had two people hand me a product (virtually or in person) with no context or reference to their attachment or affiliation, what I was viewing or why I would be interested. The only guidance I got was the equivalent of a generic, “So. What ‘cha think?”

A few months ago, Karen Swim and I were having an email conversation about feedback. She wisely observed, “When you ask for an opinion, many people will look for something to pick apart just so they feel ‘valued.'”

Guess what I did in both instances when I was asked for feedback? Correct. I found a way to give a negative “pick-apart” initial response. Turns out, both products were near and dear to the asker’s heart. My natural propensity (like it or not) to “offer” value through negative feedback and my perception “we were all picking apart the product” ended up in me doing some back pedaling.

Is it wrong to go to the negative first when asked to give feedback? Probably. But, if we’re honest, we’ve all done it. More than once. Is it wrong to ask for feedback without any information and then be dismayed when what you get is not what you wanted? Probably. But, we all do that too.

Transition this scenario to the job seeker. You’ve recently invested in working with a career professional or invested hours and hours researching, writing and tweaking your resume. You show it to your friends. You excitedly ask, “So. What ‘cha think?”

Let’s keep in mind the people you’re asking, usually:

- Haven’t job searched recently
– Never had a role in the hiring process, ever
– Used to work in HR … 20 years ago
– Read a book about resumes, in college, 8 years ago
– Aren’t quite sure what you do for living … something to do with plastics*
– Have no idea about your career goals
– Don’t know the preferences for your target industry
– Have never worked in the size company or the industry you’re targeting
– Knows you’re changing careers, but not sure of the specifics

I could go on. (And on and on and on …)

Think about it. You’ve asked the simple “What ‘cha think?” question to a group of friends, relatives and acquaintances with widely-varying career and job search backgrounds. Add to that, they may not be up to speed on the specifics of your search. You’ve given no context to what you’re looking for to a group of people who want to feel valued by you.

The input starts:

- I heard you’re supposed to have an objective. Where’s the objective?
– It’s too many words.
– It’s not enough words.
– It’s too detailed.
– It’s not detailed enough.
– I heard bullets are supposed to be round, not square.
– They’ll know what you mean. You don’t have to explain it.
– It should only be one page.
– Shouldn’t it be more than page?
– I’m not sure about the format. It’s different than every other resume I’ve seen.

You’re on top of the world, so proud of your new document. You ask for (unguided) feedback from friends and poof! in a second you’re second guessing everything you know and your confidence is waning. (Multiply that effect for unemployed job seekers.)

Photo by Justin_D_Miller via Flickr

Did anyone intend to burst your bubble? Did you expect everyone you spoke with to find something “wrong” with your career documents? Of course not. On both counts. But it happens. Time and time again.

I worked with a laid-off salesman a while back. He LOVED his resume; was excited to launch the search. He felt on top of the world. Then he showed it to 10 people. Guess what? Ten people had twenty different opinions. It took almost an-hour-and-a-half to explain, validate or debunk what he had been told. What little confidence he had was shot, his head was spinning and he wasn’t sure what to do or where to turn.

This most likely could have been avoided had he asked for feedback differently: “I really like my resume. I engaged with a professional who helped me focus on a specific target using a strategy successful in 2011. (Or I’ve done extensive research … ) “Would you mind reading it over for clarity, please?” Or, “You know my career quite well. I’m trying to spotlight this set of skills as I transition industries. Will you please read my resume and see if you remember anything I did that might be a better example?”  Or, “Would you proofread this for me please? I’m good with the content and format. I just want a second set of eyes to catch any errors I may have missed.”

Each of these examples sets the expectation for the type of input requested. The need for your friend, associate or whoever to figure out what you need and in turn, how to be valued is eliminated. You’ve asked a specific question. You now have the opportunity to receive solid input. If you’re unsure about the input, ask your trusted career professional about it (or spend time doing research to determine validity) and see if what you’ve heard fits with your specific goal.

Going forward, I’ll do a better job of asking clarifying questions before offering off-the-cuff responses. Hopefully my faux pas will help you remember to clarify what was asked or share what you expect in asking. And do remember, everyone has an opinion. Have the confidence to sort through the input and pick and choose what works for you – not try to incorporate everything. (Your head will explode.) As a good friend told me recently, “I might ask for your opinion. It doesn’t mean I’m going to use it.” Have the confidence to ask. Also have the confidence to ignore.

Snark is easy. Thoughtful constructive feedback takes a bit more effort on both parts.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
PS: Does asking for clarification mean I (or you) won’t give an honest opinion? PUH-lease. In my case, “If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask the question.” However, when knowing the goal and context of the question we all can be much more focused on solid feedback than offering misguided answers to questions that weren’t asked. That goes for people attempting to help you in your search too.