July 29, 2005

The Debate: Resume Order Chronologic or Function

There has of late been a movement away from the traditional Reverse Chronological Resume and toward listing by Function. I can see arguments for both. Listing by function gives you the chance to shine by highlighting your skills as grouped together with skills from your past. Reverse chronological order allows you to tell a story about how you came to be where you are today; including the accomplishments that propelled you to the next level in each position.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. But here I think the rule is give the recruiter what they expect to see. The trick is to make your resume fit that expectation as close as possible. (It's not always easy, which is why research is important. But that's another post.)

For instance, if 10-years experience in a particular industry is required then make sure your resume reflects that. Perhaps grouping your job experience by industry is an appropriate approach for that position. This is particulary true if you've done a lot of project based work as a consultant or freelancer.

But by and large a hiring executive wants to see progression. They want to know that not only are you qualified for the position, but that you'll continue to grow in it and contribute to the future of the organization. This is why the default should be reverse chronological order and other ways should be the exception to the rule.

July 25, 2005

Out of the Box Thinking

When you're looking for work in a creative field or something that is just outside the realm of normal work you might have to do something out of the box to get the attention of the recruiters. For instance you might want to print your resume on your shirt (see also here) or switch to the Portfolio format.

July 21, 2005

Free Cover Letter Help

Now that I'm through with my coverletter tutorial, I wanted to list the posts here for easy referal. Think of building your cover letter like a sandwhich. You need two good thick slices of bread, some meat, some toppings, and one of those fancy toothpicks to stick in it.
Good luck and happy Job Searching!

July 19, 2005

How to get your Dream Job

While the interviewees in this Fast Company magazine article may not reveal any secrets to landing your dream job it is a good study in not being afraid of doing what you like.

Which leads me to another tip for the job hunter. Pick two or three business magazines from the list below and subscribe to them, or make weekly trips to the library to read them. Keeping on top of current business trends and lingo will make you a stronger conversationalist with the recruiter and keep your brain in business mode during an extended layoff.

Business 2.0

Fast Company

Fortune or Forbes

Entrepreneur or Inc.

Wired (yes Wired!)

July 14, 2005

What makes a great resume?

I've posted quite a bit about how your cover letter should come together. Here's one more piece of advice on that topic: keep your cover letter short. A concise review of your accomplishments and fit for the specific job you're seeking. No more than 500 words, or about two-thirds of a page, please.

On the other hand, it's okay to go to two pages on a resume (three if you have a lot of management or executive level experience). If you have a skill, award, or job related experience and you don't list it on the resume the recruiter won't know about it. Neither will the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software that scans your resume and puts it into a database for skill based searches.

If you were planning on explaining about your additional skills, awards, and/or experience in the interview, then those should go in the resume too or you won't make it to the interview. By the time someone decides to interview you, they've already decided you have the basic skill set required for the position. Your job at that point is to convince them you have the right personality and outlook for the position and will play well with the team and company environment.

A great resume will have the hiring executive sold on your before you even meet. So how do you create a great resume? That's why you're reading this blog, right. But don't neglect the hints and tips given out at the major job listing sites either.

July 13, 2005

Slice Two: The Conclusion

As you finish your cover letter, which is your opening sales piece about you, you want to wrap everything up in a bow for the reader. Show them you'll fit with the job and give them a reason to continue onto your resume.

Into the last paragraph goes a short recap of your skills, any personal experience you feel is pertinent to the job, salary requirements (see previous post for my advice on that), and a call to action. A call to action is what a sales person always tries to end a pitch with. You want the recipient to feel a need to do something after reading your pitch and here's your chance to suggest what you want them to do.

The final line of the Coverletter is usually "I look forward to hearing from you." Unfortunately, that is what everyone says, and you're putting the onus on the person to contact you. Instead say, "I look forward to discussing this further with you at your conveinence." or "While this cover letter and resume serve as an introduction, I would appreciate an opportunity to meet with you to discuss how I would be an asset to XYZ Company." If you're really bold, "I look forward to discussing this further with you and will call your office to arrange an appointment." But you have to judge for yourself if bold is appropriate for this position.

Then call the company and follow up. Ask if your resume has been received and restate your desire for an interview. You'd be suprised how many people fail to follow through, which is a basic requirement for any position. Your future boss will want to know that you can follow through on a task.

July 12, 2005

Toppings: Salary History & Requirements

This is always tricky. I believe in following all the stated requirements of a job listing. If they want you to email your resume in a text document, then you'd better do so. But when it comes to a Salary History or Salary Requirement request, I suggest you play coy.

The reason is, whether the hiring manager intends to do so or not, they use this request as a culling device. They're very unlikely to hire someone who earned $50,000 last year for a position that pays $35,000 (even if that person is a perfect fit otherwise) as the belief is that they'll be unhappy earning less and therefore less productive.

I wish more companies would put salary ranges in the job listings and let the applicants make that decision for themselves.

If the job listing does request a salary history or requirement always include something, don't ignore their request. If you’re not comfortable giving a range (say $35,000 - $40,000) because you don’t know what they’ll be offering (your range should always match theirs or they’ll just throw out your resume), then just say “salary and benefits are negotiable.” Then be sure to negotiate.

July 10, 2005

Toppings: Sell Yourself

The final paragraph of the coverletter emphasizes any experience you have that directly corresponds to the job listing.

Some believe you should explain why you’re looking for work, “I've reached the top of the ladder at ABC Company.” But you don’t want any negative connotations in your coverletter. It is your sales piece. So leave that out. Instead say something about your excitement for the future and what you can do for the company you’re applying to. “I look forward to making a difference at The XYZ Company Merchandise Department.”

Always conclude with a positive statement about yourself and your ability to bring a positive result to the company. For instance, "With my project management and training skills, I can bring XYZ Company's next release in on time and underbudget."

July 08, 2005

The Meat: Accomplishments

The body of the coverletter should be 3 to 5 bullet points showing how you have completed projects, saved money, or earned money for the companies you've worked for. Stick away from purely skill oriented bullet points. Those belong on the resume. Size and scope of the companies is appropriate but shouldn't be the focus, your accomplishments should be.

For example:

While serving in a public relations and corporate communications capacity my accomplishments included:

(or simply "Some Accomplishments Include:")
  • Led the team to launch a new awareness campaign for the counter water utilities. Project was completed underbudget and ontime. Net result was a water savings of 15% from the previous year.
  • Won a Clio award in 2003 for advertisement on X.
  • Researched and wrote speaches for Department of Power Executives.
  • etc.
Always tailor the accomplishments to the position you're applying to. To that end, I recommend developing a list of 10-15 accomplishments you can substitute in and out of the coverletter based on what industry, position, or skill level the job you're seeking requires.

A great accomplishment list gives the reader a reason to turn the page to your resume and check that the experience matches the requirements of the position. But you've already shown that you're a do-er and sometimes that's enough to score an interview.

July 06, 2005

Know thine enemy

The number one rule of warfare is to know your enemy. Friends, when you're hunting for a job, especially when it's 'the' job, the human resource professional is your enemy. HR is the army that stands between your resume and the executive whose hands you want to get your resume in to. So it makes sense during a job search to do some research on what makes an HR person tick.

The Employment Law Blog is as good as place as any to start. It's very readable, au current, and occaisionally features pithy humor. The blog also features a list of great links that will help you continue your journey down the path to career employment via the stragetem above.

July 03, 2005

Slice One: The Opening Paragraph

Remember you only have 5-10 seconds to grab the attention of the person reading the cover letter. You need to make them want to continue and the best way to do that is to show you're a fit for the company.

Here's a standard opening that many people have used in the past:
I am seeking new challenges in my career. The Dishwasher position at XYZ Company is of great interest to me and I know I will be a great fit.
These days that is the bare minimum requirement for an oppening paragraph. In today's business world if you're breathing you should be seeking new challenges. Instead of that tired and boring opening, this is where you should be using your ability of wordcraft to show you're right for the job.

The opening paragraph should also include the exact job title as listed in the want ad, how you heard about the position, and any personal references you have (ie, "Joe Dobson of the sales department and I have discussed the Sales Manager position and he has been kind enough to pass along my resume to you, I can't thank him enough for the opportunity." or "I am sending you my resume after researching the position of Sales Manager that XYZ Company had listed on Monster.com.")

July 02, 2005

Addressing the Coverl Letter

If at all possible the Cover letter should be addressed to a specific person or position. It's more likely to end up on their desk and it shows that you're capable of doing research for a project. If you can't find that out, then "To whom it may concern," or "Dear Hiring Executive," will work. "Dear Sirs," will not as it excludes half the possible pool of readers.

So how do you find out the name of a specific person if its not listed in the help wanted ad? You can either use the internet or use the phone. The easiest thing to do is call the company and ask who a coverletter should be addressed to. At worse, they'll tell you the correct title and you can use that. You can also go to the company's website and see if the job listing there has more detail, if the HR manager is listed in the company officials page, if there is a press release with the Human Resources name, etc. Get creative. Use Google. You may be able to find something out about the company that you can use in your cover letter.

July 01, 2005

The Toothpick: Your Signature

The signature used to be a place to add a little flourish. But again, following the theory that you don't want anything distracting from the meat of your coverletter, the traditional simple signature is better here. Therefore, always close with "Sincerely," two lines then your name and address with contact info. Sign your name boldly and in blue if at all possible.

Btw, don't use a PO Box if you have a street address. If you're moving into an area ask a friend who already lives there if you can use their street address. If you don't have a local phone number get one using a VOIP provider such as Vonage and provide a local message phone. Then configure Vonage to send you an email whenever you get a new message. It's okay to return a phone call the next day, but two days later is probably too late.

Follow up your resume submission with a phone call three business days later. Ask if your resume was received and what the interviewing process is. Then ask for an appointment. It never hurts to ask. You'd be suprised how many people never call and never send thank you letters after interviews.

Dealing with Odd Interview Requests - WSJ

You're asked to do something in the hiring process that just seems weird, and makes you uncomfortable. If you express hesitation or flat-out refuse, you risk losing the job. Employers may label you uncooperative or overly sensitive. But if you suppress your discomfort and perform the task, you may be ignoring a red flag telling you this company isn't the place for you.
I've experienced this a few times. Personality tests, usually oriented at seeing if you're a type-A or type-B personality, are the most common. Even if you believed in the ability of a test to tell your personality, the results will be skewed by how you're feeling at the time you take the test. This WSJ story lists some even stranger interview tests (some potentially opening up the company to charges of discrimination). Still what are you going to do if you're unemployed?