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A Simple Formula for Likability – In Person and On Paper

Last week I spent two days at the Back to Business Women’s Conference in RTP.  A wonderful event in its second year focused on helping women re-enter the workforce after a career break.  I had the honor of facilitating a resume development workshop and Tim Flood, Associate Professor of Management Communication at Kenan Flagler Business School gave a very engaging talk on networking.  While he covered a lot of ground, one comment very early on in his presentation struck a chord with me – we all have self-doubt and worry about how we’ll come across when meeting new people, but the key to being likable is simple: be concise, be clear and be authentic.

The more I thought about it, the more it makes sense.  A simple but powerful formula for building your network.  If you respect people’s time, in your outreach, your conversations and your follow up, you will build good will and more meaningful connections.  Be clear about your skills, what drives you and what you’re looking for.  Ask good questions, listen and connect your passions and drivers to theirs.

Taking things a step further, this formula can also be applied to resumes.  Respect the readers time by ensuring everything on the page is connected to the job you are applying to.  Don’t assume the reader has time to review everything you’ve ever done and then pull out what they find most relevant.  Most recruiters and hiring managers don’t.

Be clear about your relevant skills and experience, be concise in your wording and be authentic.  Start with a summary that clearly articulates your value and then back up your claims with strong bullets.  If a bullet is not articulating a relevant skill, pull it out.  If you have certifications that don’t apply to the job, remove them.  In doing so, you will be build good will with the reader and become likable on paper.

 

Addressing a Career Break

Recently I’ve been inspired by local efforts aimed at helping women return to work after taking a career break.  In June ReacHIRE announced plans to expand their successful Boston-based re-launch program to the Triangle area and the Back to Business Women’s Conference will be held in RTP this October

Resumes are an important part of the re-entry process but for women who have stepped out of the professional world and are feeling disconnected from their professional self, the process of creating one can be extremely intimidating.  In fact when I first meet with women who are beginning this transition, they often times think they have nothing to write about.

But returning to work after a career break doesn’t mean you have to have lots of white space on your resume.  Keep in mind, just because you weren’t getting paid for what you were doing outside the home doesn’t mean it’s not relevant experience.

To get started, think about everything you’ve done since you left your most recent fulltime position and evaluate how it relates to your next career move.  For example, were you volunteering for a political campaign – canvasing neighborhoods and speaking out about the issues?  Were you part of an alumni network planning opportunities for others to engage on and off campus?  Were you working with the PTA to raise awareness and funding for your child’s school?  These experiences aren’t trivial and if communicated appropriately, represent a number of key skills that employers value including communication, initiative, relationship building, fundraising, and event planning just to name a few.

Recently I worked with a client who had been a stay at home mom for the past eleven years.  She had some part-time work experience but hadn’t been in a fulltime position since 2004 and the idea of crafting a cohesive resume that effectively communicated her story was completely overwhelming.  After talking about her interests and the types of opportunities she wanted to pursue (teaching and administrative positions within her children’s school), we went to work identifying her relevant skill sets, connecting them with her experience, both paid and volunteer, and finally building out specific examples that could be used as bullets on her resume.

Rather than go with a traditional chronological format, I chose a skills-based format that would put the focus on her talents and abilities vs. her job titles and years of employment.  Everything her next employer needs to know is still there and easy to find, but the reader’s attention is focused where we want it – on her relevant experience and the value add she could bring to an organization.

More importantly for my client, seeing her accomplishments on paper boosted her confidence and began the process of re-building her professional persona.

You can check out her updated resume here: Career Break Sample.

Is Your Resume Verbally Responsible?

If you watch the news regularly then I’m sure you’re familiar with the term fiscal responsibility.  Of course the definition varies depending on who you ask and those in Washington could debate it endlessly but for me and my family, it means balancing our budget and living within our means. Each year my husband and I sit down to review our budget and ask ourselves how we can adjust in order to be more fiscally responsible.  Where have things changed?  Where do we need to increase spending and what can we eliminate in order to reach our long term financial goals?  Things change and priorities shift.

Your budget should grow and change with you and the same should be said for your resume.

If we tried to live with the same budget we had before kids, my husband and I would be in big trouble financially and if you apply for your next job using the resume you had when you landed your current position, you’re not going to get a response.  As you gain work experience and as you take on more responsibility, you should be updating your resume to reflect that growth.  You should be adding bullets that speak to your updated skills and highlighting significant accomplishments.

At the same time, you need to be eliminating excess in order to keep your resume at a reasonable length (my general rule is one page for every ten years of experience, two pages max if you’re looking outside of academia).  This is the step people often miss and the most common area of concern for my clients who worry that eliminating content will make them seem less qualified.

But in fact the opposite is true.  Recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to know everything you’ve ever done, they want to know what you’ve done that is specifically relevant to the job they’re hiring for.  It should be focused on the job you want, not the jobs you’ve had. Everything else is irrelevant.  And this is where working with a professional can be incredibly helpful.  It’s my job to dig deep with you, to help you understand where you really want to go to give you the tools you need to get there.  But if you’re not in the market for a professional re-write, here’s a helpful question to ask yourself:  if you were paying someone to write your resume and they were charging by the word, which words would you take out?  Use this as a guiding principle to make your resume as fiscally, or verbally responsible as possible.

Top Ten Rules for Writing Resumes

I was recently asked to present at a women’s networking group where the participants come from a wide variety of professional backgrounds.   Given the diversity of those in the room, the organizer asked that I provide an overview of best practices no matter what industry or function you may be in.  Of course certain industries do have nuances and there are distinct differences that as a job seeker you should be aware of, but across the board, there are rules and guidelines that should be followed no matter what.  My top ten rules for writing resumes are listed below.

Rule # 1: Resumes should be geared to the job you want, not the jobs you’ve had.  Review your previous experience and accomplishments but don’t get bogged down in the details.  You should be focused on the future, not the past.

Rule # 2: Lose the objective statement (it went out the window with the economy).  Your resume should start with a skills summary or professional profile that focuses on your key strengths, skills, and experiences.  Ultimately, what is it that you can do for the organization?

Rule # 3: Your bullets should be action oriented and results focused.  Each bullet should provide specific examples of your experience and enough scope that the reader can understand exactly what you did and why it’s important.  All too often job seekers list basic job duties in an effort to keep things short.  That or they list accomplishments with no additional information to back them up.  Explanation adds credibility.  Getting your bullets just right is tricky which is why hiring someone to write your resume is such a great idea!

Rule # 4: (just to be absolutely clear): Use bullets, not paragraphs when describing your work experience.  Recruiters and hiring managers do not want to read paragraphs and in most cases, they won’t.   Save the (short) paragraphs for your cover letter where there is more room for elaboration.

Rule # 5: Your resume should be relevant to the job you want.  Remove credentials, certifications and additional information that could be confusing to the reader.  For example, if you have been in insurance for years and have a number of insurance-specific certifications listed on your resume, recruiters in other industries may not take you seriously.

Rule # 6: Make sure your resume is error free.  A 2013 Career Builder study found that 58% of resumes have typos and in my job as a career coach, I see them every day.  In this economy, recruiters are looking for reasons to remove candidates from the stack of 300+ resumes they receive for each job opening.  Typos and grammatical errors are an easy way to ensure they do just that.

Rule # 7:  Make sure the length is appropriate.  As a general rule of thumb, a resume should include one page for every 10 years of work experience.  Recent graduates should not have two page resumes and director level professionals should not have four or five pages.  I see exorbitantly long resumes all the time and if it’s hard for me to make it through the document, as someone who is getting paid to read it, a recruiter is never going to make it through.

Rule # 8: Formatting should be clean and legible and unless you are in graphic design or another artistic field, you should stick to a traditional look and feel.  No photos, logos or other distractions.  Consistent spacing and fonts are key and speaking of fonts, don’t go smaller than 10pt.  Margins should be .5 at a minimum.

Rule # 9: Make sure you can speak to everything you have on your resume.  If it’s been a while, brush up on old files to jog your memory.  If a recruiter asks you about a bullet on your resume and you can’t elaborate, they may assume you’re lying or stretching the truth.

Rule # 10: If you’re having trouble getting started or if you’re unsure if your resume is ready to be presented to recruiters, hiring managers or networking contacts, ask an expert!  Email me to get started: forwardthinkingresumes@gmail.com.