You Are Great, Your Resume Is Not

By my own count, I have read well over 1,000 resumes and probably closer to 2,000. Without an analytical study, I would say only 15% of those resumes were resumes that screamed a loud “YES, hire me for this job!” Probably another 30% were just mediocre and I would estimate that a full 50% actively worked against the candidate.

I am asked all the time what makes a good resume. The short answer is a resume should scream – “Yes, pick me, pick me.” It should clearly show your qualifications for a position. A good resume should have clear easy to read bullets or paragraphs that make sense to someone who has never met you. A great resume should list accomplishments and what you have done at your previous positions using the method of “showing, not telling.” A good resume incorporates quantitative, measurable results. The general rule of thumb is less than 10 years of experience is less than a page and 10+ years can work up to two pages. There are some specialized cases, e.g. Federal, highly technical, where longer resumes are acceptable.

Even if your resume is scanned by a computer, there are some tips you can use because at some point a human will lay eyes on it.

1. Grammar / Spelling  / Typos – Have at least three people, who are careful and detailed, read your resume. This works even better if the people reviewing your resume do not know you because they are less likely to “fill in the gap.” Your resume cannot contain any grammar errors, spelling mistakes or typos. If am reviewing a resume, depending on the egregiousness of the error, I will forgive a single error because we make mistakes. However, if your resume contains multiple typos, all you are doing is signaling sloppiness and laziness to the hiring manager and sending them on to the next candidate.

2. Unintelligible bullets – A person must be able to understand each bullet and/or sentence on your resume as a stand alone sentence. For example, do you know what this means? “sell multiple digital and online solutions for clients” Neither do I. What were the exact solutions? What were the results? How many clients? What’s the difference between digital and online? A better phrasing would be – “Sell B2B customer relationship management software for more than 10 clients resulting in $32,000 in additional revenue.”

3. Misuse of verbs – Actions in the past should use past tense verbs. Sounds very easy, but it is not. Again, this is where a review of your resume would comes in handy to make sure that your verbs are aligned in tense. If verbs are not in agreement, it makes it hard to read and understand.

4. Descriptions that are overly generic – You are a hard worker. Great so is everyone else. What does that even mean? People remember and notice specific details. Tell me you lead a team of four people across three time-zones, not that you lead international teams.

5. Combining multiple formats – If someone is reviewing your resume, either in person or online, they will spend less than a minute reading it. Make sure it is easy to follow by ensuring your format is simple and consistent. This includes small things like making sure you are using one font for your resume. Also make sure if you are using bullets they are all aligned. Generally speaking, bullets are easier to scan and digest for the reader than a paragraph. However, there are ways to incorporate both depending on the specific requirements for your professional experience.

6. Not using a cover letter – While some positions require a cover letter, if I am applying for a job that I really want, I ALWAYS write a cover letter. The majority of candidates online will not use a cover letter, even if the position application specifically requests one. Also if any of the following apply to you, you should definitely use a cover letter to explain your qualifications and transferable skills:

  • Switching industries or functions
  • Leveling up (explain why you think you can perform a higher level)
  • Other significant change from what your resume explains

7. Not customizing your resume – It is absolutely critical to customize, at least partially, your resume for each position. Or if you are working full-time and trying to job hunt, have at least three versions of your resume that you can use for positions. One easy way if you are applying for a position that might use a computer scanner is to update your resume with the language used in the job posting/description. When doing this you should never lie or exaggerate your experience. However, switching verbs such as “Managed three analysts” for “Supervised three analysts” is fair game if the job description uses the word supervised. In certain industries, e.g.Federal Government jobs, there are certain requirements that are necessary for a resume. Before applying, consult with an industry expert to make sure your resume meets minimum expectations.

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The One Thing You Can Do Now That Will Advance Your Career Almost Immediately

Do you know there is one tip that is guaranteed to help you advance your career? Do you know that it doesn’t require much effort either, but almost no one uses it.

It is simply – ask for feedback.

Let’s discuss feedback for a minute. For the majority of us, we get lackadaisical performance reviews once or twice a year that don’t really offer any insight into our performance. At best, they are mediocre yardsticks and at worst the potential for politics run amok.

But, if you want to push ahead to the next level you have to ask for feedback regularly and proactively. You can’t adjust your behavior if you don’t know what adjustments you need to make. Also, feedback discussions, if you have a good manager, allow you to build rapport with your manager and your team.

 

Below is an action plan to get you started.

1.Learn how to ask for feedback

The first step in using feedback, is to know how and when to ask for it. People who have studied organizations or even animal behavior (Thanks Pavlov!) know that feedback needs to be timely to be useful. The worst thing ever is finding out months or years later that something you did, which could have been corrected,

2.Open yourself up to criticism

We all know that one person. The person who asks you for your “honest opinion,” but then fights when you tell them something they don’t want to hear. Don’t be that person. If you ask for feedback, the first step is you have to be open to receive it. Our automatic response is to get defensive, but the first thing to remember is that most feedback isn’t personal.

3. Learn how to give feedback

There is an art to giving feedback. Part of the corollary to #1 is that not everyone knows how to give feedback that is useful to the person receiving it. Some folks browbeat you, some folks make it personal and some aren’t specific enough. Before you give anyone feedback, know what outcome you would like to achieve. This will help you structure the conversation.

4. Create an action plan for how you will use feedback

Feedback is useless to you if you don’t act upon it. After you have received your feedback session, create an action plan for how you will incorporate it to make changes. Ideally this should be done with your manager so that you can create action items that you can measure your progress against.

Feedback is the most useful tool you aren’t currently using.

The Cold Email

Over the last several weeks I have received emails from people seeking things. Sometimes they are “warm” emails, meaning a follow-up from an event where I spoke and invited the audience to reach out to me. However, I have received a few “cold” emails from people on LinkedIn. The cold email is where you email the person out of the blue. Even if you were introduced by a mutual acquaintance, the email is still cold, unless the acquaintance did the introduction.

Now there is lots and lots of advice on how to write great “cold” networking emails, but here are a few tips of what will actually work.

1) Do keep your email short and well-written

Your email is going to be the first introduction the person has to you. Let me know why you are choosing to contact them. Write your email as if it is being read on a phone. Make is clear and concise. Bullets help, but make your bullets relevant. If you are using a form email, have someone read it before sending it out. This email may be your only communication with the person and you don’t want it ignored simply because you didn’t know the difference between your and you’re (and stay away from contractions in general). A good writing tip is to keep it simple. Trying to sound smart in an email generally comes off as arrogant. Do not type these emails on your phone (or replies). Trust me, the autocorrect errors are worse than anything you could come up with on your own. Another tip is to write your email and then wait a day and re-read it before sending it.

 2) Do do some research on the person prior to emailing them

Several times I have received emails addressed to Mr. A simple Google search or search on LinkedIn would have prevented this very careless error since my picture and information is very clearly displayed all over the web. At a minimum, making a mistake like this shows me that you are just either mass emailing, or not taking the time. It’s an immediate put off. The other benefit is that researching allows you to connect with your subject in a very personal way. You may find an article they have written or a panel discussion they have sat on in your field. There is absolutely zero excuse to doing research on your contact.

3) Do not immediately ask for a job or job help

To the person you are emailing, you are a stranger. You are unproven. What you are asking them to do is use their political capital to get you an “in.” Capital is a resource and is limited. Don’t ask for a referral until the person knows you and is actually willing to vouch for you. Why should I use my political capital on a stranger? A better option is the informational interview. I may be willing to help you out after I have met you and have gotten to know you better. I still may not, but don’t badger me which leads into…

4) Do not follow up incessantly

I have read various articles and in some cases they recommend following up in as little as 2-3 days after sending an email. You shouldn’t follow up for a least 2 – 3 weeks. Again, you have no idea what the person is going through in their life right now. They might be in the midst of a wedding, childbirth, switching jobs, or anything. You should be respectful of their time. And at most, a second follow-up is all you get. I will not respect you for your persistence as several articles have suggested. I am busy and you want something from me.  Even for people I KNOW and want to reply to, it could easily be a month before I get through and reply. This was even more true when I was a consultant. I was managing my work inbox, a client inbox, my personal email and flying thousands of miles a month. Well, you get the picture.

Remember that you are dealing with people in real life when you email. While it may seem like it’s not a big deal, you always want to have your best foot forward.

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Following Up – Thank You! Merci! Shukran!

After any encounter, if you want it go further than just someone you met somewhere, you need to follow up. These days a follow-up is almost done entirely on email.

Now, here is where many many leads are lost (I myself am quit guilty of this). We collect business cards, we collect emails and iffy LinkedIn contacts and are told and encouraged – follow up with me so we can connect further on <insert topic>. Sometimes, you are asked to follow up because there isn’t time at said event to discuss the topic in-depth. Other times, you are following up on an application (the hey, did you forget about me), or after an interview (the thank you note) or sometimes you need someone to take an action. I can tell you, out of the thousands of people I have spoken in front of and shared my contact information, less than 50 have followed up directly with me afterwards.

So, even before you read this post – commit to following up with everyone for a month.

However, all follow-ups contain a few key common elements.

First, remember that if you are following up, you have already had an encounter with the person. It’s a really wonderful thing to start off with a warm contact. This could be someone you met at a networking event, a speaker, an interviewer. In your note, make sure you indicate how you met and feel free to utilize something to help them jog their memory (I was the one who told the story about hand-gliding). I know it seems obvious, but depending on the length of time since your last point of contact, they may not remember you. It also sets the stage for how you will structure the rest of the message.

Second, keep it professional. I have heard story after story of how people lost the job, or ended the connection because they were “too familiar” with the person, or over-shared or something else that wasn’t professional. Generally, if you are following up, you want something from the person. You need them to do something for you (meet with you, hire you, etc.). This means pay attention to your grammar, and don’t say things like “Wow, it was great seeing that not all middle-aged people are blowhards.”

Third, think about the content of the email. This follow-up may be your last shot (if it’s a thank you note for example) or should set the tone. Do you want to highlight aspects of your experience, you didn’t get to talk about in the interview? This is where you need to be deliberate and specific about your request of the person. If you need an in-person meeting, then state that. If you need them to respond to something then state that too. However, if this is a follow-up from a networking event, this is NOT the time to ask them – hey, can you hire me. Or if you interviewed, this is NOT the time to ask “How did I do?” or “What are my chances?” If you aren’t the best writer, ask a friend to review the email before you send it. Before sending emails where I want a response, I often type a first draft. Wait at least an hour, come back and read it and then check – Is it clear? Does it have a specific ask? Does it outline what’s in it for them? Does it push my brand? Are there any typos? And be warm and friendly.

Last, don’t stalk the person. I have been a victim of the “professional stalk” and all it does it turn me off from wanting to help me. Remember that people are busy. You should allow at least one week for a response. As I said in my earlier post on The Cold Email, you don’t want to stalk people.

The Imposter Syndrome – A Personal Journey

Recently, thanks to my own executive coach (because even the coach needs a coach. She’s wonderful), I’ve been reading “The Empress Has No Clothes” by Joyce Roche. It’s a wonderful book about how many times when we achieve success, we feel inadequate or like we didn’t deserve it. We feel that we aren’t deserving of such success and that we will be “found out.” I have spoken to many people and this is a phenomenon that transcends gender or race. It’s a problem not just applicable to corporate America. It’s that feeling that when we meet our graduate school classmates and one founded some billion-dollar start-up and the other rescues bald eagles on the weekends that we are the charity admissions case. I have coached more than one women entering business school with a non-traditional background, i.e. not consulting or finance, who has minimized her efforts. I have spoken to young men who feel they aren’t good enough despite evidence to the contrary.

In Joyce’s book, she talks about the syndrome as a need to work ever harder and prove your value. I have the syndrome, but in some ways I did the opposite. I knew I didn’t belong and set myself up for failure. I self-sabotaged and always waited for the other shoe to drop. I would leave assignments have finished, or procrastinate, or just do things to so that expectations would be lowered. When people spoke of my talent, I didn’t believe them. Deep down inside, I didn’t feel I deserved what I had, so externally I made myself look like what my internal felt.

I can remember very vividly when I received my last job. The EVP was extremely excited for me to join and spoke very highly of me. Yet, inside I didn’t believe that I was capable or worthy. I could name half a dozen people who would have the drive and the ability to succeed. My first thought was not “Heck yeah you want me on your team because I’m amazing,” but it was “Darn, what if I completely fail at this? I have no idea what I am doing.”

This syndrome is different than insecurity. The hard part is that we know we are talented. We just believe we aren’t “good enough” or just aren’t as talented as the next person. We believe, despite all the external evidence to the contrary, that we are fraudsters, waiting until someone calls us out for having no clothes on.

There is no singularly way to let go of the feeling. In her book, several of the essays take a multitude of approaches. Some turn to yoga, some have an epiphany, some turn to therapy. For me, here’s what work. The first step in overcoming the syndrome is to admit that you have those feelings. Share them. Find people, your alma mater, a networking group. Meet with them regularly. Discuss your feelings. Journal (blog like I am) but find a safe way to discuss it.

The second step is to figure out a plan to fight it. Every case is different, but work with someone to create a plan. Create steps that you can measure, that are small.

The third step is the hardest – list out every single accomplishment you have had over the last five, 10, lifetime. List out all of the wonderful things people have said about you. Keep it in a book. Write it down. Make it count. Realize that you did all of these things because of the talents you possess. Make a dream board.

Additionally, there are several very good articles including this wonderful list by Joyce herself – http://shriverreport.org/10-ways-to-overcome-impostor-syndrome-joyce-roche/

So what about me? I wish I could say that things changed suddenly, but like everyone else it is a journey. But I can tell that they have changed and that feels better than having no clothes.