Professional Resume Tips


Current job market

  1. Statistics

    2.7 million jobs lost from private payroll since January 2001 with very optimistic government predictions that 1.5 million jobs will be recovered by the end of 2004.  

    The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducted a survey in August of 2002. At that time, employers nationally planned to hire 4% fewer new college graduates. A follow-up survey showed that 33% of those employers planned to cut back even more on college hiring.  

    In March 2003, the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds was 8.9% compared to the overall unemployment rate of 6%.
     

  2. Mental Preparation-Facts  

    At the moment you receive your degree?it stops being "all about you"

    You are competing with 2.7 million displaced workers who have more experience to offer employers who are already searching for ways to reduce training costs.  

With all of the gloom and doom aside?here is the good news:

You are among the most technically savvy job searchers in the market?use of computers and the Internet is second-nature to the great majority of you.

Your education is current and you are eager to work?you may be willing to accept a lower starting salary than a more experienced applicant.

You are the future business and government leaders of this country. The obstacles you face and the challenges you overcome in the next few months (and years) will shape your character and be key in developing your leadership style.

You have the energy and desire necessary to capitalize on opportunities in business climates that change at the speed of light.

General Comments about Your Job Search

  1. It is your responsibility and requires energy, ingenuity, tenacity and time.

    You must approach each interview like it's a final exam?conduct research on the company, learn all you can about its business, customers, and mission.
     

  2. If you believe that preparing a resume and cover letter is like an assignment where "OK" or "getting it done" is good enough, then you may be disappointed with the results of your search. These two documents are personal marketing tools that require thought, careful review, and continual updating?not just now but throughout your career.
     
  3. It's easy to become discouraged but you need to remember two things:

    It's better to have the opportunity to say 'no' than to have no opportunity.

    It only takes one win.

Resume Writing

  1. Overview

    Before you draft your resume, you need to assess your skills and strengths so you have a clear understanding of who you are and what you have to offer. You will undoubtedly be asked questions regarding your strengths and weaknesses in an interview. I frequently ask clients "What are your strengths? And you can not tell me you are hard-working, dedicated, and loyal because that is assumed."  Or "Tell me what you think are the top three accomplishments in your career." You would be amazed at the number of experienced professionals who are not prepared to answer these questions?their silence speaks volumes and indicates that they haven't assessed what they have to offer.

    There are hundreds of thousands of conflicting sources and opinions regarding resume preparation. The bottom line is that a resume is a personal marketing tool and you need to provide the reader with information that can be translated into value for his or her company. In order to transform a chronology of your experience into a marketing tool you need to alter how you think about your skills, experience, and accomplishments. Think of your experience in terms of "quantifiable achievements" that can add value to any company. Specific examples from resumes provided by Dr. Erickson (modified slightly to preserve confidentiality):
     

    1. Sold software; highest achieving rookie.

      What were the revenues of the company? Your sales volume compared to other sales reps? What was your quota? How much over quota were you? #1 rookie of how many?

      Achieved 120% of annual sales quota; ranked #1 rookie among 15 new hires.
       

    2. Tutored students.  How many students? How many hours per week were devoted to tutoring while carrying a full class load and another job? Did the students' grades improve as a result of your help? What was the average test score improvement for your students--did they move from 75% to 85% on their test scores?

      Tutored 10 students in Advanced Math; test score averages increased 15%.
       

    3. Implemented monthly inventory procedures. What was the $ value of the inventory? How did an inventory control system help cash flow? Or reduce shrink?

      Designed and implemented monthly procedures to monitor inventory valued at $10,000; reduced overstocks 16% (or reduced shrink 25% or improved cash flow by $2,000).
       

    4. Worked with staff on special projects. Can you describe the projects so the reader has an idea of what was special about them?  Did the projects increase the company's visibility in the community? Did they contribute to increased sales?  

      Selected to assist with special projects including design and launch of corporate rebranding initiative that increased sales 25%.
       

    5. Responsible for shift management, opening and closing. How many people did you supervise? How much cash did you handle? Were you promoted to shift manager quickly?  

      Managed 4-hour lunch shift at fast-paced (or popular) eatery; supervised 6 staff responsible for $5,000 in daily transactions.
       

    6. Completed seasonal changeover well within time frame allowed. What was the project schedule? How much ahead of schedule was it completed?  

      Led 7-member team in Wal-Mart seasonal stock changeover; completed in 2 days vs. 4-day projection.

      Summary?Every job you've held has to have something of value associated with it or the position would not have existed. Take a step back and think about what you did and how your social interactions, cash handling, training responsibilities, and other functions can be presented as "value-added" experience.
       

  2. The basics:

    Your resume must be accurate?it is very easy to check your degree, grade point, and other information. You can present information in a solid, impactful manner without compromising the integrity of the document.
     

    1. Name, address, contact number(s), e-mail address.
       
      1. If you use a cell phone number, make sure the number is operational at all times. It's probably wise to screen your calls during a job search. Your responses on the phone are critical so you need to be in a place where you can talk and be prepared to answer questions.
         
      2. Never, ever, ever, ever?NOW OR EVER?use privacy manager when you're conducting a job search. Many employers will simply hang up and move on to the next candidate in the stack before they will go through the gyrations associated with leaving a message with someone who has privacy manager.
         
      3. Make sure your message is professional.?"Hey, this is Joe, you know what to do" (a pretty common cell phone message in the Midwest ) simply doesn't cut it. 

        I have contacted countless clients and have heard everything from "PRAISE GOD today is good!" to a small child saying "giggle giggle this is us.....we will call you back" to dogs barking, kids screaming, and no indication of either the name or phone number I've called. Believe me, I don't leave a message if I'm not 100% sure I've reached the correct person.
         

    2. Spelling - NO TYPOS - read, re-read, and have someone else read it.
       
    3. Content

      If you want a good laugh?do an Internet search for "Resume Bloopers" or visit Resumania?a term coined by Robert Half and you can see several examples of how not to write a resume. For example, "I was assistant sore manager" (ouch?) or "Please don't consider my 14 positions as job hopping?I never once quit a job." (hmm?guess the person was fired from 14 jobs?)
       

      1. Get feedback?are the statements in your resume aligned with your intent? It's very easy to get tunnel vision when you're drafting and you can not assume that the reader follows the same thought process that you do. Even professional resume writers use a peer review process to make sure that the written words make sense.
         
      2. Modify the objective and content of your resume when responding to ads for specific positions. A slight shift in the opening sentences or the ordering of your accomplishments may be all it takes to give your resume the correct focus.
         
      3. Use action words?Supervised, managed, directed, achieved, captured, etc. Do not use acronyms or buzzwords if they are not recognizable OR if you do not know what they mean.
         
      4. Include a description of the businesses you have worked for if the company does not have instant name recognition. If you worked for McDonald's, you don't need to include that it is a multibillion-dollar fast-food operation. However, if you are applying for positions beyond your local geographic area, you need to provide information so the reader understands what the company's core business is all about. If you were a server at the country club, you might mention that it was a high-profile country club with a five-star restaurant to give the reader a better understanding of the type of customers you served. (Higher expectations, more demanding, etc.)
         
      5. Grade point average?include it if it's good (3.75 or better on a 4.0 scale). If you worked 20 or more hours per week while pursuing your degree, include that information in the resume. It shows initiative and the ability to juggle multiple priorities and responsibilities.  After you have been in the workforce for a year or so, you can drop the grade point?you'll have plenty of achievements to use in an updated resume and the focus should no longer be on your education or grade point.
         
      6. Include special skills. Do not include that you are proficient in Microsoft Word?most people are?but do include experience using specialized software for publishing, drafting, etc. 
         
      7. Include honors, awards, and scholarships if you can quantify the information.

        1 of 10 students selected from 2,000 applicants for the John H. Doe Scholarship.

        Team Captain of NAIA Div I Championship Football Team.
         

      8. Do not include personal information?it can be used as a means to immediately exclude your resume from consideration. Some larger companies do not want HR screeners to be biased in any way when reviewing a candidate's qualifications. It is OK to include that you are open for relocation or speak foreign languages fluently.
         
      9. References?include your references if asked to do so. Don't waste space on the resume if you aren't required to provide them.  If you are called in for an interview, you will probably be required to fill out the company's standard job application which typically includes a reference section.  

        Additional comments regarding references:  

        ASK each reference for permission to use their name and provide some insight regarding the type of position you are seeking and give your reference examples of the skill sets you would like to have highlighted during a reference call.  

        Thank your references for their help in advance and after you have secured a position be sure to send a thank you note and provide information regarding your new job. You may want (or need) to use these people as references again in the future.

Resume Distribution?Methods

Overview: In today's market, you will need more than one resume to conduct a successful job search because you will probably need to utilize several methods of distributing your resume. ALWAYS submit your resume in the format requested by the prospective employer.   

  1. Broadcast mailings?A broadcast mailing means that you are sending your unsolicited resume to a company. If you utilize the Internet to research companies, you should be able to determine which company officer should receive your resume.  You can typically get officer information from a company's home page, however there are sites like Hoover??s, Forbes, and Fortune that profile companies and their officers.

    Your resume should be visually appealing and printed on high-quality paper, mailed in a #10 envelope. The cover letter should be addressed to the proper person, personalized, and hand-signed. You need to make a copy of the letter for your files so you can refer to it when you speak with the prospective employer.
     

  2. Responding to print ads--Follow directions. Companies may request that you mail your resume, submit it via e-mail as an attachment, submit it as part of the text in an e-mail, etc.

    Whatever method you use, make sure you have shifted the focus of your resume and cover letter to show that you have the skills needed to fill the requirements of the position.
     

  3. Internet job sites?although this is not my area of expertise, there are a couple of things to remember about online sites.
     
    1. Update your online resume daily?you only need to change a word or two. If I understand how most of the sites like Monster and Headhunter prioritize search results, the resumes with the most current posting date will appear first. If you make a slight change to your resume every day, it should always be fresh and appear in the "most current" search results.
       
    2. NEVER give out your social security number or other information in response to an e-mail inquiry for additional information unless you have credible information that the inquiry is valid. Identity theft is rampant and if you become a victim, the time you can spend conducting your job search will be significantly reduced by the amount of time you'll have to spend trying to resolve all of the issues associated with protecting your credit, etc.
       
  4. Networking?Learn how to network now and continue to refine your networking skills throughout your career. I personally feel this may be one of the best methods for college graduates to beat the odds in today's market.  Networking is not calling your father's business associate and asking for a job?it is learning how to build a broad base of contacts who understand what you're looking for and what you have to offer. Family members can certainly be included in your networking circle, but you need to enlarge the circle quickly. A few tips:
     
    1. Join an association, club, or volunteer organization.
       
    2. Leverage your current relationships?if you are an assistant camp counselor, get to know the kids' parents and when the time is right, say something like "You know, Mrs. Dundee, I just graduated from college. I know you work for ABC Corporation and have a lot more contacts in the business community than I do. If you hear of an opening for an Account Manager, Financial Analyst (whatever your desired position is), I would certainly appreciate it if you would let me know." Mrs. Dundee may not know of any openings today, but you will be the first person she thinks of when she hears about an opening!
       
    3. If you hear about a position from a friend of a friend, do not use the friend's name when sending your resume to the company UNLESS you have permission to do so. Why? The repercussions may be detrimental to the person whose name you are using. The information regarding the position may have been intended to be confidential; the opening may not yet be a real opening (as in: the person in that position may not know they no longer have a job), etc. Drafting a cover letter that says "Mary Jones told me you had an opening in your HR department for a generalist" could mean instant dismissal for Mary Jones. The flip side of this scenario is that if you have a friend who will willing to hand your resume to the right person, then by all means use your friend's name. "John Smith offered to submit my resume to you for consideration for the HR generalist position....."
       
    4. Cover letters should be short, do not repeat the resume.

Interviews

Overview:  Securing an interview is half the battle?don't blow it. Relax, be yourself, and use common sense.

  1. Be on time. Leave early enough so if you get lost you'll still make it to the interview on time. Arriving late, providing excuses and being flustered is not going to create a good first impression.
     
  2. Be prepared. Spend time researching the company before you go. It's a tremendous asset in an interview when you can weave information learned from a press release into one of your answers. 
    Q:  Are you available for relocation?
    A:  Yes, I am. I read in Fast Company that your 2003 goals include opening 25 additional stores in major metropolitan markets. What cities are you targeting?"
     
  3. Your attitude?make sure you are rested, upbeat, and positive. The interviewer doesn't know if this is your first or fiftieth interview. Drop the baggage from previous rejections.
     
  4. Dress Appropriately
       
    1. CollegeGrad.com has a great tip sheet in the Interview Prep section of the site.
       
    2. Make sure your clothes are pressed?if you show up wrinkled, it gives the impression that sloppy is OK with you. I think someone back in the 50s (possibly my father) said "If you dress sharp, you feel good and your work is sharp."
       
    3. Skip perfume or cologne?if your interviewer has allergies that are triggered by fragrances, the only thing he/she will remember about you is that you caused watery eyes and sneeze attacks.
       
    4. Err on the side of conservatism?which in plain English means cover your tattoos, remove the nose/tongue rings, and present yourself as a serious contender. Although we would all like to believe that discrimination doesn't exist, it does. It's just too tough of a market to not be politically correct. Once you land the job, prove yourself, and learn more about the company culture, you may be able to revert to your own means of personal expression, but I wouldn't count on moving up the corporate ladder quickly if you do.
       
  5. Take time to think about your answers before you speak, but don't overanalyze. If you do not understand the question, ask for clarification.  Practice finding the balance between too much information and an answer that is so short it seems abrupt. Whatever you do, answer the question asked and do not get side-tracked. You know the basic questions that will be asked and you need to be mentally prepared to answer questions regarding salary, strengths, weaknesses, and date of availability.
     
  6. Drugs?if you are a recreational or regular drug user?get help to stop now. Most companies have an extensive pre-screening process including background checks, drug/alcohol tests, and credit checks. AND YOU SHOULD KNOW that even after you're hired you can be subjected to random drug tests. If you want a job and want to keep a job?stay clean. The market is just too competitive and even though companies have Employee Assistance Plans, they really do not need to expend the effort to keep you as an employee when there is a huge pool of qualified candidates available.
     
  7. Filling out standard applications?BE HONEST?with all of the resources available to screen applicants, the prospective employer will certainly be able to discover inaccuracies.
     
  8. Write a thank you letter vs. sending an e-mail. Taking time to write a note gives the impression of quality, thoroughness, and knowledge of etiquette. You should write a TY (Thank You) letter even if you are not selected for the position. You never know when an additional opening may occur.
     
  9. Recovering from an interview blunder. We all suffer post-interview distress?we wish we would have answered questions differently or provided additional information. If you feel you really blew it and didn't provide critical information, call the interviewer, explain that you were thinking about the position on your commute home and realized you had neglected to provide information about ____________. A personal call will let the interviewer know that it's really important to you to have the information and it may also enable the interviewer to ask you additional questions.

Preparing for the future

A few brief comments based on experience

Keep a running list of your achievements and update your resume frequently.

The Golden Rule?live by it in your personal and professional life. There is no satisfaction in rising to the top if there are no colleagues or family members left to celebrate success with you.

Humility?very few people actually do it all on their own. It takes teamwork and collaboration to accomplish great things. Give credit where credit is due and you will quickly earn the respect of your peers and managers. In other words, let your accomplishments speak for themselves.  

Resources:
WSA spends a significant amount of advertising dollars with the Wall Street Journal. I've been privileged to have dinner on an annual basis with Tony Lee, the Editor-in-Chief of Wall Street Journal's online division and believe that CollegeJournal.com and CareerJournal.com are both top-flight web sites that can be a terrific source of information and support during your job search. I am convinced that the WSJ team is striving to provide high-quality and useful information to users.

I was also impressed with the CollegeGrad.com site and encourage you to check it out for yourself.