Telling the Right Story with Your Resume

Recently I was talking with a candidate who was concerned about how taking his next job might impact the way his resume is perceived by potential future employers. I thought to myself, what a great thought to have. Fortunately for this candidate, I don’t think the move does anything to adversely impact his resume. However it does beg the questions, is taking this job allowing me to tell the right story of my career on my resume? It’s a question I don’t think people ask themselves enough and it’s a question I believe you need to ask yourself before you ever accept a new role.

Whether you like it or not, when you accept a new role it becomes part of what future employers will look at for the rest of your life. It becomes an indelible mark on your life’s work and in virtually every interview moving forward you are going to have to answer questions about it. Why did you leave ABC company to go to XYZ company? I see you used to be a (insert role) but then you took a job as a (insert newer role), why did you do that. Questions like these and more are standard components to early phone screens with the people who decide whether or not you get further in the process and therefor you have to be able to answer these questions.

Whenever I consider a role I think to myself, how can I paint this move in a positive light to future employers? If the answer doesn’t sound right, you really have to consider the ripples it will have moving forward. For example if you are in a senior role or a people manager role  currently and you take a role that is neither senior nor managing people, you better believe every recruiter in the world who sees your resume is going to wonder why you did that. Were you laid off? Could you not handle the responsibility and therefor decided to take a step back? These are all logical questions really, if you think about it. What is unfortunate is that not only can it be hard to explain and answer these questions, but for certain roles it will also keep you from getting that first interview. Recruiters and hiring managers alike will look at your resume and make their own assumptions and perhaps pass on you as a candidate.

The takeaway here is to think about the story you tell with your resume. Too often people consider the company, the salary or the benefits but don’t realize the other impacts their decisions may have. There are indeed times when this makes sense, perhaps it’s a great company or it’s working for a manager you are dying to work with. In those cases maybe you make the move anyway but make sure you consider the consequences. Another thing to consider is that perhaps the company would be willing to offer you the title that makes more sense for you. Maybe you apply for a Mechanical Engineer role but the title you really want is Senior Mechanical Engineer because you already hold the title Mechanical Engineer at your current company. This is something you might be able to negotiate. Perhaps you let them know that while you are very interested and feel like you would be able to make a measurable impact right away, you have decided that in order to move you would need for the role to be in a Senior or Lead capacity.  Have any of you ever been in this position or took a role that you later regretted because it was hard to explain your rational?

5 Steps to Succeeding in Phone Interviews

This post is about the five things you have to do before every phone interview. Now don’t get me wrong, there are more than five things that you should do. But this post is about the five things you absolutely have to do in order to succeed (in my opinion). So lets take a look!

  1. Research the Company

It is vitally important that you know a lot about the company. I have worked with recruiters who start the interview by saying “So, tell me what you know about ABC Company?” Now if you can’t answer that question reasonably well, how do you think the rest of the interview is going to go? If that happens and you can’t speak to what a company does intelligently you might as well hang up the phone and save you both some time. In addition to that it will save you the embarrassment of asking things like “so what does your company do?” You would be surprised how many times I have been asked that question and every single time I am absolutely shocked. So spend some time on the website, browsing products and recent news articles. Maybe go to YouTube, most companies have an account there and they have a lot of neat videos. Sometimes those videos even tour the facilities you might end up interviewing at in the future. At a bare minimum you should be prepared to answer that question. If they ask you what you know about the company and you don’t feel confident saying a few lines about their business then it is back to the drawing board.

  1. Chronicle your accomplishments

I trick I like to employ is I like to look at each of my last three jobs and write down one or two examples of things I did there that went above and beyond. What you will find is that when you do this you will easily be able to answer the questions where they ask for different examples and scenarios because these examples will be applicable. During most interviews they will ask you to walk them through your experience and it’s great to be able to give an example or two of how you made an impact.

  1. Prepare questions

At some point most recruiters will ask you if you have any questions.  This might be at the beginning or it might be at the end of the interview. Either way, you want to make sure that you have a few to ask. This should be easy because frankly, you should have questions. Accepting a job is a big decision, you would be crazy not to wonder about why the job is open or what you will be doing. But let’s say, for the arguments sake you didn’t have any questions. You still need to prepare questions to ask because it’s not all about you. Having questions prepared shows the person interviewing you that not only did you prepare but you are a thoughtful person who is calculated in their approach to big decisions. A few examples are; Why is the role open? What characteristics or traits have made people in this role successful in the past? What is the biggest challenge you foresee the person who comes into this role will have? Etc.

  1. Research Interviewer

If nothing else it is important to do this just so you don’t say something stupid. For example let’s say this person worked at a ABC Company. Knowing that will keep you from saying something like I wanted to interview at ABC Company but I heard that the people who work there aren’t very motivated (really you should avoid saying anything negative in your interview). Or perhaps they graduated from a university and you say you opted to attend the university you attended because the other local universities programs weren’t strong enough. In addition maybe they have something in common with you that you can bring up in the interview, perhaps you both have a similar background. The fact of the matter is the more information you have the better. So do a little bit of research here.

  1. Review your resume

This is kind of a small point but I do think its overlooked. You want to be able to speak to what you have done in your career. You also want to be prepared to walk them through your resume, in most interviews you will have to do something like that. You don’t want to have a whole bunch of ums and pauses as you do this. So take a few minutes and read through your resume aloud and reflect on these roles. You also should be prepared to discuss any gaps in employment and why you left certain roles. It helps to print out your resume and write notes. That way when they ask for that information you have it available to you.

So that’s it. There is my list of the five things you have to do. Did I leave any out? Perhaps you disagree with a point. I welcome any discussion. Thanks!

Interview with Epic CV

Recently I did a Q&A session with Epiccv.com , a website that focuses on resumes. The questions were asked by Epic CV and the answers were my responses. Please feel free to review and let me know your thoughts on my answers. If you have any questions or follow ups please feel free to let me know as well!

Q: What are the three most common mistakes applicants make in their resumes? 

A: For me some of the things I see frequently are poor formatting, having an objective (often different from the job they applied to) and spelling errors. For me all three of these can potentially be deal breakers. Poorly formatted resumes and resumes that contain grammatical errors show a lack of attention to detail, which is never a good thing when you are looking to make a hire. The objective to me is a big error I see frequently and I always advise people to get rid of it. The reason I say get rid of it is that you stand to gain nothing from having it but it can derail your chances to land the job. If I have a posting for a Mechanical Engineer for example and your objective says mechanical engineer as well, it really does nothing for your chances of getting an interview. However if it says design engineer and isn’t a match I might be inclined to pass.

Q:  How much time do you spend on one resume at first glance after you receive it? 

A: The first glance is about ten seconds. In that time I determine if they are someone I am passing on or if they are worth further consideration. If in that ten seconds I see things that lead me to believe they could be a potential fit then I invest more time looking at their resume.

Q: What is the first thing you look for in a resume?

A: The first thing I usually look for is that if it is well put together. Is this resume aesthetically pleasing and does it demonstrates a professional put time into making this look presentable.  The next thing I look at is their most recent job title, that is usually a good indicator of whether or not I should be reader further.

Q : What are the three main eliminating factors of a resumes you review?

A: Spelling errors, long gaps in employment without explanation and lack of detail from previous jobs.

Q: What are the three main attributes in a resume of a candidate that will be called for an interview?

A: I look for experience that matches the role I am currently recruiting for, solid work history  and the technical expertise that match requirements.

Q: What do you think of graphic and video resumes?

A: I think while it could be a way to stand out, most of the time you are better suited to have a well put together standard resume that highlights you as a professional and is submittal to the average ATS.

Q: What do you think of a functional resume format?

A: I prefer candidates to have a functional section as opposed to doing the formatting as entirely functional. When that is the case I find myself looking for employment history and not giving full attention the functional portion.

Q:  Can you share up to five quick tips for applicants in order to pass ATS screening?

A: Make sure you match keywords from the job description in your resume, use standard colors and fonts, make sure you spell check, explain gaps in employment and if you are going to have an objective on your resume make sure it matches the job you are applying for.

Q:  What is your position on photos on resumes?

A: perhaps I am boring but I am against it. I have seen many resumes with pictures on them and never once have I thought to myself, “oh good, this person put their picture on their resume”. Frankly if it doesn’t help  you get an interview then it doesn’t belong on your resume.

Q:  Why is professional resume writing service worth a couple of hundreds of dollars? 

A: To answer that question I think all you have to do is ask yourself a question back, “what is the value you place on getting the job you want?” For me that is certainly worth an investment of a few hundred dollars. The market is so competitive these days that if you don’t put yourself in the best possible situation to be successful, you won’t be.

Q:  What is your opinion regarding resume length?

A: 1 to 2 pages. I wouldn’t advocate it be any longer than that. I have been recruiting for 6 years and my resume is one page in length.

Q: What are the three main points, undergraduates or fresh graduates, need to present in their resume?

A: They need to do a really good job of highlighting the skills they have built up from school and perhaps from internships. Coming into the workforce you wont have years and years to draw upon but you can most likely find value in the courses you took. For example if you are trying to get a job as a software engineer and you got a computer engineering degree, you want to make sure you find a way to incorporate the projects you worked on during your schooling as well as the languages you have built up experience with.

Q:  What do you advice to your clients regarding references?

A: Your career is just as much about building relationships as it is about accumulating skills, make sure you don’t burn bridges so that you have contacts down the road. As far as your resume is concern, leave any mention of references. I think outing references available upon request is pointless. If the company requires references they are going to ask for them regardless of what you put on your resume.

Q:  And what about cover letters?

A: I may be in the minority here but unless a job specifically asks for a cover letter I skip it. As a recruiter I hardly ever look at them. Besides if the employer asks for them the one other exception I would say is that if you have a long period of unemployment, or something else that merits explanation it might be a good idea to include a cover letter. You can use the cover letter to explain the gap, why it happened, why it isn’t a concern for your future employer and why you are a good fit for the role etc.

Q: What is your advice on making employment gaps less prominent on a resume?

A: The one thing I look for is an explanation as to what you did with your time. I always tell people if they are laid off, take courses or volunteer, do something with that time along with looking for a new role. Then when it’s time to explain that gap you have something that adds value.

Q:  What would you like to see in resumes more often?

A: I would say I would like to see more keywords. I work on a lot of technical roles and I love it when a programmer lists all of the languages they have used. It really makes my job easier on the front end.

Q: What are the most irrelevant parts of a resume for you?

A: This would be a tie between the objective portion and any resume that has “references available upon request” on it.

 

Q: Do you check online presence of a candidate exclusively through links provided on a resume or you dig deeper?

A: I always go to LinkedIn but that is as far as I go.

Q:  In the end, please add a couple of sentences about resumes for our readers.

A: One of the things that can get you noticed is quantifiable results. A bullet that says “saved my company 100k by reducing downtime 15% over a 1 year period by implementing a new lean procedure during a Kiazan event” lets the prospective employer see that you have accomplished things and it gives them an idea about what you can do for them.