Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: clichés on your résumé

The summary statement began with: “Results-oriented Marketing Professional…” As if my hand had a mind of its own, I circled Results-oriented and wrote “Ugh” next to it. I thought twice of erasing my first comment but in the end left it there. My customer did a double-take and pouted, hurt by my crudeness.

With all the negative press about using clichés, or outdated words and phrases, on your résumé and LinkedIn profile, there’s now a push to show how you possess important adaptive skills rather than to simply tell employers you have them.

Résumé experts say words like creative, team-player (ouch), innovative, hardworking, diligent, conscientious, and more are being thrown out the window. They’re seen as fluffy words with no substance.

Words like designed, initiated, directed, authored are more of what employers want to see on a résumé and LinkedIn profile. The big difference is obviously the “bad” words are adjectives and the “good” words are action verbs. To complicate matters more; even some of the verbs have fallen in the cliché category, like led, managed, facilitated, etc.

From a reader’s point of view, this makes sense. Someone who claims he’s outgoinghighly experiencedseasonedresult-driven, etc., seems to…lack creativity. Someone who can show that he is results-oriented by showing he began and finished multiple projects in a timely manner while also consistently saving the company costs by an average of 40% will win over the minds of employers. Showing is always better than telling.

Keywords and phrases: Here’s the rub—many job ads contains clichés; and if you’re going to load your résumé with as many keywords/phrases as possible, you’re almost inclined to use these outdated and useless words. Especially if you know your résumé is going to be scanned by an applicant tracking system (ATS). After all, you want your résumé and LinkedIn profile to end up at the top of the pile.

I performed a quick experiment where I looked at three job ads and attempted to find some of the overused words. Sure enough words and phrases like team player, hard worker, ability to work independently and as part of a teamdetail-oriented, to name a few,  showed up in many of the ads.

Why do companies write job ads that contain words that are almost comical? Part of the reason is because the fine folks who write these ads don’t know any other way to phrase effective ads; and partly because these are qualities they’re looking for. Almost every company is looking for a team player who can work independently as well. Every company desires people with excellent written and verbal communication skills (unfortunately, this phrase is now also considered a cliché).

This leads us back to our conundrum. What to do if you’re trying to write a résumé or Linked profile that includes the keywords and phrases? Not only to game the ATS but also to appease the eyes who’ll be reading your written communications?

The answer is: you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t. You can write your résumé and LinkedIn profile employing clichés, or you can avoid the them on your marketing documents, documents that are, after all, examples of your written communications. I say take the high road and don’t sell yourself out.

10 Lame excuses for neglecting LinkedIn

No excusesAre you on LinkedIn? That’s my favorite question of the day. Some of my customers say no, and we leave it at that. But others turn their nose up at the greatest online networking application out there and give me excuses as to why they’re not on LinkedIn.

Of the many excuses I’ve heard for not being on LinkedIn, here are three of my favorites.

  • A self-assured jobseeker told me that he doesn’t need to be on LinkedIn, that he’s found jobs before without social networking. That was before LinkedIn existed.
  • One person told me she was going to get her job back in a few weeks, so why waste her time with LinkedIn. Nothing for certain, especially a verbal promise that you’ll have a job.
  • Another jobseeker once told me he wouldn’t lose his current job. He looked so smug as he said this that I wanted to tell him I wouldn’t bet on it.

Here’s the thing: life happens. The guy who told me he’d always have a job is now serving coffee. Well technically that is a job, but I’m sure not the job he imagined. I remember vividly the day I asked him if he was on LinkedIn, to which he answered, “I’ll never be without a job.”


These are people who’ve made a conscious decision to avoid LinkedIn, and I suppose I have respect their choice. So I wonder what’s worse, not being on LinkedIn or being on LinkedIn and putting in very little effort? These are but a few excuses I’ve heard from people for not conducting a strong LinkedIn strategy.

My LinkedIn profile is great. One day I received a phone call from a gentleman who wanted to skip my LinkedIn Profile and Using LinkedIn workshops so he could attend the third and last one. While he was explaining over the phone his expertise in LinkedIn, I was looking at his profile which was sparse and only showed 94 connections.

I don’t want to connect with people I don’t know. Here’s the thing, networking–whether it’s in person or online–is about meeting people and developing relationships. Not everyone will turn out to be a valued connection, but if you don’t extend yourself, you’ll never know the potential networking offers.

I don’t have the time to use LinkedIn. I hear this often in my LinkedIn workshops. This is a huge excuse. I only ask them to spend 20 minutes, four days a week on LinkedIn. Just because I am on LinkedIn approximately 30 minutes a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year doesn’t mean my workshop attendees have to do the same. That would be crazy.

I posted my résumé on LinkedIn, so I’m done. Whoever told you this has his or her head in the sand. Start your profile by copying and pasting the contents of your résumé to your profile. But that’s just a start–from there you’ll turn it into a networking document. Your résumé is a document you send out when applying for a job, while your profile is a place people come to learn about you as a person and professional. Keep in mind that your résumé and profile can’t display contradictory information.

I don’t want to brag. Related to the previous excuse, what you’re really saying is you don’t want to promote your value to employers and potential business partners. You’re not bragging if you state facts and provide proof of your accomplishments and you stay away from superlatives, like “excellent,” “expert,” “outstanding”…you get the idea. Too many people have given me this excuse for not promoting themselves both on their résumé and LinkedIn profile.

I don’t know how to post a status update. I get this. You’re not sure how you can provide your connections with relevant information. You’ve just been laid off and lack the confidence to write words of wisdom. Don’t sweat it. Let others educate your connections. Read blog posts from your connections or from Pulse and share those. But please make sure you read them before hitting “Share.” Read how to share valuable content.

I don’t want to endorse anyone; it’s a disingenuous. The argument against endorsing others and being endorsed is that people endorse others without witnessing them demonstrating their skills, whereas recommendations are from the heart. This is valid. However, endorsements are here to stay whether we like it or not. But there is a solution: if you want to endorse someone, contact them and ask them which skills they feel are their strongest. Read my hints on endorsing others.

The fact of the matter is that people will find jobs without LinkedIn or not using it to its fullest potential, but by employing this platform you will only enhance your chances of landing a job. There are some instances where a person is just not ready, nor ever will, to use LinkedIn. With these folks I tell them not to get stressed out. You have to be committed to using it.

Don’t be stumped at the interview; ask questions about 3 major areas

 

stumpedHow often have you come to the end of an interview and drawn a blank when it was your time to ask the questions? The interview has proceeded like a pleasant conversation in which you’ve asked questions throughout, but now you’re stumped.

You’ve asked all the questions you can think of.

Hopefully this hasn’t happened too often or not at all. But even the most qualified candidates have a moment of letdown and lose the interview because they were unprepared.

It’s extremely important that you have insightful questions to ask at the end of an interview. It shows your interest in the job and the company, and it shows that you’re prepared, all of which the employer likes to know.

Arrive prepared for the interview. Before the interview write 10-15 questions on a sheet of paper or note cards. If you think you can remember them, simply tuck them in your leather binder for safekeeping. However, you may need assistance when your nerves are rattled and you’ve reached the point of exhaustion, in which case you can ask if you can refer to your written questions. Interviewers will generally allow you to read your answers off your sheet or note cards.

So what types of questions do you want to ask? What is the employer hoping to hear? Not “How much time do I get for lunch?” nor “What are the work hours?” nor “What’s the salary for this position?” In other words, no stupid question that will reflect poorly on you.

I tell my customers to focus on three general areas: the position, the company, and the competition.

1. The position. Don’t ask questions you could find by reading the job description; rather ask questions that demonstrate your advanced knowledge. For example, the ad says you’ll be required to manage a supervisor and 10 employees. You realize that a start-up company might not have the resources to train its supervisors in Lean Six Sigma, and you want to highlight your certificate as a Black Belt.

“I’d be curious to know if the current supervisor is certified in Lean Six Sigma, and if not would your company consider having me give him a basic course in LSS?” The answer is yes to your question, so you follow with another question that could lead to further conversation. “Would you like to talk further about how I can save your company money by training your supervisor?”

This question shows a legitimate concern for quality performance but also demonstrates your willingness to improve the supervisor’s knowledge, your ability to solve problems, and your desire to save the company money. Always ask questions that indicate you’re concerned most with what the company needs, not what you need.

2. The company. Like the questions you’ll ask about the position, research is essential for this area of questioning. Your research should entail more than visiting the company’s website and reading its marketing material—everything written will extol its superior products or services. In addition, talk to people in the company who can give you the good, bad, and ugly of the company.

“I’ve read on your website and spoken with some of the people here who verify that your customer satisfaction rate is very high. Could you tell me if there are issues your customers have that need to be addressed immediately?”

The interviewers are happy to hear that you’re thinking about satisfying customers and indicate there have been some complaints about late shipments.

“In that case, I can assure you that late shipments will dramatically decrease. We may have failed to talk about the role I had at my previous company which had me oversee shiping and create a system that decreased late shipments by 35%, thereby saving the company thousands of dollars in returns. Would you like to talk about how I can help your company improve shipping processes?”

3. The competition. The company has one company that is giving it headaches. It’s a sore topic, but you want to make the interviewers aware that you are coming in with your eyes wide open. Your research has told you that the other company is competing for some market share in the widget product.

“I’m aware of company XYZ’s movement in its widget. What are your concerns, if any, Company XYZ poses in this market? I have ideas of how to market your similar product to your customers. Would you like to hear them?”

After a great conversation, where you’ve answered the interviewers’ questions and asked some of your own,  it’s your turn to ask more questions. Don’t go to the interview unprepared to ask the interviewers illuminating questions of your own. Failing to ask quality questions can mean he difference between getting or not getting the job.

A night of solitude; bliss for an introvert

solitudeOne of my valued connections, Pat Weber, wrote a great article on how to be your true introverted self. It got me thinking about how I was true to myself last week. Friends were throwing a get together and when my wife said she told them we’d be there, I told her, “not me.”

The news of the get together came after a long week of work and a day of soccer and yard work. My wife and I argued a bit about how lame it would appear if only she and the kids went, but in the end she threw up her hands in frustration. It’s not that I dislike our friends; quite the opposite, I enjoy their company…in appropriate doses.

This is what Pat means in her article: introverts are in their stride when they don’t force themselves (or others) to be more extraverted. When they do what comes natural. She gives spending time with her pets, reading, and spending time with a few friends as activities more to introverts’ liking.

I decided that night that what I wanted to do was stay home to be alone. If one of the kids wanted to stay home that would be fine. But if my wife and they wanted to go to the get together, that was fine as well. None of them wanted to stay home with me, so I was on my own…and in total bliss.

You may wonder what I did that night. First I ordered a pizza, which I ate in our living room, without guilt. Then I searched On Demand for a movie I wanted to watch. The one I chose was about a man in search of his sister who was seriously injured in Brazil. He was a Kung Fu super hero who killed many people without being scratched. The movie sucked, but I watched the entire flick.

After the movie I ate my favorite evening snack, cereal. Then I did what makes being alone so enjoyable for me; I read one of my Joe Nesbo novels. A times I wondered what my family and friends were doing, but I was grateful for the solitude.

I imagined what I would be thinking at the get together when 10:00 p.m. rolled around. Probably I would want to leave after having a great time catching up, while my wife would want to stay until 12:00 or longer. I also imagined the resentment I would feel and wishing that we had taken different cars. Further I thought how ridiculous it would look if I left the gathering alone.

There he goes, they would think. What’s wrong? Does he dislike us? Maybe one or more of our introverted friends would think how nice it would be if he could also leave, their time being extraverted expended like mine.

Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, writes about how she’s not a huge fan of parties because her energy wanes, just like mine. I enjoyed reading this part of her book, related to it completely.

This is the lot us introverts are dealt when our energy level wanes and it’s time to bolt the scene. We’re perceived as aloof, when in fact we enjoy being with people as much as anyone. Just not for an extended amount of time. Unlike extraverts, who feed on being with people, introverts enjoy the occasional bouts of solitude that allows us to recharge our battery.

When my wife woke up in the morning, I sheepishly asked her what explanation she gave our friends for my absence. She said with a smirk, “I told them you’re an adult.” This gave me a great sense of pleasure, and I vowed I’d make the next get together. I’m already bracing myself for that night.

One example of how a photo effectively brands a person

AntonOne of my LinkedIn connections, Anton Brookes, sports a photo on his profile that prompts me to say to my LinkedIn workshop attendees, “Now this is a kick ass photo.” They give pause and nod in approval. Previously I told my folks that there are acceptable photos for a LinkedIn profile and there are others that are not.

Acceptable photos, I’d tell them, are ones that are highly professional or business casual; after all, LinkedIn is “the world’s largest professional network.” Unacceptable photos are everything else.

Anton’s photo is neither highly professional or business casual, but it proves as an excellent example of how the photo can catapult your personal branding.

I’m not the photo Czar–never claimed to be–but I feel strongly about how one should display his/her image on their LinkedIn profile. And I certainly believe that a profile without a photo is like a car without wheels.

Your photo serves to make you memorable and can reveal a lot about your personality. Further, it has been quoted that people trust photos and are seven times more likely to open a profile that has a photo. I agree with this statement, as I rarely open profiles that lack a photo.

The photo in question says a lot about this photographer whose branding headline reads: Owner | Fashion/Lifestyle and Street Photographer at Mock Turtle Moon. It describes what he does, while his photo supports more of the street photographer side of his business.

Homless woman

Anton’s photo speaks volumes about his expertise as a street photographer. It tells us that he’s for real and living his job, comfortable in his setting. It’s gritty and by no means pretty. It transports us to the streets of New York City. But most important, we get the sense that this photographer is knowledgeable of his trade.

A suit and tie or a button-down shirt wouldn’t have the same effect; it wouldn’t brand him nearly as well as the one he sports on his profile. Not by a mile.

I’ve told Anton that his photo helps me point out to my LinkedIn workshop attendees the importance of having a photo that brands a person, and for selfish reasons I hope he doesn’t change it. But if he decides he needs to portray himself as some one else, I’m sure he’d know how to do that.


If you’d like to see a short documentary on Anton Brookes filmed by Aljazeera America, click this link.

10 first impressions for job-search success

Game of thronesWhen I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones, I was not impressed. I’d heard it was a great show, but the gratuitous violence did more to turn me off than draw me into the most important episode of the series. I haven’t returned to the show since.

I know you’re thinking this is a post about first impressions jobseekers make at interviews, but it’s not. It’s about how important it is to make great first impressions in every aspect of your job search, not just how you shake the interviewer/s hands, maintain eye contact, etc.

Making a positive first impression can come into play before the interview phase, perhaps when you least expect it. I’m imaging a scenario where you’re at your local Starbucks, scoping out a comfortable chair to sit in for a couple of hours, and see the only one available among eight.

As you approach coveted chair, a woman dressed in a tee-shirt, yoga pants, and Asics also has her eyes on the prize. You have two choices; you can beat her to it, or you can offer her the chair, knowing there are plenty of stools at the table along the window, albeit uncomfortable ones. You take the high road and offer her the chair and retreat to one of the stools.

A week later you’re at an interview for a job that’s perfect for you. As you’re making the rounds shaking hands with the interviewers, you notice the woman to whom you offered the chair when you were at Starbucks; and she notices you as the kind woman who gave up that chair.

She’s the VP of marketing and a key decision maker in the hiring process. A couple of traits she desires in the next hire is integrity and selflessness. The interview is off to a great start because you made a great first impression by relinquishing that chair. Little did you know that that act of kindness would pay off in a big way, an act of kindness that had nothing to do with the interview process.

You may be thinking to yourself, “But that’s my nature.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t let my job search dictate how I act every minute of the day.” The point is when you’re in the job search, you’re constantly on. Let’s look at other ways you make a first impression before the interview begins.

  1. The way you dress. When you leave the house during the warm seasons, are you wearing your Red Sox Tee-shirt, baggie shorts, and sneakers without socks? You might want to ditch the Tee-shirt…and everything else. Work casual dress shows you’re serious about your job search. Trust me on this: I know which one of my customers’ job-search stint will be short based on how they dress.
  2. Body language. I tell jobseekers that people–not just employers–can read your body language like a neon sign and will make judgments. People can tell if you’re tense and therefore unapproachable. Alternatively, people sense you’re open and welcome them if you have an open stance and pleasant smile.
  3. Possitive attitude. I see plenty of people who are understandably angry, and they’re not afraid to show it. There are other people who are angry because of their unemployment but don’t display their attitude. Think whether you’re more likely to help others who show a negative attitude or those who come across as friendly. I would never insist that you must feel positive; I’m just saying fake it till you make it.
  4. Effective communications. At a networking event or during a phone conversation, are you demonstrating proper communication skills? Are you listening or just doing all the talking? If you’re doing the latter, it could be a turnoff for those with whom you’re speaking…a possible employer or valuable networking contact. I’m highly sensitive to people who do most of the talking.
  5. Activity. One of the best ways to present a great first impression is by being active in your job search. I’m not talking about being overbearing or obnoxious–I’m talking about due diligence, including sending appropriate e-mails, making telephone calls, attending networking events, calling on recruiters, engaging in daily networking, and whatever you’re capable of doing in a professional manner.
  6. Personal business cards. Nothing says professional and serious about the job search than personal business cards. They’re perfect to bring to networking events, job fairs, informational meetings, or just when you’re out and about. My close LinkedIn connection and branding master explains how business cards brand you.
  7. Your online presence. While it’s a well-known fact that employers are using social media to hire talent–approximately 96% use LinkedIn–it’s also known that they are using social media to “dig up dirt.” So make sure your online presence is clean, that there are no photos of you sloppy drunk in Cancun, that you haven’t used Twitter to blast your previous boss. (If you type “Bob McIntosh” on Twitter, you’ll find my tweets, and I guarantee they are professional in nature.)
  8. Chillax. In the job search you’re so focused on getting your next job that you may come across as too focused and determined. Give yourself a break every once in a while. People can sense those who are desperate.
  9. Follow up. This can’t be stressed enough. When you say you’ll call or email someone or meet that person for coffee, make sure you follow through with your commitment. And be sure you’re on time by the minute. Being late leaves a negative first impression.
  10. Pay it forward. In the above scenario you demonstrate selflessness by offering the other person the chair. It so happened the recipient of the chair was someone on the interview team. Your act of paying it forward worked out nicely, as she appreciated your act of kindness.

The story of you meeting the VP of marketing at Starbucks and offering her the coveted seat ends well; she casts a heavy vote to hire you for the job of your dreams. You still don’t know what you did to earn her vote, but does it really matter as long as you consider being the say you are. The power of first impressions.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with others.

 

6 reasons why introverts prefer to write

writing

Lately I’ve been receiving voice-mails from one of my customers asking me to call him back to answer his questions. Not to ignore him, I have primarily responded to his calls with e-mails. This is preferable to getting caught in lengthy phone conversations during a busy time of the day.

Trying to make the best use of my time at work makes me think of six reasons why introverts–I’m included among them, in case you’re wondering–sometimes prefer to write rather than converse over the phone or in person.

  1. Conversations can have no limit. Have you been involved in one-sided conversations, where you’re the one doing most of the listening? Although introverts are said to be good listeners, being treated as a sounding board is not their idea of fun. When communication is conducted with the buffer of e-mail, it is two-way and the introvert feels engaged in the conversation.
  2. Self-promotion is easier in writing. Some people call self-promotion bragging because it means speaking highly of themselves, but I tell them it’s not bragging if 1) it’s true and 2) you’re asked about your accomplishments. Nonetheless, self-promotion can be uncomfortable for introverts, particularly if they have to deliver it verbally. When I want to make my manager aware of an accomplishment, I shoot her an e-mail.
  3. Writing is less exhausting. An introvert feels like he’s on stage when he has to talk at extended lengths of time. An extravert doesn’t want to leave the stage. The act of speaking is not problematic for the introvert, it’s sustaining the conversations over a long period of time that drains their batteries. Writing gives introverts a welcome break from hours of speaking.
  4. Writing gives introverts time to think. Introverts prefer to think before speaking, while extraverts sometimes speak before thinking. We don’t blame the chatty extraverts–it’s their nature. But an introvert doesn’t want to be misunderstood and writing prevents this. One strength I admire about the extravert is her propensity for small talk, because I struggle with it. But when it comes to writing, I can write my thoughts in my own sweet time.
  5. Writing is required to conduct a successful job search and succeed in business. That’s only part of it, though. Great verbal communication skills are necessary in networking, telephone communications, and of course the interview. But when it comes to writing a résumé , cover letter, LinkedIn profile, and other correspondences, an introvert is at his best. At work the introvert feels most creative when he writes. He’d rather have time to reflect; leave the brainstorming to the extravert.
  6. Writing is fun. I know I don’t speak for all introverts, but some consider writing as a release of creativity and a way to express their thoughts to a larger audience. Because you blog, write novels or poems, or simply keep a diary; does that mean you’re an introvert? Of course not. There are plenty of extraverts who love to write. I just happen to be one who enjoys writing every day. Call me nuts.

I remember a time in college when a schoolmate asked me what I thought was more important, verbal or written communications. I immediately said “written communications,” and he argued for verbal communications. His argument was sound and he spoke compassionately about being able to address audiences real-time. As I was leaving the room, he seemed to be talking unaware of my absence.

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