7 ways to drop the ball in the job search

mistakegirl

I’m not known for my etiquette. For instance, I often forget to send birthday cards to family members,; or I forget their birthdays entirely. When I’ve forgotten birthdays, I’ve essentially “dropped the ball.”

There are a number of ways jobseekers “drop the ball” in their search. They may not be aware of the mistakes they’re making, or they simply may not care. But it only takes dropping the ball once to lose out on an opportunity. Here are seven mistakes that come to mind.

1. Don’t update their résumés to reflect the job requirements. Some of my customers admit to sending a cookie cutter résumé, or one-fits-all, to a prospective employer because it’s the easy thing to do.

Not recommended. It’s sort of like giving someone a Valentine’s Day card that you’ve given your loved one the year before…and the year before that…and the year before that. In other words, you’re not showing any love.

Employers hate receiving résumés that aren’t written to them, ones that don’t address their needs and concerns. So make the extra effort when writing the most important document you’ll write until you land a job.

2. Don’t send a targeted cover letter. Again, like the résumé, the cover letter must reflect the skills and experience that are needed for the particular job. Your cover letter is a great way to tell your story and point the reader to the key accomplishments on your résumé.

One customer of mine sheepishly admitted that she once sent a cover letter with someone else’s name on it. That’s just plain embarrassing but goes to show you that care goes into writing and addressing the requirements of the job.

3. Fail to follow up after sending the documentation. Unless the employer strictly says, “No phone calls, please,” follow up to see if she has received your material. Employers aren’t dumb; they know why you’re calling. You’re calling to put a voice to the résumé and cover letter. In that case, make sure it’s a good voice.

Be prepared to talk about your interest in the job and company, but most importantly be prepared to state what makes you better than the hundreds of other applicants for the job. Have your personal commercial ready to deliver, a commercial that’s tailored to that particular job.

4. Avoid networking. Even though you’ve heard over and over again that networking is the most successful way to land a job, you would rather apply for jobs online. Guess what, the majority of jobseekers are applying for jobs online, and these jobs represent 20% of all jobs available in the job market.

The best way to land a job is to penetrate the Hidden Job Market by networking. Employers would prefer promoting their own employees, but if that isn’t possible, they’ll turn to referrals. The only way to be referred is by knowing someone at the company or knowing someone who knows someone at the company.

Networking doesn’t come easy to everyone, nor do some people like it; however, it must be done. You don’t necessarily have to attend networking groups, but you should make it part of your daily routine. Network wherever you go, whether it’s at a sporting event, your religious affiliation, your dentist’s office, a social gathering.

5. Aren’t taking LinkedIn seriously. I know this is tough for those qualified jobseekers who don’t know what LinkedIn is and don’t understand why it’s important in the job search. I see the dear-in-the-headlights look on my LinkedIn workshop attendees when I ask them how their profile matches up.

These are people who are curious about the application—how it can help in their job search. Well, it can’t help if your LI profile isn’t up to snuff. Rather it can hurt. Here are a few ways it can hurt: 1) it’s identical to your résumé in that it doesn’t provide any new information; 2) it isn’t fully developed; 3) you only have a few contacts or recommendations. There are many more mistakes you can make with your profile.

As a side note, the other night I was talking to a recruiter from RSA who said he spends every day on LinkedIn looking for people to fill his software engineer positions. One point of interest: he told me Monster.com is dead to him. This is how important LinkedIn has become.

6. Don’t prepare for the interview. At the very least you should research the job and the company so you can answer the difficult questions. Take it a step further by gathering insider information on the job and company. Some of my customers have been savvy enough to use LinkedIn to contact people in the company.

However, the night before you can’t locate your interview outfit. You haven’t taken a drive by the company to see where it’s located and how long it will take you to get there. How many times were you told to practice answering some of the predictable questions you may be asked? Again, can you answer questions like, “Why should I hire you” or “Can you tell me something about yourself”?

7. Don’t send a follow-up note. This one kills me. After all the hard work, you don’t follow through with a Thank-You note that shows your appreciation for being interviewed, mentions important topics that were discussed at the interview, or redeem yourself by elaborating on a question you failed to answer. I tell my workshop attendees that the interview isn’t over until they’ve sent the Thank You note.

Don’t drop the ball for any of the aforementioned reasons; instead keep focused on one of the most important times in your life. My not sending birthday cards to my relatives, or even forgetting them all together, is minor in comparison to losing out on an opportunity.

2 areas where extraverts can improve in the job search

writing-resume

With the plethora of job-search advice for introverts (Is) and approximately zero for extraverts (Es), it must make the Es feel…unloved. I’d like to give some love to the Es, because that’s the kind of nice guy I am. In this post I’ll advise the Es on mistakes they can avoid.

There are two components of a jobseeker’s marketing campaign, written and verbal communications, where Es can use some help. We’ll look at the résumé, networking, and the interview.

1. Written communications. For most, the job search begins with submitting a résumé and possibly a cover letter to the employer. The act of writing a résumé can sometimes be problematic for the Es, who prefer speaking over writing.

Is, on the other hand, prefer writing than conversing and, as a rule, excel in this area. The Is are more reflective and take their time to write their marketing materials. They prepare by researching the position and company–almost to a fault.

Es must resist the urge to hastily write a résumé that fails to accomplish: addressing the job requirements in order of priority, highlighting relevant accomplishments, and promoting branding. One excuse I hear from my extraverted customers for faltering in this area is that they’ll nail the interview. At this point I tell them they “ain’t” getting to the interview without a résumé.

Where the Es can shine in this area of the job search is the distribution of their written material. They are natural networkers who understand the importance of getting the résumé into the hands of decision makers and, as such, should resist simply posting their résumé to every job board out there. This is where the Is can take a lesson from their counterpart, the ability to network with ease.

2. Verbal communications. Speaking of networking; the Es are generally more comfortable than introverts when it comes to attending formal networking events. But not all Es are master networkers. The main faux pas of poor networkers is loquaciousness, which is a fancy word for talking too much. While Is are often accused of not talking enough, the Es have to know when to shut the motor—a tall order for some Es.

stop talkingNetworking isn’t about who can say the most in a three-hour time period. Take a lesson from the Is who listen to what others have to say. People appreciate being listened to.

Many of my extraverted customers tell me they talk too much, and some have admitted they botch interviews because they—you got it—talk too much. Some of them say they can’t help it. Es are known to be very confident at interviews, which is a good thing. But they can also be over confident which leads them to ignore the tenets of good interviewing. That’s a bad thing.

At interviews the Es must keep in mind that it’s not a time to control the conversation. The interviewer/s have a certain number of questions they need to ask the candidates, so it’s best to answer them succinctly while also supplying the proper amount of information.

Lou Adler writes in an article this about answers that are too long: “The best answers are 1-2 minutes long….Interviewees who talk too much are considered self-absorbed, boring and imprecise. Worse, after two minutes the interviewer tunes you out and doesn’t hear a thing you’ve said.”

One more area the Es must work on is conducting the proper research before an interview. They are confident verbal communicators and may see no need to research the job, company, and competition; thus going in unprepared. Winging it is not going to win the job; the person with the right answers will.

The Is, on the hand, could take a lesson from the Es’ playbook in terms of confidence during the interview. They need to speak more freely and quicker; rather then reflecting and appearing to reflect too much. This is where the Is preparation comes in handy.

There has to be a middle ground, referred to by folks like Daniel Pink as ambiverts, when it comes to reaching the right amount of talking and listening at networking events and interviews. Accordingly, the Es who “score” slight in clarity on the continuum (11-13) are more likely to be better listeners, as well as comfortable with small talk. This is likely true for introverts who also score in the slight range.

When it comes to written and verbal communications in the job search, Es have to be cognizant of taking their time constructing their résumés and knowing when it’s time to listen as opposed to talking too much. Without understanding the importance of effective written and verbal communications, the job search for the Es can be a long haul.

6 sources of accomplishments for your résumé

The other day one of my résumé writing workshop attendees told the group she couldn’t think of any accomplishments from her last job. As I’m known to do, I told her she wasn’t thinking hard enough. Silence.

She’s an administrative assistant and, like we’ve all heard before, she was just doing her job. I began by asking, “Did you reduce your boss’ stress?”

“Yeah,” she said. “He told me I organized his life. He’d be lost….”

“Do you have that in writing?” I interrupted.

She smiled. “He sent me e-mails saying this. They were really great to read.”

“Did you keep them? Forward them to your personal e-mail? Did you keep a brag e-mail folder?”

No she hadn’t. I’m not one to harp on past mistakes; but this was a mistake, and a good lesson for the rest of the group. I didn’t need to say more; the lesson was learned.

Normally we think of quantified accomplishments as the only ones that matter—they matter a great deal—but what others write and say about you also matters. Take the following accomplishment for an administrative assistant:

Created an electronic filing system that reduced paperwork and increased productivity, prompting the following statement from the VP of operations, “You’ve made this office much more efficient.”

There are very talented people who don’t have access to dollar amounts or percentages to quantify their results. This is where what their boss said can be used as an accomplishment. If this is the case with you, consider the following sources of accomplishments for your résumé:

  1. E-mail is fair game. If you’ve received e-mail from you supervisor that touts your accomplishments, hold on to it and store it in a safe place, like a brag e-mail folder. I do this when I get e-mails from my customers thanking me for the help I’ve given them.
  2. Voice-mail can be used, as well. If your boss compliments you, consider using it on your résumé and other written communication. You might want to get your boss’ approval before you use her words in a public forum; it’s only courteous.
  3. Performance reviews are an obvious source of fodder for your résumé. These are professional documents that are often placed in your employee folder, used to justify promotions and raises if your performance is consistently good. Receiving outstanding marks on your performance reviews are certainly reason to tout them on your résumé.
  4. Verbal comments from your former boss can also be used on your résumé as quotes. “Director of marketing commented, ‘Josh, your ability to build and foster relationships has helped Company X achieve the financial success we’ve striven for.'” It’s especially important that you’re both on board with this, just in case she’s questioned about it during a reference check.
  5. Thank you cards from customers/clients speak to your customer service and other skills you’d like to highlight on your résumé. Have you received cards that thank you for your help and caring nature, or assistance in closing a large deal? If so, ask the sender if you can quote him on your résumé.
  6. LinkedIn recommendations have been used by my customers as fodder for their résumé. Not all employers will see your LinkedIn recommendation, either because they’re not on LinkedIn, or aren’t Internet savvy; so take advantage of what your connections have written about you.

Given that it’s difficult to think about accomplishments that are quantified using numbers, dollars, or percentages; don’t discount what your supervisors and manages have written or even said about you. You may want to set them apart as quotes or integrate them with accomplishment statements. Keep in mind that some industries, particularly high tech, may not fond of quotes. To others, quotes carry a lot of weight.

6 suggestions for paying someone to write your résumé; and my thoughts on installing a screen door

Last spring I made an attempt, albeit a weak one, to install a screen door on my house. As my wife stood watching hopeful that our house wouldn’t look like something from a ghetto, I kept thinking, “No way is this going to happen.” So it didn’t.

It should have gone this way: first, install the top, hinge, and latch trim; second, attach the 40 lb. door to the hinge trim; third, install the hardware that would make all this work, such as the handle, and the thingy that makes the door close slowly….

This is how it went: I called a contractor who said he would do the job for $35 an hour. I happily agreed.

Putting the screen door on my house got me to thinking about how writing a résumé for some people seems out of the realm of possibility; much like getting that damn screen door on my house to satisfy my wife. I started to empathize for people who feel paralyzed when they have to write their résumé.

Look, I come across people who haven’t written a résumé in years, maybe never. They haven’t used a word-processing application, don’t have a relative who has the time or inclination to write their résumé, and the thought of writing a résumé scares the hell out of them.

Here’s what I suggest for paying someone to write your résumé. Get the help you need immediately if you’re one of these folks who is paralyzed by writing the most important document in your life. Find a reputable agency that will take the time to write your résumé right the first time, and thereafter will update it for a very reasonable fee. Make sure of the following:

  1. Said agency has a stock of samples to show you and one that fits your needs in terms of a résumé and cost. A work history time-line and a list of keywords does not constitute a résumé. Believe me, I’ve seen these so called résumés.
  2. The person writing your résumé should guarantee you at least an hour or more to interview you to understand exactly what you do. Not someone who will note your occupation, go to his/her computer, create a cookie-cutter résumé, and take your $700.00.
  3. Those who require an executive résumé and can afford more than what is charged by an agency, should seek the help of a high-level writer who will focus more on accomplishments than simple duties. These expert résumé writers will charge significantly more, but their services will return your payment tenfold.
  4. My colleague, Bill Florin, makes a valid point. “An objective third party (pro writer) will see things in your history that are marketable, often things that you would discount or downplay entirely, Many people don’t like talking about and selling themselves.” Professional résumé writers make you talk about yourself.
  5. If you only require a basic résumé—truth be told, some people have minimal experience or have only done an adequate job—don’t be satisfied with a statement like, “Drove a truck from here to there.” You and your writer must get creative with your basic résumé. “Hauled an average of 20 tons of retail product, traversing the U.S.A. Driving record is spotless and time of delivery consistently met employers’ expectations.” Remember, you still have to separate you from the rest of the pack.
  6. Lastly, make sure a “soft copy” of your résumé is provided . Some writers will choke you for updating your résumé every time you need it sent out–this is after you’ve already coughed up $700.00.

Oh, if you’re a contractor who can install screen doors and perform other household tasks for less than $35.00 an hour, contact me. My house requires stucco repair and a bunch of other upgrades, as well.

You’ll receive many opinions of your résumé; rely on 10 sure things

10Whose advice should you follow when you’re writing your résumés? Knowing the answer to this dilemma may require a crystal ball, for without it you won’t be 100% sure of who will provide the right answers.

Do you heed the advice of professional résumé writers, recruiters, HR, or hiring managers? They all offer good advice, but their advice will be different. In fact, you can ask 20 résumé experts their opinions on how you should write your résumés, and you’ll get 20 different answers. So who is correct?

The answer is the person who invites you in for an interview is correct. Résumé reviewers are somewhat subjective when they read résumés, and sometimes there’s no rhyme nor reason.

While one person may like accomplishments listed upfront, another may prefer them listed in your employment section. While one person prefers two-page résumés, another might favor one-pagers. While one person may not be concerned with flowery prose in your professional profile, another may hate it, as I do.

The point being, you’re the one who needs to decide if your résumé is ready to go. Do you want to drive yourself nuts by having a slew of people give you their “expert” advice, revising your résumé twenty times over?

Now, there are certain rules on writing effective résumés that you should heed in no particular order. These are ten sure things that need to be in place to offer you the best chance of success.

  1. Quantified results are a must*. Employers are not interested in a grocery list of duties; they’re drawn to significant accomplishments that are quantified with numbers, dollars, and percentages. Did you simply increase productivity? Or did you increase productivity by 55% percent?
  2. Please no clichés or unsubstantiated adaptive skills. The new rule is to show rather than tell. Yes, you may be innovative; but what makes you innovative? Did you develop a program for inner-city youth that promoted a cooperative environment, reducing violent crime by 50%? If so, state it in your profile as such.
  3. Tailor your résumé to each job, when possible. Employers don’t want a one-fits-all résumé that doesn’t address their needs or follow the job description. It’s insulting. By the way, for all you job board junkies, a résumé using the Target Job Deconstruction method is an adequate alternative to tailoring hundreds of résumés.
  4. Your résumé needs to show relevance. Employers are interested in the past 10 or 15 years of your work history; in some cases less. Anything you did beyond 20 years isn’t relevant; the technology is obsolete. Age discrimination may also be a concern, so don’t show all 25-30 years of your work life.**
  5. Keywords are essential for certain occupations that are technical in nature. They’re the difference between being found by the applicant tracking system (ATS) at the top of the list or not at all. (ATS are said to eliminate 75% of applicants.) Again, job board faithfuls must have their keywords peppered throughout their résumé.
  6. Size matters. Some employers are reading hundreds of résumés for one job, so do them a favor and don’t submit a résumé that doesn’t warrant its length. The general rule is two pages are appropriate providing you have the experience and accomplishments to back it up. More than two pages requires many relevant accomplishments. In some cases a one-page résumé will do the job.
  7. No employer cares what you need. That’s right; employers care about what they need. If you happen to care what they need and can solve their problems and make them look good, they’ll love you. So drop the meaningless objective statement that speaks only about you and not how you can meet the employer’s needs.
  8. Start your résumé with a punch. Below your name and contact information lies your branding headline. Within approximately 90 characters you can capture the employer’s attention with stating what you do and in what capacity. Project Manager doesn’t do it like: Project Manager | Lean Six Sigma | Team Building | Enhanced Product Line.
  9. Make it easy to read. Your résumé should  not only be visually appealing, it should be visually readable. Employers who read hundreds of résumé s will glance at them for as few as 10 seconds before deciding to read them at length. Make your résumé scannable by writing shorter paragraphs, three to four lines at most.
  10. WOW them. Use accomplishments in your Performance Profile. That’s right, grab their attention with quantified accomplishments early on. “Volunteered to assume the duties of website development and design, while also excelling at public relations, resulting in $50,000 savings for the company” will entice the reviewer to continue reading.

At some point you need to go with what works—a résumé that will land you interviews. I don’t care if it’s written on a napkin and delivered in a Starbucks’ cup (it’s been done). If it’s getting you interviews, go with it. If it isn’t getting you interviews, there’s something lacking on your résumé, but carefully chose one or two people who can offer you sound advice. And remember the 10 must have’s on your résumé.

* It is agreed that not every positive result can be quantified with numbers, dollars, or percentages, particularly if you don’t have access to these figures. To simply say you increased…or decreased…can be enough.

** In some cases, executive-level jobseekers, more years of experience may be more helpful. A superintendent of schools with 30 years of experience will probably have more luck than one with only five years of experience.

Photo from Andrea, Flickr

5 sections of a résumé and LinkedIn profile that show your value


valueIt’s often said that the employer is the buyer and you’re selling a product, you. As impersonal as it seems, it’s true. Your product is excellent. You’ve achieved great success in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

However, the buyer won’t know of your potential for greatness if you don’t present both a powerful résumé and LinkedIn profile. Because it is no longer enough to simply submit a résumé. No, you need both.

So which sections of your résumé and LinkedIn profile will effectively show your value to employers?

Résumé

In response to a job ad your, résumé will be the first document the employers will see, so your value must show immediate impact. If not, your chances of getting an interview are very slim. The following sections of your résumé will contribute to demonstrating your value:

  1. A value headline tells potential employers your occupation, as well as your areas of expertise. It quickly tells employers why you are the person who should be brought in for an interview. But it’s not enough.
  2. A Performance Profile section that contains more illustration of your skills and experience and less fluff will show you as someone who does rather than says. No more than three to four lines are necessary if your content is sound and relevant for the jobs you’re pursuing. Wow statements, accomplishments, always help to show your value.
  3. Key skills in your Core Competency section for the positions you’re pursuing. Highlight skills that are required for a particular position–perhaps 6-8–but also include tie-breaker skills. You must fully understand the requirements of the position in order to know which skills to list in your Core Competency section.
  4. Job-specific accomplishments in your Work Experience will effectively show your value to the employer. The more relevant accomplishments you have in this section indicate your ability to perform well in the future. While a grocery list of your former/current responsibilities might seem impressive, accomplishments speak volumes.
  5. Keywords and phrases common to each position will give your résumé a better chance to be selected by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). Don’t be so concerned about the ATS that you produce a résumé that is poorly written; strive for a document that is optimized for the search engine, as well as one that shows your written communication skills.

LinkedIn profile

A consistent message of your value demonstrated through your résumé also applies to your LinkedIn profile. While your profile and résumé are different, they are similar in how you deliver your value.

Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy, Branding Yourself Blog, wrote about the power of LinkedIn, 20 LinkedIn Case Studies for Branding Yourself. So take it from them; LinkedIn can be a a great way to show your value.

  1. Like on your résumé, a Value Headline will tell potential employers exactly who you are, as well as what your areas of expertise. Your headline and photo are what visitors to your profile will see first. Together they must make a great first impression.
  2. Your profile Summary will be different than your résumé’s Professional Profile; it is written in first- or third-person, but it must brand you as someone who demonstrates direction and value to employers. To some this is considered the most important section of your profile. You’re allowed 2,000 characters, whereas your résumé typically contains 150 characters. Tell your story.
  3. List your outstanding technical and transferable skill in the Skills section. This section on your profile is similar to the Core Competency section on your résumé. The skills you list must show your proficiency, as opposed to your familiarity.You will be endorsed for your skills, but also request recommendations from your former supervisors.
  4. Your Employment section may be briefer than your résumé’s, highlighting just the outstanding accomplishments from each job. Accomplishments speak louder than simple duty statements and are the most effective way to show your value. Or you can duplicate your résumé’s Work Experience section. The choice is yours.
  5. Keywords are just as important to have on your profile as they are on your résumé. Employers will only find you if your profile contains the keywords they enter into Advanced People Search. Your goal is to be on the first four pages–10 profiles per page–to be found by recruiters and hiring managers.

Some additional components of your LinkedIn profile which will show your value are ones not found on your résumé. The most obvious is a highly professional or business casual photo. Another useful area of your profile is Media which allows you to share PowerPoint or Prezi presentations, copies of your résumés, videos, and various other files.

Push and Pull Technology. Combining both documents, will show your value more than if you use a résumé alone. The résumé to respond to job ads and your LinkedIn profile to pull employers to you will be the powerful punch you need in your job search. (Read about the differences between the resume and LinkedIn profile.)

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.