Applicant tracking software know-how vs "resume black hole"

Me at Facebook event.jpg

Yesterday I presented to a group of about 30, the Communitech Job Seekers P2P Group. Held in Kitchener in the fabulous, revitalized Lang Tannery property at Victoria and Joseph Streets, the Communitech hub injected extra energy into my topic, I’m sure!

My presentation educated job seekers from diverse career backgrounds and stages on how to appease the requirements of applicant tracking software (ATS), now widely used by companies to streamline their recruitment process. Although a disruptive tool that has significantly influenced how a resume must be formatted, too few job applicants are aware of how to navigate this parsing software’s requirements.

Too few know about it because no company actually outlines what the resume’s creator must know about how this software is programmed to “read” or evaluate and score resumes. Even Human Resource departments are blissfully unaware of what the job applicants are up against.

HR knows what ATS can do for them, after all, that’s precisely what the ATS marketers will tell HR - how the ATS will make their work easier, how it will save them money, how it will slash the time to review resumes by hours or even days.

But that says nothing to the issue of “here’s what your job applicants need to know.”

I shared a long list of dos and don’ts related to document formatting and content, and the actual online submission process. The info I shared came from a career professional who interviewed not marketing, but the software engineers who program ATS! Was that not inspired?

Here’s one little tip that can knock your resume right out of the running. Do not place your name and contact information into a header as the info in that header is not scored nor reliably “read” by today’s ATS.

I say “reliably” for a good reason. With several major brands of ATS and many custom versions on the market, no one can say with 100% certainty what the capabilities are of the ATS in use by the company to which you are applying. My presentation shared a “best practice” approach, addressing common denominators.

Yes, that’s as good as today’s job seeker can expect.

But know this: the best practice approach beats out ignoring ATS requirements, which ensures that the resume falls into a deep, dark hole of despair!

Here’s what one attendee had to say about the presentation:

Hi Stephanie, it was a pleasure to meeting you during the workshop "Avoid the Resume Black Hole". A lot of take aways, excellent tips, awesome in general.


I love to speak on career management topics! If your group is interested, let’s chat about the possibilities!

Is Your Resume Fulfilling?

Happy by unsplash.jpg

Photo courtesy of unsplash.com

I regularly provide resume reviews to job seekers who are considering working with a professional resume writer. 

As so often happens, I often get some sort of synchronicity happening. This week the resumes I reviewed were like war-time rations - skimpy and not at all filling.

Here's one of the reviews I wrote in which I addressed the need for a fuller read. I also addressed an oft-made grammar gaffe.

Resume Review

Your resume uses a nice template, but unfortunately templates are not usually compatible with applicant tracking software (ATS), which are used extensively these days by employers and job boards like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, etc.

That alone could knock you out of a job application process.

However, even if your resume passed an ATS scoring system, the content is really skimpy! I'm sure that you have wonderful accomplishments to share. But they are not well defined on your resume. Today's resume is not a historical record of "here's what I did," rather it's a self marketing document that must proclaim "here's the value I offer my next lucky employer"!

And that's where my skill works on your behalf.

As General Store Manager - or District Manager if that's your current title - you have problems to solve. What kinds of issues, which skills do you use in resolving these, and to what end? 

Your resume holds one great accomplishment, but it's not prominent, nor is it featured. Bullets are easier to skim than paragraphs, hence their use. 

Your big story could be coined for a quick read:

  • Led low-performing store to its most profitable year in 20 years - taking it to the top 3 corporate stores - by focusing on customer experience, team training, and growth strategies.

(FYI - "its" in this case does not require an apostrophe, which is needed only if the expanded form is "it is.")

Following this statement, I would expand on those metrics you hint at - "all major metrics." What were these? They are likely key word phrases, an essential component of ATS scoring.

I'd expand your resume to a 2-pager for sure, adding valuable context and content. I'd frame the info to sell you into your desired role and sector, as much as possible - all within a truthful and fact-based methodology. I never embellish - it's not necessary when you know how to compose with a strategic focus.

If you need help filling your resume out with valuable, influential information, you'd be well served hiring a qualified pro!

How to answer the interview question of "why you"?

 Lucky dog never has to attend a job interview! Why him? Because the cuteness factor abounds!

Lucky dog never has to attend a job interview! Why him? Because the cuteness factor abounds!

You're in the interview for your dream job and it has gone so well. You've answered each question with confidence and good detail. The interview team is engaged and nodding their heads while they jot down their notes. 

And then you are asked "Why should we select you if we have another client who is equally skilled?" 

You keep your smile plastered while your mind races. "What do they want now, I've told them how I get results and how I exceed expectations. I gave them numbers, facts, used key words in my answers ... I did it ALL!!! WHAAAATTT do they need now?"

Deep breath.

Here are a few ideas on how to keep selling yourself into the role.

1. If you perceived through how questions were posed that they are looking for one overall attribute - work ethic or cooperation, for example - emphasize how you fit that requirement by referring to relevant performance review details or other "proof."

2. Refer to your methodology. Few think to integrate this aspect of what makes them efficient and effective. Outlining how you approach the hardest aspect of your work can clinch your number one status.

3. Pull in innate talents or strengths. If you're unsure what these may be, take Gallup's StrengthsFinder test. (Go to https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/product/en-us/10108/top-5-cliftonstrengths-access?category=all-products. Sorry, I couldn't get the embedded link to work.)

Knowing that creativity is a top strength - or strategic, intellection, connectivity, whatever it is - will give you the language to pull into an explanation of why you are asked to join brainstorming sessions, strategic planning meetings, or asked for your input on proposed solutions. 

Distinguishing yourself from the competition isn't necessarily easy, but it's definitely doable. It takes a knowledge of the employer's "buying motivators" as well as self knowledge. 

If you need help with your interview technique, give me a call. My award-winning interview method gives you the tools with which to answer any interview question. 

Cheeky Resume Content

Photo by Fischer Twins on Unsplash

I often provide a prospective client with a complimentary resume review - a free critique. Sometimes I see things on a resume that I guess the writer didn't see.  And as things so often happen in twos and threes, recently I had two such resume "oopsies"!

There is a popular resume template available on MS Word. It offers the job seeker a spot to prominently display his or her initials in a large circle on the left side of the page. On the right side go the name and contact details. Well, this particular client's initials did not lend themselves to an initial-only short-form. Let's just say that the two letters spell the rather less refined version of "baloney." 

Yes, big, bold, front and centre - well, left justified, but you get my drift. (It reminds me of someone I know who didn't consider that their daughter's initials spelled a most unfortunate disease abbreviation.)

Now, if this person was in marketing, maybe it would have tickled a funny bone or two and been a "plus." But aiming at a C-suite position, I have no doubts that even if the reader prided him or herself on being an enlightened sort, I am of the opinion that most humans have little control over subliminal impressions.  

If this client chooses to work with me, I will not be referring to the client as "BS." 

Now, the second takes us from business into the realm of medicine. 

I am working with a young doctor on the other side of the border. This physician is employed with a gastroenterology unit. Gastroenterology, in case you're drawing a blank, has to do with esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver.  All those lovely innards that keep us going.

This particular physician chose to shorten the workplace title to read as follows:

Medical Staff, Gastrointestinal Ass., Name of Hospital, Name of City and State.

Hopefully you see the "cheeky humour" in this statement. Once I pointed out the link between the area of focus and the short form, this newly minted doctor had a good laugh. S/he will be changing this immediately. 

Funny stories, but the point is, proofreading is important. And it's not always spelling or a misused comma that is at fault. Sometimes, it's in the "oops" oversight category. 

Love my job, love writing resume, and if you don't, do let me help you out! 

 

Automation Job Losses vs New Growth Opportunites

 Taking a Break from Writing Resumes with Some Tree Love

Taking a Break from Writing Resumes with Some Tree Love

Human Resources Director Canada today announced that Manulife is cutting 700 jobs as part of its digital business transformation. Most of the losses will be absorbed through attrition, but not all.

The automation of services, such as access to your own information, has long been moving away from the need to phone in. On-line self-help services are not at all new. But with the sophistication of Artificial Intelligence or AI, more and more types of information can be at one's fingertips.

Even in my own small corner of the business world, AI is making an impact. The newest versions of Applicant Tracking Software, the systems that many companies rely on to help automate parts of the recruitment process, are AI-enhanced. Progressing from the archaic "ASCII" resume version, an unattractive, plain-text, Courier font document, today's ATS-friendly resumes look positively radiant in comparison! Shaded lines and colour are fine, as are some enhanced features.

On the other side of the job search spectrum, I see that marijuana is having quite an impact. In my boutique resume service I have had two clients in one week - and more in the last year - seeking to apply to a few medical marijuana facilities. (On another note, I have a neighbour who has made an obscene amount of money from purchasing medical marijuana stocks, but that's a topic for an investment blog!)

From "field hands" to senior execs, there's a living to be earned in this employment newcomer.

That's me. I love tree hugging and getting "grounded." We all need a break!

Whatever your situation, New Leaf Resumes would love to help. Give me a call at 778 269 5627 and let's talk. 

Career conundrums: opportunity or angst-provoking missteps?

Go up and never stop.jpg
 

Things so often happen in synchronicity. Coincidences that feel like there are vibes in the air that people are picking up, you know? 

Like this week. I had two clients who reached out to me with career conundrums to solve. Well, actually the first one didn't know it was a situation that required solving. Let me explain. 

Let's call her Maria. She is a CEO with about 10 years C-suite experience. A formidable change agent, her last few gigs were all about radical transformation, serious upheaval. And in the last role she was bullied by a group of established leaders who resented change. They slandered my client. Now her job search is taking longer than previously because their slander was a public piece that pops up if you search her name. Maria is applying to a few roles that truly do not fit her background and this last one didn't fit her brand, either. I cannot tell you much about the role, for confidentiality reasons, but it led me to ask my client "Would this job make your heart happy?" Thankfully she let that one go.

And the second client, curiously also a woman, a senior Human Resource professional, was trying to evaluate whether or not she should consider proceeding to round two of the interview process. Great job, great pay, good benefits, but from her perspective, distressing environment. 

Again, without going into confidential details, the environment was one that went against a strong value she holds. Her heart would not only NOT be happy, it would HURT, daily, in this environment (admittedly, I, too, would have trouble there). 

I do not believe in "giving advice." Not to clients, and not to family, either. But, I don't mind playing devil's advocate, asking questions so that confusion lessens and the path is cleared.

Both clients have let the "opportunity" go. Sometimes opportunities are dead end paths; not every opportunity is positive and to be seized. Discernment is critical in our personal lives as well as in our professional lives. As long as the trajectory feels "up," from many perspectives, the path might just be the right one. 

Should you be worried about cultural fit?

 Add personality to your resume and inspire an interview! Read on to find out how.

Add personality to your resume and inspire an interview! Read on to find out how.

Today I am prepping for tomorrow's client who is a Client Services Supervisor/Manager. His preferred realm is in IT, and his preferred employer, PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. 

This company wears its heart on its sleeve. The name artfully blends the social conscience with the service delivery.

And, as serendipity is at play today I read an article that explains how skills alone don't tell your story. I shared the link to the article below. (It's exceptionally well written with nary a grammatical error or syntactical stumble to be found. I so appreciate good writing!)

https://work.qz.com/1232692/the-resume-of-the-future/

The idea of integrating personality, motivation, inspiration, social conscience, and more into a resume is one that I've espoused since I began this business in 2007. I firmly believe that everyone deserves meaningful work. In my mind, this means that the working environment must also match the job seeker's own values and preferred environment.

By subtly adding language that defines a person - and sometimes not so subtly, but boldly, it all depends - my clients land interviews with companies in which they are more likely to succeed because the company culture matches the person's own preferred style.

What good is a resume that sticks to skills only? At best it only puts the job seeker on par with her competitors. (At its worst, it leaves the job seeker suitable only for those jobs that might be characterized as "low lying fruit.")

Yes, those skills will impress the applicant tracking software systems (ATS), but the same list of skills will inspire only a ho-hum response from the human recruiter. The human reader needs to understand "the why, the how, to what result" context of work. The human reader is best if he finds himself admiring the job seeker's values - commitment to quality, unflagging championing of safety, sustained attention to improvements - as well as the job seeker's methodology.

What's wrong with adding a few words that give the human reader a genuine sense of the applicant's personality, values, motivators, strengths, talents, etc.? 

For resumes that ring with sincerity, beam with earned pride, and inspire with hope as the "perfect" candidate, contact New Leaf Resumes. I'd love to motivate your resume's reader to call you to an interview! newleafresumes@gmail.com

Overcoming Obstacles to Hire: Ageism

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Now in my 12th year as owner of New Leaf Resumes, I've helped many people well into their 60s land career-related positions. One professional, in purchasing and logistics, was far too energetic to retire even though he was 67. He not only overcame the age discrimination issue, but also one of serious over-qualification as he had held the position of senior executive with a multi-national corporation.  He successfully accepted a role as manager within a mid-sized university. How did he do it? With a strategic resume and transparency.

In his resume, I emphasized results related to saving money, reducing waste, improving the bottom line - it's always about the bottom line (or reputation and optimization in not-for-profits). Focus in on productivity, performance, and profits, and you can overcome most potential "obstacles to hire." 

Secondly, in his cover letter, I chose to write with transparency, admitting to his over-qualification and retirement-worthy age. Emphasizing his energy to spare, willingness to contribute without taking over, and desire to share his knowledge, we quickly eliminated questions related to his intent. You can absolutely overcome age or gender discrimination with solid strategy and by addressing that bottom-line benchmark.

Let me know if I can be of service in creating a strategy that eliminates your obstacles to hire. 

When your resume lands no interviews

 Resume magic is doable! Read on.

Resume magic is doable! Read on.

The flipping of a calendar to a new year inspires us to make changes. Aside from annual renewed vigour to lose 10 or 20 pounds, stop smoking, leave the junk food at the grocery store, and call mom more often, few think to revisit their resume.
My last blog gave you ideas on what kinds of updates you might add to your resume, and how to phrase these. In this blog, I offer a few more ideas for those with resumes that constantly fail. Fail to ignite interest, fail to generate any calls to an interview. 
Know Thyself
Perhaps your resume has been cobbled together with bits and pieces from here, there, and everywhere in an attempt to fix what's wrong, cover all the bases, saturate it with key words? It could be such a hodge-podge of writing styles and formatting issues that when it's shared, it fails. The reader could be confused by the jumble, its lack of flow, absent context, and non-existent overall brand and message. And the formatting could recreate a resume into a haphazard mess.
If the resume's message is unclear, it is unlikely to gain traction. My suggestion is to start fresh, and with a focus on being authentic to who you are and how you work, begin anew to build a strong presence.
Ship It Out
Job hunting is a numbers game as well as a strategic one. Yes, your resume must sell you, but you must share that resume a lot. Some job postings are bogus. I'm not suggesting a conspiracy theory to perplex and confound the beleagured job seeker, but I am suggesting that not each job posting is current or valid. Sometimes, for example, an incumbent has already been selected, and the job posting exercise is simply playing out an internal policy.
For this reason, don't ever put all your effort and hope into one job application. Keep applying.
Verfity and Validate
Jim Rohn says it like this: “Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don’t fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.
Theres' another saying about stupidity as repeating the same action while each time "hoping" for a different result. 
If your resume is not working, do seek help. It truly doesn't have to be a never-ending cycle of click "send" and wait for a response that never materializes. 

Your assignment should you choose to accept it ...

Forgive me folks, for an old-fashioned post with no photos. My website is not loading photos today, it seems. If anyone has an idea of what might be the issue, do let me know at newleafresumes@gmail.com, with thanks!

 

Life presents us with many choices. Some are huge decisions - to marry or not, to have kids or not, to move to warmer climes or not, for example. Many, however, are small choices that require not a lifetime of change or sacrifice, but a few hours of time.

Such is today's suggested assignment. 

Amidst your other new year resolutions, how about updating your resume? Oh I can hear the groans! Don't worry - I'll help you out with a few questions to ask yourself to source good material to add. Why should you bother? Because a great resume can land interviews, and interviews with good companies, your dream company even. An influential resume can land a better initial offer at the top of the range rather than in the middle. And a competition-busting resume can contribute to your ability to negotiate a better salary, quicker review and bonus, or more attractive benefits, like an extra week's holiday. 

Consider the following:

1. Did your job grow since you took it on? If so, what accountability has been added, did it require you learning new skills or knowledge base, or did it include supervisory duties perhaps? With the information, create a bullet along the lines of the following:

 

  • Assigned responsibility for (xx) in recognition of my transferable skills, which included (and list).
  • Selected to serve as Interim CAO, a 3-month term that was twice extended to 9-month term; cited by Board of Directors for capably handing the day-to-day as well as a potential public relations issue.

 

2. If you took on new duties, did these require you learning new skills or adding a new-to-you knowledge base, or did it include supervisory duties perhaps? Again, use the info to compose a bullet:

 

  • Acquired knowledge of pertinent by-laws - with urgency - and became productive within first week of assuming partial by-law customer service duties.
  • Gained confidence in supervisory duties by concurrently undertaking leadership and people management studies, in formal and self-study formats; skill was recognized in annual performance review as "outstanding."

 

3. Every set of proactive personal career management  strategies should include an effort to join a committee or team. If you didn't do so in 2017, do make it a priority for 2018. For those who did volunteer or who were asked to join, here's an idea of what to add to the resume:

 

  • Volunteered for the IT/Business Collaboration Team to fulfil corporate mandate to identify time-saving tech-based solutions to common, recurring business issues; in first six months, team delivered four ideas to executive management, and gained approval to immediately develop two.
  • Hand-picked by Director of Corporate Communications to co-chair corporate public relations committee as recognized communications expert in diffusing potentially reputation-damaging PR issues.

 And there are just a few ideas that will get you started. 

If your resume has nothing like this kind of bullet in its content, consider this: a resume is no longer a historic document of the "what" of your work; that is a job description. Today's resume must be customized to your experience, laudatory of your contributions, and relevant to your next employer. 

Only two rules, in my opinion, must be stuck to: every detail must be truthful to your experience and authentic to your personality, working style, values, etc. 

Strategy and the Quandary of Sears ex-employees

The other day I read that within this decade, experts expect that many American malls will be empty (and I think we can assume that the Canadian experience will be similar enough to take note).

And who hasn't heard of the demise of Sears, with some 12,000 people across Canada soon losing their jobs?

The truth seems obvious: brick and mortar retail isn't holding up against the likes of Amazon and other internet-based shopping experiences.

If you know someone who is one of the 12,000 soon to be Sears ex-employees, do share this blog post with them. If there's a time a job hunter needed support, this is it: competing against a high influx of similarly experienced people is daunting.

RESUME STRATEGY

The resume of old was a historical document, listing each job held, responsibilities of each position, with no info eliminated; however, today's resume is a stategic document, still listing the positions one has held, but with a spin.

What is the value of telling the reader that you used a point of sale (POS) cash register if the employer doesn't use one of these? Strategy means that info must be reinterpreted to demonstrate transferability or direct applicability. Here's what I mean:

  • Used advanced technology to process transactions - 12 different options - up to 100 times per day; over tenure, successfully learned 3 different versions and served as team's expert in each.

This bullet, still talking about using a POS system, uses strategy to demonstrate adaptability, tech-savvy skills, and serving as a team's top user of technology. It showcases lots of transferable skills.

However, if you're not applying to a position where using complex technology is useful, then you wouldn't use this bullet.

Perhaps you're applying to an Account Manager sales position. Here's another way to use your retail experience to demonstrate your suitability:

  • Upgraded sales skills annually, attending weekend workshops delivered by noted sales leader "Top Sales Inc.," and reliably led in department of 20 sales associates with highest dollar sales, 3 out of 4 quarters over the last 5 years.

Defining your performance with strategic content and context is what will get your foot in the door with an invitation to an interview. Strategy will distinguish you from your competition, whether you are in sales, customer service, procurement, training, people management, operations management, finance, or maintenance.

As a resume writer I put myself in the employer's/recruiter's shoes to discern what the position truly needs from a potential hire. And as I write, I make it as easy as possible for the reader to determine that my client is an ideal applicant. This is what each job hunter must do to "cut through the noise" of many job applicants.

It's not colour in your resume or delivering your resume to Human Resources with a box of chocolates that will distinguish you; it's demonstrating that there is real value in hiring you.

P.S. Along with strategy, there is a second piece to a strong submission in today's recruitment process: knowing how to navigate applicant tracking systems. For lots of details info, search "applicant tracking system" in the search window on the right hand side of my website page.

A question of using a P.S.

Today a client asked an interesting question, one that I had not really considered before. The client's question was:

I was hoping I could ask you a quick question regarding email etiquette.

Is it OK to us a “P.S.” on an email?

For instance:

++++++++++++++++++++++++

Sincerely, Ashley

 P.S.  I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

 Or is it best to just include that in the body of the email and not use Post Script??

 Thank you Stephanie!!!

To which I replied:

Well, that's an interesting question and one I've not been asked before.
Here are my thoughts on this:
- marketing studies show that letters with P.S. get more responses than those without
- my personal preference in using the P.S. in clients' letters is to a) add a teaser that begs further questions OR b) address a mundane aspect of the job posting, for example, I possess a valid driver's license with no demerit points in the last 10 years. (using precisely the phrasing found in the job posting)
As for using it in email, as generally email is even less formal than a letter, I see no issue with it. Having said that, you're bound to run across a person, now and then, who detests the "P.S." and likely for personal reasons (someone s/he didn't like used these with wild abandon, for example!). But I've not read anything that should give you concern.
Now back to the P.S. as a marketing idea: remember that your job search is a self-marketing exercise. Use the P.S. to your advantage by selecting a workplace accomplishment that would be intriguing to the reader. For example, aligned with your role and career goal, of course, a story about saving a failing account, restoring a failing or finding a lucrative new product line, achieving consensus where no one else had managed to do so, repeatedly supporting failing students to success ... these kinds of teasers are useful post scripts that will leverage the marketing tool to your benefit.
Here's an example of one I used for a recent client:
By the way, I would love to tell you the interesting details of how I conceived and led an initiative to save our company's most critical account, saving $Millions in potentially lost annual revenues. 
Although this idea is not for everyone, and I don't actually use it for many clients, it can be a powerful tactic to generate interest and to differentiate you from your competition.
All the best, Stephanie
P.S. Last year I helped a European living and working in a war-torn country abroad overcome many odds to land his first Canadian job without having to move here first. Imagine what I could do for your job search! Just sayin' ... :-)

Award of Excellence - a proud moment!

Last week I found out that I had been awarded my 12th Award of Excellence, Outstanding Resume - Executive. I am grateful to Career Professionals of Canada for the opportunity to assess the quality of my work, year over year.

This year there were nine submissions in the Executive Resume category.

Here's what I posted on my LinkedIn profile:

 

I am thrilled to share that my resume submission to Career Professionals of Canada's annual "Awards of Excellence" program has been selected as the winner in the Outstanding Resume - Executive  category.

Submitting an actual client's document (a Fortune 500 President), the resume was recognized for cutting edge design and format, impeccable grammar, and exceptional content development skills.

I'm honoured (honored for my American clients) to have my work recognized. Without a doubt, I champion the power of the well written word and simply love what I do. So grateful that I literally stumbled into a role that makes the best use of my own talents and skills, I am also tremendously grateful that I now get to help others achieve their own career goals.

What a rush to enjoy repeated career successes through clients' milestones as they land interviews and job offers!

 

Setting a new homework record

As part of my client intake process, I ask  virtually every new client to complete a questionnaire. It's comprehensive, requires thought and review, and takes quite a bit of time.

No question about it: it is homework.

This pertains not only to new graduate clients, but also to my executive level clients. I compare my work to writing a university paper: it takes tons of research material to condense the info into a few short pages, rich with nuance and saturated in relevant, informative content. A resume must also have a strong ability to influence, that is, influence the reader to call my client for an interview.

One of the questions in my homework is this "Do you have a favourite quote, philosophy of business or work, an oft-repeated saying?" The answer to this can give me insight into my client's working style, problem solving, relationship building, methodology, people management - I get a glimpse into what makes this person tick, and it helps me represent the person on paper with authenticity. 

A recent client has outdone all my previous clients - 12 years of full time work, more than a thousand clients - with the volume of quotes that exemplify her approach to life and work. She now holds the record in this category! Here are a few of the wonderful quotes this client shared:

"A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work." - Colin Powell

"Seek first to understand, then to be understood." - Stephen Covey

"Pleasure put in the job puts perfection in the work." - Aristotle

"Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it." - Michael Jordan

I counted 26 quotes. They came from philosophers, books on leadership from current or past "gurus," sports figures, politicians, and even a few of her very own.

Not only are these useful for my own insight into my client, they will undoubtedly find their way into her resume. To facilitate her step up the career ladder - she is aiming for a role as an Executive Director - I will likely find parallels between a quote and her methodology and results, and include a select two or three in her resume and cover letter.

I could even suggest to the client that she select several quotes and create an additional - and unique - portfolio document. (I have an idea brewing!)

I stand behind my premise that it is not colour and whiz-bang design that will propel a job applicant to the forefront; rather, a job applicant will stand out by offering clear insights into how he or she performs, the results his or her performance has brought to a previous employer, and by inference, how his or her employment will positively impact the next lucky employer. (The exception may be for the client applying to a graphic designer job posting.)

With this mindset, I have created interesting branding pages and addenda for many clients whether in technology, finance, sports, marketing, operations, etc., from entry level to executive. Whether or not I conceive such an addendum depends on each client's efforts in completing the homework fully, with enthusiasm. So much rests on the intake process.

As one client put it, "There cannot be excellent output without excellent input." I am not a magician, conjuring up resume content out of thin air. I am a partner with each client, gathering information and transforming it from basic statement to influential - and completely truthful - marketing copy.

There is much power in the written word. I love my work!

 

Mixing the old with the new - screendoors and resumes

A few weeks ago my husband, Richard, and I visited my mom. She lives on her own, although at 80+, it's getting harder and harder for her to do so without help.

On this visit, I got my husband to replace the handle on her screen door. (I almost wrote "we replaced," but quite honestly, I didn't even watch, never mind help!)

A visit to the local Canadian Tire, new handle, random tools, and assorted paraphernalia in hand, Richard began his work.

By the end it was clear that not all of the old stuff would work with the new stuff and hubby couldn't use all the new parts. His solution was a hodge podge, but at least the handle was no longer a  hard to grip and uninviting looking handle, and the door could lock.

So often it's best to replace something in its entirety.

It's this way with resumes, too. An old version, maybe a template in its origins, with new bits and pieces added over the years, and perhaps more than one author along the way, often looks rather hodge-podgey. Rather than looking crisply designed, it feels random; rather than reading smoothly, it seems quite haphazard. It's like the difference between a fine, coordinated suit and tie versus your well-worn, at-home "comfies"; between a $40 and $7 bottle of wine; between a fun sundress from your local bargain shop and a custom made outfit.

Not much of a first impression, is it?

It's also this way with resumes that I first wrote for clients years ago. Recently a client from 2009 returned for a resume update. He said that he had added a few things over the years, but he now felt that it really needed my touch. And it did, from formatting to content, need my touch.

Since our initial work about eight years ago software has evolved, and the recruitment process has changed. His old version was no longer compatible with today's norms, not in the version of Word nor in the need to appease applicant tracking systems.

I overhauled it top to bottom, finessing even previously composed bullets (as many were shortened or even removed to keep his resume to two pages), ensured it met each of today's requirements. My client is once again ready to further his career as a top-notch Tool and Die Maker.

If your resume is anything other than pristine and crisp in its appearance and ultra-influential and targeted in its content, might I suggest that that may be the reason that you are not landing interviews? Sometimes it's not because recruiters don't know anything; sometimes it's because we are unwilling to spend the money on an entirely new "screen door"!

 

Satisfying Fullness

Yesterday I visited my mother. As usual she cooked up some lunch and I brought the dessert. And although usually I bake, this weekend was exceptionally hot and without air conditioning, I did not want to heat up my home. So I purchased a European style cheesecake at the Kitchener Farmers' Market. (I will note the vendor's name this coming Saturday and post it for those in the Waterloo Region.)

Oh my goodness. Oh my. Oh! It was beyond delicious - creamy, rich, flavourful, absolutely heavenly. My mother and I enjoyed it, small bite by small bite, with nary a word exchanged after the initial oohs and ahhs!

The secret is not in sugar or fake flavours, but rather in the full-fat ingredients. It is fat that makes a meal satisfying, not salt, sugar, or other add-ins. (Do some research and see if I'm not right!)

It got me thinking of resumes, this satisfying nature of a product. (What can I say? My mind finds correlations in the most obscure things!)

I can easily take a three page resume and distill it to a full, savory, filling two pages - without losing necessary information, key words, or context. I know which ingredients satisfy, like fat, and which are nothing but filler fluff.

With this ability, my clients launch successful job searches. See for yourself.

On a side note, the cheesecake transported my mom and me in time, back to the days we lived atop my dad's Queen Street TV store near Niagara Street in Toronto. Now a trendy area, back in the late 1950s it was a transitional ethnic area, full of Ukrainian shop owners, who like my mom and dad, were establishing themselves as Canadians. It was a gift of memory that reminded us of the delicious staples we purchased weekly from Pawych's Meat and Delicatessen. Memories! Yum!

 

Bad Advice from Career Professionals

Twice in the last two weeks, I have had inquiries from people who have worked with career coaches. Each one, as advised by the career coach, ended up with a resume that would not perform well where the recruitment process included the use of an applicant tracking system or ATS (enter "applicant tracking system" in my website's search window, "free career advice" in the right hand column, for lots more info).

Now, if these clients lived in rural or town environments, where the employers were likely small employers with no need for ATS-assisted recruitment, this would be fine.

Shockingly both clients had had help from Canadian university career centres and each one lives in a different, large metropolitan area.

Here's what not to do.

1. Do NOT create a functional resume. These don't perform at all where ATS are used to evaluate submissions. They don't even perform well when human beings review this type of resume! ATS are programmed to "read" and score reverse-chronological resumes only. And as for recruiters, they like to know specifics of what level of responsibility you held, what you did, and your impact at each position you held, not that overall you have great relationship building, leadership, and communication skills.

2. Do NOT use a fancy templated resume format. The advanced programming in some of these - tables, columns, page border, text boxes, shading, etc. - is not reliably, 100% ATS-friendly. Stick to "best practices" as described in the blog posts you'll find when you search "applicant tracking system" on my website.

It amazes me that the ATS continue to "hide in plain sight."

Does it matter where you get your job search advice?

Sometimes I am booked a few months in advance and must refer clients who prefer more immediate assistance to colleagues. I have sourced only two resume writers whose writing quality - grammar, strategy, composition - I admire. These two also have "high touch" client service similar to my own. And their resumes "look nice" too, with pristine spacing and formatting. :-)

Last week, one of these referred clients, whose resume was written by one of these colleagues, reached out to me. "I'm not landing any interviews" was his message, and he asked if I would review the document.

Now, in the past, I've had a few of my own clients contact me with a similar lament. In each case I was able to identify what the actual issue was and was confident of doing so for this referred client.

Here's the story.

The original resume was strategized to land the client entry into an MBA program, which it did.

Post graduation, the client sought out input from the MBA program's career coach, and then launched his job search.

On opening his resume, I immediately saw an issue. Knowing my colleague's style, I had a hard time understanding why he would have elected to do this one particular thing, which was problematic in today's recruitment process. You see, page one had no name and no contact info.

Probing the client, I discovered that it was the career coach who advised him to make room on page one to add a few lines of content by removing his name and contact info because, after all, "your name, phone, and email are on page two and three."

What this career coach wasn't aware of is the implications of the use of applicant tracking systems (ATS), so prevalent in today's recruitment process. He wasn't aware that ATS have certain formatting as well as content requirements.

I suggested to this client that once he amends this issue, he will likely see an immediate relief from his non-performing resume.

Also, because the original resume was strategized to the MBA program requirements, not this new job search, I made a few suggestions for "tweaks" that will quickly fix that issue too.

The lesson here? It does matter where you get your job search input. Although I do not give "advice," I do advise with reasoned and seasoned insights into questions of resume strategy, interview coaching, and job search tactics. Not all resume writers are equal in their own pursuit of professional development and thus not all information is accurate.

When looking for expertise, be sure to consider more than price point; you must look deep into credentials to determine whether you can trust a professional's credibility.

Do cover letters really matter?

Today I listened to a webinar offered by US-based National Resume Writers Association. The topic was a recruiter study with 273 responses - including two Canadian sources - from recruiters and hiring managers.

One of the questions, of many (and I plan to address others in the near future), was on the cover letter's importance.

Guess what? As I've been telling clients throughout my 11 years in full-time service, some recruiters will read it, some won't, but you need a good one just in case your dream job's hiring manager does like to read cover letters.

The survey did find out a few interesting points, though. Apparently recruiters/HR hiring managers will read the cover letter IF a) it's targeting the specific job posting AND b) it's not fluff. LOL No definition of fluff was provided, but I'd hazard a guess that if you provide "a)" you're okay and are not being fluffy.

So how do you target the job posting? These ideas have been sourced from the two books as you see on this blog.

1. Customize each letter. I cannot stress this one enough. Match the requirements, echo the company's values, saturate with keywords (hard skills, soft skills and attributes, educational credentials, and employment details).

2. Speak to the decision maker. Every piece of writing, to be effective, must speak to an audience's "buying motivators." (Hint: in hiring, buying motivators are related to the bottom line or to reputation in not-for-profits.) If you don't demonstrate that in the past you've not cost your employers' money, but helped them earn or keep revenues, you're not "selling yourself" and not likely to outperform other interviewees. And yes, the cover letter is an ideal place to sell you as a candidate. Every step of recruitment is about you, as a job seeker, conducting a self-marketing project.

3. Deal with obstacles. I have done this successfully for clients, from those with disabilities to those who job hopped a bit too much. Either be up front and refer to an accommodation that has worked, or turn the perceived obstacle into a great advantage. Perception can be tweaked!

Of course, good grammar and a clear writing style are also necessary.

BTW, you'll find my sample letters in these books! Eleven are now in the Best Canadian Cover Letters series and I have three in the newly published Modernize Your Job Search Letters, a US publication.

TIP: Please check that your cover letter isn't saturated with "I" statements, a common trait of many cover letters. Replace a few with phrases such as "You can count on me to," "Past supervisors will vouch for my (work ethic, ability to ...)."

 

The Strategic Resume

Google tells me that one of the definitions of "strategic" is carefully designed or planned to serve a particular purpose or advantage.

As a Master Certified Resume Strategist through Career Professionals of Canada, this well describes how I compose a resume: I carefully design each client's document to achieve that client's particular purpose. My work gives each client an advantage.

Misconceptions about what a resume is and what it is not continue to plague the job hunter. For great, detailed information, check out Modernize Your Resume, which holds one of my submitted samples. It's one of two resumes that hold a special place in the legacy of my work as they helped two European clients land jobs in Canada in the same field and in a unique geographic region. The clients are friends and their lifelong dream was to do what they did: land jobs in Canada's far north!

But back to strategy. The strategic resume's content is carefully selected, which means that I consider what to include and what to exclude.

Let's say a client who works as an administrative assistant by day wanted to add a seasonal, part-time retail position to fund a special holiday plan. That resume would not speak to filing, emails, creating supportive documents, or using Excel spreadsheets, as these are not part of the retail vocabulary. Rather, I would zero in on transferable skills and knowledge - communication, establishing rapport and building relationships, ability to learn new software (for Point of Sale training), and personal interest in fashion, kitchenware, hardware, whatever the product of interst may be. I'd refer to training in conflict resolution, to proof of productivity in a fast-paced environment, to reliability and stamina perhaps.

Strategy is customized according to the goal. If a client wishes to step out of the ranks and into management, my work is to uncover proof of leadership, which has countless examples - critical thinking, taking calculated risks, making tough decisions, committee membership, etc. Each person has something for me to build on, and I have many ways of unearthing these, if the client him or herself struggles with self-awareness.

If you are looking to make a transition, a strategic resume is critical. Without one, you'll waste your time applying to job after job without making progress. If you need help with this, New Leaf Resumes would love to support your goal!