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!


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.

Communicating Expertise and Brand

Once you've held a position long enough, you'll develop a level of expertise.  Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert, or in his words a "phenom," or someone who delivers beyond typical expertise.

(After many years in a position, if you haven't developed expertise, I'd venture to say that you're in the wrong job)

This leads me to share a story of a recent client who wrote:

Hi Stephanie,

I had some feedback on my LinkedIn summary today that was less than complementary (sic). I was told:

The definition of an out-of-the-box creative, (I would reword this, as it sounds cocky)

Do you think there is another way of putting this?


Now, before I tell you how I responded and how this question played out, you need to know that this client is beyond an expert: he is a phenom. One of those people who is in the right job, using innate talents augmented by educational credentials and hands-on experience who over-exceeds expectations.

His accomplishments are in the remarkable if not legendary category. I wish I could give you details, but because of client confidentiality I cannot. Truly, he is outstanding in his field. And yet ...

He needs help landing a job. I'd say that the main reason he needs help is because he wasn't ready to "own" his awesomeness! He was hiding behind mediocrity to a degree, bringing his work down to a more common denominator.

Here's my response:

My question is - how do you feel about this? If you can stand behind it and feel that that is you, you likely don't need to change it.

I certainly don't mind changing, just want to make sure that you need to change it. One person's opinion is just that, one opinion!

Here are some alternatives;

- "Out of the box" solutions are my forte
- Known for arriving at solutions that escape others,
- Having developed a solid reputation for innovation

Do any of these resonate with you?

Our conversation went on a bit, and I presented the idea that when a company who needs a strong innovator, a company that is truly ready for change, reads his summary, that company will appreciate the language and reach out to him.

On reflection, he said that he is ready to embrace his value, and he doesn't feel that the orginal version overstates his abilities.

Disclaimer: To protect my client's privacy, I changed the actual phrase used in his LinkedIn. The phrase above is not as elegant as the one used in his summary, but it serves the purpose!

Strategies for a C-suite resume

Recently I seem to have been working with more "C" level clients than usual - CEO, COO, CIO, CTO, and so on. Although the photo shows a male professional, these recent clients have been of the female persuasion - patterns seem to take turns appearing in my line of work! (For the record, I love working with entry level clients, trades, teachers, those in manufacturing, industry, retail - helping a variety of Canadians makes my work rewarding.)

A recent client, for example, had had her resume professionally written four years ago. Things change so quickly these days that I cannot even recall what specific standards were like four years ago! But if this resume was "state of the art," standards have changed.

My inclination is to say that her resume didn't meet C-suite standards even then. Its appearance is kind of plain, super-plain, and rather than a reverse chronological format, it is a functional format. There is no attempt to "brand" this candidate, nor is the profile written in a fluid, compelling manner. The sentences don't evolve; they are jarring. The message doesn't flow; it hiccups along.

Even so, some of the content is excellent as it incorporates quantified results, such as increasing revenues by 200% over a 4-year time span, pulling a key client's satisfaction rating from a dismal 17th place to an amazing 2nd place, and so on.The client is effective at her work!

I love this type of challenge - how do I take a fairly decent resume and transform it to a document worthy of an accomplished executive? A portfolio-level presentation?

I start with the layout and format. The overly small name is now proudly front and centre, with three credential acronyms added, immediately conveying the candidate's qualifications, proactively addressing the recruiter's next question.

Her profile has been given a title and the title supported with a branding statement, which communicates how she excels in driving growth, efficiency, and profitability (it's almost always about "the money"; after all, it's business!). The short, 4-line profile succinctly states years of experience, and budget, headcount environment, and accountability details.

Page one, in fact, is entirely devoted to branding this client with sections that are titled Snapshot of Results, C-Suite Proficiencies, and Testimonials. Her experience begins on page two, and yes, it's a three page resume, quite acceptable for this level of applicant.

(FYI: Some of the resume "rules" we read about on the internet do not apply to Canadian job hunters! Our recruiters do not have pervasive, strong opinions on one or two page resumes, nor do they exclude the unemployed from interviews, to their credit.)

I can't wait to share this resume with the client (it's not yet edited twice, which is my norm). I am absolutely certain that this resume will gain attention from the best employers, land more interviews, AND, lead to better offers and/or negotiation power. No doubt at all. I know this because I've seen it happen over and over with previous clients.

Even if you're not a C-Suite, and if, like me, you have no aspiration to join that group, your resume will still benefit from the same level of attention - crisp layout, appropriate format, strong content, and maybe even an atypical section that helps to differentiate you. The only resume rules, as I've written previously, are truth and authenticity.

Mark your calendars

Yesterday I devoted some time to listening to Career Professionals of Canada's incredibly generous presentations, recorded in celebration of this Canadian leader's 10th anniversary to coincide with Canadian Career Week 2014.

As one of the presenters, I got a sneak preview. And I was blown away by how comprehensive, generous, and useful the many presentations are!

From career management to job hunting to the job market scene, there are six broad categories in all with several presentations within each that develop the different aspects of the topic.

The three recordings in which I participated include:

Different People, Different Challenges - Stephanie Clark: Dealing with Barriers in the Resume

Generational Career Intelligence - Stephanie Clark: How New Grads Can Stand Out

The Resume that You Need Today - Stephanie Clark: How to Showcase Transferable Skills

These recordings will be available - free of charge - for the week of November 3rd.

Mark your calendars now! This link will provide you with more information:

"See" you there!

The Value of Self-Study

If there's one thing that's certain, today's job hunter must keep learning. Sometimes diplomas and certificates are necessary to get into a field, but to get ahead in one's career self-study is also useful and effective. Having knowledge is great, but not having the capacity to interpret, invent, and apply is more and more critical.

Somehow I discovered The Great Courses. What a phenomenal resource! I immediately ordered two writing courses (Building Great Sentences and Writing Creative NonFiction) - those were for me of course! And I ordered one on photography for a daughter with a creative photographer's spirit, and one on South America for a daughter with wanderlust! I have plans for ordering more - one for my husband and I to share, on how to age well, for example! :-)

Smart career management might include titles like "Games People Play," "Argumentation - The Study of Effective Reasoning," and "Art of Critical Decision Making." Listed in your resume's "Education and Professional Development" section, these would only add credibility and likely spark a conversation.

If you have a few courses and a few books that you've read, which have influenced your working style, and workplace contributions and productivity, you could devote an entire page to explaining - briefly - what the courses/books were about and specifically how these impacted your work. What a great leave-behind or networking document that would be. I know it works as I have created just such a page for a client, with great job hunting success!

Wonderful News to Share!



I am proud to announce that just today I was informed that my submission to Career Thought Leaders, in application for the title of Master Resume Writer, was successful!

After almost seven years in full-time service, providing global clients with an ever-expanding assortment of career management documents, it feels awesome to be so recognized!

Here is an excerpt from the Career Thought Leaders website that defines the MRW:

The MRW is the world’s most elite resume writing credential, clearly signifying that an individual has mastered the art and science of resume writing – strategic approach, content development, formatting and design, English language and grammar, and other key elements of resume development. There are stringent requirements for both writing talent and years of experience to qualify for the MRW.

I am grateful for this recognition, and know that it was my own hard work, an innate talent for writing, as well as a passion for helping people build careers that earned me the right to call myself a Master Resume Writer.

No time to rest on my laurels, I will continue to pursue relevant training, and serve clients with an ever-increasing level of expertise. Onward!

- living my motto "Everyone deserves meaningful work," Stephanie

Number One Interview Concern

Each Saturday my husband and I pick up a Globe and Mail while out on our daily walk. I so enjoy its weekend edition. I love the Focus section for its in-depth review of topics, timely or esoteric, and I enjoy the Style section, even though for me it's over the top! (I am not a fashionista nor do I wear makeup!)

Of course I always read the Business section and particularly Leah Eichler's career article.

Last Saturday's article was titled "Why chemistry will help you land your next job." This aspect of interviewing is under-appreciated and it's one that all my interview coaching clients learn about. But even I hadn't realized how critical this piece really is!

According to a recent study, the interview process resembles how we choose friends or romantic partners; apparently recruiters prefer candidates who share similar pursuits and personal style. Thus a "shared culture often outweigh(s) any productivity concerns about a new hire." 

What!? A new hire's "fit" matters more than productivity! Wow, that's critical.

So what is the job hunter to do? Pretend to be a cross-country skier just because that's the boss's passion? Allude to loving opera when he really loves good old R&R? Let the interviewer think she watches Housewives of (whatever) just because there's a weekly lottery pool based on who is most outrageous in that week's episode?

Not at all. As I tell my interview coaching clients: Be Yourself! The article states it so well:

"Whether it's on a date or in a job interview, there's no point in presenting a fake version of yourself only to disappoint in the future." (quote from Sarah Vermunt, a business and career coach based in Toronto)

I agree wholeheartedly! Just be yourself. Pretense has a way of catching up with you, and may cast doubt on your honesty. Not worth it. Either they like you or not; let the chips fall where they may.

But do share your passion for the work, your enthusiasm for contributing to team efforts, and your dedication to ongoing learning through self-study, webinars, teleseminars, subscriptions etc. And do leave time for "chit-chat," so that you come across as a real live human being, not just a productive employee!

If you like what you read, feel free to forward this to a friend! Thanks!

The Executive Cover Letter

Over the years I have written thousands of cover letters (and intro letters, thank you notes, email blurbs, etc!). Although most are succinct one-pagers at less than 300 words, I do also compose comprehensive 2-page cover letters. I can hear the gasps now! "Hasn't she heard that recruiters have an allergy to reading long letters? And that some don't even bother?"

Of course I've read these kinds of admonishments (I read voraciously to stay on top of potential changes and real changes, and to reliably distinguish between these!).

Here are a few situations when a 2-pager makes sense:

- an executive level letter of interest or introduction. You could also call this a resu-letter as it is sent without a job posting, just as a "howdy-do" to introduce your skills, interests, and value to an employer of choice.

- an application for a "C" level posting. At this level, a 2-pager is almost expected. It all depends on the candidate, on the posted requirements, and the field. In some fields, a few snappy results-focused statements will suffice; in others, snappy and quick doesn't fit the role, the industy, or the person.

- an application to select government postings. These are "read" by a computer first, parsed by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that care not whether the cover letter is one page or more (and whether the resume is three pages or seven!). Government postings often define what must be - MUST BE - in the cover letter. Defy this requirement and you are sure to be rejected by the pre-programmed ATSystem!

Rules such as the one page cover letter may be broken when reason dictates that it's a good idea.

Working to YOUR career's success! - Stephanie

 p.s. did you know that snail-mailed info is more effective? If you are introducing yourself when there is no job posting, don't email, snail-mail!