Conducting Resume Research

I am writing this blog not in my office, as per usual, but in the dining room where the room is flooded by sunshine. As a bit of a sun worshipper - not for the tan but for the vitamin D and mood-boost - it's a lovely way to switch up the routine.

And for whatever reason, as I considered a few blog options, the idea of what needs to be gathered to compose a solid resume came to mind and I loved it!

I recall a time, long before I launched my business 10 years ago, sitting in front of a computer and not knowing what I should write for my resume! Without training, I was lost. Today knowledge is at your fingertips - too much and sometimes confusing, admittedly.

Hopefully some of your own research on how to write a good resume has included info on how to prep for this otherwise daunting task. Here's my process.

Before I compose a client's resume, I will gather all or some of the following:

  • existing resume or resumes for a skeleton outline of the client's work history
  • cover letters the client has written as these often contain nuggets worth including in the resume and also provide me with insight into the client's writing style, which I will emulate to some degree
  • performance reviews, if available, as some are excellent sources of major projects, ongoing training, the skills important to the job, and the skills the client excels in
  • a client questionnaire that asks the client to flesh out details such as projects, assignments, committees, recognition, problems solved, contributions made
  • an intake interview that follows my review of all of the above, asks many more questions, and takes an hour to an hour and a half - and sometimes ends with a wee bit more homework for the client!

A recent client exceeded a long-held record of 70 pages of information gathered; along with the four pages her intake interview generated at my end (I type with fury!), she shared more than 80 pages. I am certainly glad that most clients send only 10 to 20 pages, otherwise I would be spending a lot more time preparing, and I already spend from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the client's role, number of positions held, and whether s/he is a new grad or executive.

This level of info is critical for me. Depending on the client - entry level or executive - I won't take on a project in which the client is unwilling to commit to providing me with info. After all, I cannot conjure up specific-to-the-client details out of thin air. I won't lie and it's best not to assume more than the most basic details that are common to certain positions.

(An entry level client's resume doesn't require the pre-interview questionnaire, but an exec-level definitely does as positions at that level are distinct in accountability and expectations.)

It's important that you gather info before writing your own resume. Sure, it's your career and you figure the info is in your head, but it's amazing how much we forget, how a bit of pressure seems to erase ideas and details, and how lack of detail diminishes a resume's strength and influence.

Try this test. Remove your identifying info - name, address, email, etc. If the content now could be used by almost anyone applying for the position, or by almost anyone with a similar background, your resume will not distinguish you from your competition. You've got to include singular information, details that speak to YOUR achievements and impact, language that defines your personality, motivation, methodology, strengths, and talents. Without that level of content your resume will continue its sad journey through many applicant tracking systems, generating not a ripple of interest.

For those who see value in engaging the services of a trained professional, do consider New Leaf Resumes.

P.S. I am also active on Facebook. I'd be thrilled if you wandered over, checked it out, and "liked"my page!


Rescuing the "ho-hum" resume

Sometimes I am at a loss how to convey to a person, someone who is used to seeing the same dull, non-strategic, ho-hum resume content in all resumes, that a resume can be an interesting read, a dynamic piece of writing, an influential document.

This quote inspired today's blog. I can't begin to count the number of times a potential client has claimed "I'd write my own resume but I just don't have the time." Not the writing skill, not the knowledge, not the ability to compose meaningful and strategic content, but time alone.

The quote speaks volumes. Writing is difficult. I find it challenging to source just the right verb with which to begin a bullet; to identify which of a client's many skills should be showcased in an accomplishment that may have required multiple skills to execute; to portray the client, weaving words and phrases to express his personality, motivations, and abilities with the utmost integrity to his authentic being. I obsess over the details.

And all the above points must, MUST, address the needs of the positions to which the client will be applying. (Consider that sometimes zealous clients provide me with 70 pages of documentation. Job postings, performance reviews, career portfolio ... some people know how to truly manage a career!)

Yes, it's a daunting task, but, it's one that I, as a writer, relish! I have no skills in organizing complex and detailed events and I'll not be training to be a project manager or event planner. But I do have skills in organizing content and developing strategic messaging.

Examples are perhaps the best way to illustrate, so here's a before and after that captures the difference.

BEFORE (taken from an actual client's resume):

- Provided purchasing services Corporate Stakeholders from all Business groups. Tactical procurement for global expansions, with a focus for R&D laboratories, & Corporate Sites.

- Contract negotiations and renewals. Peer Mentor on boarding new Buyers into the department.

AFTER (from client's new resume):

- Provided procurement support to global business groups, collaborating with stakeholders on their CAPEX and OPEX budgets, annual contract renewals, and contract negotiations.

- Supported rapid corporate expansion by onboarding and cross-training four buyers, and by maintaining consistently productive internal client service levels through positive, business-building relationships.

- Selected to corporate assignments, for example, a 2-year project supporting transition to new business software; the corporate team that onboarded acquisitions; to lead teams opening global satellite locations; and to represent employer at global business conference.

The "before" builds no story, has no momentum, and confuses rather than illuminates (not to mention errors in capitalization and grammar). The "after" speaks to the reader as it holds phrases or key words from the job posting. It also offers insight into how this person executes the purchasing position's duties - throught collaborations and relationship building. The "after" also speaks to the prospective employer's "buying motivators," that is, what the employer needs from a new hire: productivity, effectiveness, emotional maturity.

Yes, writing takes a great deal of training. Strategy takes skill to develop. And together, the resume and other self-marketing documents take time and skill to develop an effecive premise, an interesting narrative, and an influential message.


Resume Before and After Sample

Sometimes I work with clients whose "before" resume isn't too bad. The resume appears to have good content, and aside from either an overly-long list of bullets or overly dense text in paragraphs, which a bit of formatting can address, I wonder how it might be improved.

I even have a moment of panic, now and then, thinking that if really this is as good as it gets, I may have to refund the client's money. After all, some people don't work hard and don't perform at work, and my resumes are based on truth and fact - no embellishments of any kind.

But that hasn't happened yet! After having my client complete a questionnaire, and after interviewing my client for additional facts - juicy info that defines that client's value - the "after" version is markedly different and much more influential.

Here's an example. A recent client's "before" resume listed the following information:

  • confident, effective communicator, creative problem-solver
  • provide excellence in customer service and negotiation
  • delegate tasks and allocate timelines for production
  • organize large scale projects from conception to final build
  • drafted and presented 3 multi-million dollar proposals, closing each contract

There was even a tag-line, which read "Exceeding Expectations in Every Interaction."

Here are a few "after" bullets:

  • Tripled expected project profit with outstanding preparation in sales proposal, hard contract negotiations, and relentless management of build.
  • Presented and closed three $multi-million proposals.
  • Doubled expected gross profits with well-planned proposals, precise budgeting, and detailed contract bid management.
  • Saved a $2M client with proactive negotiations and by taking over as Project Manager.

The new tagline, which to be effective must give you a clear indication of the position the client is qualified to hold, and which must be related to the bottom line, reads as follows:

"9-year, award-winning track record of managing construction projects and consistently maximizing revenues through reputation-building quality, management of expectations and trades, and skilful negotiations."

The client's resume content was rich with examples of how this client had put skills to use, to the benefit of the employer's bottom line. Proving you provide a return on investment, i.e. that your hire won't cost, but will benefit, is the single factor that will lead to more job offers, guaranteed.

And the single factor that will lead to more interviews? Today it's key words and phrases that meet the demands of the Applicant Tracking Systems.

-dedicated to composing masterful resumes that land interviews and job offers, Stephanie