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"I'm going to level with you, Stan . . . your resume is a lemon."
What a Resume Can and Can't Do for You
Larry woke up full of anticipation. Today, he was to begin his career as Chief Financial Officer for Acme Software Systems, a position ideally suited to his background and skills. In the past four months, Larry had pursued his job search full time, networking with at least 50 people, collaborating with headhunters, answering ads in the National Business Employment Weekly and his local newspaper, mounting a targeted direct mail campaign and following up on potential leads. To stay balanced, he also scheduled time to relax, play ball with his daughter, and work off that extra 10 pounds he'd been wanting to shed for the past two years.
He's both enthusiastic and a little nervous about moving into a challenging position where he will be working with a team that fits him like a glove. While the past few months have had their ups and downs, Larry knows his job search approach produces results. Should he ever need to use it again, he's confident his winning formula will find him a great match.
Meanwhile, across town, Joe looks at the clock and notices it's already 9: 30 A. M. He sighs, stares at the ceiling, and tries to convince himself to get out of bed and face another day unemployed. Af ter six months of effort, Joe doesn't feel any closer to f inding work than he did when he began looking for a job. In fact, when he was laid off, he was a lot more confident about moving easily into another midmanagement position than he is today. With his seemingly marketable experience, excellent reviews, sterling references, and dynamite resume that took days to perfect, he can't help wondering, "Where did I go wrong?"
Joe's problems stem from a combination of erroneous assumptions and macho attitudes. He's made a series of mistakes that have sabotaged his opportunities and heightened his depression. Unless he changes his approach, he'll spend many more mornings under the covers pondering his fate.
Let's take a look at Joe's job search versus Larry's. The differences should speak for themselves.
To Whom It May Concern
After he was laid off, Joe worked to perfect his resume like a man possessed. He carefully constructed a chronological listing of his job responsibilities to impress even the fussiest employer. He consulted his thesaurus, fine-tuning every phrase for maximum impact. After days of exhaustive labor, he pronounced his masterpiece complete and ready to catapult him into any position a contact, executive search firm, ad or direct mail campaign might offer. He honestly believed this resume was one of his life's proudest achievements.
Having produced the perfect resume and an equally perfect cover letter, Joe spent several hundred dollars on typesetting and laser printing to make hundreds of perfect copies at a local graphics firm.
While Joe put a lot of effort into his resume, he confined his networking effort to just a few friends and relatives. He was embarrassed about being laid off, so he didn't want to broadcast his unfortunate situation to people who respected him, or put his friends in an awkward position by asking for their help.
Instead he decided to make extensive use of executive search firms. In fact, he was really enthusiastic about other people's marketing him to potential corporations. To get names of qualified headhunters, he looked up Employment Recruiters and Executive Search Consultants in the yellow pages and sent all but the specialized ones his all-purpose resume and cover letter addressed: To Whom It May Concern. Then he waited for them to call.
Like many job seekers, Joe spent most of his job search pouring over want ads in his local newspaper, National Business Employment Weekly, and major dailies in other cities where he was willing to relocate. He responded to every ad remotely similar to his experience, assuming that at least a few would bear fruit.
Joe targeted companies in his industry as well. He went to the library and found a list of the top 250 software firms in the United States, and sent the human resources department at each company an identical resume and cover letter with a note asking them to call him if they wanted more information.
Joe, confident in the knowledge he had "papered the world" with his resume, decreased his job search efforts and eagerly anticipated an avalanche of calls and letters from prospective employers. Much to his surprise and frustration, 400 resumes generated six responses and one job offer he didn't want.
Joe started his job search believing his experience would be marketable in any number of places. In a burst of frenzied activity, he sent hundreds of unsolicited resumes to search firms and companies, answered many want ads, and did a little networking with friends. By the second month, when he began receiving rejection letters, he experienced the sinking feeling his job search would be more difficult than expected. In fact, the task began to loom larger and larger until Joe felt crushed by its weight and scope. Was he really as good as he thought? Would he ever find another job? Negative expectations overwhelmed him, crowding out all the positive feelings he had about himself, and usurping the time and effort he should have been spending looking for a job.
Every time he picked up the want ads and saw nothing worthwhile; every time he read about another layoff; and every time receipt of his resume went unacknowledged, he sank deeper into despair. Yet he did nothing to seek support from his family, friends and community because he was embarrassed and afraid.
Why didn't Joe talk to his minister, a career counselor or a therapist? Pride. Strong men don't need help. They solve their own problems.
When he started his job search, the first thing Larry did was list contacts who might be able to help him find a new position. Then he systematically met with each of them to explore a new career.
Recognizing that 80 to 90 percent of jobs are filled through networking, he talked extensively with potential employers. When he uncovered an opportunity, he constructed a resume to parallel the position's requirements and sent it along with a "Thank you for the appointment" note. As you might imagine, Larry eventually developed quite a stack of resume variations. But the thought and effort he put into them paid major dividends by showing potential employers how his background uniquely fit their particular needs.
While Larry knew the highest percentage of job seekers found positions through networking, he recognized that executive search firms, ads, and targeted resume campaigns sometimes yield results as well. Consequently, he researched headhunters and selected several who specialized in his field. Before he left his position at Snyder Systems, he talked to each of them to find out what they prefer in a resume and how they match candidates to search assignments. Then, focusing on his most relevant experience, he followed each firm's favored format and sent a copy of his revised resume.
Perusing his local paper and National Business Employment Weekly ads, he selected a few that required his particular combination of skills and experience. He carefully tailored his resume to parallel what each ad requested by rearranging the priority of his accomplishments, altering jargonal phrases, highlighting key personality traits, and even changing his objective to match the position, title and company name. He became a dedicated stickler for detail. Friends in human resources positions had forewarned him, "Resumes are screening tools. Even one 'off the mark' element can be the kiss of death."
Instead of beginning his cover letter with the usual, "I am sending my resume in response to your ad for a CFO," he did some library research that enabled him to focus his first paragraph on why the company interested him. Having attracted the attention of the human resources department with this unique approach, Larry summarized his most relevant experiences in his second paragraph. At the end of the letter, he promised a follow-up call to answer any immediate questions and discuss the mutual benefit of scheduling an initial interview. He addressed the letter to a specific person, even if it required a little sleuthing to discover the name, while also sending a copy to the CEO when possible.
To launch his very selective direct mail campaign, Larry spent several days at the library researching companies to determine his best corporate candidates. He looked for those whose philosophy, growth, organization, and products or services intrigued him. As he read annual reports and trade journal articles, he searched for specific needs or niches he might uniquely fill. After having tailored his cover letters and resumes, he sent them to the targeted CEOs most likely to hire him, then followed up on the phone to find out if a get-acquainted interview would be worthwhile.
By carefully pursuing chosen markets through networking, search firms, ads and direct mail, Larry maximized his chances for generating serious responses. By the time his job search ended, he had produced 20 inquiries, 10 initial interviews, 6 second interviews and 4 job offers, all of which were good matches for his background and interests.
Larry knew his job search would be a roller coaster of "king of the hill" highs and "crawl under a snake with a high hat on" lows. Consequently, he built a variety of activities into his days to keep himself on an even keel.
While he pursued a new job five days a week, he didn't obsess about it. As a recovering workaholic, he didn't want to backslide by concentrating on his job search every waking hour. He knew actively seeking a balance of work, fun and learning was a healthy approach whether he was employed or not. And he was hoping if he practiced his new lifestyle during his job search, he would be more likely to maintain it when he returned to work.
A Resume Doesn't a Job Search Make
Larry's and Joe's stories illustrate that a perfect resume doesn't produce a satisfying career. Unless your job search strategy combines a savvy resume with lots of networking, targeted marketing, persistent follow-up and psychological support, you, too, may find yourself depressed, unemployed and wondering what went wrong.
A Resume Quiz
The saga of Larry and Joe has alluded to a number of activities and attitudes involving resumes. Now that you have read it, here's a quiz to test your resume acumen. Don't worry if you don't answer all the questions correctly. If you were an expert, you would be writing this book, not reading it (the correct answers follow the quiz):
- Any well-planned job search begins with a great resume. (True or False?)
- When putting together a cover letter and resume for an ad, you: A. Tailor both the letter and the resume. B. Send a generic letter and resume. C. Tailor the cover letter, not the resume.
- Armed with a good resume, a headhunter has all he needs to market you to a variety of potential employers. (True or False?)
- A resume is your most important job search tool. (True or False?)
- Potential employers would rather hire an employed person than someone without a job. (True or False?)
- The research you conduct to formulate your resume is also an important key to preparing for an employment interview. (True or False?)
- Employers consider your resume follow-up a waste of their time. (True or False?)
- You can expect to get a reply from everyone to whom you send a resume. (True or False?)
- There is one resume format most employers prefer. (True or False?)
- The most effective job search activity is: A. Answering ads. B. Networking with follow-up. C. Using a search firm. D. Mounting a direct mail campaign.
- The best way to begin a cover letter is with a unique reason for your interest in the company and available position. (True or False?)
- Looking for a job is much harder than filling an opening, because the employer is always in the driver's seat. (True or False?)
- In real estate, the three keys to success are location, location, and location. In writing resumes, it's tailoring, tailoring, tailoring. (True or False?)
- Use the name of the person and company to whom you are sending your resume in cover letters, even if it takes some sleuthing to discover it. (True or False?)
- Resumes that will be scanned into a computer should be written differently from those that will be reviewed by human eyes only. (True or False?)
- With the perfect resume, you will be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, catch bullets in your teeth, and land a position that pays $500K, plus stock options. (True or False?)
- Despite conventional wisdom, you do not want to start your job search with a major resume effort. To do this puts the cart before the horse. A resume is really a kind of ad or brochure. Before developing an ad
campaign, an advertising agency carefully targets its market and defines its customers' needs and priorities. Only after identifying these factors, does the copywriter describe features and benefits most useful to the targeted market. In your case, you are the product. You
bear the responsibility of selling your most important experiences and attributes to potential employers on a person-to-person basis. If
you write your resume before you have found out what they need, you are missing an opportunity to present your best case.
- Tailor both the resume and cover letter. How many times have you heard people say they customize their cover letter, but send the same resume to everyone? Usually they are very proud of themselves for doing this, as many job seekers send one form letter and resume to everyone. Unfortunately, when a resume is competing with 200 to 400 others, it has to stand out from the crowd. Recruiters don't have time to separate the "diamonds from the dirt" in the 10 to 60 seconds they spend skimming for relevant experience. It is the candidate's responsibility to sort the valuable stuff from the extraneous, using only 20-carat material to land an interview.
- Executive search firms need a good resume from you, but they also
must have a search assignment that matches your background before they can be of service. Headhunters do not market you. They find the best candidates for client job openings. Their clients are companies that pay their fee or retainer. Don't expect a headhunter to make you her number one marketing project. Conducting your search campaign isn't her job, it's yours.
- A resume is an important tool, but it can't get you a job. Only people can do that. If you want your job search to be successful, concentrate on people and prepare your resume to suit their needs.
- It used to be true that firms preferred to hire employed people because only the deadwood were let go from a company. However, in the past 10 years, corporate mergers and acquisitions, hostile takeovers, and right-sizings have put many highly qualif ied professionals on the street through no fault of their own. Prospective employers are aware of this trend. If you maintain your self-confidence and tell a potential employer what you can do for him, he will consider another firm's loss his gain.
- Resume search is important for the job interview, too. Most of us are more comfortable moving into unfamiliar territory if we have a map of the terrain. When you have researched an individual company to tailor your resume, you know a great deal about its products-- services, mission, philosophy, revenues, and so forth. This information can be very valuable in preparing good questions and answers for initial and subsequent interviews. Employers like candidates who are savvy enough to do some homework before their first meeting. In customizing your resume, you are pursuing two objectives simultaneously: You are creating a powerful written sales tool, and you are developing a verbal testament about why a specific employer should hire you. If you think of your resume-writing process as the best preparation for a rigorous interview session, you will be more likely to give it the time it deserves.
- Employers don't consider your resume follow-up a waste of their time. While there will always be potential employers who are firm believers in the "don't call us, we'll call you" approach, most recruiters admire
candidates who make an ef fort to follow up on their resumes. Follow-up shows both initiative and persistence, traits good managers love, especially in individuals who are applying for positions with major responsibilities. Don't worry about seeming too enthusiastic. Company representatives enjoy being pursued. It massages their egos and reminds them their company is worth courting.
- Replying to all resumes would be the polite thing to do, but often it simply isn't practical. If a company receives 200 responses for an ad, or experiences a continual deluge of unsolicited resumes, it would
spend an inordinate amount of time sending acknowledgments. If you really want a receipt for your resume, send a stamped, self-addressed postcard asking for one. If you make it easy, the human resources department will comply.
- There is no universally preferred format. Many job seekers spend days perfecting their resumes, agonizing over whether to use a chronological format or a functional one. This question may be akin
to figuring how many angels will fit on the head of a pin. There is no one perfect resume to suit every employer's needs. But there is a perfect resume for a specific opportunity. If you are going to focus on perfection, do it on an individual, rather than a global basis.
- Networking with follow-up is the most effective. The key to a successful job search is contacts. Most people can sell themselves better in person than on paper. While the tailored resumes you send to search
firms, ads and direct mail targets are important and deserve your attention, they will never possess the power of a good relationship.
- Just about every cover letter sent in response to an ad begins in the
following style, "To Whom It May Concern: This letter is in response to your ad in the National Business Employment Weekly for . . ." Rather uninspiring, isn't it? Is it any wonder the few individuals who research a company, then use the information to formulate their cover letter's f irst paragraph, have a tremendous advantage over their complacent competitors? In the resume derby, everything you do to distinguish
yourself moves you another length ahead of the pack.
- Have you ever tried to hire a new employee? While looking for a job
is tough, finding a good employee is no picnic either. Picture yourself as the CEO of a small to midsize company looking for a new CFO. After carefully constructing your ad, you wade through scores of resumes, schedule and conduct several rounds of interviews, screen the princes from the frogs, and hope when you choose the best candidate, he will say yes. For a busy executive, this can be a long, expensive, and nerve-racking process with no guarantee of a positive result.
- Tailor, tailor, tailor.
- People and companies like to see their names in print, especially if it took some effort to find them. Chapters 2 and 5 include tips to help you find the real addressee even when the person is trying to be incognito.
- Both true and false.If your resume will be read by a resume scanning
program for key words, it's absolutely imperative that those key words be included in your text. Consequently, tailoring your resume to an ad, networking recommendation or job description is probably even more important than if a person were doing the initial screening. In this respect people-scanned and computer-scanned resumes are very similar.
However, because some computer scanners have difficulty reading vertical lines, italics and unusual type fonts, techniques you
might use to grab the attention of recruiters can be misinterpreted by a computer. If your resume is likely to be scanned, keep the format
simple and use only boldface type and bullets to highlight major points.
- Unfortunately, false, superexec. However, a great resume can get you invited to the penthouse, where your masterful interviewing techniques will lead to a great opportunity complete with a substantial raise and a covered parking spot with your name on it.