I called in to Paul Paris’ BlogTalkRadio show about 10 days ago; the topic – Extreme Candidate Makeover – was very noble and it entailed career coaches and resume writers working to assist job seekers who were momentarily halted in their job search and “volunteered” to be the subject of magical makeovers.
Since calling from a car is like taking a call while you’re in the bathroom and flushing during a particularly important moment, I pulled over – and listened as cases were presented and volunteers offered tried and true suggestions to the courageous guinea pigs such as “You need to show more energy” or ”You need to target your resume to your audience”. There were also important gems such as, “Sure you’re busy and involved in many groups and associations but these are all with people who are job seekers like you and in many instances in far worse emotional states of mind.” It was “What Color is Your Parachute” over and over – which isn’t a bad thing if it weren’t for the reality that everyone uses this approach – which in effect denudes the impact of the techniques (if every resume you read says the same thing – same words, same structure – then the differentiator closes to zero). So much for a magical makeover; this one was heavy on the smoke and mirrors.
In effect, the when-you-become-so-good-at-using-a-hammer-every-thing-begins-to-look-like-a-nail approach that is used by nearly all outplacement types, career counselors, resume writers, and newspaper columnists who write about this stuff, while in general isn’t such a bad thing to do, in reality it turns everyone into a shade of gray. Don’t you want some color? Not for your parachute but a color that represents your real essence, not something that is pre-packaged to be sold on a 2 AM infomercial?
When I finally had enough of this Mad Libs approach, I spoke of three critical elements of a job seeker’s strategy that are so infrequently used but when they are, position the person to potentially move to the head of the candidate class. So to all the resume writers, career counseling experts (that would be directed to those in outplacement), and job search gurus out there, what do you think of these?
Brick and Mortar research. I have to thank Hal for this one. Back in the early 1990’s, Hal was SVP of International Manufacturing for a global chemical manufacturer when he was pink slipped. He had a traditional outplacement counselor who was driving him insane with a pre-packaged job search approach – that wasn’t exciting any search consultants nor CEOs. Now Hal is 6’ 7” and when he was mad you knew it. One day, I interceded, he vented, and we took a road trip to the Fairfield University library for some old fashioned hands-to-the-paper research.
We pulled the past 6 months of chemical manufacturing related journals and systematically went through them – letters to the editor, special content columns, opinion pieces, analyst opinions, etc. and made five lists:
- Most written about skills (tactical)
- Most written about industry initiatives (strategic)
- People mentioned (movers and shakers, promotions)
- Innovative companies (love these lists)
- Analyst favored companies (“insider” information)
Armed with the first two, we made a list of the top ten in each area in light of how his hiring manager might view them; in his case, this view was from the eyes of a CEO. From these we reviewed the resume for the presence and “weight” (as in accomplishment order) of these. Ultimately, Hal’s resume was rewritten (included too were his “legacy” results – see below) to reflect the presence and importance of these skills and initiatives based upon the short and longer term needs of his hiring manager.
#3, People mentioned? Contacted to congratulate on their promotion, their article, etc. and to network, to the potential target lists – #4, Innovative and #5, analyst-favored – of companies that were rank ordered according to his personal and professional needs.
When he made the calls, he used a pitch like this – after telling them where and why he had their name: “It would very helpful if you would read and review my resume. Even more, when you receive calls from friends, companies, or recruiters looking for someone like me, it would be an incredible gesture if you would give them my name. Do you have any family or friends who might want to network with me? I’d be pleased as punch if I can help someone you know.”
If you think that this approach is time consuming, you’re darn right it is. This is why I encourage every happily employed person to keep a career journal/scrap book (I could care less whether it’s online or leather bound) where you maintain these lists. Personally, I call people when I read about them – or for instance, when they connect to me on Twitter – I like the instant connection and To wait until you’re worrying about where your next meal will come from is ludicrous. Sad to say but given the bonehead moves made by companies these days, you almost have to plan for a layoff.
Incidentally, why is it that when the business strategy fails and layoffs are “required”, it’s the working stiffs that get the pink slips and not the CEO who signed off on the strategy?
Legacy. I hate reading accomplishments because they are hopelessly static; they represent a point in time that is unaffected by the future. But a true accomplishment is one that stands the test of time. Which is where legacy comes in: Sure you implemented a “system” that reduced DSO by 20% over the first 8 months of the FY…but was it sustainable? Accomplishments are written like baseball statistics – “David Wright is 8 for 13 during this homestand” – but then when you pull back he’s hitting .275 and finished the year batting .285. [In a droll tone] Wow, that’s impressive. Accomplishments rarely pass the “so what?” test which further helps to push a boring resume to the trash can.
But what if you went back to your former companies and asked about the systems you implemented? Did they continue to be as effective after you left? You might have opened up 8 new accounts but did they generate revenue after you left? Hey, I’m impressed that you wrote 10,000 lines of code but were they used? You’re legacy – and the best way to bold face your accomplishments – is how well your work continued to positively impact your former employer after you left. If the accounting system you developed, implemented, and trained people to use continued to reduce DSO after you left, wouldn’t you want to let people know about it?
Once you have done your brick and mortar research and defined your legacy, you’ll have the content needed to demonstrate to a potential hiring manager that you are the solution to the short and longer term problems. Your resume might still require some wordsmithing but at least now it won’t look like everyone else’s propaganda.
Talk to vendors. Talk about low hanging fruit. How many of you interact with vendors at your job? How about creating a personal vendor network from these? Have target companies? Ask your vendor which of their reps has these targets as accounts. Want to relocate? Ask your rep for their counterpart there. Sales folks are often the first to know about possible job opportunities; they’re in tight with the people who sign for the products and services being sold. All the time they spent with the P&L people playing golf, eating steak, smoking cigars, and drinking scotch has led to some pretty strong relationships.
What’s in it for them? For one, you’re going to fill them in on the names of contacts you’ve made at companies that might be on their target list. Two, you will remember them when you’ve landed. Right?
These three are but a few techniques that don’t require a parachute. They aren’t quick fixes to your job search and if you don’t approach them will a good deal of zeal might actually make your head explode. But they do work and are essential for long term career survival.
I’m on a roll now so here are some…
Random resume thoughts. I see too many job seekers – non-creative types – enamored with fancy fonts, liberal use of italics, double lines, and shading of section headings. My philosophy is to eliminate all non-essential ink on the resume. Does anyone believe the ATS cares about your salmon colored paper or the fact that your name is in a 24 pt size while the rest of your resume is 12 pt? Is there any reason to waste ink by offering the reader a translation of the number you just wrote as in “four (4)”? Oh thank you, I didn’t know what “four” meant. Spelling out acronyms? Only to assuage the feelings of ignorant recruiters; if you’re hiring manager knows what they mean, leave them as acronyms. Numbers for numbers sake make you look dumb: Too many “bad” resume writers convince people to over seed their resumes with nonsensical “metrics”. Dumb – and they fail the “so what?” test. Also, when you use numbers such as 25%, 33% or 50% we know you’re making these numbers up (they’re called rectal-linear assumptions) – better to write 24.7%, 32.8% or 50.4% because they look real (hey, I’m not telling you how to lie but if you’re going to “guess” at least make it look good). References will be furnished upon request? Really? Why thank you; I was really concerned about you telling me, “I’m sorry but you can’t have my references.” The section, “Professional Experience” makes me want to look for “Amateur Experience”; keep it simply as “Experience” (remember – eliminate non-essential ink). One more thing…See my last name? Know what that means? No, I don’t read the resume from right to left but I do read it from back to front. If your second page is dull, minimally communicative, and appears as if you gave up after the first two inches, I’m thinking that you haven’t worked hard enough at putting your experience to paper. Go back to the suggestions above and try again…
Random job search thought. When someone accepts your LinkedIn invitation, be sure to download their business card into your contact database…then call them to personally thank them for doing so (getting their phone number shouldn’t be too difficult; if you need a primer, let me know and I’ll write one) – this way you’ll be able to check their contact info for accuracy. Same goes for when you’re accepted into a LinkedIn group or when someone follows you on Twitter – in both of these instances, you will shock people when you ring them because this is rarely done. Talk about being memorable…
My name is Matt Charney; I work for Monster, but these opinions are my own. Steve, great article here. I think despite the good intentions and well meaning, a lot of job search “expertise” that’s proliferating on the social nets (including BTR/podcasts in this category) might actually be detrimental to job seekers.
I think it’s “Buyer Beware” in terms of seekers wading into the still-murky waters of Outplacement 2.0, although there are some obvious best practices involved in the job search. You nailed these in your article.
The reality of social, however, means trying to appeal to the broadest audience possible (the approach of a lot of content out there); the topic, finding a job, is anything but.
The rest of the employment industry (or the capitalist system, for that matter) trends towards specialization. Why can’t advice for job seekers?
I’m so glad to see the new outlet to document your experience, advice and opinion. What you have done in this post is reverse engineer the job search to provide the candidate with advanced recruiting technique for their own means. When I work one-one-one with people I may or may not provide similar advice depending on the individuals level of comfort. Though they make a lot of strategic sense, unless job seekers are recruiters theses tactics will not only be foreign but often unsustainable. It’s like a person who can’t afford a car so they buy a model kit.. usually it ends up half put together in the basement.
P.S. All recruiters should be this good…
Great Post Steve, but then again i am not surprised either.
this post is making me rethink my job search. The ideas
you suggest are ones that are simple but elegant and not
even suggested/though of by many job search coaches…
Bob-want to bounce some more ideas off my bald head? All you have to do is call me…
Karla-so formal! But I have to disagree that the techniques I wrote about aren’t sustainable – anyone utilize these ideas even if it’s taking a highlighter to a single publication. Legacy? Everyone has a legacy from a previous position. Vendors? Here too. In all cases a job seeker may not be 100% engaged like some mystic job seeking warrior but even a little bit outside the lines is a differentiator.
Matt-I worked in OPC (outplacement counseling – everyone has an acronym) 1.0 but with friends at the big three (DBM, LHH, Right) my take is that they’re still viewing candidates as nails as they approach them with hammers…
What bothers me most is that the “community” continues to sell the dull parachute – even Monster – when we recruit for “color”. Think about the contrast of a speck of red on a gray tone picture…
Great input. I’ll definitely be adding your techniques and insights into my client arsenal. We’ll agree to disagree on resume design, but I will concur on your view of the fluff verbiage so prevalent on candidate resumes. What is a multi-tasking people person anyway?
There are basic tenants to a good search. There are advanced techniques. Covering them all and personalizing the message specific to two job seekers in 60 minutes is nearly impossible. Thank you for taking the time to expound on the points you shared during the broadcast. We’d only begun to scratch the surface. The education process is ongoing.
Steve – great job of cutting through the bullshit. I am big on using the word “bullshit” today. Great advice. Go write a job search book! I’d buy it.
Oh Dawn you are so much more diplomatic than me but I’ll tell you something about resume design: Far too many people who help others write resumes and coach peeps during their job searches believe that if you can’t dazzle them with facts, try to baffle them with bullshit. To me that means fancy fonts (unless a creative person and aesthetic creativity is part of the job), lines, emboldening “special” words so the reader notes them, ad nauseum, are gimics, thinly veiled attempts to get to that next step. Everyone knows these things work from time to time but in the long run they inculcate into the mind of the jobseeker that they are more skilled than the reality – and leads to disappointment as the search drags on.
Bottom line is to be smart and authentic…
MVD – Perhaps “100 Job Search Techniques That No One Writes About Because They’re Tangled Up in Parachute Cords”
Screw the parachute? A bit extreme perhaps, unless you are into free falling.
Re: your job search advice – excellent, spot on. Not really new ideas, but definitely under-used by the average job seeker, which is a shame because they work. Plain and simple.
Re: defining your legacy – really great idea, and again, not enough people do it. I am a big fan of resumes that tell a career story, and aren’t just a list of job functions and isolated accomplishments. I’m also a ruthless user of the “so what” test.
Re: resume format – If only all recruiters and hiring managers were as thorough as you – reading the second page, no less – then everybody could get away with a brown paper bag version of their resume, and content would be king.
But the reality is they aren’t. Resume fatigue kicks in pretty darn fast. I know, I’ve been on the other side of the table wading through a four inch stack of resumes. After the first twenty, they all start to look the same.
Minimize ink? By all means. Cut out the extra words, don’t use four when one will do, and don’t wordsmith the resume to death. But the selective use of italics, bolds, lines and even, gasp, color, can be useful. It breaks up the page into bite size pieces that are easier to digest. It’s a basic principle of good web design, and is equally applicable to resumes.
Re Outplacement Services – Often, outplacement service providers are the lesser brother of a recruitment firm whose primary goals are
1. to maintain good relationships with their client (who isn’t you, btw, it’s your former employer);
2. find excellent candidates for other openings they currently have on the go.
All too often, once they’ve picked over the cream of the crop, the remaining candidates are pushed out the door as quickly as possible. This means hastily written resumes, generic job search advice, capability assessments that read like horoscopes, and minimal coaching. Ugly truth, but there, I’ve said it.
Re Bottom line – the goal of career coaches and resume writers shouldn’t be to make our clients look better than they are, but to make them look as good as they are. It *is* defining their legacy; it *is* researching target industries and companies to find out what skills are in demand;
it *is* teaching the fundamentals of networking, which includes knowing who to call and having the courage to pick up the phone; and it *is* creating strategically written career marketing documents that are tailored to the information needs of their target audience, only 5%-10% of whom will be recruiters.
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Great post Steve- You bring up some great thoughts, and I will be re-evaluating my approach to Job searching too. Thank you for the kindness you have showed in reaching out to me. I look forward to many more insightful conversations with you. I am with Mike Vandervort, Write the Job search book, and I will buy it, But,, I want mine autographed. LOL.
Welcome back Brother and may I suggest a tagline for the blog, “No BS zone”.
Your Random Job Search Thought really nails something simple that people don’t recognize until they are in NEED – personally connecting to another human being for the sake of making a connection (yes actually having a conversation) will ALWAYS trump just clicking “accept”.
What’s the saying… “…It’s who you know…”
We really do our best to get to know candidates in our outplacement program – it takes a heck of a lot longer but the results are candidates putting their best foot forward, feeling good about it AND being connected rather than being nailed into a template. I don’t know how anyone that has been involved in recruiting and then works in outplacement doesn’t see the value in this differentiation.
Glad I found you here – you’ve got tons of great content!
You are brilliant, Steve! This is the real meat and potatos of our industry and why you are so successful. It reminds me of a search lesson you taught me back in 2005, when I was working for a big pharma, on a difficult position – only it was candidate search instead of job search. (You told me it was a trade secret…shhh. And I never told anyone!)
I do take one teeny-weeny, itsy bitsy, spider exception to your resume formatting – You are so right that ATS’s could care less what your resume looks like, and I might add that they also do a great job in “mangling” them to death. But, a hand delivered paper resume needs to have some kind of format with a few highlighted or italics details, otherwise the words just run together and you have to decide where one job ends and another begins. Basically, stick to the “keep it simple,” rule! It works.
Welcome back to the recruiting blogosphere, Steve. Feel free to tap into Recruiting Blogswap should your pen run a little dry.
I love the idea of tapping into vendors. A recently hired pharmaceutical sales rep told me years ago that when she wanted to get into pharma sales she was told to visit her pharmacy and doctor’s office and ask if she could look at the business cards left by the drug reps. The pharmacist and doctor obliged as they knew her and liked her enough to know that she’d raise the level of intelligence amongst those sales reps — she was really sharp. She then had contact info for people already in the industry, networked, and was hired.
You also are raising the level of intelligence amongst those of us who have been writing about issues related to recruiting and we welcome you back with open arms!
Steve, I really enjoyed this article. Upon you mentioning the show you called into, it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes, “Traditionalists often study what is taught, not what there is to create.”
To your point about avoiding legacy accomplishments, I agree with the fact that this is a shift in thinking . . .
My only concern is whether the recruiter/resume-intaker/appointment-setter on the other end of the funnel will have any clue what the word “sustainable” even means.
My experience says that I doubt it, that is unless we’re talking about an experienced Exec Recruiter worth his/her salt.
For me, if I received a resume speaking to accomplishments that persist forward, I’d know I’m dealing with someone who wants to make a real difference (i.e. “Good to Great” mention of Level-5 leadership: extreme humility and tremendous willpower) . . .
The truth is that I would likely update the resume to reflect the mindset (or lack of one) at the Hiring Manager or HR level.
Great conversation and super-long post. You didn’t come back half-stepping :)
Steve loved the blog. Thanks for the mention but what I loved even more than the blog is the fact that we have done only 2 shows so far on Extreme Candidate Makeovers to date and out of 4 candidates 1 has accepted a job 2 1/2 weeks after being on the show and listening to the advice given, 1 has had more calls and potential opportunities after the show another is working with a coach from the show and is doing much better than they were prior and last 1 is looking for a position that they are not qualified and even you couldn’t help them when they reached out to you.
So, while I agree that sometimes things seem a little bland and colorless we think things are heading in a positive direction. But hey speaking of colorless parachutes seems yours is a little gray at this point. Is that intentional to match you twit pic.?
Feel free to call in to any show always enjoy your opinions. Again, thanks for the mention and good luck with the blog!
Eric-Nothing like a good firm handshake, eh?
Brenda-Teensy weensy thought for you: I didn’t say write a resume devoid of bold, italics, etc. just keep non-essential ink to a minimum. Hey, I love when people give me resumes on parchment paper with gold leaf…
Josh-My thought is that when we as a field of “professionals” – recruiters, coaches, resume writers – begin to preach new concepts, we’re going to add lots of color again to people as individuals rather than as masses that can be more easily managed with a common template.
Paul-As you know by know, I can be a Drama King in that I like to push envelopes just to see the limits of the paper. One of the peeps on the call I was on became the target of a few of my calls; my purpose was to seed a few new ideas into their heads outside the resume; I’m pretty sure I succeeded in doing so.
Realistically though, I know that I spent an inordinate amount of the blog post focusing on the resume rather than on the real vehicle of the job search – the person’s psyche – and I suspect most do the same. At the core, if we can assist the jobseeker in becoming personally amped up to network, etc. then the resume becomes merely one brick on a very wide road to a job. So sometimes pushing the envelope on things such as a resume can help energy jump from paper to soul which is the real vehicle one needs for success.
Steve, I got that teeny weeny itsy bitsy thing from Nancy Polosi. I was making fun of her. Some great conversation here, though!
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my career coach is my father because he seems to know a lot my about career guidance ..
there are professional career coaches out there that charges a small fee `~,