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Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Resume

Probably the first thing that you’ll turn to when you lose your job, or decide it’s time to find a new one, is your old resume. I had one too, and I had floated it – somewhat halfheartedly – for a few years before my “position was eliminated”. It clearly wasn’t very effective, because I didn’t get much response from it.

Then, when I was laid off, my former employer hired an “outplacement firm” (who my coach worked for) to, among other things, help me prepare my resume.  Here’s how it went, and how it turned out.  First I’m going to cover the advice that they gave me, and then how I modified that, and what my results were.

First, format isn’t terribly important.  A header at the top should cover contact information.  You should include as much contact info as possible, including URLs to your pages on sites like LinkedIn.

Next should be a brief profile.  This is where you summarize yourself: what you are, what you’ve accomplished, and your background.  It should start out with a statement like “A <your field> professional with a proven record of delivering <solutions>.”  You should include an adjective or two, like “expert”, etc. – but don’t overdo it.  Following this intro sentence, you should cover at a very high level your background – e.g. “direct marketing”, “focus groups”, “Linux”, “Security”, etc.  Cover as much as you can in one sentence, but don’t drill down yet.  Finally end with a sort of sell sentence… I don’t know exactly how to describe this, so I’ll break one of my rules (which I haven’t mentioned yet) and post mine here.

A detail oriented technician, problem solver, and technical coach with a reputation for taking on the most difficult and challenging projects and completing them on time and on design.

There, does that help?  Good.  Actually, this is the part of my resume that changed very little over the years.  What comes next changed quite a bit.  My professional experience.

At this point, I was told to start listing job data – employers, along with a summary of what business the employer was in.  Dates should be given as “Month Year to Month Year”… if employers want more detail, they’ll ask.  Next, list your latest title or job role, and the dates you held that title or role.  I was told that as you describe your role, you should start with a paragraph that summarizes what you did, and how it affected the company or department.  You can also list any particular emphasis your role had, and any products or processes you used to accomplish your role.  For instance, (not from my resume):

Designed distributed application layer for websites involving JavaScript running on Solaris 10 with an emphasis on application speed, ease of use, and cross-site connectivity.

After this brief summary, you start to list some bullet points.  This is where you list what you accomplished – important projects you completed, high profile accomplishments, etc.  You want to start with an accomplishment word, like “Improved” or “Reduced”.  Then, explain what you improved or reduced.  Then say “by”, and explain how you did it.  Explain it from early idea stages through to implementation or delivery.  It should be two or three sentences (each bullet point), and you should have usually 3-5 bullet points per role.

You then repeat this for each role you held within the same company, and then repeat for each company you worked for.

Now, how that worked out for me.  Well, pretty good… but not perfect.  Here’s where the talk becomes a bit IT-specific.  I don’t know about other careers, but in IT, it’s all about technology – what products have you mastered? Which ones have you learned?  Which ones have you briefly touched?  In reality, for IT professionals, right after your Profile but before you work experience, you need to list – pretty much in bullet points – what technology you know, and how much you know it.  And you must be honest.  Do not try to fake your way into a job you don’t understand.  It won’t end well.

Finally, at the end, summarize your education – colleges you attended, degrees you received. Also, list any certifications.

The last steps involve checking your resume for accuracy and errors, with multiple eyes.  Typos are death.  You must catch them all.  Spell check and grammar check everything.  Then have someone else spell and grammar check it.  Then read it, out loud, to someone else and take any corrections they suggest.  Clean it all up, spell check it one last time, and then you’re ready.

In my experience, the resume my outplacement firm helped me build was described as polished and very professional.  At the same time, before I added the bullet list of technologies I know, it was also passed over by a lot of recruiters and HR people.  These folks have hundreds or thousands of applicants for each position, and they quickly scan a lot of resumes.  If yours doesn’t have the keywords they’re looking for, even if you’re perfect for the job, they’ll skip it.  It’s also important to update the “Profile” section with keywords from the job req – NOT FAKED, of course – so if a job req says “Looking for a marketing professional with 10 years of experience in focus groups”, the first line of your resume for that employer should read “A marketing professional with 10 years of experience in focus groups.”  And, it has to be true.  If it’s not true, don’t lie – print the truth, and hope for the best. And, as you probably guessed, you need to change that line for each employer with whom you apply.

In reality, this resume worked great for me – and in fact, after I added the technology bullet points at the top, I had no end of calls from recruiters and HR.  Then, it was just a matter of weeding out the best jobs, pursuing those, getting past phone / tech screens and interviews, and negotiating a final offer.  I’ll get into more details about those in future posts here.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:54 pm  

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