Why Your Resume is Killing Your Job Search

Conventional wisdom says to get a job, you need a resume. Conventional wisdom says employers will hire you based on the skills and experience you possess. Conventional wisdom says your resume is a snapshot of your skills and experience. So…the sum of this wisdom would lead you to believe that if you write out all your experience on a piece of paper, name it “resume” and send it out, you’ll get a job. Right? WRONG!

Most applicants don’t get past the first screening. Why? Their resume suffers from one of Lonny’s “Deadly Resume Sins.”

Blandness
Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored…… That’s how I feel when I read most resumes. Send me your “generic” resume and I start looking out the window at the kids playing hacky sack. Yay, the universal diversion! EVERY time you reply to a job posting you need to alter your resume to fully meet the requirements of that position. Met someone at a networking event? Find out what they do or what they want to do with your resume and tailor it again. I heard someone advising a student the other day saying that’s what the cover letter is for. POPPYCOCK!!! No one reads cover letters. Ok, maybe some people do. But like a collection of rural Louisiana liberals, collectively they could fill a phone booth. The 70s are over, no one buys an album to get one or two hits. Every song you put out needs to stand on its own merit, every resume needs to target a specific opportunity.

Objective Statement
I need you to sit down and take a deep breath. Ready? I don’t give a rat’s a$$ what you want to do when you grow up. I want to find someone to fill this job who is going to be a rock star and eventually let me retire to a small tropical island with Herve Villechaize and a dozen employees of the month from Hooters. I’m going to read maybe the top half-ish of your resume. You better hit me hard in that first few lines with what you bring to the table and how that relates to my business. When you read a good book, the author hits you from the first paragraph in a way that keeps you reading. Makes you want to continue. An Objective Statement does nothing to hook me because in the end, your only objective is to get a job. If you wanted to do something else, you’d be starting the company yourself.

Irrelevance
If I post a job or I tell you I’m looking for someone with ____ skills, don’t send me a resume that shows you don’t meet those qualifications. If I say I need someone with sales experience then you need to have sales experience. If I say I need someone who can grow new business then you need to show what you can do in business development. If I say I need someone with a Bachelor’s degree, then you need to have a Bachelor’s degree. People don’t go to the grocery store saying, I’m making spaghetti so I need pasta, tomato sauce and meat then feel like they have what they need by picking up the ingredients for apple pie. A recent survey conducted in Central Florida listed “unqualified applicants” as one of the major impediments to hiring in this area. Recruiters and employers feel they are spending more time looking through more resumes that are less qualified. Annoying an employer is no way to build a relationship. Just because you WANT to do that job, doesn’t mean you CAN.

Focusing on the Past
Someone tell me what other marketing media focuses on the past? Beer commercials tell you about all the fun dudes and hot chicks you’ll meet. Insurance commercials tell you how much money you’ll save. Chew this gum and you’ll have white teeth; take this pill and your sweetie will think you’re Captain Morgan straddling a cannon shouting, “Yo ho ho!!” Want to be a lady’s man? Just color your hair like Emmitt Smith….oh, and be an all pro Running Back with big muscles and Super Bowl rings and a padded checking account. That helps too. Your resume is your primary piece of marketing collateral. It needs to create an image of the kind of future the employer can expect from you, not just what you did in the past. You raised $1000 for charity. Good. Your mother is proud. What will that do for me? Don’t assume I know. I’m already consumed with other stuff. Create a vision of the future for me.

Coming Before You
I’ll give you that when you apply via a job posting, the first thing the employer sees about you is your resume. But, if that’s your ONLY approach, then you’re in trouble. Find a reason to put on pants. Get out and mingle. Talk to people. NETWORK!!! I was talking to a student the other day who is getting his MBA at night because he’s an engineer with 12 years of experience and has discovered he doesn’t want to be an engineer anymore. He wants to be an accountant. So he asks me how he finds accounting jobs. How did you decide to change careers, I ask. A test at work that the HR department did. Really? Did you talk to any of the accountants at work, maybe speak to a manager, maybe talk to the HR person about your test results and see if there are lateral opportunities. You, personally, are a better piece of media than a piece of paper. You can answer questions. You can ask questions. You can smile and be charming. You can show interest. You can be humble and thankful. Get out there and talk to people and let your resume FOLLOW you for a change.

Errors (Real or Perceived)
A real error would be employment dates that don’t make sense. A perceived one would be leaving your email as BigBootyDADDY@yahoo.com. It’s still your email, but it sucks. Change it. Other errors include mis-spelled words, formatting errors like unaligned borders or mis-matched bullets, fonts that don’t match, or simply making statements that the employer may know to be false. This one is simple, don’t stretch the facts and check your work. Finally, anything you do that makes it hard for a recruiter to read your resume is an error. Make sure sections like Experience and Education are clearly identified and easy to read as are dates of employment, contact info, and key qualifications. This is your first assignment, the first sample of the quality of your work. Mess it up and how can I trust you to do anything else right?

Dumb Stuff
This is a very broad one. Dumb stuff is basically anything else that I haven’t already listed that the recruiter / employer doesn’t care about and isn’t pertinent to the position being filled. How much space did you dedicate to a job that has nothing to do with the position I’m trying to fill? Are you listing school projects that, though interesting, aren’t tied back to what makes you qualified for the position to be filled? For example, this is more of a personal pet peeve, but I’d rather you pick ONE phone number where I can reach you and stick to it. Don’t give me your cell number, home number, and mom’s number. Unless your name is Stifler… It can even include using distracting fonts or colored paper. One time I was on a search committee for an Outdoor Recreation Coordinator and an applicant put their resume on paper with dolphins and undersea life all over it. BLECH!!! Then there was the hot pink resume I got with a big flower at the top. DOUBLE BLECH!!!

Despite some rumblings here and there, resumes aren’t going away anytime soon. A few larger companies are taking the resume upload option off their career sites and making all applicants fill out an application and some executive search firms are using candidate profiles rather than sending out resumes of their clients, but for the most part, there is still a need for job seekers to have a synopsis of themselves ready for distribution. Be smart about what you say and don’t let your resume kill off your opportunities!

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S*** My Students Say…

April 2, 2012

“I’m cool with anything, minus a lot of things…”

I think I’m going to rename this blog after a short-lived William Shatner sitcom, “S*** My Students Say.” I spend the week doing my job, but in the back of my mind I’m always looking for topics or news of interest to pass along in this space. Facebook passwords from job applicants, Orlando’s employment scene, health care reform and company health benefits, entry-level job opportunities, networking; all of these have crossed my mind as meaningful topics, but only half of them made it to post. Why? I work with MBA students at the University of Central Florida helping them find job and project opportunities. So I talk to people for a living. And people say some really thought-provoking s***!

This week I was talking to a young lady about her impending job search. My first question when I’m helping a student form a career plan is always, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a fairly simple, straightforward question; one that parents have been asking their kids since before kindergarten. But it’s probably the hardest question for students to answer. This week we were talking and when the discussion got to careers her answer was that she was pretty much open to anything, with certain restrictions. In other words, she THINKS she’s willing to look at any job. But in reality, her, “I didn’t go to college for X years to do that job” filter is kicking in. She’s not alone. It’s actually easier to talk about the jobs students DON’T want to do. I’ve seen “the look” a lot the last few months.

I don’t fault new grads for thinking they should expect a good job after graduation. Their professors tell them all about their exciting and exotic consulting assignments (getting PAID to just give your opinion, oh yea!! I’m full of opinions). Their parents, so proud of their academic accomplishments, have told them how smart they are. Society and the media tell them that having a degree, especially a graduate degree, is their ticket to stability in this highly unstable time. Movies and TV are replete with young hipsters sipping latte on worn leather sofas in a trendy little café. Looks like a great life to me!

So what I’m going to do this week is throw out a few “inconvenient” truths for my students to ponder…

Inconvenient Truth #1: Friends, Sex and the City, CSI…ARE ALL CRAP!
The lifestyle presented in these television shows is out of the reach for most new grads. It’s TV. It’s fake. That’s why you watch it. No one has budgets to hit at work or bills to pay at home. Their jobs are swarthy and exotic. They wear snazzy clothes, get their nails done and eat at cute little bistros. Want a bit of truth? According to a recent survey 85% of recent college graduates will move back home with their parents. Unemployment of recent grads is decreasing slowly, but student debt and stagnant (or commission-based) wages in entry-level jobs make that “made-for-TV” lifestyle impossible for most grads. Pop culture is NOT a realistic indicator of twenty-something living. I’d also like to add that most adults over 40 are full of crap as well. It’s been almost 20 years since we looked for an entry level job with no job experience. Unless we’re in the business of hiring people, our opinions are simply a guess at best.

Inconvenient Truth #2: No one will hire you to manage something you haven’t already done
Poll graduate business students and their top job choices will include consultant, financial analyst, investment banker, and baron of private equity. I recently polled a sample of HR professionals and their overwhelming entry-level job recommendation was administrative support and “overhead.” Positions generally categorized as overhead include IT support, HR administration, and customer service rep. Sales was a strong second. Large companies that have “pipeline” management programs (including most large retailers) will have the new hire work and show success in a variety of support positions including sales before moving on to more responsible positions.

Inconvenient Truth #3: People who make lots of money, don’t draw a salary
If you have an aggressive salary in mind (and almost every student who has come to see me does) then you can’t think in terms of a salary. New business grads who earn “good” money right out of school tend to work in jobs that have performance-based pay structures. That means they have to work really hard and they have to perform really well. They don’t sit in a cube (or trendy, brick-walled office like Truth#1) and put in a normal work week. They don’t talk about shoes, clothes, basketball, or weekend vacas with co-workers. They don’t put numbers in a spreadsheet and analyze data for someone else to review. They hustle. If you don’t want to sell something, then going back to Truth #2, you will probably enter the workforce in an administrative or overhead support position. Nothing wrong with that, the positions exist for a reason. Learn your job, hone your craft, and position yourself for promotions. But don’t expect to get rich immediately.

Inconvenient Truth #4: Words that end in “n’t” will severely limit your opportunities
I watch BBC’s “Top Gear.” Love the show. In one episode Richard Hammond was in Asia and needed to pick out something to eat. “Don’t like…” was what he kept saying over and over again. Consequently, he went quite hungry during the show. When employers hear grads say, “I won’t…” or “I can’t…” or I don’t…” they quickly lose interest in the grad and go looking for one who will. As they say on Top Gear, a new grad “top tip” would be to ask the Recruiter about their first job. Talk to the hiring manager about how they started in business. You’ll probably hear more stories about jobs that were quite humble and not very exotic.

Convenient Truth: You’ll probably lose this job in the next few years
Remember your high school sweetheart? Is he or she sitting next to you? Today the chances are much higher that if you do have a seat mate, you’re sitting next to someone you met later in life. Why? Options. Personal growth. Expanded communication channels. Individual fulfillment. Blah, blah, blah…. Same thing with careers. How many people do you know who’ve had the same job since graduation? How many have had more than one job, either at their employer’s request or their own? Your first job is not what you’ll do forever. Rather, it builds skills, traits, and accomplishments that will not only populate your resume but make you a better, more effective job candidate. If you narrowly define that “perfect” first job you may not ever find any first job in the same way your weird old spinster aunt or creepy bachelor uncle never found a mate.

Why is this last one a “convenient” truth? Because this truth is the one that should make new grads happy. Your first job will set you up for success in the future. You’ll build professional skills, gain experiences, and begin to shape a personal brand that can lead to that sexy / exotic / super cool job that you wanted out of the gate. The job might be with the company that hired you or it might be with a different company. It could be in the city you started in, or a different city (even one with trendy cafes, worn leather sofas, and a decent latte!) The possibilities are there, if you are open to anything!