Candidates are very concerned about the screening process they hit when they submit to posted openings, and how to get their résumé to the top of the pile. One critical aspect is keywords. My good friend Alex Freund wrote a simple, step-by-step approach to this in his blog - you can read it here:
Sometimes I hear people giving advice to put those keywords in a special section of the résumé, in white text so they don’t print. Resist!
Many internal and external recruiters and HR people have caught on to that, and immediately look for ‘hidden’ text that might have been put there simply to improve the hits on a screening program. Many screening programs highlight words that were otherwise hidden, so that the report points those out specially. In either case, you have likely just eliminated yourself from any further consideration, and damaged your professional reputation to boot. (Have you ever noticed those porn sites that use all sorts of unrelated keywords on their pages and postings to increase their search results? Do you want to be equated with that?)
Others try having a keyword section in their résumé, hoping to increase the scores in the screening routines. If that section is at the very end of the résumé, it may be OK, but at the same time it definitely detracts from the professional appearance of your résumé.
The best way is to carefully use those keywords in your various job-related bullets, and in your opening profile.
For the 3 questions your résumé MUST answer to grab a hiring manager’s attention, see this article:
And while you’re here, click on the “Résumé” menu item for a host of articles on how to make the most of your résumé …
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I was reading Abby Kohut’s excellent book, Absolutely Abby’s 101 Job Search Secrets, and came across this statement:
“Prepare a good reason for any gaps on your resume in addition to an explanation of what activities you were involved in that may have enhanced your career, including personal activities. Gaps are typically not the reason why candidates are rejected. It’s the inability to explain them sufficiently, and or a lack of confidence about them that is likely to be a concern for recruiters.”
I concur 100%.
Candidates are always worried about their flaws. This is natural. However, it’s generally not the flaws themselves that hold them back, it’s how they deal with them.
If you present with confidence, and have a good response to questions about your flaw, that will go a long way to minimizing the impact of that flaw.
For example, consider this most difficult situation - where a candidate was actually fired (unfairly) from their last job - this post walks through how to deal with that simply and with confidence:
The key in these cases is to not dwell on the flaw, and to focus on the future - what you can do, what you hope to do, what you have learned from the problem that will ensure it will never happen again - whatever answer best fits your situation. Make it simple, and then shift attention to what you can confidently do.
One other point: Any time there is a gap or other flaw in your background, you are going to be much easier to screen out when you are trying to come through the front door, competing head to head with every other candidate who knows about an opening. The busy HR screener or recruiter who is thumbing quickly through 100’s of résumés to find the handful to present to a hiring manager is that much more likely to take a pass on yours.
This cries out for even more emphasis on networking. When you talk to someone outside of the “is he / she qualified for this job” evaluation mode, you have a chance to get that person engaged. You can talk about your package. You can explain (briefly) the flaw in context. And you can get then thinking about why you would be a great candidate, so that you can come into being evaluated for a position with a supporter.
For more on how to make this networking happen, see these articles:
“I want …”
Your marketing message, your résumé, your cover letter, etc. should all be focused on what THE OTHER PERSON wants, not on what you want. Your goals will come out in the process of the discussion, but you want to be sure that the emphasis is on why I as the listener or reader should be excited about helping you achieve those goals.
One example is the “Objective Statement” many candidates use to open their résumés. An objective is all about you, not about what you can do for me. For a more complete discussion of why these are counterproductive on your résumé, see http://www.jhacareers.com/ObjectiveInResume.htm.
Here’s one example, from a real résumé I received:
To utilize acquired skills leading and supporting cutting edge system development and implementation efforts to further my management career within the Insurance/Financial Services Industry.
What message does that send to the hiring manager who reads it?
Including what you want somewhere in your message is OK, as long as you do it in a way that shows why you would be an outstanding candidate for it - then it’s making it interesting to the listener / reader. It’s equipping them to know how they could help you or refer you.
Just be sure to do it later in your message, after you’ve engaged them.
The best result comes if you only get to what you want in response to the other party’s follow-up question…
“I’m a results-oriented professional…”
or this variation:
“Proven results in…”
These are used all the time in résumés and cover letters, or even in oral 30 second pitches…and they do absolutely nothing for you.
Remember the adult voices on all the Charlie Brown specials, how they were purposely designed not to be understood? That’s basically what empty phrases like these sound like; all the other party reads or hears is “blah, blah, blah.”
The problem is that these are just statements that you produce results, instead of demonstrations. It’s easy to simply say you produce results or are results-oriented, and saying it doesn’t make it true, or make me any more likely to believe it.
Instead, give concrete examples of the results you produce. Let the readers and listeners conclude from your examples that you are ‘results-oriented’, instead of trying to hit them over the head with it.
For example, if I was trying to show someone that I was “results-oriented,” instead of:
“I have proven results in helping my clients with their job searches.”
This would be much more powerful:
“Kevin had been out of work for 2 years, and within a few months of working together was back at the job and pay he deserved. And a simple technique I showed him earned him an additional $10,000 of base salary.”
“Tom had 15 months of interviews without a single offer. Within 1 week of attending my Winning Interviews course, he was weighing 2 competitive job offers.”
So strike empty statements that say you have results from your repertoire, and instead show the proof of the results.
And have a Happy New Year!
In my travels, I get to hear and see a lot of elevator pitches, marketing messages, sales pieces, cover letters, résumés, engagement bios, etc. Most of these include phrases that range from meaningless to unhelpful to seriously detrimental to any attempt to market yourself or your practice.
Over the next several weeks, I’m going to publish my thoughts on many of these. I invite your comments, and suggestions as to other phrases that frustrate you. Drop me an email at John@JHACareers.com, or simply insert your phrase in a comment here, and I’ll promote it to a new topic.
OK, here’s the first:
“I have transferrable skills.”
Ask yourself what the potential hiring manager or networking contact is hearing.
“I hope someone will consider me for something that my skills might apply to.”
“I don’t have confidence to present myself directly for a role I might want, so I’ll simply say my skills are transferable.”
“I’m not willing to commit to any one thing.”
Not exactly awe-inspiring messages, are they?
Instead of saying this, come up with a description of the type of problem you can solve with those ‘transferrable skills’, as relevantly as you can make it to your ideal target area, and then talk about that!
OK, I’m probably dating myself here…remember those Wendy’s commercials in the 1980’s, when a little old lady ordered competititors burgers, only to exclaim “Where’s the beef?”
I’m reminded of those ads when I see resumes that say things like “results-oriented”, “highly motivated”, “outstanding communication skills”, and one of my favorites, “proven results in …”
These are empty phrases that only detract from your message. Your resume and the statements you make should demonstrate these things; if you have to specifically say them, then you aren’t doing your job in what you are presenting.
Any time I see “Proven results in …”, my reaction is that I’ll believe it when I see the proof. And if you are showing me the proof, then why do you need to tell me you have “proven results”?
There is also a downside to adjectives. Any time you have to tell me up front you have something, instead of just demonstrating it, you reduce your credibility. When you tell me, for example, about your “outstanding” achievement, you risk coming across as a braggart, and the reader is inclined to be skeptical. On the other hand, if you simply present an achievement that is truly outstanding, omiting the adjective, readers are led to conclude it really is outstanding, and then you get much more credit for it in their minds.
So next time you are sitting down to compose your powerful description of the package you have to offer, delete all of the empty phrases and replace them with demonstrations.
Instead of saying you are “results-oriented”, show me results and let me decide you are results-oriented.
In place of “proven results”, show the results themselves.
Instead of “outstanding communication skills”, give an example of those skills you are so proud of.
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“I’ve sent out what feels like hundreds of résumés with no calls. I know I’m qualified for all the jobs, but can’t understand why I’m not getting a buzz.”
This is an all-too-common complaint. If you aren’t getting responses from your résumé, either it is serving poorly as your sales brochure, or you are sending it out to the wrong openings. Ponder these questions:
Another way to help get to the bottom of this is to find someone you trust in HR (the higher the level the better) or recruiting, or even a career coach, and sit down 1-on-1 with them. Explain exactly what the job is that you are seeking, and ask whether they would get excited about your candidacy based on your résumé.
What are your thoughts?
I was interviewed for an article in amNewYork…
Candidates so often focus on their responsibilities, duties and experience in their résumé, cover letter, elevator pitch, etc.
This is an interest killer. Talking about things you were responsible for doesn’t say anything about the quality of your work or the results you can produce. The only reason I would hire you is because I believe you will produce results that I am interested in, so go directly to those.
So what if you were “responsible for managing a unit of 10 engineers”? What about that says you were any good at managing them? And it’s a very passive statement to boot!
“Responsible for” is so easily eliminated - instead of the above, just say “Managed a unit of 10 engineers” - now it’s an active statement. And then add a result, like “Managed a unit of 10 engineers that generated 3 new revenue-genering products within only 1 year.”
So, please, avoid my pet peeve of focusing your message on what you were responsible for, what duties you performed, and your years of experience in a certain area!
Here are some other simple tips for creating a powerful résumé:
I’ve several times responded to people posting requests like this:
“I need assistance in writing a successful résumé for a mid-senior management level position in the finance/operations area. I am looking for a finance or operations professional who can sit down and work with a mid-senior level manager to write a winning résumé.”
I would recommend you think of your needs beyond the résumé, as that is just the tip of the iceberg. A career search is a sales campaign, and your winning résumé is your sales brochure. You still need to be able to sell your product (yourself) in your cover letters, thank you letters, networking meetings, interviews, etc. If you are struggling to write a winning résumé, it suggests you need to also work on the stories that back up that résumé, on your 30 second elevator pitch, on your extended 2 minute pitch, on the various skills and techniques you should perfect to be an outstanding marketer of your ‘product.’
When I work with clients on their résumés, it’s a collaborative effort. I interview them on exactly what they accomplished, why it was important, what challenges they had to overcome, and what results they achieved. We explore what possible metrics can be included that will best reflect their contributions. I suggest wording that I believe reflects the achievements in the most compelling way, but expect my client to be the final arbiter of what should go into the résumé.
Whatever you decide, please consider working with someone who is not just a résumé writer, but offers the full range of services you might need, and who can bring the perspective of those other aspects into how the résumé is constructed.
Posted to a networking group to which I belong:
“I was recently consulting in finance for 8 months and got let go. My position was in marketing, but now I want to explore other opportunities either outside of finance or other marketing or possibly even sales outside of finance. I need a new challenge and stability at the same time. Does anyone have any suggestions? I posted my resumes to numerous different job posting website and sent it out to headhunters and also applied to a few jobs…I have also joined Linked in and have been networking. I don’t have the money to pay for career counseling or anything like that. Any ideas?”
Here’s one thought - post messages that clearly lay out your target and what you can accomplish for that target - a very results-oriented statement. For example, what did you accomplish in marketing? What are the types of “other opportunities either outsitde of…” that you want to explore?
Look at your resume and make sure it is very results-oriented and communicates “what’s in it for me?” to the hiring manager. This is the difference between, for example, a meaningless Objective statement at the top of a resume like
and a marketing headline like
“Financial analyst who identifies, develops, and implements innovative process improvements and cost controls that transform productivity levels.”
For more on results-oriented messages, see this article:
This is excerpted from a posting to a group to which I belong:
I have been searching for a few months, and have not found a really good management recruitment firm to work with. At the suggestion of a member of the group, I figured I would come to you folks and see if I might have some luck. Below is a quick synapses of my skills, experience and abilities. If any of you know of or have an opportunity that you feel I might be good for, please let me know.
Here was my response:
One of the reasons you may not be getting the attention your experience deserves is your message. You do a good job describing the experience and qualities you bring to the table, but you haven’t addressed the most important “attribute” you bring to a prospective employer - the results you can produce for them.
For example, look at this excerpt from the introduction letter you attached:
“last several years managing the IT Operations group for a large division of a well known international software company, while also performing as the CIO for an IT consulting firm. The prior several years were spent as a senior analyst/architect leading large and small teams of professionals on a wide variety of IT projects.”
This gives no indication whether you actually accomplished anything for either the division or the IT consulting firm, just that you managed one and performed as CIO for the other. And a jaded hiring manager is likely to assume that since you didn’t say more, you probably didn’t accomplish much; not to mention wondering if you really did a very good job for either since you were splitting your time and focus.
Then you talk about leading teams on IT projects. But were any of those projects delivered on time? Within budget? In a way that accomplished anything of consequence for those companies?
The ONLY reason someone hires you is because of the RESULTS they expect you will produce. Your elevator pitch, your 2 minute pitch, your resume, your cover letter, and everything you do needs to clearly communicate results you can produce.
Here’s a short article on this relative to your Elevator Pitch:
Oh, and with regard to seeking to work with recruiting firms, see this article:
Finally, let’s look at the last of the 3 questions your résumé MUST answer to get a hiring manager to sit up and take notice:
Once your résumé has passed the first 2 tests mentioned in my earlier postings, you’ve got my interest. Now you need to demonstrate that you can produce results that will be relevant to me. Don’t waste your time telling me a laundry list of the duties you’ve been assigned and responsibilities you’ve held. (And don’t get me started on bullets that say “Responsible for…”Just get to the point and tell me what you did!)
This is about results. Don’t bother will all the details of what you did, just get straight to the high level accomplishment, and the results you achieved for the company or client. No one pays you just to perform duties. They pay you because the work you are doing produces results. Get really clear on what those results were – whether you completed a difficult project on time, delivered a new program under budget, made a procedure more efficient, or turned around a dissatisfied customer so that they continued to purchase your products or services. And wherever possible, include metrics so that I have an idea of the impact. “Increased efficiency” is a result, but it’s much more meaningful as “reduced run time by 25%.”
I invite you to post your comments on what other critical questions YOU think your résumé must address to gain the reader’s attention.
Now let’s look at the 2nd of the 3 questions your résumé MUST answer to get a hiring manager to sit up and take notice:
Let’s face it - recruiters, HR professionals, and hiring managers are busy people. Typically they receive hundreds of résumés for any opening they might have. You can’t possibly expect them to take the time to read all of those in any detail. Unless your résumé grabs their attention in 10 seconds or less, it is very likely going into the ‘maybe I’ll look at it again later’ pile, and we all know how many of those actually get a second look!
Instead of opening up with an “Objective,” which is about you, start with a statement that’s relevant to a hiring manager. In fact, I’ve rarely seen an “Objective” that was particularly helpful. Focus instead on the package you bring to the table, and the problems that will enable you to solve.
And don’t waste time making meaningless statements like, “Excellent written and oral communication skills.” How is that going to set you apart from anyone else, particularly when so many people include a similar statement? Why should anyone believe you? Instead, give an example of how you have made persuasive presentations, written reports that secured crucial funding, etc.
Okay, let’s look at the 1st of the 3 questions your résumé MUST answer to get a hiring manager to sit up and take notice:
You might say, “Why should I worry about that? It’s just window dressing. The meat of the résumé is in what I say!”
Like it or not, appearance does matter. While your accomplishments, skills and qualities are clearly the most important parts of your package, how you present them is also important. Your résumé is the first work product of yours I’m seeing, and I am going to draw immediate conclusions about the potential quality of the work you would do for me by what I see.
This is your “sales brochure”, a piece over which I’m going to assume you’ve sweated bullets (or should have) to get it just right. If it’s put together sloppily, with indentations that don’t line up, spelling errors, or tiny margins or fonts so that it looks like it’s crammed onto the page and hard to read, etc., then what should I expect from your ‘normal’ work?
The appearance of your résumé should communicate that you are a professional who cares about the quality of the work you present!
Would this ”Objective” opening grab your attention and make you excited to read the rest of my résumé?
“Seeking a management level role that will let me use my acquired skills and talents in mentoring, leadership and work unit reorganization to help a forward-looking company improve its efficiency and enable me to energize my career.”
This opening commits several fundamental mistakes:
When writing your résumé, you need to put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. If I’m the hiring manager, to grab my attention you need to concentrate on answering these 3 questions:
For more on creating a powerful resume, visit: