Dear Sarah – Was my resume trashed?

Hi Sarah,

What do hiring managers absolutely hate seeing on resumes/CVs? What would get you automatically disqualified?

Best,

DQ

Hi DQ,

There are many things that might disqualify you as a candidate. Recruiters and hiring managers default to saying ‘no’ due to their own time constraints; identifying ‘red flags’ becomes second nature when there’s an overwhelming candidate pool. I’ll touch on a few:

First, avoid dumb mistakes. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation challenged resumes are the worst offender. Why? It’s avoidable with basic proofreading (and do so more than once). Don’t expect your spellcheck to catch everything, like, ‘higher’ instead of ‘hire. (Yep, we’ve seen it.)

job-applications-spammy

Earlier this year, we were actively hiring to fill a position on the TalentWorks team. Of the 426 applicants for our last job, 25% (108 applicants) was basically spam, e.g. outsourcers, recruiters. Almost 10% (40 applicants) made dumb mistakes, e.g. misspellings, forgot to include their email!

Second, a resume without a clear indication of professional progression is another potential ‘red flag’. Hiring managers look for promotions within the same company,  title changes and a logical career flow. If your resume indicates a career plateau (or a career gone backwards, so-to-speak) make sure you add color to your cover letter. (Don’t forget the cover letter!)

Thirdly, if you’re a mid-level employee applying for a ‘lower position’ make sure your resume doesn’t indicate over-qualification, another potential ‘red flag’. Only indicate relevant work history and degrees. Focus on the exact skills and responsibilities highlighted in the job description, which will help distract from titles. 

Lastly, another (very) avoidable mistake that will immediately disqualify you from candidacy is a failure to follow directions. If the job posting asks you to include/attach certain documents, list a salary requirement or fill out their online resume form (I know, I know, it’s tedious)…just do it because there are plenty of people who won’t hesitate.

Good luck!

ask-sarah.png

ask-sarah-1

How do I build a resume if I don’t have a ton of professional experience?

Dear Sarah,

I’m a recent college grad applying to jobs. The thing is, I don’t have a lot of ‘pertinent’ experience for these positions and have only worked retail while in school. What is the best way to flesh out my resume?

Best,

Coming up short

Hi Short,

First off, good on you for holding down a job while at school. Regardless of the position, be it retail related or an internship, balancing both speaks volumes about your work ethic…which leads me to my point.

Many hiring managers expect that a recent college graduate has a limited work history for obvious reasons; it’s how you sell yourself that matters. Even people with minimal or no professional experience possess relevant skills (i.e.: strong work ethic, creativity, etc). Using your example, a retail job requires sales leadership, communication and people management; these are all pertinent responsibilities that could span any job. (PS- We’ve worked with jobseekers that have taken their retail experience, pursued positions in tech recruiting, and are now working at Salesforce ;))

Include a “Key Skills” section in your resume highlighting your abilities.

Doing so will increase your chances for an interview by almost 60%. Use exact wording from the job post when applicable, as well. Even smaller companies use resume parsers (or ‘ATS’) and this will help get you to the next step of the process.

Identify actual ‘entry-level’ positions.

We recently did a little experience and analyzed 95,363 Marketing Assistant jobs, 52% (49,245) were supposedly entry-level (based on what the employer said). Of those, our hypothetical job-searcher — a Marketing Assistant in LA, say — was only interested in 3% (1,286). Of those 1,286 supposedly entry-level Marketing Assistant and other jobs, we found 240 for actual entry-level Marketing Assistants.

job-search-pain-in-the-ass

It’s unfortunate that many supposedly entry level positions require experience and it certainly takes time to seek them out. With a bit of patience, you can identify the ~5% of jobs that actually match your needs. (We can help, as well!)

One last point: Our data suggests that recent college grads with <1 year of work experience who had an explicit ‘objective’ listed got 7% more interviews. It may seem statistically insignificant, but these little resume alterations add up!

Good luck!

ask-sarah.png

ask-sarah-1

Can I include something in my resume that isn’t 100% accurate?

Dear Sarah,

I’d like to apply to a position where I’m sorta familiar with the technology required to do the job. Would it be “okay” to say I’m well-versed and then learn on the job? I believe I’d otherwise be a great fit.

Best,

Fibber Mcgee

Hi FM,

Sure, you can speak to your fake skills in a resume to land a job…but, you really shouldn’t. Seriously

According to HireRight’s 2017 employment screening benchmark report, 85% of employers found their candidates had lied on their resume; this is a 25% jump from five years ago!

Though it may seem innocent, embellishing skills on a resume will inevitably put you in an awkward position where at the very least you’ve started a professional relationship with a lie. If the hiring manager finds out you puffed up your qualifications, they’re likely to fire you.

Some of the more crazy fibs we’ve seen have ranged from falsifying university degrees (and graduation dates) to completely stolen work histories where the resume and cover letter don’t match at all. In an age where we’re more connected than ever, it only takes a quick Google search on the part of the recruiter to learn about candidates if there’s any ambiguity. Also, it’s not uncommon for a hiring manager to contact people via LinkedIN that aren’t your listed references; there are no laws restricting them from doing this. In fact, 70% of employers do independent background checks on future hires such as snooping their social media accounts.

It’s been said on this blog numerous times that making your resume machine parsable (with the same exact words from the job description) is fundamental. We’ve also emphasized how important it is to apply to jobs even if you only have 60% of the job qualifications. Of equal import is understanding that lying your way to an interview is absolutely not worth the risk.

All the best!

ask-sarah.png

ask-sarah-1

How should I include ‘soft skills’ in my resume?

Dear Sarah,

What are “soft skills” and how would I go about representing them on my resume?

Best,

Big Softy

Hey there Softy,

Soft skills” are skills that can’t be quantified or measured such as “time management” or “problem solving”. Sure, a soft skill is less tangible than say a certification having learned Python, but it’s valuable and should be represented on a resume. The question is how to do so effectively.

Let’s take the soft skill ‘critical thinking’ as an example. Our data suggests that quantifying the impact that you made with numbers helps remove subjective bias, increasing your hireability by +23%. Demonstrating your critical thinking skill along with data-driven examples is a double-whammy:

  • “Audited departmental retention program and piloted new project that increased return purchase by 27% Q1”

Not only does this example demonstrate that you broke down a problem in order to better it understand it, but it shows the positive effect after having implemented your changes.

Many times in the job listing the hiring manager or recruiter will indicate specifically what soft skills are required. For instance, if the job listing requests that this candidate possesses ‘superior communication skills’, literally put ‘superior communication skills’ in the ‘Key Skills’ section of resume. Remember that the majority of companies today use resume parsers to widdle down large applicant pools. Using exact words in your resume will help you get to the next round. (Don’t forget that ‘Key Skills’ section, either! Including one automatically improves your chances for an interview by 59%!)

All the best!

ask-sarah.png

ask-sarah-1

Should I list my hobbies on a resume?

Dear Sarah,

I’m updating my resume and I was wondering when (if ever) it’s acceptable to list my hobbies.

Thanks,

Renaissance Man

Hey RM,

If you were to ask me this question even 7 years ago I’d be inclined to say ‘no’, and that doing so is superfluous and unprofessional. Times have changed. Today, companies especially small businesses and start-ups not only ask about relevant work experience but also want to know about what you do outside of work. Here are a couple tips for doing so gracefully:

Context is King

Hobbies need to be relevant. If you’re applying to a job at Salesforce, for example, think to yourself what hobbies might help you best fit into their culture. Salesforce in particular emphasizes giving back to the community, even offering their employees seven paid days of volunteer time off each year. If you’re passionate about working animal adoption events on the weekends it would absolutely benefit you to mention it.

Less is More

Don’t go overboard. If you’re going to mention hobbies, chose a couple. Listing 10, for instance, is overwhelming and starts to tread into irrelevancy. Also, resumes should never be longer than one page, so if you need to sacrifice precious real estate to include them, don’t do so at all.

Use Action words

We’ve found that using distinctive action words at the beginning of your sentences increases your hireability by 139.6%! Instead of just listing your hobbies in a clump (i.e.: Hiking, puzzles, traveling, volunteering) provide full sentences such as, ‘Organized and lead a nonprofit aimed at feeding the hungry’. This particular example displays leadership skills. We also found that incorporating 1-2 leadership-oriented words every 5 sentences provides a +50.9% boost over the competition.

action-verbs-resume-tip-1

So remember, if you’re applying to a startup or a company that offers a playful culture such as Google including a relevant hobby that demonstrates your leadership qualities can set you apart! Make sure you use an action word to do so and if it means a resume longer than a page, leave it out.

Hope that helped!

ask-sarah-1

ask-sarah.png

Unemployment is at a record low. Where’s my job?

Dear Sarah,

Apparently, unemployment is at 3.9%…but, I’m still looking for a job. How do I reconcile this and, you know, find one?

Thanks,

Feeling Alone Right Now

Hey FARN,

Jobless rates are at a five-decade low having just recently dipped from 4% (2/10 of a percentage point lower than it’s record low in The 60s). Significant!

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 6.02.01 PM
US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Understandably, this is frustrating to read if you’re an active job seeker. Job hunting sucks and there are a variety of factors that are stacked against you of which you have no control.

‘What are you not doing’, you ask?

Here are a few data-backed tips that may help:

The Job Search… just go for it!

If you meet more than 60% of the job qualifications, you should apply! Many people, in particular women, will avoid applying if they’re not 100% qualified. Apply to as many jobs as you can to make up for the fact that any single job you apply for online is nearly zero.

Your Resume

Not only should you have a simple machine-parsable resume format but you should include as many keywords as possible in your resume AND cover letter from the original job posting.

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 6.06.05 PM.png

Also, describe your job achievements with different action verbs. This one resume tip is is associated with +139.6% boost in getting more interviews. Literally, all you have to do is change the first word in your resume skill set to an action word and it increases your chances of an interview over competition by +140%! Also, if you describe the different things that you did at that company with different action verbs, you’ll have finished strong.

In Person

If you’ve made it to the interview stage of your job search journey you have a solid chance of getting the job. Be your charming self and relax knowing that you’ve made it this far.

Oh, and be sure to get the earliest appointment you can in the day when interviewing. Interviewers get hangry.

All the best!

 

ask-sarah-1

ask-sarah.png

How Do I Negotiate My Salary?

Sarah,

I’ll start this letter by highlighting the positive: I got a job! But every step in the job-hunting seems to create a new hurdle to clear. And this one is no different.

The time has come to go against all my natural instincts and talk about money. I’m as uncomfortable as the average bear about asking for the amount I think I’m worth, but I don’t want to talk myself out of money I would otherwise earn.

Do you have any tips for someone who has to dig in their heels and ask to be paid?

Sincerely,
Broke And Nervous

Hey BAN,

The first thing you should know is that most people are wary of fighting over money. After all, they’ve been hunting for a job for a while and they don’t want to scare anyone off by insisting on a salary higher than what they’re potential new bosses might be willing to pay.

That’s before we get to the unique disadvantage of salary negotiations at a new job: they know how much money they have to spend and you don’t. But negotiating is crucial for any employee. In fact, people who don’t negotiate can lose as much as $500,000 over the course of a career.

Here are a few tips that will help you when you find yourself having to pull honey from a stone:

Be Brave

We know it sucks. We know you’re nervous. But the absolute worst thing that anybody can do in a salary negotiation is say “no.” Don’t talk yourself down from the salary you want before the negotiation even starts because you’re worried about a bad reaction.

Be Ready

Do your research on the company and do an honest evaluation of yourself. Knowing what you can bring to the company and how much they typically pay will help you argue for the exact amount you believe yourself to be worth.

Stand Strong

Don’t let a “no” throw you off. Before you abandon a request entirely, try and see if you can convince them to see things your way using the facts you know about yourself and the position in question.

Give A Little

Sometimes you aren’t going to get exactly what you want. But if they aren’t able to pay the full salary you expected, seek out other perks and benefits that can add to the overall value of the job for you.

Keeping these in mind will help you avoid starting off your latest gig on a grumpy foot, knowing that your paycheck is going to be exactly what you need it to be.

Best of luck!

ask-sarah

Should I have more than one resume?

Dear Sarah,

I’m currently in the job market and have been applying to dozens of different positions a day. It just occurred to me that I might be shooting myself in the foot with just the one resume as I’m not getting any responses. Could this be why I’m still unemployed?

Thanks,

Debating Multiples

Hey DM,

Not knowing your situation fully I can’t attribute this as being The Reason why you’re still looking, but I would say your intuition is correct and here’s why:

Hiring managers are adept at spotting generic resumes. Trust me. It’s actually a big reason why you may be dismissed as a candidate. From the title of your attachment (i.e.: ‘JohnDoe_Marketing’) to the cadence of your cover letter, it’s much more effective and worth your time to tailor each resume to the desired job/position.

I know, I know. It’s easier to cast a wide net with the one resume, and sometimes that works. But, if your response rate is low or your not getting the ‘right’ responses for what you desire job-wise, please consider either adding more personalization or in some cases crafting multiple resumes.

If the jobs you’re applying to have distinctly different needs, it makes sense to have completely separate resumes. For example, if you’re a financial analyst for a non-profit but are looking to cross industries into marketing it would make sense to have two separate resumes where, for instance, you can focus on how your data driven background and brand knowledge precipitated your interest in business. Removing very specific, unadaptive skills and focusing on transferable skills is key.

Unless you’re making a drastic career change, having multiple resumes isn’t really necessary. It’s for this reason that I’d start with tailoring what you have to better suit the job.

Some quick personalization tips, I’d recommend:

  • Use keywords: You’re most likely competing with hundreds of other candidates. Hiring managers (especially in larger companies) are using quick scans and applicant tracking systems to quickly narrow down an applicant pool. Using words from the job description everywhere in your resume helps to ensure you’re still a contender.
  • Focus on the employer’s needs: Really look at the job description. If the role indicates “cross-functional collaboration” and you have the experience working in such an environment be sure to weave that into your resume. Use real examples, as well.
  •  Use numbers with your keywords: Adding numbers to your transferable achievements is extremely eye-catching. Were you responsible for “managing customer service”? Instead of using something ambiguous and vague, use it as an opportunity to tout your accomplishments: “Increased survey response rate by 15% with excellent customer service”. 

All the best!

ask-sarah-1

ask-sarah.png

How Can I Fix Gaps In My Resume?

Dear Sarah,

I was out of work for quite a while. Now that I’m looking to work again, I’m worried that the gap in my resume will be held against me. I WANT to work, but I have a feeling that my time out of work will keep me from working again, just making the gap in my employment even LONGER. It’s frustrating to think about and even harder to go through. So, I was wondering if you had any workarounds.

Thanks,

Catch-22

Hey Catch,

People take time away from work for many reasons. Maybe a family member got sick, maybe they were changing careers or maybe they were let go unexpectedly and found that it took time to land on their feet.

Unfortunately, resumes aren’t a place for this kind of nuance. The average hiring manager looks at your resume for literal seconds, scanning it to decide if you’re a worthy candidate among the sea of people looking for work (many of whom didn’t have to take time away).

In that initial scan, you’re just trying to catch the manager’s eye in a positive way. While gaps in a resume can be eye-catching, they aren’t the kind of attention you want. And if the resume gap is paired with a short term of employment, things get even dicier. We found that being let go from a position before 18 months drastically reduced hireability, having the same effect as losing ~5 years of experience from their resumes.

Swear it’s not all bad, though. Getting around a gap in employment isn’t impossible, it’s just tough. And there are a few tricks that you can use to trick a hiring manager into thinking about the times you were working as opposed to your absences.

Fill the gaps

This is the most obvious answer and it’s also the hardest to do. But you should definitely consider what you did in your time away and if you did any work that could possibly be related to the position for which you are applying. It won’t be pretty. A patch rarely is. But it’s better than a hole in the wall.

And even if you can’t find a way to fill the voids in your resume, consider having back-up side work for the future. If you find yourself jobless, see if you can easily slide into some part-time work for a cousin who wouldn’t mind picking up the phone and gushing over you. Any job is better than no job.

Play With Numbers

At TalentWorks, we like numbers. Like, a lot. Playing with different scenarios to see what numbers they produce is a big part of what we do and how we help others find work, so we can wholeheartedly endorse fooling around with the numbers on your resume.

If you were let go from a position at the beginning of the year and didn’t land another one until the fall, they were still technically within the same year. Just don’t include months on your resume and the gap is all but gone. Where your resume might read something like this:

Company A – March 2013 – January 2015

  • Etc.
  • Skills
  • And So On

Company B – August 2015 – Present

  • Wow
  • I’m Great
  • Hire Me

You should consider making it look like this:

Company A – 2013 – 2015

  • Did Great
  • What of it?
  • Uh-Huh

Company B – 2015 – Present

  • What gap?
  • I see no gap
  • One job, please

Don’t give them a reason to ask where you were and they won’t. After all, hiring managers are busy.

Increase Your Chances In Other Ways

There’s plenty of other little tricks you can incorporate to keep the person reviewing your resume from thinking about couch time. Start your resume with a narrative statement that puts what you can do for them front and center. Put your experience into hard numbers explaining how you affected the companies you worked for. Apply at the right time, using the appropriate keywords for the industry you’re working in and use leadership keywords to boost your profile.

Of course, if this is still seeming like a bit much, or you’re finding the hurdles insurmountable we have a whole suite of ways that we can help you land your next gig.

All the best!

ask-sarah-1

ask-sarah.png

How Long Should A Cover Letter Be?

Dear Sarah,

I’m applying for jobs and I have NO IDEA how long my cover letter should be.  I want to fully explain my skills to hiring managers but I also don’t want their eyes to glaze over. I want to ensure that it actually gets read and not skimmed (or worse, tossed). How long should the ideal cover letter be?

Possibly Rambling

 

Hey PR,

Cover letters are hard enough to begin with. They ask the applicant to do something unnatural: tell other people what they’re good at. Like nicknames, there are certain qualities that you can’t bestow upon yourself.

It’s impossible to know if you’re a hard worker, a quick thinker or a “team player.” Side note: under no circumstances should you call yourself a team player. But that’s exactly what the average HR professional needs to know about you to separate you from the other applicants swarming their inbox.

It’s an uncomfortable situation and people in dicey spots tend to babble, looking to span the gap by kicking their feet in the air over the canyon until they land on the other side. If you don’t believe it, I’ve gone three paragraphs and I haven’t even arrived at the question yet! Ipso facto and a QED.

The short answer on how long a cover letter should be is one page. The proof is in the name. It’s meant to be a single page that covers your resume. Back in the antediluvian days of shoe leather and working your way up from the mailroom, it was a way to make the application you handed to someone a little neater than an easily chucked or lost piece of paper. And both the practice and the appropriate length have carried over into our age of surrealist memes and reality TV presidents.

As anybody who has ever gone to college can tell you, a page can fit a widely divergent amount of words. And that’s before you make your periods one font size larger (not that we ever did that). To avoid confusion, let’s say that a cover letter should be four to five paragraphs long. Here’s a few tips about how to fill out that space:

  • Address the letter to a person if you’re sure of their identity. Otherwise, use “Dear Hiring Manager.” Avoid the phrase “To Whom It May Concern” at all costs.
  • The first paragraph should explain why you’re interested in the job and how your values align with the mission of the company.
  • The second and third paragraph should broach your work history and explain how it’s relevant to the job at hand. They should move from broadly relevant to the position to specific to the job offered.
  • The final paragraph should reiterate your excitement about the position and put the idea of talking to you in the near future into the hiring manager’s head

One final tip before I go: while no one likes writing cover letters, it’s best to avoid using a canned cover letter for every application. The average job opening sees hundreds of applicants and hiring managers are better than most at sniffing out someone who didn’t try. Create a basic cover letter template that hits on the key points about you and then customize it based on the opening and the qualifications spelled out in the listing.

Best of luck!

ask-sarah

ask-sarah