Dear Sarah – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Hi Sarah,

I asked my boss for a raise but he said I didn’t deserve it so I sent him my resignation letter. Now he is asking me to stay with a higher salary.

Should I accept his offer or start my job search?

Best,

Lost and Confused

Hi LaC,

70-80% of people who accept counteroffers either leave or are let go within a year.

Why? Counteroffers are retention tools. It takes a great deal of time, energy and money to rehire, something that employers typically prefer to avoid all together. While accepting a counteroffer may seem workable in the short-term, you have already established yourself as untrustworthy. It’s difficult to overcome being viewed in this light and may affect the types of projects you’re given or future pay hikes.

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Start looking for a new job. In the future, should you need a raise, here is my advice: appeal to your employer’s priorities without being threatening (i.e.: presenting them with ultimatums or resignations).

There’s a lot to be said for the spirit of cooperation-

“I’ve been receiving a bunch of competing offers as of late. I’m not interested and I’m definitely not thinking about leaving, as I love my team and appreciate the direction this company is going. I understand the company can’t match these offers, but I was wondering if we can close the gap a bit. If not, of course I understand.”

The above example speaks to an understanding and awareness that any employer would appreciate. You’re not requesting a match, but a bump. Asking for a raise isn’t an art form; it can be as easy and straightforward as understanding your manager’s priorities and goals.

Pro-tip: If/When you’re actively interviewing for a new position and you’re inevitably asked “So why are you choosing to leave your current job”, it’s important to remember you are interviewing the company, as well. Let the company sell themselves a bit: “I’m very happy with my current job. I learned from [recruiter name/referral] of the interesting work you’re doing and I’m always open to new opportunities.”

Good luck!

(P.S. Connect with one of our talented mentors [former hiring managers] for interview practice and more advice regarding how to navigate the counteroffer!)

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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.)

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

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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!

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How Long Does The Average Job Search Take?

Sarah –

I’ve been hunting for a 2 months and I’m starting to get discouraged. It’s been hard to keep my enthusiasm level high while working on a seemingly unending stream of cover letters and resumes. I just need to know there’s a light at the end of this tunnel of black ink on obsessed-over .pdfs.

My question is: how long does the average job search take? And how close am I to that point?

Thanks,
Impatient Applicant.

 

Hey Impatient,

If anyone understands how frustrating the job search can be, it’s us. I mean, we cared so much about the ways that the job search sucks that we started  a whole company just to make it better.

On paper, the wait time doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We want the hunt to be quick and painless and the folks doing the hiring want talented candidates. You think this would make the hiring process quick, but unfortunately, people are still people and there are only so many hours for applying and reviewing in the day.

But don’t let it get you down. According to stats (our fave!) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the  average job search takes around 13 weeks. You’re almost there!

And if it doesn’t come in exactly that amount of time, know that it doesn’t mean anything is off about you or your work history. The tight labor market and low unemployment rate means that there are less jobs coming available. And the type of work your looking for can greatly effect the length of your job search.  We found that it could take mechanical engineers well over three months to find a spot and the average administrative assistant has to send over 200 job applications before being offered a job.

If you won’t believe me, take it from our CEO Kushal Chakrabarti:

There isn’t anything wrong with you. There are good, reasonable, scientific explanations for why it’s so hard to get a job right now. And even though people don’t talk about it, it’s hard for everyone.

Stay strong, folks.”

Hope this helps!

P.S. If you want to give your search a bit of gas, we can increase your chances of landing the job by 5x for just $10. Give our plans the once-over if you’re ready to let us do the hard work.

How should I explain my layoff in my job interview?

Dear Sarah,

I was laid off 5 months ago due to a company merger and it has been tough finding work. I’ve finally managed to snag an interview recently, but now I’m struggling to prepare how I’m going to frame my layoff. Any advice?

Thanks,

Laid Off and Out

Hey LOO,

First of all, congrats on the job interview!

Secondly, you’re not alone having had a tough time getting an interview. At Talent.Works we’ve actually found that the job hunt is tougher for those that have experienced layoffs/firings; having either on your resume is the equivalent of losing 5 years of work experience. (It’s especially hard if you were fired, quit, or laid off in the first 15 months of being there).

The good news is, you’re past the hard part! This company has already viewed your resume, liked what they saw, and decided to start the conversation. At this point, it’s all about communication:

Be Transparent  

Understand that there is nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to a layoff. There are a multitude of reasons that someone will get laid-off in their lifetime and it happens to everyone from star employees to 80% of an entire sales department, for example. (In other words, don’t take it personal as there are business decisions.)

Be honest and transparent about communicating your situation, for example, include the correct start and end dates to your jobs. In your case, explaining the circumstances surrounding your layoff (RE: merger) will also eliminate this as being a performance issue. Whatever the reason, keep it brief.

Explain your value add

Regardless of the amount time you spent at your job, hiring managers want to know how you contributed. Make sure you list out your accomplishments such as raising funds or saving money and tie it back to the bottom line. Even if you were there for 6 months, emphasize your skills and how you contributed to departmental goals.

Make available past work

If you haven’t already considered it, crafting a specialized blog, website, or portfolio showcasing your work is a great way to convince hiring managers you have the skills necessary for this position regardless of past circumstances. Case studies, writing/design samples, and lesson plans are all great examples of what a manager would find helpful in making their decision. Of course, don’t share anything of a proprietary nature.

Gather your references

Social proof! Colleagues willing to provide testimonials as to your work ethic and past performance is incredibly valuable, especially if it’s coming from the job where you experienced the layoff. It will offset potential concerns and they’ll be able to briefly speak to the situation, if asked. If they’re not able to provide a phone reference, send them a reference request via LinkedIN and make sure your hiring manager has access.

All the best!

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