How to Write an Effective Resume

Philosophy: Employers will spend 5 seconds scanning a resume to see if a candidate is qualified for a position. They’ll check location, tenure, and specific qualifications (skills, licenses, degrees, etc.). If you pass the five second test, so to speak, then they will start reading. In order to “stop” them from scanning, and to get them to read, you need to begin the resume with “Selected Accomplishments,” 5-6 bullet points highlighting verifiable achievements that tell the employer that you can do the job because you’ve done the job! NEVER include an “Objective” (your objective is to get the job you’re apply for, so why have an “Objective?”), or a “Professional Summary.” No employer cares how great you think you are! By listing media citations, speaking engagements, and awards/honors, you’ll tell the employer that others think you are great. That is what has value.

Name

City, State of Residence

Phone Number – E-mail Address

Selected Accomplishments

  • 5-6 bullet points that emphasize what you have achieved for others

Work Experience

Name of Employer, Location of Employer, Dates of Employment (Most Recent First), Title, Two-three line summary describing the employer, what they do, the size of the company, etc.

  • Bullet points highlighting the key responsibilities

Education

Degrees from accredited schools.

Continuing Professional Education

List any courses taken from non-accredited schools/programs or accredited schools where degrees were not awarded.

Licenses and Certifications

Skills and Languages

Media Citations

Speaking Engagements

Awards and Honors

Professional Memberships

Volunteerism/Community Service

The length of the resume should be at least one page for every 10 years of employment but content is more important than length. A lousy one-page resume will not be read, while a brilliant 10-page resume will.

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Don’t forget to take advantage of my year-end career counseling special. Come January, it will be gone!

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How to Write an Effective Cover Letter

Philosophy: Employers will not spend more than ten seconds reading a cover letter. You have to show them that you can get to the point, that you are focused, can prioritize, understand business, know what they are looking for and that you are the person for the job. Here’s how you do it:
• If at all possible personalize the letter. If you cannot get the name of the recipient, “Dear Hiring Manager” will suffice. NEVER use “To Whom It May Concern.” That makes it appear to be a form letter.
• In the first paragraph let them know the job you are applying for, when you heard about it and where you saw it advertised. That way they know you can get to the point, that you do not procrastinate, and that you understand that it is important for them to know where they are getting the best bang for their advertising dollars.
• In the second paragraph give them an example of the one thing that you have done in your career that speaks to the job for which you are applying and will convince them to look at your resume. That’s the purpose of the cover letter, to get them to look at the resume. (See my post, “How to Write an Effective Resume.”)
• In the third paragraph, if they ask in the ad, tell them what your salary requirements are. Include “not including benefits” so they know you are flexible.
• In the fourth paragraph, make reference to your resume.
• End politely and be certain your full name, address and contact information appear at the top.
Dear Ms. Smith,
I wish to apply for the position of warehouse manager that I saw advertised in today’s Post.
With my three years experience in the Army overseeing a warehouse stocking thousands of unique items, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, I am certain that I will not only be able to fulfill the requirements of the position but to surpass them.
My salary requirements are $50,000, not including benefits.
Attached please find a copy of my resume for your review.
Thank you in advance for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
Your Name
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Don’t forget to take advantage of my year-end career counseling special. Come January, it will be gone!

When all candidates are equal, who gets picked?

Every so often I get lucky and I submit to an executive recruiting client candidates who are so good that the client cannot choose between them. Usually it’s between two, but, on occasion, there have been three.

Then I get the phone call. “Bruce, we can’t decide who to choose. What do you advise?”

This one is simple: The best employers know that they have to hire candidates with two qualities. First, the candidate has to be smarter than they are. Why? Because, assuming it’s not an entry level position, if the candidate is not as smart as the employer then the employer is going to have to micromanage which is a waste of time. If the candidate is as smart as the employer, the company will stagnate. But hiring candidates who are smarter than the employer means the employer’s company will grow and prosper.

Second, the candidate has to be liked. They have to be a cultural fit. So if the employer and his staff all feel comfortable hiring either candidate then it all comes down to likeability. So here is the question that always works:

Gather your team together. Don’t have any discussion. Give each person around the table a piece of paper. Ask them the following question: Which candidate would you prefer to be stuck in an elevator alone with for three hours? Have them write the name of the candidate they would prefer and count the votes. All things being equal, that’s the person you hire!

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Don’t forget to take advantage of my year-end career counseling special. Come January, it will be gone!

How to Tell an Employer You Have a Disability

During my career as a career counselor I have had to deal with a number of career counseling clients who were concerned about disabilities. They asked me how to proceed.

First, I explained to them that by law employers are prohibited from asking, “Are you disabled?” The only question they can ask is, “Is there any reason why you could not fulfill the requirements of the job?” If the answer is, “No,” then there is no issue. If the answer is, “Yes,” then the employer is not just entitled to, but obligated to discuss the situation with you to determine what “reasonable accommodations” need to be made in order for you to be able to do the job.

Reasonable accommodations come into play in two circumstances: disabilities and religious observance. For example, if you have back problems and need a comfortable chair to do your job, it is reasonable for the employer to provide such a chair, as long as it is not something that costs thousands of dollars. In that case, you may have to provide the chair. If you are an observant Jew, and need to leave work earlier prior to the Sabbath, then the employer could insist that the lost hours be made up during the week. The employer, if considering you for a job that requires Saturday work, would not have to change programming to suit your religious needs and could, therefore, reject your candidacy because you could not fulfill the requirements of the position.

One client, a veteran, explained to me that he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress. (As an aside, veterans do not like the “D” because they don’t consider it to be a “disorder.”) He asked me what to do.

I told him that during the first interview to say, “I know you can’t ask me about disabilities, but I want to tell you because it will have an impact on my work. I can do the job, but I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. It is totally under control. I take my medications and every other week I meet with my psychiatrist at the VA. The only special accommodation I require is an extra two-hours at lunchtime once every other week to make my appointment.”

A second veteran, who had served in Afghanistan, had trouble with bright lights. His “special accommodation” was to be permitted to wear sun glasses in the office. A third had been injured in his leg and needed at least three feet between his chair and the wall so that he could stretch out his leg. And a fourth veteran could not sit with his back to the door.

In all cases, the employers were grateful for the candidates’ honesty and literally laughed their concerns away. They all gave them exactly what they requested and were happy to do so. None of these was an issue. And, as with the following, they are all excellent examples of how candidates sometimes create problems in their own minds that don’t exist in reality. Employers simply don’t care about these things. They have non-disabled employees who cause them more grief and aggravation than the disabled ones!

Then there was a legally blind client. He was a candidate for, of all things, a job as a computer programmer. The man writes code. Until he told me, I did not know that he was legally blind. All he required was a six-foot long table and four electric outlets to plug in his equipment. He had everything he needed to do the job. And the employer could have cared less. As a matter of fact, the employer actually liked the idea of a visually impaired writer of code because he thought that the candidate would be extra careful with his work. Again, no problem.

Finally, and this was a first, I was meeting with a man who I thought was homosexual. Naturally, I did not ask him. It’s irrelevant and none of my business. We were having an interesting conversation. I noticed that we were going to go over the two-hours I give to each of my career counseling clients for our initial session. I asked him if he was pressed for time and he told me that he could go an extra half-hour but then had to leave to pick up his wife and daughter at the airport.

As he told me about his daughter he relaxed and asked me if he could raise a sensitive issue. Of course, I told him that he could and, if it was pertinent to employment, he should.

He then told me that he “suffered from moderate homosexuality.” That’s a quote; his words not mine. He wanted to know if he should mention it to an employer. I explained to him that people with disabilities are entitled to ask employers for “reasonable accommodations.” I also told him that “sexual orientation” was a protected class so he could not be discriminated against. But I warned him that if he were to ask for “reasonable accommodations,” the implication would be that he viewed homosexuality as a disability and many individuals would take exception to that.

He replied that that was not his concern. He had been “struggling” – again, his word, not mine – all his adult life with his homosexuality. With medication and counseling it was under control and he lived a “normal” – his word, not mine – life. But sometimes, when he got stressed he would need to contact his therapist for a phone conversation. (He meets with the therapist a few times a week, in the evening, so that would not be an issue for an employer.)

I mentioned to him a similar issue I had with another client who described herself as a “high functioning autistic person.” So I told him what I told her:

First, raise the issue with the employer after the first interview so you know that they are interested in you, and that you are interested in them. Second, clearly explain what “suffer from moderate homosexuality” or “high functioning autistic person” means. Third, tell them what “reasonable accommodation” you require. And, finally, and most importantly, use the disability as an example of how you have overcome an obstacle. i knew that it would make a powerful story. It did!

I am happy to report, all of these candidates found meaningful employment in their fields without having to make any compromises.

The moral of this story: Be upfront. Tell the truth. Hold your head high. Be proud!

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Don’t forget to take advantage of my year-end career counseling special. Come January, it will be gone!

How to Deal with Age Discrimination in a Job Search

Some time ago I was doing a search for an IT systems administrator. Despite receiving resumes from scores of candidates, I only had two who I felt comfortable submitting to my client.

The first, a young guy with a one-page resume, was concerned that he did not have enough experience. The second, an older guy with a seven-page resume, was concerned that he was too old and could not compete with younger candidates. The former was preferred by the department head, the latter by the owner. The former’s references were awful; the latter’s were stellar. The old guy got the job.

I tell this story probably once a month to “older” clients who come to me concerned that because of their age they won’t be able to get a job. I put “older” in quotation marks because clients in their forties, fifties and sixties all consider themselves “old.”

This is a problem of attitude. Yes, there is some basis for it in fact, but mainly it’s a problem of marketing and branding. The older clients don’t know how to “package” themselves.

Let’s begin with a little honesty. If an employer is going to discriminate against you based on your age, they are going to discriminate against you based on your age and you will never be able to prove it. So why go through the process, wasting your time, and keeping you from the employers who are going to realize your worth? Why hide your age? They are going to figure it out when they meet you!

My first piece of advice: Don’t hide your age, boast about it. But do it sensibly. Don’t begin your resume stating that you have decades of experience. Begin with a list of five or six accomplishments that will make the employer want to invite you in for an interview.

There’s no law that says you have to list every job you have ever had. Cut your resume off at a logical date. The advice I give is to go back approximately 10 years or to the year 2000. You’re not hiding anything; you’re just choosing a logical cutoff point.

Second, don’t apply for jobs that have as a qualification “3 to 5 years’ experience.” If you have 20, they don’t want you. It’s basically entry level. So why waste your time?

Third, not being seen as tech savvy (ironic given that my first example concerned IT!). This one is easy. At the top of your resume, next to your contact information, aligned with either margin, have a QR code. It could link to your website, LinkedIn profile, e-mail or text. Regardless, it sends the message that you are comfortable with technology. Similarly, include your LinkedIn profile, Twitter handle, or other social media, if relevant to your profession, as part of your contact information.

Fourth, appearance. Surprisingly, this seems to be more of an issue for men than women. Some men dye their hair. Personally, I think it’s silly. You can almost always tell. But if it gives them confidence, that’s a positive. Of course, the employer may react negatively thinking to themselves, What else is he trying to hide?

In any case, health is far more important. You have to look healthy. That means make an effort to lose the extra pounds. Don’t wear tight fitting clothes. Look sharp.

Fifth, let the employer know you are looking for a long-term gig. But do it subtly. Employers will be worried that you will leave after a few years to retire. Let them know you want to stay for the long haul. You can do that in two ways:

When they ask, and they will, why you want to work for them, if you were able to find this out, and LinkedIn profiles are the place to go, tell them that you noticed that most or a large number of their employees have been working for the company for a long time and that they promote from within. That, tell them, is the type of company you want to work for.

Or, in response to a question about a plan they want implemented in, say, three years, answer that you can complete the plan within three years but that you consider that to be only a first phase. The follow-up could take another seven so you see it, in essence, as a 10-year project.

Sixth, competition with the supervisor. If you are an “older” worker, by definition, your new boss will probably be younger than you. You could be their parent or grandparent. They know it; you know it. And they might think that you are after their job. So put them at ease. When they ask you what you like about the job, if it’s true (never lie!) tell them that the most satisfaction you get is seeing colleagues grow. (Give an example to establish credibility.) Explain that you’ve been the center of attention, now you want to help others get that attention. That’s the job satisfaction you are looking for.

Finally, the biggest advantage that “older” workers have is that they have what to say and know how to say it. Unlike younger workers who lack experience, and thus meaningful stories to tell, older workers have them in spades. They can choose the story which will best resonate and thus help get them the job.

This post is based in part on Chapter Four of my book, A Hooker’s Guide to Getting a Job: Parables from the Real World of Career Counseling and Executive Recruiting.

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Need career counseling? You have until December 31 to take advantage of Bruce Hurwitz’s year-end special.