“I don’t understand it. I must have responded to over 50 Internet postings in the last month, and I haven’t gotten a single interview.”
“I’ve answered over a dozen ads in major newspapers, and I haven’t heard from one company.”
I often hear these complaints from job hunters who sometimes become so frustrated by a lack of responses that they give up. Adding to their difficulty is the fact that the job market is tougher than it’s been in recent years, making interviews harder to come by.
It likely comes as no surprise to anyone laid off in the past year that the U.S. economy has been in a recession since March 2001, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass. The tight market puts employers and recruiters in the driver’s seat once again. Fewer jobs are available, and there’s a larger talent pool to choose from.
Companies that just two years ago had to make offers on the spot to snare candidates now have the luxury of time. They can postpone making hiring decisions until they find someone who meets all their criteria. Except in the case of very high-profile executives, employers won’t have to lure candidates with hefty sign-on bonuses and stock options, either.
Lengthen the First Look
How can you compete in this type of market? Your first objective is to make sure your résumé gets read. One of the biggest mistakes candidates make is assuming that just because they send a résumé to a prospective employer or recruiter, it will be read.
No one will lean back in a swivel chair, cross their legs and then slowly give your résumé undivided attention. Instead, reviewers will pore through dozens — possibly hundreds — of résumé piled in front of them, yours included. Each résumé will be scanned quickly as the reader searches for reasons to reject its owner or to schedule an interview — usually the former.
When your résumé moves to the top, the scanner will give it a brief look — perhaps for 10 to 15 seconds — for anything that piques his or her interest. This is your one chance to make an impression. Does your résumé include a statement about your background that’s so powerful that it transforms your initial scan into a lengthy look?
A Résumé Makeover
When Walt Disney Imagineering, an entertainment-construction company in Glendale, Calif., completed building two new theme parks last year, it announced that all future construction projects would be outsourced. That left David Bill, a 45-year-old manufacturing manager from Oak Park, Calif., without a job.
Mr. Bill began his job search right away. For the next six months, he networked, answered Internet and newspaper ads and contacted recruiters and prospective employers. He mailed more than 350 résumé and had 10 interviews. None led to a job offer.
Clearly, something was wrong. Mr. Bill thought it might be his resume, specifically the introductory section. Here’s what he initially included in this section:
Hands-on manufacturing, quality and supply manager with over 15 years of diversified experience in aerospace, entertainment and mining-equipment manufacturing supported by a Scottish engineering apprenticeship, a B.S. in industrial technology and an M.B.A. in management and organizational behavior. Excellent communication and analytical skills and the ability to influence cross-functional teams through coaching and mentoring. Internal and external leadership in formulating manufacturing and quality strategy, policy and procedures. Experience in developing world-class supplier relationships to achieve budget and schedule goals. Demonstrated leadership in implementing strategic and tactical process improvement initiatives that increased shareholder value. Key strengths include:
Mr. Bill was correct. After reading this introduction, few employers would likely want to meet with him. Like most résumé, this gives readers a good idea of Mr. Bill’s past duties. However, it doesn’t relate his successes to his work or establish his value.
It doesn’t say how he increased past employers’ output, decreased production costs or improved product quality. These all are key responsibilities of a manufacturing manager.
Second, like most résumé, the introduction contains many buzzwords and phrases, such as “diversified experience,” “excellent communication and analytical skills,” “coaching,” “mentoring,” “leadership” and “strategic and tactical process improvement initiatives.” Still, readers don’t know what contributions Mr. Bill made and how he improved any company’s manufacturing performance. They have no reason to keep reading his résumé.
“Nothing turns off executive recruiters more than an introductory section that has no substance,” says Dave Opton, chief executive officer of ExecuNet Inc., an Internet-based center for career management (ExecuNet is an alliance partner of CareerJournal.com).
Judy Rosemarin, president of Sense-Able Strategies Inc., a New York career management firm, agrees: “Never begin a résumé with statements like, ‘A dynamic, results-oriented executive with a record of achievement at driving companies to the next level of success; also a creative problem solver and team player who thrives on challenge, excels under pressure, and continually exceeds corporate goals.’ This is fluff, and readers know it.”
Mr. Opton speaks frequently with executive recruiters about job openings. “They tell me that introductory sections consisting of generalized statements about responsibilities, accompanied by verbose descriptors regarding a job hunter’s capability, do nothing to interest them in reading a résumé,” he says. “What they want to see are factual statements about successes, not fluff.”
To make his introduction more powerful, Mr. Bill organized it around his accomplishments, as follows:
Manufacturing / Quality / Supply-Chain Management
This introductory section clearly showcases Mr. Bill’s successes. He used a banner headline to convey his strengths, and he presents his most important achievements. He concludes the section with additional information rounding out his background.
The change produced immediate results. After re-entering the job market in August, Mr. Bill sent 50 resumes. Within 15 days, he had eight interviews, which led to two firm and two pending offers. He started work Sept. 1 as director of supply chain and logistics for a Santa Ana, Calif.-based producer of capital equipment for computer-component manufacturing.
“Don’t tell readers how good you are, show them,” says Ms. Rosemarin. “Give them facts and figures — results. The results you show will excite the reader. Then they’ll read on.”
If your résumé starts with a convincing statement about your capability and successes, then in the brief moment your résumé is scanned, employers will be more likely to pause and call you for an interview.
Beyond the Initial Scan
Interviewers who are impressed with your introduction will read your entire résumé. For the strongest possible presentation, follow these guidelines.
- Limit your résumé to two pages in length, and never use more than three pages. Summarize your early employment experiences to reduce length if necessary.
- Prepare your résumé in 10-point or 11-point Arial or Times Roman typeface. Avoid fancy fonts.
- For each employment experience, briefly state your responsibilities, followed by a description of your accomplishments. Precede each with a bullet. Focus your accomplishments on important contributions for past employers. Nothing is more impressive than explaining how you increased revenues and profits, improved product or service quality, increased operating efficiencies or reduced costs.
- When discussing achievements, use numbers to show their extent. Also use the jargon of your field. For example, marketers should talk about brand management, market segmentation and competitive intelligence. If you’re in sales, discuss your strengths in consultative sales, solution sales, CRM, relationship building and management and closing. Manufacturing pros should relate their knowledge of process improvement, efficiency enhancement and cost reduction, including the technologies they implemented, such as lean manufacturing, Kaizen, Kanban, JIT, TQM and cellular manufacturing.
- Use a strong action verb, such as planned, led, initiated, grew, drove, increased, improved or reduced, to begin each accomplishment statement.
Taking these steps can help you to write a powerful résumé and improve your chances of landing interviews and the job you want.
John Marcus, a career consultant and résumée writer in Sarasota, Fla., is author of “The Resume Doctor” (HarperCollins, 1996) and “The Complete Job Interview Handbook” (Harper & Row, 1994). You can visit his Web site at www.expertres.com.
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