Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Making your resume standout

You've just heard about a great job and you know you're an ideal candidate. But how can you make your resume stand out from dozens (or hundreds) of others so you can get that all-important interview? While a great resume won't guarantee an interview, you can increase your chances by avoiding the mistakes HR professionals see every day in resumes that come across their desks.

Let's start with the basics. A resume is more than a summary of your experiences and education. It's a invitation to discuss how you can help the company you're applying to. It's intended to make the a busy manager give you a few minutes of their scarce time to see if you can serve a need or solve a problem for their organization.

Switching your orientation from how they can help you to how you can help them is an important switch to make. Their goal is not to guarantee you a great job. Their job is to figure out what you bring to the table that's going to help their organization. If you're really looking for your dream job, learn as much as you can about the industry and companies you want to work for. Then, tailor your resume to meet those needs. What does that mean? It means highlighting those experiences that are important to the firms you're applying to. If your industry's main day-to-day work is troubleshooting technical problems for clients, make sure your resume includes concrete examples of customer relations and problem solving.

Next, keep it brief. Drop your hobbies (who cares?) and information about your family. Try to keep it to 1 page, or 2 at the most if you've had a lot of experience. Unless you can make a concrete connection that will help you in your job, for instance, volunteer work in which you managed a major event, leave it out. Remember your job is to make it clear what you can offer the organization, not have them guessing whether being in a bowling league qualifies you to be a team player.

If you're right out of school and have limited work experience, you may have to draw more on volunteer and other experiences. Just make sure you connect the dots for employers. If you were on student government, list the initiatives you were involved with that demonstrate leadership or skills that matter to them. Spell it out. As one HR professional said to me, "I hate guessing whether someone can do the job. Their resume should make it clear."

Because you've only got a page, make your words count. Be as specific as you can. "Raised revenues 38% or "cut costs by 59% over 2 years" or "decreased customer complaints by 50%" has much more impact than "looked for continual opportunities to grow." Measurable changes wins out over generalities every time.

Even if you're not detail oriented, most HR professionals are. As one asked me, "Don't these people have a spell checker? Spelling mistakes show me they aren't serious about their job." Ditto for grammar errors, acronyms that no one is familiar with and sloppy formatting. It's a shame to waste the 20 hours most people put into writing a resume because you haven't taken the time to proofread or have a friend check it for errors.

A resume is not a static document. As you gain more experience, age and develop new career goals, you'll need to update it to give yourself the edge and to stand out.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

6 things you can say in an interview to make me hire you

Employers interviewing today have lots of choices. When I was running my own communications business, I interviewed scores of potential writers. Here's what I liked to hear from them in an interview.

"I know your business. And I know how my experience can help you."

Explaining the basics about my business wastes valuable interview time. I appreciate candidates who took the time to do their homework. If they come in knowing who our major clients are, what projects we are working on and what we had say about ourselves in publications and online, the interview becomes about. Bonus points if they know trends in the industry. Our interview can focus on what they bring to the table, rather than exchanging factual information.

"I play well with others. I'm a team player."

Gen Y's have a reputation (deserved or not) for being prima donnas. Very few projects are solos. I want to know you can pitch in and work on a team to get work done. I need you to understand that not every aspect of every project is fascinating. To move a project forward, everybody has to be willing to do some of the less glamorous work required. Most of all, I need you to see the succesful outcome as the most important goal, not the egos of individual players.

"I float well. I can adapt as things change."

In the past, employees could count on work being relatively stable. No more. Successful companies need to be able to adapt to changes. For example, when the government put a hold on hiring any contractors, we had several hundred thousand dollars worth of contracts on the verge of being signed. Our employees had to be reassigned to finish other projects quickly so that we could keep the business afloat. I learned that employees with the flexibility to adapt were golden.

"I take a creative approach to roadblocks."

As a busy owner, I need people who are optimistic and regard problems as challenges that we have to be creative about instead of immovable roadblocks. Worst of all are employees that come up with the 5000 ways we can't do something rather than coming up with approaches that allow us to move ahead.

If you're speaking badly about past colleagues, if you're telling me about how boring your last job was, I will not likely hire you. Negativity and the inability to find ways to make your work life interesting are huge red flags.

"I can land running."

When I can see you're ready to start and motivated to dig in, I can begin to imagine you as part of my team. Don't interview with me until you've cleared the stumbling blocks that are sapping your energy. When I can sense your energy level is high, it will make me eager to take you on.

I am sharing with you the things that I look for in an interview, but I don't think my observations are unique. Do your homework and tell me how you can help. Be a team player. Let me see your optimism and motivation. And be really available to dive in. Honestly, I think these characteristics will appeal to most employers.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The sustainable business case

Young people get why businesses need to develop sustainability programs. Gen X and Y and Milleniums don’t want to give what matters to them most — their lifetimes – to promote the corporate bottom line. They want to work for companies that feel some responsibility to their communities and to issues that effect us all, like sustainability. More than that, they’ve got incredible radar for companies that are using PR to appear green — what they like to call “green washing.”

But sustainability is not necessarily a top priority for the business owners I talk to. From them I hear, “Times are tough. My job is to make a profit so I can continue to support my workers and their families. ‘Saving the environment’ is laudable, but I have to look at the bottom line.”

Making your business more sustainable and making a profit really mutually exclusive? Not according to Adam Werbach in a Harvard University video. Adam, the global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the world’s largest advertising companies, explains how big businesses can create a “sustainability culture” that is essential to their financial success.

He says that as resources like fuel become scarcer, companies that figure out a way to manage environmental factors are companies that are going to cope best. And, he says that a commitment to sustainability results in:

. better products
. engaged and committed employees
. more sales

Werbach warns that the efforts can’t be episodic. Really creating a culture that engages workers and that encourages them to come up with ideas to solve an environmental problem is critical.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What young employees want

My friends who own small businesses complain a they can’t motivate their newest employees. “I can’t figure out what they want. It’s not money, necessarily. It’s not prestige. What makes them tick?,” they ask.

As a life coach working with 20 somethings, I can tell you what they want.

More than previous generations, they want their work lives to matter. According to What Canadians Think, a book by two of Canada’s leading pollsters, 81% of Canadian students surveyed said having an “interesting” work was important to them. To put that in prospective, only 19% said having a high paying job was important. Engaging work is really, really a priority with this generation.

And, as important, they want to work for organizations that understand their prospective that businesses need a bigger vision. If they are going to give you what they value most – their life time — they want you to show you care about burning issues, both locally and globally.

It’s not that hard to make your organization one that young workers will want to work for. You just need to commit to making a difference about the issues that matter to them.

And what are those issues? For sure the environment and sustainability. Put your young workers in charge of developing your environmental company policies and you’ll be surprised how ingenious their solutions are.

For sure, it’s enriching their communities. Make it easy for them to volunteer by providing information on local charities and events in your newsletters and emails. Give them a day off every three months to volunteer in the community.

For sure it’s the larger world. Adopting a cause – whether its global warming or world poverty – will show you care about something beyond the bottom line.

This is a generation that gets more grief that they deserve, because their values are different. Make yours the kind of company they are proud to tell their friends about, and you’ll earn their commitment.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Getting ready for your interview: U of Chicago offers step by steps

Sometimes my clients do an enormous amount of work to finally land a job interview, then back off and figure their work is done. Your goal is not getting an interview, its landing a job.

So how can you prepare? There's some great toolkits out there to walk you through the process. Take a look at the University of Chicago's Career Advising and Planning Service site. They offer a whole series of detailed handouts to guide you in every step of the job search process. And you don't have to attend one of the best universities in the world to have access to them.

Their 8-page Employment Interview Handout walks you through the 4 step process to:

1. assess what you bring to the job
2. do you research on the industry and the company
3. prepare your responses
4. practice and dress for your interview

To help you relax into the interview, they suggest that you use the STAR Method by preparing mini-stories for possible interview questions. For example you're likely to be asked, "What can you add to our team or company?' You can have a mini story ready to highlight how you made a difference as a reporter on your school paper by adding an environmental column. Using your story, you can demonstrate how you were on top of trends and were able to create something innovative that improved circulation.

Remember, you're in the home stretch when you arrive at a job interview. It's time to put forward your best effort by going in totally prepared.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Great Career Exploration Site at McGill U

Students Studying Pictures, Images and Photos

I'm often asked where to begin in figuring out what to do with the rest of your life. Not surprisingly I always answer: "With you." Before you begin to search for available jobs, you need to begin with a little self analysis. Taking the time now can save you years of going down the wrong road and having to retrace your steps.

I'll give you an example from my own life. When I graduated high school at 16, I decided to go into nursing, most likely because my older brother had gone into medicine and because my family said I could always get a job. But by choosing nursing, I ignored my own nature. I wasn't interested in sciences, not detail oriented and overwhelmed in the super stressful environment of hospitals. Years later, a fish out of water as an ICU nurse, I compounded my error by getting a Masters in Health administration. I was in my 30s before I finally conceded to myself, "This isn't working," and became a writer. I finally found the sort of work that matched my styles and interests.

Fortunately there are some great tools for you to learn what kinds of careers might suit you and walk you through the process. McGill University's website has a tools that can help walk you through a self assessment process. It offers nine steps from that all important self assessment to shaking an interviewer's hand and accepting your first job. There's links, tips, podcasts and advice at every step of the way. It's one of the best organized sites I've seen.

You can use Macgill's site to:

1) Do a Self Assessment
2) Explore Careers
3) Engage in New Experiences
4) Research Employers & Target Organizations
5) Develop Your Networking Skills
6) Look for Job Opportunities
7) Write a CV and Cover Letter
8) Prepare for the Interview
9) Know Salary and Labour Information

Check it out.

Friday, June 4, 2010

How to find out what it's really like to work in a profession

Dear coach:

I'm trying to land on a great career, but I'm not sure I'm getting the real story when I talk to people in the field I'm considering.  I'm only hearing the positives (or sometimes only the negatives).  How can I get the real scoop? 


Dear Flummoxed:

It's natural for most people to put the best possible face on their profession when they're talking to a new grad considering their field.  They don't want to squash your enthusiasm.  But you know that jobs, like life, cannot be fascinating 24/7. If you get only glowing reports, you need to ask more questions.  Every job has its challenges, and its best to know what they are and if you can live with them. 

You might try some open ended questions that indicate that you're willing to know the whole truth.  You can try questions like: "What characteristics do you have to have to make you happy in this job?"; "What do you consider the hardest part of your job?" ;  What kind of people are not suited to working in your position?"  Answers to questions like these should give a better idea of what it's like to work in the field.

You're really trying to find out whether your temperament and interest are a match.  If you're thinking of being an event planner, for example, the answers to your questions might reveal that you need great organizational skills and attention to detail to be happy in the job.  That dealing with clients during especially challenging times in their lives (think weddings) can be hard because they often react emotionally.  And that people who don't adapt well to rapidly changing circumstances (think the caterer doesn't show up) don't last long in the field.

Once you let people know by your questions that you really want to know the whole story on a profession, they'll help you fill in the picture.