“Can you take a look at my résumé and see what you think?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this in the past year, I wouldn’t be rich, but I would have some extra dough.
It’s true. Since I write about jobs and careers, it’s not surprising that I’ve been fielding calls from friends and colleagues, who want me to take a look at their résumé to see what’s missing, give some pointers.
I try to help. They agonize over the details. They’re frustrated beyond belief. They shoot their résumés off in a flick of a button when they hear about a job opening, and then silence-no response.
But to get some deeper insight, I asked Tony Beshara, author of Unbeatable Résumés (Amacom, 2011), a Dallas-based recruiting and job placement powerhouse and president of Babich & Associates to share his secrets.
KH: Why are people so obsessed with their résumé?
TB: The primary reason people spend so much time, money, and effort in writing a résumé is that this is the one activity within the job search that they can control. Instead of picking up the phone and calling a prospective employer to ask for a face-to-face interview-risking potential rejection-people agonize over their résumés.
Here’s the truth–it is rare to get hired by simply submitting a résumé –the purpose of the résumé is to help get you an interview. And at the interview, remember that 40 percent of a hiring decision is based on personality. You’ve got to get the interview and sell your pitutee off.
KH: What makes an unbeatable résumé?
TB: It has to be simple. No more than two pages. The average résumé gets read in 10 seconds. Be sure the content is on a level any high school senior could understand. In other words, the person looking at your résumé should be able to easily understand exactly who you have worked for and what that company does. Just because you know the company or it’s a big name like IBM IBM -0.71%, Boeing Corp, or Ford Motor Co, doesn’t mean everyone is familiar with what your specific division does.
- Avoid the fancy-schmancy layout, font, and other special effects. Stick to traditional font of Times New Roman, 9 to 12 point size, and black type against a white paper. You might try a different type size for your name and the companies you have worked for, perhaps your title. But try to be consistent. Go easy on boldface type, italics, and underlining.
- Prepare it in a simple Word format that can easily be viewed on most computers. Not a table format or template.
- Use a reverse chronological order. List your present, or most recent job, first, and then work backwards. You state the complete name of the company you work for, or have worked for, and what they do, how long you were there–month and year. Then list the position you held and your accomplishments. You don’t have to use full sentences. Begin with verbs. “Managed company tax reporting, finance, invoicing, purchasing,” for example.
- Get rid of objectives and summary and all that silly stuff. It’s all fluff. An employer doesn’t care about your objective. He cares about his.
- Skip personal information such as married with three kids. Sounds stable to you. But to a hiring authority looking for someone to travel, it may keep you from being interviewed.
- Stories sell. Numbers, statistics, percentages get attention if you put in bold type. Increased profit by this 28%. Came under budget by 30%. If you were born and raised on chicken farm, note it on your résumé.
- Fuzzy key words and phrases should be avoided. These include customer-oriented, excellent communications skills, and creative. These words lack meaning and do absolutely nothing to help you get an interview.
- Use words that refer to titles- customer service, controller, manager, accountant,
- Get the photos off your résumé. You are looking for a job, not a date.
KH: Does “age” stop people over 50 from landing a job?
TB: Let me be real blunt. People over 50 think they aren’t getting hired because they’re over 50. People who are short think they aren’t being hired because they are short. There is a tendency for people to imagine that what they are works against them.
The question the employer is asking is can you do my job right now and are you a big risk? Most candidates don’t think they are a risk. But if you hire somebody who made more money than this, had a bigger job than this, has been out of work for six months, has had three jobs in three years–these are all risks. Some of those risks come with age, but not the age itself.
I don’t think there’s as much age discrimination as there used to be. The real reason they aren’t getting hired–it’s a rotten, lousy job market out there. With so many candidates to choose from, hiring authorities are compelled to seek out the perfect candidate. They want to hire someone where the job is a step up to them. Not someone who has surpassed the positions, who will walk in six months later and say he or she found a better job.
KH: Sure a great résumé helps, but what’s really at the heart of getting a job?
TB: Networking. You have got to pick up the phone and call everybody that you ever knew, everybody that you ever worked with, every employer that you ever worked with. That’s the way to get an interview. It is estimated 60 percent who find jobs have located them through networking. Sending a résumé to a web site is a joke. It ain’t going to happen. If you don’t establish any personal connection to them it’s is a waste of time.
Brainstorm. Sit down with a spouse and friends and ask for help. Write down the names of previous employers and former colleagues, immediate and extended family. Don’t be embarrassed to call family members when you’re out of work. Get over it.
Call friends of friends, people in your church, athletic club, volunteer organizations, parents of children’s friends. Contact trade and professional associations you belong to–many have job boards. Alumni associations, fraternity and sororities are worth reconnecting with. You never know who will know someone who is hiring. College and university placement offices are there to help no matter how long ago you graduated. Canvas local lawyers, accountants, bank officers in town and see if they know if any clients hiring. In short, you really have to “kiss a lot of frogs’ to find a prince. Leave no stone unturned.
KH: And the biggest frustration when it comes to getting a résumé noticed?
TB: People overestimate who is reading it. Most of the time the people who are reading the résumé really don’t have anything to do with the job and have no direct experience with it. It’s an internal recruiter, somebody in Human Resources, the “Hiring Roadblock” department. Just know if you get relegated to the HR departments, your odds of getting an interview, let alone a job are drastically reduced. That’s just the way it is.
KH: How useful is social media networking?
TB: LinkedIn actually does seem to help people in their job searches. It’s easy to create a profile and begin linking to new contacts. You can update regularly and get recommendations from colleagues, previous bosses, and clients. You can research companies and individuals you want to target, connect with former associates, and let them know you are looking for new opportunities.
KH: Any tips for those who think changing careers is the ticket?
TB: Most people who successfully change careers either go into a profession not saturated at the time, like teaching or healthcare, or they open their own business. A lot of new businesses fail because the people who start them have absolutely no idea how to run a business. Be prepared to start at the bottom, no matter what you decide to do. The probability of being hired in a business you know nothing about, by someone who doesn’t know you, at a decent salary, isn’t very high. So to change careers, you’re most likely going to have to make it a good business deal for a perspective employer-worth the risk involved in taking on someone without proven experience.
KH: What’s the magic ingredient for jobseekers?
TB: Guts. Don’t be bashful. You have to take the risk of picking up the phone and having someone say no, and, maybe hell no. No matter how good your résumé might be, unless it helps you get face-to-face interview with hiring managers, your efforts are wasted.
Getting interviews is hard work. It requires tenacity, persistence, determination, and courage to thrust yourself upon people, even if that doesn’t come naturally to you. No one likes being rejected. The sooner you face this reality and prepare for rejection, the sooner you will be able to find a job.
KH: Swagger counts.