When Jim Deak’s job vanished with the collapse of the telecommunications industry he had no idea of what he wanted to do. Soon thereafter an article in the New York Times about coaching caught his interest. He thought that the career might suit his personality and his interests, so he hired his own coach to clarify how to reach his goal and, after 18 months, had a diploma in hand from Coach U (www.coachinc.com), a distance learning school with headquarters in Andover, Kansas.
Moving into something new was not an unfamiliar route for Deak, because his career had already taken a couple of swerves. As a newly minted graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering, he began a 10-year stint in mechanical design engineering at Bell Labs. Eventually, he says, “I realized it was not my calling,” and he decided to try something more in line with his interests: “I’m more of a people person. That was an introspective type of job — it took too much thinking.” He ended up in telecommunications and network design, working with internal employees.
Then in 1990 he took an early retirement offer and got a job managing area codes at Bellcore, which is now Telcordia. After seven years the FCC threw him a curve ball, mandating that the work had to be done by a neutral third party. When Lockheed-Martin won the bid, the company hired Deak, and he took the job on condition that his office would be virtual (his wife was a second-grade teacher in Parsippany, and had no interest in moving).
Although most of Deak’s coaching business involves helping small business owners to “create a vision,” he also does career coaching and is offering a workshop on “Preparing a Resume that Highlights Your Best and Most Marketable Skills” on Saturday, October 7, at 8:30 a.m. at St. Paul’s Church on Nassau Street in Princeton. Call 609-924-1743.
Resumes are something that should always be at one’s fingertips: a recruiter may call, a job may end, a new internal position may come up. “As things change in your career, new responsibilities, new accomplishments, you want to make sure your resume is ready,” says Deak. And that resume should always be the most recent reflection of your experience and qualifications.
The engine that feeds the resume-building process is a list of achievements, but it’s not so easy to pull together. “Specifying accomplishments is where people need the most help,” says Deak. “Most folks feel when they are working in a big company that they didn’t do anything, that they were part of a blob. But in fact, they’ve accomplished a lot.”
A good way to unearth achievements that have slipped from memory is to develop a PAR, which stands for problem-action-result. To explain, Deak offers an accomplishment he is proud of from his corporate career.
The problem: the department was faxing documents to 3,000 people about three times a week. Using a fax was inefficient: it meant lots of wasted paper and lost time. Furthermore, the documents were not getting out on deadline and not getting to the right people, and the lists were not being updated accurately as people changed jobs.
Deak’s action: He hired a software developer to come up with a web-based solution. When it was implemented, people could get their documents electronically, anywhere in the world, and could easily update their E-mail addresses. It took just six months to get the new system up and running.
The results: “There was overwhelming customer satisfaction,” says Deak, “and we probably saved $200,000 a year.”
The translation to Deak’s resume: “Designed a unique web-based document distribution system that replaced an antiquated fax system and in the process saved $200,000 a year, to the overwhelming delight of our customers.”
“As an employee you are presented with a problem or a circumstance and asked to do something,” says Deak. “You took some action and did it to the best of your ability, whether you designed something or got a team together. The result is dollars saved or earned, a percentage of something reduced or increased, a testimonial, or something not quantifiable, like customers are really happy, you are consistently rated number one in your division, or you got rewards.”
“Create as long a list as you can of all your accomplishments, big and small,” advises Deak. “You can prioritize later.”
Putting together this list not only provides critical ingredients for your resume, but later, once you’ve clinched an interview, it will help you convince the hiring manager that you are the right person for the job.
“Going through your PARs cements in your mind what you have accomplished,” he says. For example, when the interviewer tells you that one of the job requirements is excellent writing skills, you can dig back into your PARs to find where you did writing and what you accomplished. “It is creating a map of what you’ve done,” says Deak. And then he adds one more advantage of the PARs: “They help people to believe in themselves a lot more.”
The PARs come in handy mostly for the second of the three sections of your resume, which include:
An executive summary. This should be short, no more than five or six lines. It is a condensation of who you are and what you have to offer a potential employer.
Chronological picture of assignments, general responsibilities, and accomplishments. Although Deak says a functional resume may be useful for someone like a homemaker who has a big block of time where he or she did nothing professionally, he still recommends a chronological format. “A chronological resume is the most accepted, understood, and expected.”
Carefully selected PARs constitute the meat of the chronological resume. Pick the key accomplishments relevant to a particular job and transfer them into resume language — use an action verb and specify what you did and the result.
Education and special awards and skills.
A resume’s content is paramount, but it’s presentation is vital too. It must be a well-designed showcase document. Use high-quality paper, and leave a lot of white space to make the resume easy to read. Make sure that there are no misspelled words or grammatical errors, and more generally “nothing to draw the attention of the reader in a negative way.”
Deak suggests developing a generic resume that can be tweaked when a specific job comes along. If a job requires great public speaking, for example, and you’re an IT professional, you might want to throw in a PAR about the great seminars you’ve given.
Deak, who describes himself as a “child of western Pennsylvania blue collar stock,” has been successful beyond the dreams of most of the people with whom he grew up. His dad was a steelworker — first helper on the open hearth furnace — who went to school through ninth grade and then started working in the mill. His mother, he says, nearly finished high school and was the “strength of the family in terms of vision.”
Unusual in a town where fewer than 10 percent of the kids went beyond high school, Deak’s mother was determined that each of her three kids would go to college, and they did. Deak’s brother is a successful businessman, and his sister, who he describes as a “wonderful giver,” is a nurse-practitioner at the Mayo Clinic.
Deak studied computer science at the University of Pittsburgh (Class of 1960), which, he says, was the “cheapest school we could find.” He also holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from New York University. Although he has moved away from engineering, he continues to appreciate the training: “An engineering education is unique in that it helps you to think logically to solve problems. I have found it useful my whole life.”
As to where his mother, daughter of a Slovakian saloon owner, developed her belief in education, he’s not sure, but it was a central value for her. “It was something she absolutely found imperative,” he says, “even in the midst of not having much in money and resources. She is a dedicated and focused woman.”
Drawing on his mother’s wisdom, and the aspirations she had for her children, he says: “Most people don’t reach enough for that big brass ring on the merry-go-round. Most of the time we limit ourselves. I ask my clients and myself to think bigger.”