Career transition opportunities seems to be on everyone’s mind these days, despite the fact that the employment ad sections of area newspapers are getting thinner and thinner. But even in these tough times, landing that perfect (or at least near perfect) job is still possible for the savvy job seeker.
“When it comes to job hunting, it’s certainly a jungle out there,” says Ozana Castellano, a senior assistant professor at Mercer County Community College, as well as a corporate trainer through the college’s Center of Training and Development. “But there are strategies in resume preparation that have proven to be successful. By using them, people can definitely increase their chances of landing that job.”
Castellano ran a resume-writing service out of her home for 12 years, serving over 1,500 clients. “I really built quite a following because the resumes worked for people,” she says. Castellano has been teaching business, communications, and English at MCCC since 1997, but had to give up the resume writing side of her career when she became a full-time corporate trainer in 2000.
Along with Yvonne Chang, Castellano heads a continuing education workshop, “Essential Tools for Landing that Job,” at Mercer County Community College on Thursday, May 4, at 9 a.m. Cost: $39. Call 609-586-9446 for more information or to register. Attendees are encouraged to bring in their current resumes so that they can compare them to the suggestions discussed in the class.
Admittedly, with the advent of the Internet, much has changed for job seekers. Still, even though resumes are now primarily submitted to employers via E-mail, the strategies of effective resume writing are still the same. “It is important for job seekers to know that resumes only have a lifespan of a few seconds,” says Castellano. “This is because it takes that long for a potential employer to decide if he or she will even read it.”
According to Castellano, many job seekers lose their opportunity without a single word being read. “At one glance of a resume I can tell people that their resume is too lengthy and that it is not set up properly,” she says. “The potential employer receiving your resume, whether he is printing it out or looking at it on the computer, can tell right away whether they want to read it or not. If it’s not presented in a short and snappy format, then it will be set aside very quickly.”
Castellano says that the most common mistake people make in creating a resume is putting in too much information. “People tend to make them too long and they are not written in a manner that is easy to read,” she says. “For some reason they like to elaborate on things in long paragraphs.” For this reason, a resume should ideally be only one page in length. “One page is best, but two pages are the absolute maximum,” says Castellano. “I’ve worked with people who came in with resumes that were four and five pages long. I’d ask them if they would read this if they were the employer. Then I’d ask them why, if they wouldn’t want to read it, would they think others would want to read it?”
Born in Croatia, Castellano came to the United States with her parents as a young teenager. She grew up in Long Island and earned her bachelor’s degree in business from Hofstra University and an MBA from Saint Johns University. Castellano and her husband Michael (director of engineering for an insurance company in New York) have two daughters, both graduates of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North. Kristen is about to graduate from Loyola College as a finance major and has already landed a job at J.P. Morgan in Delaware. Megan is currently a freshman at Boston University with plans to attend law school.
In navigating through the resume writing process, it is sometimes difficult for job seekers to sort through all the often-contradictory suggestions they receive from friends, relatives, and many so-called experts. In order to reduce anxiety that many resume writers face, Castellano offers the following suggestions:
Only recent information, please. People often make the mistake of including information that is simply too old. “The employer really doesn’t care in detail what you did any more than 10 or 15 years ago,” she says. “You also inadvertently age yourself. If you are putting things in your resume about what you did during the 1970s, you are already looking old. The ’70s are too old to talk about in detail and the ’80s should be summarized also.”
Reverse chronology. While it may seem like a no-brainer, many resume writers continue to make the chronology mistake. Remember that it is best to start with the latest information at the top of the page and go backwards.
(Almost) no paragraphs. Paragraphs should not be a part of the resume. “Set up your resume in a bulleted format with short sentences,” says Castellano. “Never include any information on a resume that isn’t going to sell you because every word on there should have a purpose.”
Leave out the career objective. What Castellano recommends is that resume writers begin with a section called “Professional Profile,” written in a paragraph instead of a bullet, near the top of the page. “In three or four sentences describe what you bring to the table in terms of your skill level,” she says. “You don’t really have to customize it from resume to resume if you do it right. This should be kind of a sales hook that you can use again and again to highlight the skill set that you bring.”
Summarize less desirable jobs. If you have had a long career, but your best job kicked in later, don’t go into detail about what you did before. Castellano recommends that job seekers write something like, “prior to 1990 held various positions in customer service.”
“There is no need to elaborate any further because it ages you and adds verbiage that no one is interested in,” she says.
Bullet formats. In setting up bullets, it is important that several should be devoted to what the job entails and several others aimed at select accomplishments. “This is especially necessary if you are doing any kind of marketing or sales work,” says Castellano. “Do this if you can show anything that you’ve done that isn’t just the mundane part of the job.”
Be concrete in bullets. Look for opportunities where the work you have done has made a positive difference. Specific accomplishments are important, so include them if you can. Castellano offers as an example, “increased sales by 6 percent over a three-month period.” There are also less numerically-driven accomplishments, such developing a procedure for the office or streamlining a process, that should be included if they have enhanced the business in any way.
Action and buzz. Use a lot of action verbs. Don’t start any bullets with “responsible for…” Instead start with an action verb such as “trained” or “managed” or “streamlined.” Look at what types of things people will be looking for so that you can tailor your buzzwords or key action verbs to their needs.
Less is more. On a resume don’t list too many things. Castellano stresses that less is always more on a resume. Keep it as simple as possible in letting your accomplishments shine through.
Set the tone of WIIFM (What’s in it for me?). The key to creating a strong resume is remembering that the reader doesn’t want to know what you can do for yourself. The reader only wants to know what you can do for him. If there is nothing in it for him, then why should he interview you or hire you?
Write thank you letters. This is one of the most important elements of landing a job. After an interview, it is good to mail out a thank you letter to the person you spoke with. “Most people are so lax about this,” says Castellano. “They just don’t think of doing it. But it is one sure way — all things being equal — of putting yourself on the ‘yes’ pile.”
Hobbies, only if unique. Hobbies should only be included unless they are a real conversation piece. “If you are a fisherman and you’ve won the Eastern Regional Championship, then you can put that in,” says Castellano. “If it will play in your favor, put it in. Otherwise, keep it out.”
Cover letter. Keep it simple. Introduce yourself while you reference the resume. It is wise to include two or three of your key assets without making it repetitive. Word these in such a way that it is a complement to the resume, not a direct copy from it.
Don’t copy. Always remember that there is no such thing as a standard resume. Formats change. Each resume has to be customized to the individual it represents. Everyone is in a unique situation, one way or another.