Your resume sucks. Worse than that, you think it’s pretty good. It outlines your job description and your duties. Your friends think it works. And so you ship it off to a few companies and start counting the days until work starts.
But the phone isn’t ringing. And it probably never will. That competitive resume of yours has not passed the initial look-over from the HR rep; or, if you filed it electronically, it hasn’t even been seen by a pair of human eyes because your resume does not have the right keywords to match the HR rep’s search.
Alex Freund, principal of Landing Expert Career Coaching in Hopewell, sees this kind of thing a lot. “People say to me all the time, ‘Nobody calls me. I don’t get any interviews,’” Freund says. When he asks if they know why, most people do not have an answer. But in its broadest strokes it boils down to this: Candidates have grossly underestimated the competition for jobs.
A Romanian-born Israeli, Freund came to the United States with his wife to matriculate at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration in the 1970s. His father had been second in command in a Romanian shoe factory that made half of all the shoes in that country, who later took up accounting when the family moved to Israel in the 1950s. Two decades later Freund and his wife liquidated their assets and with the proceeds bought one-way tickets to New York City.
Although Freund got a good job after earning his bachelor’s in business and hotel administration from Cornell in 1975, by 1977 he was facing one of several job transitions in his life. He later landed successful stints at Honeywell, Sanofi-Aventis, and Tyco International, and ultimately stepped out on his own as a career coach and public speaker. He first began his work in career coaching in 1977, however, with a presentation to 40 graduating college students on “How to find a job.” Since then, he has mentored and coached hundreds of individuals seeking to advance with their professions, find new jobs or change their careers.
Freund will present “Resume Tune-up” on Wednesday, May 20, at 2 p.m. at Trinity Church on Mercer Street. For more information about this free event, E-mail alex@ leadingexpert.com or call 609-333-8866.
A similar free event, “Resume Review Night,” will take place the following Wednesday, May 27, at 6:30 p.m. at Princeton Public Library on Witherspoon Street. More than a dozen employment experts are slated to offer advice about proper style and formatting when composing a resume. Similar to the library’s quarterly “Ask a Lawyer” program, the workshop will allow job hunters to spend 20 minutes with one of the experts, who include Jacob Alonzo of the U.S. Census Bureau; Surya Avantsa of Atlas Systems Inc.; financial planner Gary Brush; John De Bellis of About That Resume; Elizabeth Houlihan Seabaugh of Houlihan Seabaugh; Camille Powers of Thatcher Proffitt and Wood; human resources generalist Diony Yepes Shaikh; and Lisa Chenofsky Singer of Chenofsky Singer and Associates
Participants should bring a printed copy of their resumes to the review workshop.
The reason Freund says he is offering his workshop for free is simple — too many people need the help. Having advertised his workshop through Trinity, Freund got nearly 100 responses, and from each responder he asked for a resume. Most left him unimpressed. “I felt like crying,” he says. “If I said ‘deplorable’ or ‘disaster,’ that would be an understatement.”
What’s wrong. “The purpose of a resume is an invitation for a discussion about what you can do for a company,” Freund says. But what he sees time and again are resumes that are boring at best, loaded with bullet points and a cut-and-paste version of the job description the candidate was given the day he started his current job. People simply take these descriptions and file them under “Duties Included” and think that is enough.
“You need to highlight your contributions and accomplishments,” he says. “Your resume has to clearly portray you.” Too often, he says, people run resumes by friends and family members who offer advice that sounds more like them than the candidate. Or candidates rely on tired presentation that files their resumes right in with the herd. Uninspired presentation will not get you noticed in a job market in which 120 resumes per opening is a light day, Freund says.
The pile. The phrase “hyper-competitive job market”is not just a shopworn buzz phrase. It is verging on mathematical fact. With the Internet as the largest conduit for resume submissions — online job boards like Craig’s List, Monster, or HotJobs generate literally billions of resume submissions a year — the average HR department’s slushpile has ballooned like an estimate from a crooked contractor. Single job postings can generate thousands of responses, which would leave HR people with little to do but read from their computer screens all day. Fortunately, computers allow HR managers to whittle the pile in one simple way.
Keywords. With thousands of resumes stored in a general database, Freund says, companies have taken to searching certain words (or combinations of words) to find a good fit. Keywords vary, of course, depending on the job, but they largely are focused around words that belie achievements, experience, and accomplishment.
But even those resumes that get past the initial purge can amount to more than 100. This, Freund says, would be fine if HR managers had only the one job to fill. But it is not unheard of that small HR staffs have 20, 30, maybe 50 different jobs to fill at any one time, so they are still looking at thousands of pages at any one time.
You’ve got 10 seconds. HR people do not read resumes, Freund says. They scan them. Like someone flipping through channels, if you don’t grab a hirer’s attention within 10 seconds, you will lose them forever. Because there are plenty more where you came from.
Trained eyes will weed out careless mistakes in almost no time — typos, crammed presentation, and visually unappealing layouts give HR managers all the justification they need to do what they are aching to do — throw another resume out of contention. Make sure your resume is not just visually appealing, but that it starts off with something that makes its reader keep reading.
Freund offers the first paragraph of one of his own resumes as an example of how to hold a reader’s attention. He started by asking a question — historically a no-no on resumes — about what is required to lead 35 departments at once. He then spelled out what he had done for a past company — saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in waste spending, establishing criteria for significant cost reductions, increasing employee satisfaction to near totality, and overseeing services for up to 1,800 employees.
“It was kind of an overview,” he says. “Like a newspaper article. It whets the appetite. My only objective in the first paragraph is to keep them reading.”
Enough already. One of the biggest mistakes Freund sees is one of actual size. A resume should be two pages, “But I have seen four, four-and-a-half pages,” he says. “People think they should include everything — ‘Look at me, look how great I am.’”
But resumes are not about sharing all that you have, they are about what you can do for the company, he says. Be concise and direct, outline what you have accomplished and how you can use it to help the company you are applying to. Do not ramble through long paragraphs and make sure your resume focuses on the position, not on everything you have ever done.
On the inverse, Freund says, many people with a lot to say just don’t say enough about their accomplishments. They are qualified for a job but no one will know it because their resumes are dry and flat and offer no indication that the candidates have done exactly what a recruiter is looking for. “When you don’t write more accomplishments,” Freund says, “it says to me, ‘I’m a lightweight.’”
Grandma’s not the HR manager. Aside from writing compelling copy and putting it in a nicely manicured format with an inch border around the text on all sides, Freund says a candidate must pay attention to the little things. Like the contact phone number.
On a resume, “you need to put your home number and your cell phone number,” Freund says. Make sure people can get hold of you. But whatever you do, be professional on every front. “A lot of people think it’s cute to have their 8-year-old daughter on the answering machine,” he says. “That’s great if you want to impress grandma.” But if you are waiting for a call from an employer, they are likely to be less impressed with your little girl’s cuteness. Get her voice off the answering machine, or use another number.
Speak up. Sometime a fantastic resume gets you nowhere. Freund himself had this problem recently when he applied for a job at a hospital in New York.
“It appeared as if they wrote the job description from my resume,” Freund says. It mirrored his experience as a facilities administrator to a tee. Yet no one called him.
While it is frowned upon in some circles to telephone the HR department about a resume, Freund couldn’t let it go because of the match. What he found out was that for this one position the HR manager had 120 resumes in front of her. Her approach was to open the first 20, find about five that she liked and call them. Freund’s simply wasn’t among them.
But he encouraged the manager to look at his resume, which she did. In about 48 hours he had an interview scheduled. Ultimately he did not accept the job because the hospital planned to combine the position with that of safety director, which Freund says is a profession all its own. But at least he knew he had not missed a golden opportunity.