When Applying for Jobs, Do You Have to Do Everything Employers Ask For?

Jumping Through HoopsEmployers ask for a lot of things – cover letters, salary histories, desired salary, first-born son…the list goes on. But do you have to comply with all those requests, every single time?

Well, it depends. Your level of frustration with a job hunt – and ultimately how long it will take – is heavily determined by what sort of job market you’re in. Are you already being offered plenty of interviews for attractive jobs? Then you can pretty safely ignore all those extras that employers request. I’m sure your eldest son will thank you. But if you are not getting calls, maybe you should pack him a bag lunch and follow the rules.

But how do you know how strong your job market is? How sought after are your skills? Well, first you need a decent resume and you need to not be invisible. You’re probably invisible if your coworkers are all being recruited, and you’re stuck in neutral. The first rule of Recruiter Club? Get on LinkedIn. The second rule of Recruiter Club? Get on LinkedIn! Fill in as much info as you can, including a quality, professional-looking picture. Build out your network of contacts – connect with your colleagues and friends. You could be in a strong job market, and your specialty might be hotly desirable for recruiters and companies, but without LinkedIn, you’ll never know for sure. Being invisible on LinkedIn means modern recruiters won’t find you.

If a river of opportunities starts flowing once you’ve set up LinkedIn, then you might have some negotiating leverage. Your skills are currently in high demand, so when you’re applying for jobs, you can probably overlook some of those typical requirements – cover letter, salary history – without fear of repercussion. Most employers will call you anyway. Even better, you will likely have enough leverage to negotiate a higher salary. Check out my recent interview with compensation expert Kim Keating, so you can better level the playing field during negotiations. (By the way, don’t expect your hot streak to last forever; job markets are just as prone to supply and demand fluctuations as any other).

But if you’ve updated your profile and answered a few job ads, and the response is more like a trickle in a dry creek bed, take that as a sign that the market for your skills is not that hot. It doesn’t matter how talented and wonderful you are, if there is an overabundance of talent in your field, then you’re just lost in the noise. You don’t have much in the way of leverage, so be sure to follow any instructions to the letter. Do all that you can to ensure you have the best chances of getting interviews and callbacks. You’re one of many options, so forgetting a cover letter or ignoring salary requirements/history will easily get your resume thrown in the reject pile, since there are still plenty of candidates to choose from who followed instructions to the letter.

Job Search / Interviewing / Negotiating Salary and Managing Your Career

If you haven’t noticed that red logo over there on the left side of your screen, you might not realize that I also write a weekly post for The Washington Business Journal.

So, in case you missed it, here are links to a few recent posts:

Money:

Job Search/Getting an Interview:

Interview Advice:

Career Advice:

I hope you find them useful. And please feel free to leave a comment to suggest future topics!

Why Your Resume is Not Working

There is a good reason your resume is not helping you land interviews.

As a headhunter, an executive search consultant, my friends, their recently graduated children, friends of my friends, and total strangers are constantly asking my opinion about their resume. “Is there anything wrong with this format?” they ask. “I have great experience, but don’t seem to be getting any results when I apply for jobs online.”

People obsess over their format, font, list of accomplishments and other features of the inanimate object that is their resume. But they miss the broader context–what happens to all those resumes after you submit them.

If you are answering job ads, your resume is just one of hundreds of resumes that will be sent in response to a job advertisement. Who is your competition? What is the hiring manager looking for? Did anyone even read your resume? Not knowing can drive you mad.

Did you hear about the guy in Manhattan who ran his own fake Craigslist ad just so he could see who he was competing with? He received 653 responses in 24 hours, for a job that pays $13/hr in Manhattan. 

Your font will not help you overcome that level of competition. But if you knew who you were competing with, you would devise a better job search strategy. Like developing your skills, volunteering and networking to make connections, joining social media groups and starting conversations with new people. Start asking your contacts about what kinds of people you are competing with, and then set about making yourself more competitive, instead of sitting at home rewriting your resume.

Words and Terms that Ruin a Resume

Most resumes are a thicket of deadwood words and phrases: empty cliches, annoying jargon, and recycled buzzwords. And the people who read your resume (Recruiters, HR folks, and hiring managers) see these terms over and over again. If you have ever spent an hour reading other people’s resumes, you know just how tedious it can be.

You can make your resume far more interesting says Charles Purdy, writing for monster.com. The key is to rake the dead wood out of your resume, starting with these common terms:

1. “Salary Negotiable”
If you’re wasting a precious line of your resume on this term, it looks as though you’re padding—that you’ve run out of things to talk about.

2.  “References available by request”
See the preceding comment about unnecessary terms.

3.  “Responsible for ______” Reading this term, the recruiter can almost picture the C-average, uninspired employee mechanically fulfilling his or her job requirements—no more, no less. Having been responsible for something isn’t something you did—it’s something that happened to you. Turn phrases like “responsible for” into “managed,” “led,” or other decisive, strong verbs.

4. “Experience working in ______”
Again, experience is something that happens to you—not something you achieve. Describe your background in terms of achievements.

5. “Problem-solving skills”
You know who else has problem-solving skills, asks Purdy? Monkeys. Dogs. Mice. On your resume, stick to skills that require a human.

6. “Detail-oriented”
You pay attention to details. So does everyone else. Don’t you have something unique to tell the hiring manager?

7. “Hard-working”
Show, don’t tell. It’s a lot more convincing if you describe situations in which your hard work benefitted an employer (and use concrete details).

8.  “Team player”
See the preceding comment about showing instead of telling. Most jobs involve working with someone else. If you have relevant success stories about collaboration, put them on your resume.

9. “Proactive”
This is a completely deflated buzzword, says Purdy. Again, show; don’t tell.

10. “Objective”
Use this term carefully, Purdy advises. The “Objective” section of a resume is usually better replaced by a summary of your background and achievements, and a description of what you have to offer an employer.

Watch your language on your resume

If your resume is like those of most people, it’s not as good as it could be. The problem is the language that is used. “Most resumes are a thicket of deadwood words and phrases — empty cliches, annoying jargon, and recycled buzzwords. Recruiters, HR folks, and hiring managers see these same terms over and over again,” says Charles Purdy, blogging for monsterthinking.com. He recommends you get rid of these terms:

1. “Salary Negotiable”
If you’re wasting a precious line of your resume on this term, it looks as though you’re padding—that you’ve run out of things to talk about, Purdy says.

2.  “References available by request”
See the preceding comment about unnecessary terms.

3.  “Responsible for ______” Reading this term, “the recruiter can almost picture the C-average, uninspired employee mechanically fulfilling his or her job requirements: no more, no less.” Having been responsible for something isn’t something you did—it’s something that happened to you. Turn phrases like “responsible for” into “managed,” “led,” or other decisive, strong verbs.

4. “Experience working in ______”
Again, experience is something that happens to you—not something you achieve. Describe your background in terms of achievements.

5. “Detail-oriented”
So, you pay attention to details. Well, so does everyone else. Don’t you have something unique to tell the hiring manager, asks Purdy, adding that “putting this on your resume only makes that accidental typo in your cover letter or resume all the more comical.”

6. “Hard-working”
Anyone can call himself or herself a hard worker. It’s a lot more convincing if you describe situations in which your hard work benefitted an employer (and use concrete details).

7.  “Team player”
See the preceding comment about showing instead of telling. There are very few jobs that don’t involve working with someone else. If you have relevant success stories about collaboration, put them on your resume. Talk about the kinds of teams you worked on, and how you succeeded.

8. “Proactive”
This is a completely deflated buzzword. Again, says Purdy, “show; don’t tell.”

 

For similar resume writing tips, check out: How to Make your Resume less Boring, 13 Phrases to Avoid in Your Resume, and How to Write a Powerful Resume.

How to Create a Text-Only Resume

We spend so much time formatting our resumes so font is clear, the bullets line up and the size is just perfect.  And then, we submit our resume online or upload it to a database that takes out all of the formatting!  Even worse, they often put weird symbols in the place of our beautiful bullets or accented words – so when recruiters go to read them, they look awful.  Barbara Safani at glassdoor.com blog has a few tips for how to make text-only documents that will look proper when pasted into text boxes on websites or uploaded to applicant tracking systems.  Here are a couple tips:

  • Convert your document to a .txt file
  • Take out any bold, italics, underlining, bullet points, etc.
  • Left justify your text, using spaces (not tab) to indent sections.

Resume and Cover Letter Advice

As you’re writing a new resume, or revamping it from prior years, extra tips for effective resumes are always useful.  KnowHR posted their “50 Best Tips for Getting the Job You Always Wanted“.

Some of them are very useful:

  • When applying for jobs at small companies: If you can find the names of people who work there, say Dear Name, not To Whom It May Concern.
  • On resumes, objectives only have a downside. If you use them, make sure they match the job you’re applying for.
  • Use a professional-sounding email address – preferably with some variation on your name.
  • A document name like “dad’s resume” is a strong indication that Dad doesn’t have the computer skills to do the job.  (Same goes for resume.doc).
  • Use parallel structure in your resume. If you don’t know what that means, look it up.
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