Dr. Colleen Georges is a professional psychologist who has focused her career on job seeking and writing the perfect resume. She’s a certified counselor, time management consultant, career coach, leadership expert, and if that weren’t enough, she runs Colleen’s Career Creations, a resume writing and job coaching service. Somehow, she found the time to speak with us about how to write the best possible resume.
What are some common problems you see on resumes, and why do you think they persist?
The two most prevalent issues I encounter with resumes are lack of a clear job target or career focus and documents that read like job task descriptions, rather than career achievement highlights. Fortunately, I see fewer and fewer resumes that begin with objective statements, which are generally unfocused and do little to separate one candidate’s value from another. However, I still see many resumes with summary of qualifications sections that are too vague or broad, or resumes that have no summary at all.
What makes a strong resume?
A strong resume needs to effectively brand professionals in their field of practice, and immediately showcase their professional title/job target, years of experience, specific expertise/hard skills and unique value propositions. Often, professionals believe that since this information is spread throughout their resume, there is no need to summarize and present it at the beginning. However, most recruiters and hiring managers today are flooded with hundreds of resumes and lack the time to read through every line of each document to determine which candidates have the requisite skills for the job. Thus, candidates can make recruiters’ and hiring managers’ lives easier by summarizing this information in a strong branding statement right at the beginning of the resume in a 10- to 15-second read.
More importantly, job seekers can do themselves a wealth of good by following their branding statement with a section that showcases five to seven of their proudest career achievements. Such a section should highlight accomplishments that demonstrate a broad spectrum of skill sets that are relevant to their target field. This can be done by underscoring the quantitative and qualitative results of their work, such as costs cut, revenue generated, time saved, customer satisfaction increased, errors decreased, manuals written, policies and procedures developed, training instituted and so forth.
Even more effective, a career achievements section can outline the story behind the outcomes, in a bite-sized, bulleted Challenge, Actions, Results format. By nature, people learn and understand people best through their unique stories, which is why interviewers often ask candidates to discuss times when they have performed a particular action. Articulating stories, both on a resume and in an interview, demonstrates to an employer that the candidate is purposeful in their actions and both understands and can articulate their process. Furthermore, this section backs up the skills the job seeker presents in their branding statement.
Many job seekers do not include career achievement sections because they believe the time to share this information will be during the interview. In this competitive job market, however, without sharing these successes on a resume, an interview may never come. Yet most commonly, the reason for this lack of information on job seekers’ resumes is because from the time we are children, we are taught not to brag about our accomplishments, as others may find us obnoxious. Over the years, this lesson makes it progressively more challenging to acknowledge our accomplishments to ourselves, nonetheless an audience. However, when job seeking, emphasizing our unique talents and successes is critical, and thus we must unlearn the lesson, at least in this arena.
What can job boards do to help job seekers write a better resume?
A number of job boards are already providing resources to job seekers, such as resume critiques and tips. However, a wonderful resource would be to not only suggest providing branding statements and achievement stories, but to offer suggested skills required by various career fields, as well as common deliverables for these fields. For example, an accountant might need skills like variance analysis, bank reconciliation, and audit preparation, and common deliverables may be decreasing risk exposure, diminishing accounting errors and automating processes. Sometimes the hardest part of resume writing is getting started in figuring what skills and accomplishments to highlight. Resources like this may help job seekers brainstorm.
What are some red flags we might accidentally put up on a resume or say during an interview?
The most common red flags on resumes are generally items that point to age, which can unfortunately lead to age discrimination in some cases. I typically suggest that my clients represent that last 15-20 years of their career and leave off college graduation dates that go further back than 20 years. Furthermore, computer skills that are very dated, like DOS for example, should be left off. I also suggest eliminating AOL email accounts as well, since it is remembered to be a part of the advent of the internet, and the “dial-up” days. I typically advise clients to get a Gmail account. It is most certainly the “in” email, forever evolving in its capabilities.
In both resumes and interviews, I also advise my clients not to draw attention to job gaps by stating that they were terminated or took a leave due to illness, an accident or a family-related situation. This information can inadvertently lead to fear that such issues may arise again in the future and negatively impact employment if hired.
How can employers write job postings to let employees know what they’re looking for? Is it just some requirements, or can they convey a culture in a posting?
I am always of the belief that with job postings, the more detail, the better. With detail, the employer is less likely to attract candidates who lack the requisite experience and skills. As a resume writer, I love job postings that break tasks into umbrella categories and provide the specific accountability within them. This enables me to pull out the candidate’s relevant skills and accomplishments and match them to the posting. When utilized by employers, applicant tracking systems are scanning for this type of skill match, so it works to both the employer’s and candidate’s advantage for employers to offer detailed job descriptions in postings.
Conveying corporate culture would be a fantastic advantage to both employer and candidate. Employers can weed out receiving resumes from candidates who may not be a great fit, and candidates can avoid wasting energy applying for a job that will not suit their work style and values.
What do you wish everyone, from recruiters to job seekers, knew about resumes?
This is a great question, and not an easy one to answer. I would say that I wish recruiters, employers and job seekers recognized that a resume is meant to be a job seeker’s marketing document. Like any marketing collateral, it should showcase the best of who the candidate is. Sometimes, recruiters and employers get frustrated because they later learn that a candidate left off a short-term job, for example. Similarly, candidates occasionally fear leaving off a short-term position because their omission may be “caught.” There is a staunch difference between omitting a career blip and, say, creating a position you never had on your resume. Candidates should never lie on a resume – this is a matter of ethics and integrity. Marketing documents are created to describe a product’s attributes. No product or person is perfect, but all have their own uniquely fantastic qualities. With this said, the resume is the prelude to the interview. The interview is where candidate and employer see if those unique attributes and the company’s position, team and culture collectively create the right synergy.
How will technology change the resume? Will we see more links? Videos? Gimmicks?
Technology is absolutely changing resumes in a wonderful way. We can now make our resumes come alive by linking them to our online articles, interviews, features, video presentations, documents, artistic endeavors or similar media. We can also create web resumes and create social media profiles that give recruiters and employers a wider window into who we are, not just what we have done. We can now show employers, in action, what we bring to the table.
Yet technology has indeed amplified the pressure for job seekers. I now tell my job-seeking clients that they must be on LinkedIn. It’s not a luxury anymore – for recruiters and hiring managers in most industries, it’s seen as a necessity. Those who are not on LinkedIn can be viewed as lacking social media savvy, which is a career no-no. But it’s not just about being on LinkedIn, it’s about using all its resources. Recruiters and hiring managers can gather additional information about candidates from LinkedIn through recommendations and group membership and activity. I do a lot of one-on-one client coaching and group workshops on optimally leveraging LinkedIn and other social media like Twitter and Facebook. Some of this coaching involves what to post and what not to post, how to set privacy settings and simply how to use all the features of the various social media to the job seeker’s advantage.