Tips for Successful Resumes #3

In order to have a resume which has maximum impact on potential employers, you should carefully consider everything you include on your resume. Allocating space to on your resume tells the potential employer that you consider it important. Be sure you are focusing their attention on the things that matter most to them.

Keep the Employer Perspective in Mind – Yes, it is your resume and you need to tell them about you but you have greater impact if you prepare your resume with the employer in mind. You will likely have more content than will fit on one page so when making decisions about what to include, keep the employer perspective in mind. You should focus on the skills and experiences that are transferrable and most relevant to the employer. It should be about what they need not what you want. Consider how you can make a difference to a company and help solve their problems.

Don’t let it stand alone – General rule of thumb for a successful job search, don’t ever send your resume alone when applying for a job. If the position is worth applying to, it is worth preparing a customized cover letter. This gives you an opportunity to clearly “connect the dots” between their specific needs in the job posting and your experience and expertise. Don’t expect an employer to take the time to do that themselves.  Show them how you can add value in this role.  If you are applying online, be sure you follow all the steps required in the posting. Don’t give them an easy opportunity to eliminate you.

Life Outside of Work – It can certainly be appropriate to show employers a glimpse of your life outside of work. If you have volunteer experience, you can include a volunteer section. Identify the organization, your role and the dates.  If you were involved in an organization that could be unpopular or divisive, carefully consider how important it is to include it on your resume. If you have unique hobbies or interests, you can list those as well. Sometimes these unique items make someone want to talk to you. Avoid “spending time with friends and family” since that clearly doesn’t differentiate you.

Consider Having Multiple Versions – For most job seekers, a single resume is not enough. If you are pursuing opportunities in different fields, consider having separate versions of your resume to focus on the most relevant skills in each field. Depending on the specific job you are applying for, you may want to emphasize different accomplishments from your previous experience and you may want to update the key words in your summary to better align with the job description. Yes, this is additional work but it can increase the likelihood of an employer wanting to know more about you. Your work experience overall remains the same, but you can choose to highlight different accomplishments and skills depending on the specific opportunity.

You are the Product – In a job search, you are the product. This is the most important sales role of your life. Be sure your resume is the best possible reflection of you – your skills, experience, accomplishments and expertise. Make employers want to meet you. Make them want to have you on their team.

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New Year’s Resolutions for Job Seekers

The ball has dropped, you’ve toasted the new year and you’ve made a promise to yourself that 2019 will be a year to remember when it comes to taking the next step in your career. But, if your number one goal for the new year is to land a new job, hopes and wishes are not enough; you need to define and execute a plan to ensure your success.

Finding a new job is both an art and a science, and there are a few tried-and-true guidelines for helping job seekers prepare to land that coveted job in the new year. So if you want to start 2019 off on the right foot, career-wise , consider adding one or more of these to your list of resolutions:

  • Create a plan – You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going. Define your goals and a specific plan to achieve them, along with actionable steps. Assess your skills, strengths and interests. Think about the type of work you enjoyed even it was in internships, part-time jobs or even volunteer experiences. Document your plan and measure your progress against it. Set weekly goals, and hold yourself accountable. Reward yourself by doing something you enjoy once you’ve accomplished your weekly goals.
  • Prepare your tools – If you are planning a trip, you pack your bags and make the appropriate reservations. As you embark on your job search journey, you also need to have the appropriate tools. Is your resume up-to-date and ready to go? Have someone else proof it for you to ensure that it has no typos or grammatical errors. Practice writing customized cover letters, and ask for feedback. Consider developing a networking profile to share during networking meetings. Think about who you can use for references and ensure that you have their current contact information. Having the right tools won’t get you the job, but it can get your foot in the door so you have an opportunity to sell yourself for the job.
  • Develop a target list – What companies are you most interested in working for? What industries interest you the most? What companies hire for the roles you are considering? What companies are in your geographic target area? Start your list and then expand your research. Use online tools to create a robust target list. Research those companies to learn more about them. Use your target list to direct your job search efforts. Prioritize your list based on where you have contacts, alumni connections or LinkedIn connections. Look at recent posting history to further prioritize your list.
  • Network, network, network – This is the single most important thing you can do in your job search. More positions are filled through networking than all other approaches combined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 80 percent of all jobs are filled through networking. Online postings often receive hundreds of responses. To stand out and be noticed, you need an internal contact to pass your resume to the hiring manager. Networking helps you build and identify those internal contacts. Networking is NOT asking for a job, however. It is meeting with someone at the company to learn more about the company, the industry, the types of roles they offer, they skills they value, the corporate culture and their hiring process. Networking involves a significant amount of listening. The holiday season can be the perfect time for networking – some businesses are less busy so managers are more likely to have flexibility for meetings, you will see family and friends at holiday gatherings and you can ask who they might know in your target companies, as well.
  • Identify networking contacts – Identify all your contacts (family, friends, former colleagues), and see who they know at your target companies. Think about former work colleagues, former student colleagues, etc. and see who they know. Utilize your alumni database. Search LinkedIn. The true power of LinkedIn can be found in the groups, so identify relevant groups to expand your network. Work to identify contacts in all your target companies. Do your neighbors or your parents’ friends have contacts in those companies? Ask for 15 – 20 minutes for an informational interview. Come to the discussion well prepared and learn as much as you can. Ask each contact for at least three other people you should contact. Always thank the contact and keep track so you can follow-up when you see an opportunity at that company. Challenge yourself to make at least five networking connections each week. It makes a difference.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare – For each informational interview, prepare as if it were a real interview. Research the company. Prepare your questions. Make a positive impression. Demonstrate your interest and passion by coming well prepared. Practice with friends and family if you are not comfortable.
  • Always say “thank you” – Interviewers remember when candidates send a hand-written thank you note. Stand out from the crowd. Time is a precious commodity so say thank you when someone is willing to share time with you. Most busy professionals have a full email inbox but receive very little “snail mail.” Send a handwritten note if you want to be remembered.
  • Add value to your resume – If you know you are missing critical skills on your resume, can you volunteer a few hours per week? Most non-profits need the help and would give you an opportunity to develop and enhance your skills. Maybe an unpaid internship is a good investment to add critical skills to your resume. In addition to adding valuable skills, it also shows your initiative and creativity.
  • Protect your social media presence – Many potential employers check applicants online before making an offer. Be careful what you post knowing that it may be seen by a potential employer. Pay close attention to your security settings. Put your best foot forward.
  • Sweat the details – They really do matter! Many cover letters and resumes are not moved to the “interview pile” because of lack of attention to detail. There should be absolutely no typos or grammatical errors in the cover letter or resume. Do not cut and paste your cover letters – it is too easy to send with the wrong company name or wrong job title. Be careful not to brag about your attention to detail when the letter has obvious errors. Don’t exaggerate your experience – two years is not extensive experience in anything. Be sure to be well prepared. Arrive on time. Know who you are meeting with. Don’t ask the interviewer what the company does, instead have some well-thought out questions already prepared.
  • Remember, it isn’t all about you – A hiring manager has business needs to address. That is why they received approval to fill the position. There is a specific job to be done, and they want to find the best qualified person to fill that job and the best fit for the organization. Don’t focus your cover letter and/or interview on what this position can do for your career or how much you need particular benefits. The employer really doesn’t care. Focus instead on how you can help the company meet their business needs. What valuable skills do you bring to the table? How can you make a difference?
  • Be responsive – When employers do start calling you for interviews, be responsive and professional every step of the way. Make a positive impression with every interaction. Dress professionally, arrive a few minutes early, answer your phone professionally and come well prepared.
  • Differentiate yourself – There are many candidates for each open position. Use every opportunity throughout the process to differentiate yourself positively. Again, the focus should be on how you can meet the employer’s needs, not what they can do for you.

Don’t leave your career path to chance; now’s the perfect time to revamp your approach as you resolve to pursue new opportunities in 2019. Develop a plan and execute it flawlessly, and there’s a good chance you’ll be celebrating a new job in the new year.

Laid Off During the Holidays

Laid off at the holidays? Of course you are upset, frustrated, disappointed, maybe even scared. It is tempting to say, “it’s the holiday’s, I’ll start looking in January.” Even though you may not want to jump into the job search, you can’t miss this great opportunity to jump start the process so you are well positioned for success in the new year.

Get rid of the anger or negative feelings or at least put them aside. Focus on what you want to do and how you will sell yourself. This isn’t a personal failure, it is an economic reality. Try to focus your energy on your next opportunity.

Timing is Everything – This could be the best time of year to be looking. Many companies have new budget years starting January 1 and those often include budget approval for new positions. Hiring freezes often expire at the end of the year as well. It is not unusual to see a flurry of hiring early in the new year for new positions and replacement hires. More than other times of the year, there are often multiple positions open in the same timeframe. It can also be a great time for networking.

Prepare for Success – There are a number of things you can do in the next month to be well-positioned to take advantage of those openings the first of the year.

  • Define your plan – Identify target companies and research them. Use your alumni networks, Linked In and other tools to identify contacts at your target companies.  Research the roles you are interested in and the qualifications for those positions.
  • Network, Network, Network – For many professionals, there is some quieter time at work around the holidays. Unless they are closing the books for the year or involved in a significant time constrained project, this is an easier time of year to get on someone’s calendar for an informational interview. Take advantage of this to network like crazy. Talk to as many people as you can in your target companies to learn more about the companies, their hiring practices and the skills sets they seek. Talk to people in the roles that interest you.
  • Maintain contact with your network. Ask each contact for other people you can talk to. Always follow-up and say thank you.  Keep them posted on your progress.
  • Identify key professional groups for your target roles and attend events this month. Many will have holiday gatherings which are a great opportunity to make a lot of contacts.

Leverage your Personal Networks – This is the season of many holiday get-togethers with family and friends. Be sure people know you are looking and what you are looking for. They may have contacts you can utilize.

A productive December of research, planning and networking could position you for great success in January when positions open up. Resist the temptation to take the month of December off. Do your homework now so you are prepared for success in the new year. Set targets for yourself and monitor your progress. Be sure to celebrate your success. Take a walk or visit with a friend if you’ve achieved your job search targets for the week.

‘Tis the Season: Tips for Networking Over the Holidays

Networking is the single most important thing you to do to support your job search, and the holidays were made for networking. Take advantage of the holiday season to expand your network and to reconnect with contacts. Whether you are seeking a new career opportunity or are hoping to advance in your current position, here are a few tips for how you can mix a bit of business into the season’s festivities.

Make Networking a Priority – Many managers have a bit of breathing room around the holidays if their job doesn’t require significant year-end activity. Their phones ring less often, they receive fewer emails, and they are in fewer meetings since many colleagues and customers take time off. Take advantage of this opportunity to significantly ramp up your networking. Identify contacts in your target companies. Reach out to them and ask to meet over a cup of coffee. They are more likely to take the meeting when things are quiet. This is an outstanding opportunity to make more connections in a short period of time. Use the opportunity to make key connections in the companies you are most interested in as a future employer, as well. Set networking goals for yourself each week and hold yourself accountable. Find alumni or LinkedIn connections at your target companies and schedule yourself a series of networking discussions over the holiday months.

Consider Low-Hanging Fruit – Not everyone enjoys networking, but it critical to career success. Take advantage of the many social events during the holidays to network in a friendly and safe environment. The holidays bring low-hanging fruit – family gatherings, celebrations with friends, social events with professional associations and even the office holiday party. With little effort, you can meet a large number of interesting people over the holidays. Be very clear with family and friends about what you are looking for and what companies you are most interested in. Your family and friends may have valuable connections they can introduce you to. Simply ask new contacts what they do, and it will often spark an interesting conversation. You can always ask to follow-up for more details.

Prepare for Opportunities – The key advantage of all this year-end networking is that employers have new positions approved with the start of the New Year. Perhaps the person you met with will have a need and will remember the positive impression you made. Maybe the position is in another part of the organization but your contact can forward your resume with a note of recommendation. Or there’s a chance that you will even be given a heads up about a position that will be opening soon. While the formal hiring process may slow down a bit with key players on vacation, it is a critical time to move your search forward with some strategic networking.

So what are some do’s and don’ts for networking during the holiday season?

  • What you should do:
    • Be focused and strategic – target the companies you are most interested in and seek contacts in those organizations, particularly people in positions that you can learn from
    • Set goals – identify a target and monitor your progress for number of networking meetings each week or month
    • Be well prepared – research the company and the individual in advance, have questions prepared
    • Keep the conversation going – ask open-ended questions to gather more information
    • Be an active, engaged listener – listen carefully to the advice and information they share, and take notes as appropriate
    • Prepare to share – think about your personal elevator pitch
    • Follow up is key – ask who else they think you should speak to and would they refer you, along with professional associations they recommend
    • Add value for them – find a way to assist them with information or a connection to keep the connection mutual
    • Always send a thank you note – it can make a lasting impression
    • Stay in touch periodically – holiday card with a personal note or even a New Year’s card would be a nice touch
  • What you should not to do:
    • Do not ask for a job – this is about building a relationship, not asking a favor
    • Do not do all the talking –do more listening than speaking, you want to learn about the company and the functional area of interest
    • Do not be arrogant or disrespectful – that goes without saying!
    • Do not stalk the person – if they do not respond after three attempts, take them off your list
    • Do not monopolize their time – steer clear of taking more time than the specified without asking if they can spare a few more minutes
    • Don’t waste their time – if it’s something you could have learned on their website, don’t ask
    • Don’t over-imbibe at events – stay focused on the networking. Eat prior to attending the event so you won’t be starving. Don’t try to balance both food and drink, always have your right hand available to shake hands. Never indulge in more than one drink. Keep your wits about you and put you best foot forward.

You’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and made some great connections over the holidays. But how can you capitalize on these new relationships and keep them going once the holidays are over? Here are a few final tips for keeping your momentum with the job search as you enter the New Year:

  • When you see a position of interest at a target company after the first of the year, reach out to your contact
  • Use your contacts to gather insider information about the position and the team
  • Ask your contact to share your resume with the hiring manager – get in the short pile the manager will review instead of the mountain of online resumes
  • Follow-up with relevant information or a new contact for your networking contact to continue to add value
  • Keep your contact posted on your progress

With a little common sense and a bit of perseverance, you can make this holiday season a memorable one when it comes to advancing your career. Network the right way, and you just may set yourself up for success in the new year!

Network Through the Holiday Parties

‘Tis the season for holiday parties and gatherings with both business and social contacts.  These activities can help you advance your career if you use them appropriately.  The holiday season is one of the best opportunities to network.

Holiday Office Parties

  • Network like crazy. This is an amazing opportunity to make connections outside the group you work with every day. Try to meet as many people as possible and ask about what they do. Keep track of people you want to follow-up with back in the office. Use this informal opportunity to make a positive impression and build your connections. The guests of your colleagues could also be very valuable networking connections.
  • Use Every Opportunity to Connect. Resist the temptation to hide in the corner or spend the entire evening with the people you work with every day. Take advantage of the opportunity to network as much as possible. Talk to people waiting in line for the bar, the buffet or even the rest room. You have something in common already so use the opportunity to introduce yourself and learn about what they do.  You may be pleasantly surprised by who you meet and what you learn.
  • Keep it professional. Yes, it is a social event, but it is still a business event. You have to face these people on Monday morning. You do not want to be the talk of the office on Monday morning. Do not do anything to stand out in a negative way.  This is not the time to overindulge, make unwanted advances, bad mouth the company or take over the microphone for karaoke. Keep it professional and you’ll have no regrets. Drinking too much at the party could be a career limiting move.
  • Dress professionally. While it is fine to get in the spirit of the festivities and dress up a bit, keep it professional. Avoid anything suggestive, revealing or inappropriate.

Social Holiday Gatherings

  • Network Constantly. Use each gathering as an opportunity to meet new people and learn a bit about what they do.  For those with whom you wish to have a more in depth conversation, ask if you can follow up after the holidays.  Most people like to talk about what they do so just ask and you’ll be surprised by what you learn.
  • Share Your Focus. If you are seriously looking for your next opportunity, let people know what you are looking for so they are able to identify opportunities to help.  They may have contacts at your target companies. Don’t spend the entire event pressing people for contacts but bring it up as appropriate in your conversations.  You never know what valuable connections may result from a casual conversation at a social event.
  • Behave Professionally. Make a great impression so people will remember you positively and will want to introduce you to their contacts.
  • Make Introductions. Help others meet people at the event by offering to make introductions.  They will appreciate the connections and they will value your support.

Advancing Your Career Within Your Current Company

What is a successful professional to do if they are very good at their current job but aspire to climb the ladder and to take on new challenges?

Honest Assessment of Skills and Gaps – Before any next step in your career, it is critical to do a very honest assessment of your skill set and your gaps. What are the critical skills for success in the position you aspire to? Which of those skills are particular strengths? Which areas require more work? Are there major gaps where you might need additional training and/or experience? Look at performance reviews, ask trusted colleagues for feedback, ask your mentor and your friends for input. Gather comprehensive data on your strengths and areas for develop. Define a specific plan on how you will address the gaps in the year ahead. When opportunity knocks you want to be sure you are ready.

Have a Mentor – Everyone needs a mentor or a personal board of directors to help them navigate their career. This should be someone more senior than you are in position and often age as well. Learn from their experience and perspective. Ask them for honest and actionable feedback. Use them as a sounding board as you build you skills assessment and as you navigate the journey to your next career move.

Train and Develop Your Replacement – The organization currently values your contributions in your current job very highly. That’s great, but you don’t want that to stand in your way of future advancement. Often people get so focused on how to get experience and visibility to lead to that next job that they forget to worry about who will do their current job. Identify a rising star on your team and start training them on how to be successful in what you are currently doing. Provide projects which offer learning experience as well as visibility. Nurture this person along and make sure your boss knows you are working to train this person to someday do your job. Some people worry this will show the boss they are not needed but in fact it can be a shrewd move. Many managers are hesitant to take you out of a job you are doing well for fear of what will fall apart. Help them start looking for your next opportunity because you have your current responsibilities covered.

Open and Honest Conversations – Have open and honest conversations with your manager about your longer term goals. Ask for input on what you need to develop to be qualified for the next step.  Ask for special projects or assignments that would add experience and increase your visibility as someone who can do more than the current job. You have to be patient and respectful. This isn’t about demanding anything it is asking for help throughout the journey. Sometimes it is a position you aspire to that your manager might have never considered but after talking about it they keep visualizing the possibility. Engage them in helping you advance your career.

Define and Implement a Plan – Define and document a specific plan of how you plan to achieve this goal.  Having a goal is not enough. If you don’t know where you are going, you’re going to have a tough time getting there. Identify target companies and/or target positions. Commit to networking activity levels. Define specific activities and time-frames and hold yourself accountable. A great goal that sits on the shelf has little possibility of success. Define you plan and execute it well, keeping track of your accomplishments and milestones. Whether your next step is in your current organization or in a new company, you have to develop and implement a plan to increase the likelihood that you will achieve it.

Network, network, network – While networking is critical to an external job search it is also critical for your advancement internally. It really is all about who you know and who they know. It is the single most important and effective step you can take in your career development. The majority of jobs are filled through networking in this economy. Talk to people you know. Even when you are seeking a more challenging role in your current company, talk to people in the new area, talk to people who interact with that group.  Learn as much as you can about what is required for success in that role.  Understand how that role interacts with the rest of the organization. The more you know, the more effective you can be in the process. Also the more people who know you are interested, the more likely you are to be considered for an appropriate opportunity.

Be Realistic – You may have a dream job in mind but realistically assess whether that is a possible next step from your current position. Often there is a step or two between your current role and your ultimate desired position. Learn enough about your dream job to identify critical next steps as part of your preparation. Do they value someone who has worked in more than one division or functional area? Is a foreign assignment critical to reaching executive levels? Understanding what they will be looking for in the senior position can help you be more strategic in determining your next step or two. Keep the end goal in mind, gather intelligence from your network and effectively execute your plan. This significantly increases your likelihood of success.

Connect the Dots with a Customized Cover Letter

A customized cover letter is the only tool available for the hiring manager reviewing applicants to specifically link the requirements in the job description to the experience in the resume. Overlooking the cover letter in the job search process is a risky move since it is your best sales tool. If the job is worth applying to, it is worth writing a customized cover letter.

At Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business MBA Career Center, we work closely with our students to help them learn to write effective, customized cover letters. An effective cover letter identifies your transferable skills and addresses how you will meet the needs of the employer. Don’t assume that they can connect the dots between their needs and your experience. Clearly show them what you bring to the table for this position.

Students prepare practice cover letters and receive feedback from their advisors. They also prepare cover letters for their mock interviews and receive additional feedback from their mock interviewers. A generic or template cover letter will not effectively address the specific needs of the employer and should never be used. Highlighting the key requirements in the job description and the relevant skills on your resume can visually identify the areas of focus for your customized cover letter.

For the hiring manager, the cover letter also acts as a writing sample.  Be sure you have no grammatical or spelling errors. Be sure you have the name of the company and the position listed correctly. Demonstrate your professional communication skills by delivering a targeted, customized, professional cover letter.

A cover letter will not likely land you the job but it can definitely get you an interview which is the goal. Get the interview so you have an opportunity to sell yourself.