Resume Considerations for Career Changers

So, you have decided to make a career change.  Your first challenge is how to structure your resume to fit the career you desire when your work history fits your previous career.  If you don’t put the effort into carefully focusing your resume, you will be lost in the pile of resumes from candidates who already have the relevant prior work experience.

Here are some considerations to ensure that your resume is noticed for those positions in your new career field.

Research and Networking

Don’t overlook the importance of research and networking to gain insight into the critical skills in your desired new role and the industry terminology to support it.  Understand what skills are expected or even desirable in the new field so you can objectively evaluation your transferrable skills.


Be sure to make your career objective clear in your summary.   Without stating a specific goal in your summary, think about how you describe yourself and your skills.  You are rebranding yourself with this resume so be sure you have a strong summary to capture the reader’s attention by clearly focusing on your most valuable transferable skills for the positions you aspire to hold in the future.  Remember, you are selling yourself.

Professional Experience

Your prior work experience is what it is.  You have to accurately reflect employer names, job titles and dates of employment since that will all be verified later in the process.  Instead of focusing on all past accomplishments, highlight the most relevant accomplishments for your new career direction.  Focus on the skills most critical in the new position.  Quantify your results whenever possible.  Avoid the temptation to include extraneous, irrelevant information.  Focus on your major achievements.

Other Skills and Activities

Employers want to hire a complete person.  Remember to include technical skills as well as language proficiency as relevant.  Also include volunteer activities or unique interests.  If you list an interest such as reading, be prepared to talk about the last book you read and what you found most interesting.  Often it is a unique interest that captures an interviewer’s attention.

Throughout the resume be use to accurately describe your experience and accomplishments but wherever possible use terminology that is relevant to the new career direction you have identified.





Don’t Waste Valuable Space on Your Cover Letter

The real estate on your cover letter is very valuable.  I’ve written before about how critical it is that you customize your cover letter for each unique position and company to showcase your skills and experience to your best advantage.  But sometimes, that is not enough.  Particularly job seekers rushing to submit a cover letter often waste value space on their cover letter by including lines that say nothing or add little or no value.  It is time to banish those fillers from your cover letters going forward.

  • “References furnished upon request” – Don’t waste the real estate. If you aren’t willing to give references when requested, you will never be hired.  Of course you will provide references.  Don’t state the obvious.
  • “Resume Enclosed” – Your cover letter accompanies your resume and should make someone want to read your resume. Again, don’t waste space stating the obvious.
  • “While I don’t have….” – If you do not have the requested skills or experience it will be obvious to the hiring manager reading your letter and resume. No need to draw further attention to your lack of qualifications.  Your letter should focus on the positive and emphasize the relevant skills and experience you do offer.
  • “I am uniquely qualified…” – More often than not, you are not uniquely qualified. Job descriptions are written broadly enough that it would highly unusual to have only one person qualified for the position.  Using this line makes you look a bit arrogant and unaware of what is needed for the job.
  • “I want…” – To be blunt, the hiring manager really doesn’t care what you want. They are focused on whether or not you would add value to their company by being in this job.  Don’t waste time, energy or real estate focused on what you want because that doesn’t matter.  Focus on the specific needs of the employer and how you meet those needs.
  • “I have always admired XYZ Company…” First of all give a reason or it this line is a waste of space.  More importantly, be sure you don’t include this line in your letter to ABC Company.  This happens most frequently when candidates use a template cover letter and forget to update one of the citations.  This is careless and unprofessional.  For most hiring managers, this automatically puts your resume and cover letter in the no pile.  Don’t talk about your attention to detail, demonstrate it.

By eliminating lines that do not add any value, you can focus your customized cover letter on the skills and experience that bring the most value to the company.

Mastering Behavioral Interview Questions

Mastering Behavioral Interview Questions

It is highly likely that you will encounter behavioral questions in your interview.  They are easy to identify because they typically start with “tell me about a time…”, “Give me an example…”  “Describe a situation…”, etc.

Why do hiring managers ask behavioral questions?  Since they can’t see exactly how you will perform in their job at their company, they are looking for situations in your past that will help them anticipate how you will perform in their job.  They are using past behavior to anticipate future behavior.

Interviewers will expect answers to their behavioral questions on the spot for it is important to have several examples in mind that you can use as needed.  The more prepared you are ,the stronger your response will be.

Craft Your Responses Using the STAR Approach

It is important to follow the STAR approach when answering a behavioral question.

  • S/T – Situation or Task (10% of your answer) Describe the situation you were in or the task you needed to accomplish.  Use a specific event or situation and provide enough detail to put your response in context.  Be careful not to use acronyms.  This should be a high level summary.
  • A – Action (60% of your answer)  Share details of what you did, the obstacles you overcame and how you demonstrated your skills.  Show the interviewer what you did and what you accomplished in the situation.
  • R – Results (30% of your answer) Discuss the outcome. What were the results?  What did you accomplish?  If the outcome was not positive, focus on what you learned.

Most interviewees spend all their time on the situation and the action and neglect the most important aspect which is the results.  Be sure you allow time to show how your actions made a difference.  Also resist the temptation to spend so much time setting up the situation that you rush through the rest of your response.  Your goal is to demonstrate how you applied your skills and accomplished results.

Preparation is Key to Success

Those who believe they can “wing it” on behavioral questions often stumble in this critical part of the interview.  While you will not be given a list of behavioral questions in advance the job description offers significant insight into what the employer values in this position.  Read the job description carefully and highlight the key critical skills.  Think about examples you could share to address each of those critical skills.  Prepare your answers using the STAR method ensuring that you have a strong results summary at the end.  Practice has a significant positive impact on your responses to behavioral questions.  Be sure to practice multiple examples since you should only use the same story once in an interview.

Remember Team has no I

Employers realize that often projects are handled by a team.  Be very careful of using “I” to describe all the actions if you were part of a team.  Be clear about how you worked as part of the team and where you took individual responsibility.  They are often seeking new employees who can effectively work as part of a team.




Success on the Job Starts Day One

Success on the Job Starts Day One

Starting a new job is the perfect time to make a good impression.  You want the employer to be confident that they made the right decision in hiring you for the position.  The first hundred days in a new job can be one of the most critical times of your career.  Here are some recommendations based on feedback from our employers.

  • Be Punctual – This is a way to show you are serious about the job.  You can worry about flexibility later after you have proven yourself.  Always arrive a few minutes before starting time so you are ready and eager to begin your day.  Managers notice when employees are not punctual.  If something comes up and you need to ask for some time off, give as much advance notice as possible.  Try to minimize the negative impact on your work deadlines and offer to make up the time if appropriate.  Always be mindful of critical work deadlines.
  • Show Respect – Honor the culture of the organization you have joined and respect those in authority as well as your peers.  Put your cell phone on vibrate and avoid taking personal calls except in an emergency.  Do not use company property for personal reasons – this includes the internet.  Follow the company’s dress code.  Take the lead from your manager.  Don’t gossip or participate in the office rumor mill.  Also show respect of their current processes and procedures.  Don’t start out telling them their systems are antiquated and their processes don’t make sense.  Learn the systems and processes first.  Listen to why they do things the way they do.  There may well be significant opportunities for improvement but you need to invest the time in understanding the status quo and earn some credibility before you start proposing changes.
  • Open Communications – Identify your supervisor’s communications style and preferences and work to accommodate that style.  Also identify the style and preferences for your colleagues.  Discuss any concerns you have with your manager.  Provide your supervisor with progress reports.  Avoid surprises – such as a project not completed on deadline.  Let them know in advance if there are issues.  Keep your manager advised of any concerns that could impact results and deadlines.  Set the pattern for open, frequent communications early.  Ask for feedback regularly so you can fine tune your performance to ensure you are meeting or exceeding expectations.
  • Ask Questions – Do not make assumptions.  You are learning the company and the role.  Ask questions to be sure you understand.  Clarify requests to be sure you understand what you are being asked to do.  Inquire how your work supports the department’s goals and the company’s objectives.  It is not a sign of weakness to ask questions.  Don’t waste time and energy doing the wrong things because you didn’t ask.
  • Take Notes – Take notes so you don’t ask the same question again.  Review your notes and apply what you have learned when faced with similar tasks or issues.  Keep a record of your accomplishments – details of projects competed and impact on the organization, skills you developed or enhanced, knowledge you gained.  They know you are new and you will need to ask questions as part of the learning process but they will quickly grow frustrated if you keep asking the same questions.
  • Be Fully Engaged – If possible ask what you can do prior to your start date to learn more about the company, the team and the position.  Do your homework researching the company, competitors, industry etc.  Demonstrate your energy and enthusiasm.  Remain positive.  Show you are hungry for a challenge.  Pay attention to both quality and timeliness of your work.  Look for ways to exceed expectations.
  • Identify Solutions not Problems – When you encounter problems, try to find possible solutions.  Identify unmet business needs and ways you can help meet them.  When identifying a problem, always offer at least one reasonable solution.
  • Listen – Learn as much as you can by listening to others as they talk about the industry, the company and the department.  Listen carefully to instructions for assignments and clarify as needed.  Pay attention to deadlines, guidelines, and procedures.  Always ask for feedback and think about how you can apply what you learned going forward.  Seek continuous improvement.
  • Earn the Challenging Assignments – Employers don’t give the most challenging project to the rookie in most cases.  Demonstrate with your early assignments that they can count on you to deliver high quality and timely work and you will begin to earn more challenging assignments.
  • Show initiative – Look for ways to exceed expectations.  Identify unmet business needs and determine ways you can help.  Offer to assist a busy colleague with a big project.  Volunteer for a project that needs a home.
  • Be Flexible and Adaptable – Accept all assignments cheerfully and give every assignment your best effort.  Be open minded about new ideas, new procedures and different work.  Anticipate change and embrace it.
  • Curiosity – Ask open ended questions to demonstrate your interest.  Offer ideas and suggestions for possible improvements.  Seek opportunities to learn more about the company and the industry.

The manager hired you instead of all the other candidates because he/she believed you could make a difference on their team.  Show them from day one that they made the right decision.


Trends in the Job Market

Trends in the Job Market for the New Year

For those planning to seek a new job in the new year, where are the best places to look?  It is challenging to identify overall trends because companies in the same industry may be facing very different challenges.  Sometimes a company is cutting positions in one area but hiring in another due to specific needs and skills sets required to support the business.  Here are some significant opportunities to consider as you plan a job search in the new year.

Small and Mid-Sized Companies – It is easy to assume that there are more jobs in the largest companies but in reality there is more hiring in the small to mid-sized companies and these are the organizations that are growing.  Do your research to identify smaller organizations in your target industry and location.  Smaller companies are often looking for a broader set of skills.  They don’t hire someone to do one very specific thing, they need strategic thinkers who can grow and change with the company.  Project management, strong communications skills, the ability to work across functional areas and to ability to change directions quickly are critical in this environment.  These opportunities represent positions that provide broader cross-functional exposure to the business and you are closer to the decision making process.

Supply Chain – Jobs in this field continue to be hot.  Whether it is in supplier management, category management, procurement, operations, transportation or logistics, these skills are in demand.  While once found only in manufacturing environments, we are seeing a significant increase in demand for supply chain knowledge and experience in financial services, healthcare, retail, distribution and technology organizations.  Often effective management of the supply chain is one of the few areas for companies to still identify savings and efficiencies.

Marketing – We are seeing many firms investing in their marketing functions again.  Skills in the new technologies are critical – web marketing, social media, etc.  Product management and brand management are also critical needs.  We are seeing an increased demand for marketing analytics for market research, consumer insights and timely information to make business decisions.

Finance – The biggest demand we are seeing for finance professionals in the corporate finance world.  Companies of all sizes need to close the books every month, plan, implement and monitor the budget, analyze the results and support business decisions.  Strong financial skills are still in strong demand.  The ability to review large amounts of data, identify trends, issues and opportunities is critical in this field

Healthcare – Americans are getting older and health care continues to become more complex.  There is a strong need for business skills within the healthcare industry whether it is project management, product management, supply chain or finance.  Knowledge of the healthcare industry is a very marketable skill.

Across functions we are seeing increased demand for strong analytical skills, communications skills, project management, working with teams as well as negotiation and persuasion skills.  You often need people in other parts of the organization to do something in order to meet your deadlines without having any authority over them.  Negotiation and persuasion skills can make or break your success in many organizations.  The ability to analyze data and make recommendations based on the data findings is critical.  Employers are also seeking the ability to summarize significant analysis into key salient points and action items for senior management.

Hiring Trends

Retirement Wave

The predicted wave of retirements over the past few years did not materialize as expected due to the economic downturn.  With shrinking 401K’s many retirement eligible employees continued working.    The backlog of retirements is now significant in many organizations.  When confidence in the economy hits a level that people start retiring, many companies will be faced with significant hiring needs.  Experience will be key for much of this hiring but the company knowledge among the retirees cannot be replaced.


Movement of the Complacent

While many companies are celebrating reduced turnover in the past few years, what they are seeing may be a pending tidal wave.  Following the economic downturn, employees were very cautious above making job changes.  The feeling was that it was better to stay in a job that was considered less than ideal than to risk making a move and being last man in if there were cutbacks.  As hiring outlooks improve, many of those less than satisfied employees will be seeking to make a job change and there will be more opportunities in the market for them to consider.

Emphasis on Flexibility

Companies are looking for new employees who are flexible and resilient.  Business changes with time and economic fluctuations.  They need employees who can weather the storms while continuing to be productive and creative about new ways to get things done.  It is not about the candidate who can do one thing but rather the candidate who can grow and change with the company and its changing needs.  Demonstrating your flexibility is critical.

Those who network effectively and consistently should be very successful in their job searches in 2016.  There are definitely opportunities available for talented individuals.



New Year’s Resolutions for Job Seekers 2016

New Year’s Resolutions for Job Seekers

The ball has dropped, and you’ve made a promise to yourself that 2016 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 2016 off on the right foot, career-wise , consider adding one 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), 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.
  • 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 2016. Develop a plan and execute it flawlessly, and there’s a good chance you’ll be celebrating a new job in the New Year.


Staying Positive in an Interview

In an interview you want to sell yourself to the hiring manager.  It is easy to focus on your strengths, your accomplishments and your transferable skills.  The challenge is how to address less positive aspects of your resume in a positive manner.  This requires careful consideration in advance so you are prepared to answer with confidence.  Here are some common challenges with suggestions of how to address them.

  • You were fired from a prior position
    • Honesty is the best policy since they will likely uncover the truth in a background check
    • Focus on what you learned from the experience and how you have turned things around since then
    • Don’t speak ill of the manager or the company
    • Be professional and own the situation, show that you learned from the experience
  • You were laid off
    • Explain the situation honestly, company was acquired, hit tough times, etc.  Downsizing is common unfortunately.
    • Talk about what you did to get yourself up and running again with a focus to find your new opportunity
    • What did you learn from the experience?
    • What valuable experience did you gain while you were there?
  • You have a significant gap in your resume
    • If you were travelling the world or stayed home to care for kids or an elderly relative, acknowledge it.  Be honest.  Talk about what you learned from the experience
    • If you were trying to find work, talk about what you did to build your network, explore career opportunities, etc.
    • Did you work part-time while you were searching?  Did you volunteer?
    • Focus on what you learned during this time and how it impacts your future plans
  • You lack relevant work experience
    • Do not focus on the skills you lack, talk about the transferrable skills you bring to the table
    • Talk about your interest and passion for the work and your ability to learn
    • Talk about how you successfully learned new things in the past
  • You changed jobs frequently
    • You can’t change history, it is what it is.  Have a story to explain it.  Make it part of your journey to discover the work you want to do and the type of company you want to work in.
    • Focus on the positive.
    • Emphasize what you learned from each experience.

Practice addressing these issues so you are prepared to do so comfortably in an interview setting.  Anticipate the questions in advance so you can put your best foot forward.  Most job applicants don’t have a perfect resume but they must be prepared to explain what they offer and how they reached this point in the journey.