If It Doesn’t Fit – Don’t Wear It

Mom & Jake blog picShort, shorty, tiny, pint-size, munchkin – these are all words that I forbid my son from calling me since the age of seven. I knew he was going to be over six foot tall and well, I’m five foot. Maybe a half an inch or inch more, but really, at this size it does not matter. I also made two other rules when he got taller than me: 1. Never pick me up and 2. Never, ever pat me on the head. Trust me this is a daily struggle for a 16 year old kid! And now that I have a 13 year old step-son, well, the fun just keeps coming…

I am petite, plain and simple. And the fact that I have a short torso and very long legs, well I think it is funny looking. When I first entered into the professional world all those years ago, I would wear long jackets thinking they elongated me. Ok, I know, at this height nothing makes me taller. What I did not realize is they made me look smaller, almost like I was a little kid playing dress up.

I finally realized that I needed accentuate my figure and embrace my pettiness. I bought suits that had short jackets and had them tailored. Huge difference! Now I look like a petite business woman, not a girl playing in her mother’s closet. The point of this drawn out story…is your resume fitting you?

Styles change, skill sets change, strengths change – is your resume changing with you? Or is it still wearing the god-awful 80’s hair band style? The one rule I will share with you on resumes: there are very few hard fast rules. Some things do not change, i.e., do not include salary information on your resume, a picture of yourself, any mention of race, religion or age. On the religion front, yes, it is acceptable to list your activities within the church. See, there are always exceptions! But the point is, are you updating your resume for your current style?

Your resume is intended to do two things. The first is to be your personal sales pitch. The second is to help direct the interview. If your resume does not fit you, absolutely like a glove, then it is worthless. If you have to review it before the interview to make sure you are in line with what it says, then there is a problem. It is not you.

I can write you one heck of a resume, but if it is not you I am really doing you a disservice. Shame on me. This is where I surprise a lot of my clients. I insist that we review the drafts together. They must be an active participant. If they say they like something I ask them why. Let me be honest, I am not presenting your resume so to solely trust one person for all decisions and direction would be a mistake. But do not get me wrong, I will guide and steer you to the direction that I think best fits you – but that is another discussion and I do not want to do a sales pitch here.

The point is whether you write your resume yourself or hire a professional, please please please make sure that it represents you well. The last thing you want to do is to be in an interview and be reading directly from that resume like it is the first time you have seen it. Your resume should be a compilation of your greatest skills, accomplishments and history. You – the very best that you have to offer an employer, what do you bring to the table, what problem are you solving for them, how can you make them money, how can you save them money, how can you improve client service – see where I am going here?

If you are asking, “Alright, shorty, how do I know if it fits me well?” I’ll tell you, but really, there is no reason for name calling here. Have someone else read your resume. Once they are done, ask them what they think are your biggest accomplishments and best skills. Does this match up with what you were trying to get across? Good! If not, then what did they read that was different. Did you really emphasize that you are accurate but they got the message of good time management skills? Then there is a disconnect. Is it a matter of choosing different words or a matter or highlighting other examples of your work? Go at this like a High School English teacher who is red pen happy. I know what I am trying to get across in this blog, but it is your interpretation that counts. Same with your resume.

Now you might have the questions, “You mentioned presentation – what is a helpful hint on that?” I will give you an example of how you can think of this in a different way (and thank you for no short names here).

Think of it as a really flowery outline from which you give your speech. Remember your note cards in Speech class? You could not put your whole speech on those cards so you had to put the highlights and fill it in when you were in front of the class. Your teacher graded you on not only content but eye contact. Same principle. You should know intimately every detail listed on that resume so you can give your speech without referring to it during the interview. There is nothing wrong with jotting a couple of key words or phases on your notepad that you take into the interview, but to be best prepared you should know your subject inside and out. After all, it is all about you!

Now, if you will excuse me, the 16 year old just got home. Let the short name parade begin!

Make the Most of Your One Play

jakes catch at hseMy son plays football. The first game he played offense and defense all game. Two touchdowns, an interception for 40 plus yards and was named Offensive Player of the Game. The next game they brought in a couple of receivers to give them some time, he was not pleased, but he was going to play defense all game. Before the game I told him he might get a play or two on offense so make the most of it. He went in for one offensive play. He was a receiver, caught a 35ish yard pass. He also was a maniac on defense and was named Defensive Player of the game. I would say he made the most of it.

Your resume has one chance and maybe 10 seconds to make the most of you. Someone reviewing your resume will scan the top quarter of your resume and decide in those 10 seconds or so if they are going to continue. You need to make the leap for that catch – put yourself out their early to let them know you are here to play the game.

So often I read through resumes and they include really good information. Information about accomplishment, money saved, increased clients, improved client satisfaction employee retention or money made. But these things are hidden further along in the resume – many times on page two. You are making yourself second string.

Once you have your strong Objective or Mission Statement follow that up with your accomplishments. Put the proof behind the words. Not only can you state that you are successful in increasing client base and sales, follow that up with your statistic of doubling sales boosting bottom line over $2 million in less than a five year period. If you state that you implement time and cost savings strategies, follow that up with how you implemented a new project management tracking system that linked all contributors and averaged a time savings of over 20% per job equating to cost savings for company and clients. Pretty good numbers to throw out there, huh?

Putting good solid accomplishments front and center allows you to make the most of your sales pitch (your resume) and gets you noticed more quickly. It also confirms that you have the talent and ability to back up your Objective or Mission Statement. Just like catching that one pass when is most needed. You increase your chances of being put in the game.

Lisa K McDonald

KISS – Keep It Simple Silly

girl yawning readingOkay, so that is not the original acronym, but hey, I am trying to be family friendly and not insult anyone with the first line of my blog! I stress over and over again to make sure your resume is written clearly so those that are not in the position to hire you but are reviewing your resume can understand your amazing qualities, and spot them quickly. The reason – most people have a tendency to skim read. They begin reading and think they know what you are saying so they fill in the blanks if it is too rambling.

My son proved this point to me again this weekend. My son is not a patient person – I take full responsibility on that trait! He definitely did not get my short gene, but he did get my impatient gene. I was on the phone with his grandmother when he walked in my office and started mouthing a question to me. I pulled out a pad of paper and pen and we had a conversation this way. To make a long story short, he got snippy and walked out. After I finished my conversation I called him back into my office and asked in that oh-so-gentle-motherly way what his problem might be today. Turns out he skimmed something I wrote and completely misunderstood what I said. So, again, in that supportive, kind motherly way I sweetly showed him exactly what I wrote and asked him to read it slowly out loud word for word. Hmmm, error found.

When you are writing your resume, you do not have to be flowery and go on and on because quite frankly the reader is going to lose interest and mentally fill in the blanks. I will repeat what I frequently say: teenagers are the best audiences because their attention span is that of a Nat. If they can understand what you are trying to get across or at least read the whole sentence, you are on to something!

Make your works impactful, your thoughts clear and your abilities stand out. For the company for which you are submitting your resume highlight how you can make money, save money or improve their customer satisfaction/retention. Know your audience, what is important to them and communicate that clearly through your resume. And always, always keep written communication between you and your teenager – you never know when it will come in handy!

Resumes – Break it Down to Get Rid of Dust Bunnies

cleaning houseI hate cleaning my house. With a passion I hate cleaning my house. It just seems overwhelming to me. I start with one thing – “Today I do all the laundry”. In sorting the laundry I go into the bathroom to gather anything that did not make it into the hamper and I notice that I have not put away the girly things in the bathroom, so I straighten that. Then back I go to the hamper in the closet and notice that I haven’t put my shoes away and there is one in there without a match – so off I go to search for its match, which I find by the bed. But then notice the bed isn’t made so I have to make the bed, then I notice there is stuff on my nightstand that needs to be put away. So I start putting that away and notice there is a glass that needs to go down to the kitchen, so off I go to the kitchen. Do you see where I am going here? One thing leads to another and another and another – I meander from one room to another stopping and doing little things here and there but never really cleaning. Things on the surface look okay, but please do not look closely, there are dust bunnies hiding everywhere. But I am a grown up with teenage boys, dogs and a fiancé – so I have to suck it up and clean. No matter how hard I hope and wish those damn cleaning fairies just never show up in the middle of the night!

My best friend Jackie on the other hand – total Betty Crocker Super Mom! She is awesome and amazing and I want to be her when I grow up. She is focused, organized and an amazing housekeeper – with pre-teen kids, dogs and a husband. How does she do it? She determines what part she is going to do and sticks to it, she goes into the closet, sorts the cloths, gathers them takes them down to the laundry room and gets it done. Does she see the other stuff, yes, but she stays focused on one task at a time. She breaks her house down to little components, makes a list and is able to check things off one by one.

How does this relate to your resume? Take Jackie’s approach. We tend to get so overwhelmed by the entire process that we spend little time on each section but then it reminds us of something else in another section so we start working on that and we end up with a product that is may look good at a quick glance, but then when we begin to look at it closer we see dust bunnies. (And as a side note – why on earth are those called dust bunnies? I think Dust Tumbleweeds is more appropriate, but I digress…)

Remember when you are writing your resume, you know what you are trying to say, but to another person there is vital information missing. I recently sat down with a woman who was a purchasing goddess. She saved over $350k in less than six months just in evaluating a department and the internal system. This was one of her highlights and she stated it as she manages purchasing departments to run more smoothly and effectively. I asked her what does that mean, how does she contribute to making it more efficient? She explained that she would evaluate the people working in the department and their responsibilities making sure that their strengths matched up with the tasks at hand, she was also responsible for training individuals on the internal processes, recruit people, perform internal testing to make sure there were no duplicate procedures – she did a lot more than just “manage”. We talked about how to incorporate the key factors that she did to highlight those in her bullet point.

Instead of “Manage Purchasing Departments to run more smoothly and effectively” we stated with “Manage Purchasing Department systems, controls and personnel by effectively evaluating processes, procedures and individual responsibilities to incorporate time management, system efficiency and development of individuals resulting in a cost savings of over $350,000 in six months.” Now that is something you can work with! You can take that into two different strengths – the development of the individuals incorporating the evaluation, hiring, training and development and the management of the systems and processes.

Take a look at your resume – copy and paste one section, one job or one highlight and paste it into another document. Underneath that statement or section start making notes on what exactly that means. How did you add value, save money, save time or increase client satisfaction? Really break it down. Do not try to put it into pretty resume language, just make notes. Again, just talk plain English as though you are explaining it to someone who knows nothing about what you do. Do not worry about proper grammar or sentence structure, just write. Once you have done this then you have a lot of material that you can work with.

Ask a friend to read your original statement and ask them what that means to them. Is it coming through loud and clear what your strength is in that statement? If not, start to read your notes to them then ask them if it defines what you were attempting to say. More often than not they will tell you that it is much clearer picture.

It is a long and difficult process, but staying focused and breaking down each section bit by bit will create a much stronger resume, one that communicates more clearly what your strengths are and leaves room for an interviewer to ask you follow up questions. And there will be no dust bunnies!

Lisa K McDonald

What are Your Weaknesses?

woman interviewed by twoThis question can be asked in many different forms during an interview, but the bottom line is you should be prepared to answer it in one way or another. It is a terrible question, I agree. I had to ask it when I was interviewing candidates and it was not much fun on the other side of the table either!

So, how do you answer this question? Let us start by first stepping back. Before you have even sent out resumes or filled out applications you should be prepared for this. You should do an honest self-evaluation of yourself. List your talents, your strengths, what you bring to a company, what your accomplishments are to date and yes, your weaknesses. You will be asked about all of these things so you should be prepared.

To answer the weaknesses question, you want to focus on how your strengths counter those weaknesses and how you overcome them. For example, I hate filing. Always have, always will. Hate it with a passion. I do not know why, I do not care why I just know this about myself. But, I am a very organized person, a list person, a person who likes to be able to set daily goals and check them off the list. I also pride myself in making the most of my time.

I use my strengths by creating a specific location in my office to put all of my filing. Through out the day I put anything needing to be filed in that spot and that spot only. I also mark a specific time on my calendar to file – from 3:00 – 3:30. Now each day is not going to allow me to file exactly at 3:00, but it is a goal, it is on my calendar, it is a priority. If I have to schedule a meeting at 3:15, I move my filing to another time, I do not ignore it. At the end of the day I keep my priorities, accomplish my goals and overcome my weakness.

Realize this question is an opportunity to showcase strengths, a realization about yourself, how you overcome and master your challenges. We all have weaknesses, no one is the perfect employee (or boss!) so it is important to recognized what qualities you need to improve on and how you do not let these interfere with your work.

A word of caution – do your homework, know what the position entails. There is nothing worse than being interviewed and your weakness is one of the most important qualities of the job. Case in point, I interviewed a young lady years ago for the position of Broker’s Assistant for a high level financial advisor. She would be responsible for excel spreadsheets, calculating various items in the client’s accounts and the like. The job description indicated an aptitude in mathematics was required. When I asked about her weaknesses, she told me, “I’m not very good at math, but I’m a people person!”

She did not get the job.

 

Lisa K McDonald

Career Polish

Your Resume – Your Mission Statement

collge picYour Mission Statement – the very first paragraph of your resume.  It is the first glance a prospective employer is going to look at and determine if they want to continue reading your resume. In the past it has been called a “career objective” but now it is more a career summary, a statement of what you have to offer – a mission statement if you will.

I use the term mission statement because it gives it weight and importance in your mind. Think about it, when you research a company and you see their Mission Statement listed boldly, it makes you take note. This statement is important. That is the exact feeling I want you to have about your summary, your mission statement.

It is vital, it is direct, it is selling yourself. It is not what you want, rather it is what you can do for that company! (Yes, there are a lot of italics and a bold in that last sentance – which means it is important!)  It was most common to list directly what you want in that very first line of your resume, for example, “Objective: Obtain Accounts Payable Manager Position”.   It has also been stated as your strengths, for example, “Detailed, organized, professional Administrative Assistant looking for right-hand position in a progressive company”. 

Well, employers are receiving hundreds of resumes for just one job opening.  Honestly, they just do not care what you want.  Nor do they care about your strengths in that manner.  Sorry kid, it’s just not all about you anymore.  Nope, now it is all about them.  So, what can YOU do for THEM is what they want to know.  Think about the last time you went to a store to purchase, let’s say a cell phone.  When the salesperson walked up, did you want to know what he wanted?  No!  You did not want to hear all the chit chat and fluff, you wanted to get to the point of what can you do for me?  What kind of plan, phone, features and really, money can you save me.  Same mentality for employers.

So, in this one to two sentence structure you must gather the most important selling elements about yourself in an impactful way to grab your reader’s attention. You can direct it to a specific company or a general market. It is important to know your audience if you will be targeting a specific company. What is it that will set you apart from everyone else – your achievements, knowledge base or licenses and credentials?

Three very important things to remember when writing your mission statement: 1. be HONEST 2. sell yourself and 3. be able to follow it up in the resume. If you are going to tell a prospective employer that you are “able to identify challenges and opportunities in the department”, you must follow that up in the resume stating how you have done this in the past. If I read that statement the first question I am going to have is “how?” I will be looking for this. If you then tell me that one of your accomplishments in your previous position was creating a new system saving the company over $350,000 in one quarter – I will take note. It will build your credibility and show you are what you say.

Remember, those that read the resumes are a skeptical bunch – full of “prove it” and “yeah, rights” when reading resumes. Unfortunately people do exaggerate their abilities and it is not known until the interview – a huge time waster! So be able to bring those great qualities to light and show you are backing up what you say. And if you state it, you darn well had better done it! Lying and exaggerating are absolutely forbidden. Keep in mind you never know who is going to see your resume and who they might know. If it is discovered you lied – well, quite frankly, you are toast.

That covers points one and three, now for point two – sell yourself. Oh, do we hate (for the most part) talking about ourselves. We are taught not to brag, but you must. If you do not toot your own horn on your resume then who on earth will? This is where the buddy system comes into play. If you are not working with someone to help you write your resume, then ask a friend to listen. Read them what you have and ask them what that says to them. Be your own critic then your own agent. Now, look at it as if you are an agent in charge of helping sell this person and pick it apart mercilessly, hold nothing back. Does it sound too meek?  Are the strengths coming through loud and clear? Check the verbiage – a thesaurus is your best friend! Please do not used tired words – “experienced”, “able”, “good communicator” – you get the idea. Yes, you can use some very common words as long as you have high impact words worked into the Mission Statement. Be careful, do not go so overboard that your points are missed due to all the big words. Just remember, you do not want to sound like anyone else, because quite frankly, you are not like anyone else! You are the best candidate, you are the one that they need to interview – you are THE candidate!

Lisa K McDonald – Career Polish