August 12, 2010
I am often asked whether the inclusion of an objective on a resume is worthwhile. My answer is always no. A lot of job seekers are resistant to this message. I think there is something psychologically pleasing to using objectives. Sort of a, “Hi there and howdy do,” ice breaker. Gets the person writing the resume warmed up before the big dive into the more problematic resume details, like work history and achievements.
But here is the problem. Every single millimeter of your resume is prime real estate. You need to use that space to sell yourself and communicate to potential employers that you are absolutely the best candidate for the job. And objectives don’t help you to accomplish those worthy goals.
By their very nature, objectives are either too general, “To secure a challenging and rewarding position with a dynamic organization,” or, so specific and rambling that they begin to read either like a brag board or a personal journal entry.
In either case, here is my reaction: skip over it. To me, I just say a mental duh when I see an objective on a resume. I know your objective already. You want a job. Specifically, the job I have posted. I trust that you’ve done your homework and know that you are an exact match to the position. My polls with many other human resources professionals show they agree, an objective is a skip-worthy part of your resume.
Do you really want to take up the prime of the prime real estate, the very top of your resume, on something that will be skipped over?
No! If you feel like you need an introduction before the work history portion of your resume, I suggest a BRIEF executive summary or a BRIEF list of key accomplishments. This information should not be repeated elsewhere in the resume. Focus on brevity—six or seven lines of text in not brief. Think about it. That could be one entire work history! Brief means two, three, or at the very outside, four lines of text.
Trust that human resources professionals are smart and savvy. They are. They know why you are taking the time to send them your resume. Forget the objective and use the little space that you have to clearly outline and sell your value.
I hope that I have achieved my objective to convince you that you don’t need to waste space on an objective.
August 3, 2010
I have a confession. When I first got texting capabilities on my phone, I stood on my high and mighty soapbox, sworn never to degrade myself to perform what I call “text speak.” You know, like, “When will u b home?” No sir, not for me. My texts would always be properly formatted and grammatically correct. I am a writer, after all.
Well, that lack of realism lasted for about two days. Now, I happily hack and cut the English language…on my phone and to my kids. The simplicity is refreshing and saves my thumbs unneeded misery. However, there is a problem that is creeping into our society.
Some people seem to think that is really the way we communicate.
When it comes to your job search activities, this is a particularly compelling subject. Interviewers become annoyed when they receive unsolicited texts from job candidates. Especially when they are in text speak. “Thanx for the gr8 interview!!” I can almost promise you this will not merit you a second interview. If the interviewer requested that you send him a text, do so. But, make sure the sentences are full length, capitalization and punctuation correct.
If you wish to write a thank you note for an interview, do so…on notepaper. Draft a few versions, let someone review it and listen to their feedback. It is a shame when people lose their credibility as a candidate because of a few sloppily formed sentences. Of course, I understand there are times when speed is of the essence, such as when you know a hiring decision will be made that afternoon. That may require you write the note after the interview and leave it with a receptionist or assistant. Still, go to a quiet place, organize your thoughts and write a draft on scrap paper. Mention specifics and how your skills meet the needs of the company. Copy into your final format only after you are sure your message is clear and concise.
I luv text speak on my phone, but I dont luv it @ any other time.
April 22, 2010
I will discuss this subject live on the job club radio podcast. Listen to the podcast at www.blogtalkradio.com/jobclubradio on Monday, April 26, 2010, 2:00 p.m. ET. See further details at http://jobclubradio.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/episode-6-resumes-active-voice/
Imagine that you are put in charge of preparing some written marketing documentation to send to a potential client. This is a big client. If you could win the business, it would make you the hands down hero for forever. Well, at least it would significantly improve your bottom line. How would you handle this task? You would endeavor to prove your corporate worth, right? You would write in the strongest and clearest terms possible to maximize limited space. You would do your research. Bottom line, you would position your organization as the very best and sell, sell, sell!
A resume is no different. A resume has many purposes, but the most vital is to sell you, your expertise and experience. An active writing voice is both a mindset and a writing style. Learning this craft helps you communicate your proven value in concise and declarative means. Powerful thoughts given in tight space. And we all know how prime resume real estate is. Space and message are paramount. Two pages are barely a warm up, not to mention an all-encompassing method to communicate a robust career history.
Professional writers know who their audience is and have a clear vision of the goals they wish to accomplish before they begin a piece. If you embrace that the primary tool of your resume is to sell yourself as a legitimate, skilled professional, won’t your task of writing a compelling, more vibrant, resume be easier?
An active writing voice combines powerful verbs and a sales focus to lend immediacy to your message. That means using verbs ending in “ed” and avoiding “be” (a.k.a. helping) and “ing” ending verbs. These passive verbs mirror the way we speak, but appear lazy and tired in written form. Take for example this statement, “I am seeking rewarding work.” Move that into the active voice, “I seek rewarding work.” Notice that by simply removing the “helping” verb “am” and changing seeking to seek, we have made the sentence sleeker and far more authoritative. Or, what about, “I would be willing to relocate.” Try, “I will relocate,” or even better yet, “Relocatable.” There’s no question as to your intent. You have made a statement. Employers are drawn to candidates who know what they are good at and how they can make an impact.
Next, use the highest possible verbs you can think of to describe your job functions…without fudging! But really, if you managed a project, it would also be true to state that you administered the project as well. Administered is a stronger verb than the overused managed. Invest in a good thesaurus and dictionary. Use those tools to find verbs that move beyond ambiguous clichés.
You are a strong asset—your resume needs to prove that. Think about how you have solved problems in your career. How can you communicate that value in quantifiable ways? Not everyone is a salesperson who can spout off the percentages they grew business. But everyone should have many stories of value they provided their organization. Translate those into your resume. Perhaps you directed a project where employees had the highest work satisfaction rates. Or, you implemented a new Accounts Payable system that reduced interest paid, thereby contributing to raised stock prices. Maybe you were quoted in the local paper, which brought free advertising to your firm. Though these achievements may not have specific dollar values attached to them, they still saved or gained money. Savvy business professionals can recognize that value, if it is shown to them. Value is the way you sell yourself. This is thinking in active, sales-like terms.
Active writing is a mentality as well as a technique. Solid writing gives you an air of intelligence and authority. Believe me, as a person who has read literally thousands of resumes and written hundreds for clients, it will make you stand above the rest. Target your resume, using a keen eye to focus on weak, passive writing. Then ask yourself, “How can I present myself as problem solver to my targeted company list?”
April 9, 2010
About a month ago, I was anticipating a huge deadline. I’m a “death or deadline” personality type, kind of like a type-A individual on steroids or speed or both. Logically, I know that Earth won’t stop spinning on its axis if a deadline slips a day or two. Most likely, I won’t be fired by every single one of my clients if I mess up occasionally. Still, I can’t bear to miss the target if it is at all in my control. Not only do I drive myself to nail the deadline, I make every attempt to finish with absolutely the best work possible—a drill sergeant yells inside my head throughout. Tough stuff.
Knowing that I would be working 12-14 hour days the coming week, I allowed myself a little treat at the grocery store. Well, actually a large treat. A 53-ounce treat, to be exact. A lot of writer colleagues have mentioned that they are plagued by the same problem as me. Namely, when cranking out a writing deadline, they need to be eating or drinking. Something about engaging the brain at that high of a level for sustained periods can make the body feel a bit dull. Chewing and swallowing helps. But you can’t sit and eat all day! So, feeling quite brilliant, I bought myself a very large tub of bubble gum. Throwing my orthodontic chairside assistant job knowledge aside, I figured to the deuce with my teeth. Chewing would help cut down the stress. It was only one week after all.
The deadline came and went. We made it. My teeth stayed firmly rooted. Then, I started to notice that the jeans were a little snug, my face a little too puffy (traitor face, it is always the first place I show weight gain). Sure, I knew those gum balls had calories. Frankly, I had been too chicken to look. So, I staged a gum ball intervention. Perusing the label, it noted that each tiny little gum ball has ten—yes, count ‘em—ten calories. This is the type of bubble gum that you chew for five minutes and then spit out because it retains no flavor. Combine that with the fact that I was chewing two at a time except for those moments when I wasn’t eating real food or drinking (water and Diet Coke, of course). Hmmm, that’s about ten straight hours of gum chewing.
That’s how I chewed an estimated two thousand, sugar-laced, puffy-face-inducing calories of bubble gum in one day. Yoga, anyone?
February 14, 2010
You’ve probably noticed I haven’t been posting much lately. My apologies! The reason is because I have had so much freelance work, I’ve been working 12-plus hour days. Sorry to my readers, but the deadlines I set with my clients are always my number one priority.
I feel this is an excellent time to be a freelancer. As companies are laying off, they still need people to complete work. I believe this trend will only grow stronger through time. What skills do you have that you could use to start a freelance career? What strengths could you build on to help you find a niche market?
I can’t think of a better time than now to make money as a freelance writer. I will be speaking to the Oquirrh Writer’s Chapter about how to use social media to build up your freelance writing career this Thursday, February 18, at the Taylorsville Library at 7:00 p.m.
And now, back to work for me!
December 1, 2009
I take a field trip to my local library about once a month to gather up armloads of what I call “treadmill books”. The requirements to qualify as a treadmill book in my house are rigid—it must be paperback, under 300 pages with an entertaining, easy to follow plot. The physical requirements are necessary because I hold the book in one hand as I warm up before a run. If I put reading materials on the tray designed to hold books and magazines, I would need to stock up on air sick bags. The intellectual requirement is because I get up at 5:30 a.m. I am not a morning person. Grunt is my main form of communication until about 7:00 in the morning. I’m not ready for Dickens or Tolstoy yet. Give me until 10:00 a.m. for those dear gentlemen. And, since I’m only reading for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, I want to read someone who gets right down to business.
One treadmill author I follow now and again is Catherine Coulter. She writes a pretty engaging FBI series that meet my exacting standards. Recently, I checked out a Coulter book that dovetailed with a previous book I had read some six month past. I was dismayed because I thought that a major plot point she had resolved in the first book had reappeared as unresolved in the second. Feeling annoyed, I was ready to trounce her here on my blog for attempting such cheap stunt. Blog titles such as, “Oh No She Didn’t” or, “Dead? Found! Or Not…” raced through my mind. After a little research (of course, I would NEVER write on my blog without thorough research) I realized that all the confusion was MY fault. Sorry Catherine! In the intervening months between the two books, I had read another treadmill novel that had almost an identical plot—separate books melded into one in my mind. The plot had become a cliché.
It is so important that in a job search we don’t allow ourselves to become a cliché. With human resource professionals receiving upwards of 300 resumes per job opening, this is a real concern. Another resume in the slush pile of life. Yes, another “self-motivating” job seeker. Hmmm, another “strong communicator”. Yawn. But how do you differentiate yourself? Most importantly, it is essential we don’t gimmickize ourselves by the use of “catchy” phrases to make us more memorable, using fancy fonts on resumes or printing on fluorescent paper. There are ways to stand out, in a positive manner. Allow me to share some thoughts.
• FIND YOUR BRAND – Yes, you want to present the experience that makes you a good candidate for the job. Do an excellent job of presenting that through accomplishment-based data. But, find out what makes you noticeable. Where’s the twist? Are you a scientist who excels at public speaking? That’s a valuable combination. Are you a salesperson with strong analytical skills? That adds to the corporate bottom line as well as being unique and interesting.
• GO THE WAY OF FICTION – Hold on—I’m not advocating that you make stuff up! Give me a minute to explain. Don’t rely on a laundry list of strengths or a summary at the top of your resume to communicate what makes you unique. No one reads long list. Sprinkle pertinent information throughout your job seeking documentation. Put it on your social media sites—Tweet about it. Have some data on your cover letter. But, do what fiction writers do. Make sure that you SHOW your strengths by clearly outlining accomplishments through your work history.
• ASK AROUND – Ask people who you have worked with what makes you different as an accountant, a nurse or a gardner. Ask someone who doesn’t pride themselves on giving a pat “mommy” answer, “Oh honey, I just thought you were so amazing. Always!” Go to a source who is smart, thoughtful and will take this seriously.
• DO YOUR HOMEWORK – There are a lot of compelling books and e-articles about how to build your brand. One book I recommend is “U R a Brand” by Catherine Kaputa. As you read, she leads you through some thought provoking exercises. When you are done with the book, you should be able to clearly state in an elevator speech, interview or resume what makes you different from everyone else in your field.
As the globe shrinks and more and more information is available to us, we need diligence in our communication. By formulating and thinking through a plan, we can differentiate ourselves without becoming a gimmick.
October 21, 2009
There has been a lot of chatter recently on-line about job seekers and their stunts. My favorites were two separate posts about gentlemen who reacted to job losses by standing on the sidewalks of New York and London wearing sandwich boards displaying their credentials while cramming resumes into the hands of passersby. We’ll just assume they were dressed underneath the board. Still, I can just imagine the reception and comments from the New Yorkers! Ouch!
Why, you ask, is this a bad idea? Creative? Yes. Bold? Certainly. Smart? No.
Let’s look at this from another point of view. Mine. There is the literary agent that I would love to work with who also happens to be extremely cute. Well, at least his website picture is extremely cute. Who knows, he may actually resemble Where’s Waldo and the picture we see is really his high school nemesis, the football star. But I digress. At least once a week, I have this itching to write him a query letter and say, “Dear Mr. Dreamy, I mean, Dream Agent. Did you know you are a stud muffin?” Great idea, right? Play to his ego. Give him instant verification of my impeccable good taste so that he falls all over himself to represent my book. Wow, I’m really smart!
There are a number of reasons. Most remarkably, I am grown woman, married with children, not a fourteen-year-old with romantic heart twitterpating because I just finished the “Twilight” series. Forget the fact that the most exciting moment of my day is when I leave my little cave to make a Diet Coke run to 7-11. Somehow I think most people would find me rather boring. The reality is that I am a professional writer; I have true literary legs to stand on, no begging or gimmicks needed. I believe in my work and my potential. Therefore, I need to package myself as a serious adult, which I am. Sometimes.
Unless you want to be viewed (and probably mocked) as an unprofessional buffoon, I never recommend stunts. Yes, I’ve known a few candidates who have received interviews because of their persistence. However, I have never had someone get a job offer after hiring a “professional dancer” to deliver a strip-a-gram to thank a hiring manager for a particularly wonderful interview.
These tactics smack of desperation. Our economy is going to get better. Foolish choices are remembered ten or twenty years after their commission. Trust me, I’ve heard the stories. So, your “brilliant” marketing move to get noticed now is going to get you noticed once again when that big promotion comes your way in a few years. Can’t you just hear the discussion? “Yes, I know we want to make him the new Executive-Super-Duper-COO. But wasn’t he, like, wearing a sandwich board ten years ago?”
Dream in your head. It’s a lot of fun. Save reality to prove your skills and strengths in ways that gain you positive attention. So when I meet Mr. Dreamy Agent at a cocktail party promoting my book someday, I won’t have to take refuge behind a potted plant. Because I conducted myself as a professional. You should too.
September 28, 2009
In my sixth year, I was the proud member of a Bluebird Girl Scout troop. The Bluebirds were a hybrid of what is now the Daisies and Brownies. Every year, my troop had a daddy-daughter dinner which I anticipated for months with mounting excitement. My dad traveled a great deal with his business, but he always cleared his schedule for our date. It would usually include a dinner, program and sometimes even a sing-a-long.
On this one particular date, my dad came home with a corsage in a chilled florist’s box…just for me. I stared at the blushing petals, spellbound. As mom pinned the flower onto my sky-blue uniform shirt, I felt surely that I had been transformed from a plain, freckle-faced girl into a replica of the current Miss America. That flower made the entire evening magical.
When we returned home, Dad said he would put my corsage back in the refrigerator and I could wear it the next day. I made sure he tucked it safely back in the florist’s box and regretfully left it for bed, disappointed that they wouldn’t let me sleep with a flower pinned to my pajamas. After a night of restlessness, thinking about how I would razzle-dazzle the neighborhood with my newfound glamour, I woke up and ran to the fridge, intent on adorning my robe.
I couldn’t find the corsage. I searched every inch of that fridge. When my parents opened their eyes, they discovered a child hopping up and down with anxiety. It turns out that Dad had accidentally put my corsage in the freezer and it was now entombed inside the see-through box, a shriveled, black lump.
I felt devastated. And I know it showed. My dad apologized and went on his way. My parents didn’t rush to buy me a new corsage or “make it up to me” by doing something special. These mistakes were simply a part of life.
As a parent, I want to protect my kids and make everything perfect for them. By not doing so, my parents helped me to learn that I had the personal power necessary to face disappointing situations. That corsage taught me that material things are fleeting and undependable. That situations occur which we don’t like but have to accept. That people are flawed, but they still love me and I can still love them back.
For some reason my generation, including me, seems to sometimes forget this essential lesson. Let’s allow our children have a few frozen flower moments. They will be better off for it.
September 8, 2009
When people read your words, have they lost your meaning by the end of the sentence? Worse yet, did they stop reading almost immediately because the prose was wishy-washy and boring? If so, your writing might be suffering from passive poison. No, it’s not the plague of mankind. And no, there is not a crime-busting super hero out there to stop this injustice. But, I hope to show in this post that it does create problems and avoiding passive construction can help you be smarter, better accepted by your audience and lose ten pounds (just wanted to make sure you were paying attention).
Suppose you were enrolled in a college-level English or novels course and were assigned to read “A Tale of Two Cities” and then write a paragraph summary of the book. After enjoying a wonderful read, imagine you turned in this to your unwitting professor:
“Dude, I just totally finished this most triumphant book, “A Tale”…of something. Honestly, man, I was so blown away I can’t even remember the whole title. Anyway, it’s about this totally babe-a-licious chick, Lucie Manette, and her dad, Dr. Manette, who was in this completely nasty prison for like forever. So Lucy meets this tripped out dude, Charles Darnay, and they hook up. Charles is a teacher but what no one really knows is that he comes from a family that has a lot of Benjamins, man. That sucks for him when he gets arrested, just for being from a rich family! Then this other brother, Sydney Carton, he’s like not a great guy, but anywho, he has a chance to totally move in on Lucie. Instead, he like completely sacrifices himself for her. The ending was really sad and I used up a whole box of Puffs reading it. But anyway, Madame Defarge…she won’t be knitting anymore and, well, I think Charles Dickens, like, rocks!”
The problem with the example above is not only is it completely ridiculous (although it would be fun to turn something like this in and see what your teacher says!), it is also written in the manner we would use to describe something to a friend over lunch. The written voice, even in its most casual usages, is more formal and poetic. And, a strong written voice always makes you appear smarter and better educated. A worthy goal!
Passive voice is poison because it also mimics the way we speak. Passive voice runs rampant in almost everything I see. I have to wonder if our teachers thought they were doing us a favor. Looking out at their fresh faced students, perhaps they thought, The poor dears! They’ll grow up and have to write 1,000-word essays in college (gasp). I’ll teach them to write in the passive voice and that will just pad those awful papers with lots of extra words.
Passive construction is lazy. If we replace it with writing in a strong, active voice, we influence more readers because the writing appears more declarative. This is especially important for people who seek for new employment. Remember, you are often first presented to a hiring manager through your writing. Active writing says a lot with fewer words. In our fast-food-mentality culture, less is always more. I do envy Dickens sometimes and the freedom he had to use a lot of beautiful words to describe things.
The easiest way to spot passive construction it to look for a combination of a “be” verb (be, am, are, is, was, were, being, been) and a verb that ends in “ing”. Some examples:
Passive to active:
We will be starting our meeting at 8:00. The meeting starts at 8:00.
I have been working for XYX company. I work for XYZ company.
Are you planning on applying for that job? Do you plan to apply for that job?
See how this shortens, tightens and rids the wording of confusion? All I did was remove the “be” verb and the “ing” ending verb. Passive construction is often foggy to the reader as it sometimes seems as if the subject of the sentence is being acted on by the verb, where it should always be vice versa.
Unless you are writing to an audience of English professors or professional writers, no one is actually going to KNOW you are writing in an active manner. But, your prose will have more punch and you will sound more authoritative. Just watch for those “be” verbs in tandem with “ing” ending verbs.
Every sentence can’t be fixed, but you can reason it out and see if there is a better way. The active voice may seem a bit awkward it the beginning because we are so used to seeing and hearing passive construction. But try it and keep those readers reading.
September 1, 2009
Review of Columbine, by Dave Cullen
Ten years ago, journalist Dave Cullen began a painstaking research campaign into the Columbine massacre. He felt it his duty—as one of the original responding media, he believed the press had misconstrued the complex reasons behind why Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris decided to enact their own “Judgment Day” upon Columbine High School and kill themselves at the end of the rampage. The scope and breadth of Cullen’s vision intrigued me immediately. I can’t imagine spending ten years pouring over the murderers’ rantings, watching their videotaped “practice” shooting sessions, combing police reports and interviewing survivors. Cullen’s investigative skills are impressive and his ability to create a timeline that explains and illuminates is exceptional.
Cullen believes a combination of grief-born frenzy, purported police cover up and the wildfire created by an international media storm created a false theory: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold sought revenge after years of harassment at the hands of jocks. The “victim strikes back” syndrome. Instead, Cullen feels his research justifies a more complex, less palatable, explanation: Klebold and Harris were not bullied, indeed, they were often the bullies themselves. Cullen believes that evidence proves Eric Harris was a natural-born psychopath (or sociopath) and Dylan Klebold was a suicidally depressed follower never serious in his intent to participate in the attack. He was always going to kill himself but could never get up his nerve.
“Columbine” is the stuff of conspiracy theorist and Hollywood screenwriters. Haunting. Klebold attended the prom three days before the massacre. How do you do that? Despite the details and logic, the book doesn’t really answer the question of why, but I don’t know what book could. Why would two intelligent young men from stable, loving family environments, months away from graduation, go on killing spree? Was it really as simple as a goal to outdo Timothy McVeigh? The near misses by the police, responsible adults and other officials, and resultant cover up, makes you want to take a more careful look at those close to you.
I think that delving into the reactions of the victims and surviving family members is one of the most valuable aspects of “Columbine”. It makes you really wonder what would I do? Would the death of my daughter turn me into a bitter, enraged anti-social? Would I immediately forgive as some of the survivors did?
Of course, while you ponder, one wonders if this is to be believed. Despite his research, Cullen is still spouting a theory. But, I feel that it rings true and is worth a thoughtful perusal. If nothing else, to examine how normal, loved, intelligent boys could be involved in such an evil scheme. The ending, where the boys make their good-bye tapes for their parents, is truly chilling. In them, they are quasi-children and express regret for the pain they know will result. I can’t imagine getting the call to say that my daughter had been shot at school. I can’t imagine how I would feel if my son was the one who had been responsible. While Eric Harris’s funeral arrangements remain private, Dylan Klebold’s parents chose to cremate him, knowing a memorial tombstone would be desecrated. Tom Klebold is an anti-gun supporter and although he actually called 911 himself to report his son might be involved, he couldn’t believe Dylan could do this…he was his best friend.
If I had one wish or request, I would have liked to see photos included in the book. I don’t know why they weren’t. There are some interesting ones on the website www.davecullen.com. I would encourage you NOT to Google either killer’s name. The search results pull up the suicide pictures of the two boys, not an image one wants to carry in his/her mind. The publishers of “Columbine” cheats the reader…you want to see the victims and perpetrators.
Obviously, this book does not leave you feeling uplifted. Cullen does a nice job of displaying some of the positive before and afters. Still, any way you look at it, this is a painful subject. But, it does leave you educated and with plenty to think about. If you like to delve into what makes people tick and you enjoy true crime stories by authors such as Ann Rule, I recommend this read.