Your resume is a communication tool that tells people why they should refer, recommend or hire you. It is not a cruel ritual meant to torment you, and neither should you torment your readers.

In the countless resumes that I have reviewed over the years, and in those I have rewritten for clients, there are a few major flaws that stand out so often they merit their own post. These common resume mistakes aren’t limited to the folks who are unsuccessful in their careers. In fact, they are so ubiquitous among those who “should know better” that it prompts me to ask: why do smart people write dumb resumes?

Keep your city clean!

Beyond poor writing and lazy proofreading, here are three of the most common culprits in bad resume land:

The “Sherman Tank” Resume

Otherwise known as “let me put all of my accomplishments down on a page so I don’t miss anything someone might want.” An alternate description of this type of resume could be ClutterFest. The Sherman Tank or ClutterFest writer thinks he or she is sharing a diverse celebration of achievements, while the reader feels like it’s an exercise in sorting prized antiques in someone else’s dusty attic.

The Sherman Tank resume – durable and bulletproof but too bulky to zip around curves – doesn’t put a candidate in the best light. In fact, it doesn’t cast any light in any direction at all, so no depth or differentiation can be seen, only too many words on a page (and often in too tiny a font). 

Put yourself in the shoes of the reader. How much work would you want to put into deciphering if a candidate was a good fit for your open role (especially if it seems that he or she hasn’t bothered to do it either)? How hard would you squint to read past the first few words?

In my most extreme example to date, I turned a client’s five page resume into two pages.

Truth be told, she was an awesome candidate for her target job. She just couldn’t figure out how to edit her own experience or what to emphasize, so a reader couldn’t “get there” to see it. She had never given thought to what an employer might be looking for, focused only on the trees in her own forest. In addition, because of her inability to edit her own experience, she had included some very detracting information alongside the helpful points, which further diluted the effectiveness of her message.

The “Barely There” Resume

The opposite of the Sherman Tank is the Barely There resume. When I have worked with clients who have this type of resume, I spend a lot of time asking the same question: “And what else did you do?” They have great experience, but somehow they can’t seem to get it down on the page. They leave out key details, such as skill sets they possess – and can demonstrate – that are important for their target job.

Like the Sherman Tank writers, who are focused on their own experience, the Barely There writers have not put themselves in the position of an employer and asked what they can offer that would be valuable for the target position. In one recent case with a client, for example, we pulled out four different skill sets that she would need for a job transition and were not on her resume, without stretching beyond her legitimate experience.

In that case, the client hadn’t presented herself as a well-rounded generalist with a specialization, which was required for her target positions, because her current firm had pushed her in a single direction without valuing all she could offer. Although this push and the associated stress were the major reasons the candidate was seeking a change, she had internalized the pigeonholing by her current firm and was unable to see beyond it when it came planning (and drafting) her great escape.

The “Showed Up and Did My Job” Resume

A corollary to the Barely There is the resume that simply lists what a person did at a job, with no thought to prioritization or differentiation from other candidates in similar roles. Unlike the Barely There, which lacks enough detail, the Showed Up and Did My Job resume might be an appropriate length, and even look “right” at first glance, but ultimately the narrative is not compelling enough to prompt the next step: a job interview.

In many cases, my clients who have a Showed Up and Did My Job resume list tasks that were simply “part of the job” but indicate nothing that showcases particular sets of skills. As we talk through their major projects and accomplishments on the job, or how they pushed the envelope in the position, they realize that the resume is missing critical points because they had not put enough thought into the value they actually bring, as opposed to the tasks that a job entails. Often these clients are looking for a new job because the current one feels like they are on autopilot. But having a Showed Up and Did My Job resume is like putting your centerpiece job-search marketing document on autopilot navigation as well, with a few missed stop signs and on-ramps along the way.

If you are reading this post closely, you see a theme emerging:

Smart people write dumb resumes because they too heavily rely on their intelligence and natural instincts in the writing process (which serve them so well in other contexts), hoping that the reader will fill in the gaps when needed.

Then they waste weeks and months wondering why the phone doesn’t ring, putting their energies into thinking about their own situations and insecurities instead of the greater perspective of how to best present themselves to achieve their goals.

Instead, the smart resume writer steps back to reframe his or her experience so that the reader (recruiter, potential interviewer, friend of a friend, etc.) is enticed and excited about the potential fit between the individual as a candidate and the new role.

As I consistently say to clients, your resume is not an obituary, it’s a marketing document. I make this point with the full knowledge that these words may take some time to resonate:

Smart people can write smart resumes by thinking of them in terms of what the resume vehicle is meant to do – transport them from Point A to Point B – rather than getting caught up in their own discomfort with self-marketing or treating the resume as a retrospective or roadmap of their careers to date.

In short, writing is only the final iteration of creating an effective resume. Find your target, take aim, gather your arrows (of experience) and then write.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse as “Why Do Smart People Write Dumb Resumes?” Photo credit: Adobe Images.

business people group at office

If you are an executive who has been slogging along at a job search without a strategy, you can feel like you have hit quicksand with no way to get out.

Stop wasting time on what doesn’t matter. There are three things you need to get right:

  1. Know Yourself – have the self-awareness to realize your strengths, preferences, work style and skill gaps
  2. Know Your Audience – understand how to present yourself to the right people in the right way
  3. Reach and Convince Decision Makers – find and persuade them to hire you or create an opportunity for you

These three “pillars” of your search can guide your direction and help you invest your precious job search hours in activities that will pay off.

I detail these three essential job search elements in my recent article on Forbes (click here) and give in-depth guidance to help you get to the bottom of them in my book, Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Value Proposition Workbook (click here), including an entire chapter on personal branding.

amsegal-0111-croppedAnne Marie Segal is an executive coach, resume strategist, Forbes Coaches Council member and former practicing attorney. She is the author of Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals and Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Personal Value Proposition Workbook (available online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and local booksellers). To reach her, click here.

Image credit: Adobe Stock.

 

If you are on Goodreads, here’s a chance for U.S. readers to enter the giveaway for a signed copy of one of my books:

Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Value Proposition Workbook

Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals

To learn more about my books, you can visit my Amazon Author Page at amazon.com/author/annemariesegal.

Two Books

Rope fraying

What are your weaknesses?

When I prepare clients for interviews, this is almost invariably at the top of people’s lists of questions that they are not prepared to answer. When they do have an answer, it is usually one of the “Top Three Answers” to the question or some variation thereof:

  • I am a perfectionist (i.e., my own toughest critic).
  • I work too hard (i.e., can’t take a break, vacation, disconnect).
  • I am a people pleaser.

The problem with these answers is two-fold. First, that they are highly overused. Second, they don’t appear to indicate any self-awareness or reflection (even if one of them is, in fact, your greatest weakness).

It is important not to underestimate this question. While many interviewers do not bother to ask it because they believe the answer will be too rehearsed, others take the answer very seriously as an indicator of whether you will be a fit in an organization and your level of self-reflection. While you should strive to find a true weakness, it is also important to put a positive spin on it and explain what you are doing to work on fixing the problem, with examples of steps you have taken to overcome them.

While you should strive to find a true weakness, it is also important to put a positive spin on it and explain what you are doing to work on fixing the problem, with examples of steps you have taken to overcome them.

Here are sample answers about where your weaknesses may lie, in the hopes that they inspire an authentic response on your part:

  • Over the years, I have found that I don’t delegate work as much as I should. I have always believed in the mantra, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” However, I am realizing that I need to spend more time training, mentoring and building my team. In the last year, I have made this a priority. [Be ready to give examples.]
  • I was never one to pay much attention to so-called “office politics” [or, I am not one for small talk] but prefer to put my head down and do my work. At some point, I realized that this would only get me so far, so I am now actively seeking out leadership [or collaborative] opportunities and focused on building relationships [across departments]. I have headed up three important projects in the last year, and I am now part of a working group that includes the CEO and other senior management.
  • For a long time, I was very specialized in one area, but in the last year I realized that I needed to broaden my experience in order to grow. Lately I have taken on projects from other groups and incorporated some volunteer work into my schedule in order to cultivate a wider range of skills. I never thought – being so highly specialized would be a weakness – but I can see now that although I have become an “expert,” a broader range of experiences are what I need to understand the big picture of what we are trying to achieve as a company and how I fit in.
  • I have been lucky to have a very broad range of projects over my career, but I realized that I had become too much of a generalist. Sometimes you really need to get “in the weeds” on certain points, and lately I have realized the importance of having a specialty, which was frankly something I resisted. To do this, I first got certified in [X] – which was a six-month process – and I’ve also become involved in [name relevant organizations] and sought out projects that can deepen my knowledge in the area. [If prompted, have examples ready. Of course, this answer is only relevant if your specialty relates to the target position.]
  • I have learned a tremendous amount by being the only person in my company who focuses on my area, but at times I have gone to conferences and other events and seen how much deeper my understanding would be if I had a team of people committed to the same goal. So I consider it a weakness that I haven’t had this exposure. I realize that the next step in my growth is to join a team with many people working on solving the same problems, so we can mentor and bounce ideas off each other, which is one of the reasons this role is so appealing.
  • I have had great success managing smaller teams of people, up to eight employees as I do currently, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to manage a larger team as I would in this role. I know that I am ready for the challenge, and I have been actively seeking out other managers who do work with larger teams to discuss the challenges of scaling up. What I have learned is….
  • Early in my career, I wasn’t very focused or quite sure what path I wanted to follow. I took a few different jobs, but none of them was the right match. I finally realized that what all of these roles were missing was that I didn’t have a chance to connect with the ultimate customer. As soon I moved over to the sales side, everything clicked. I sometimes wish I had known from the beginning what I wanted to do, but the truth is that all of these experiences have helped me understand various aspects of the company and become a better salesperson as a result.
  • My biggest weakness is that I am completely deadline-driven. I don’t do as well with downtime, although I have learned to create my own deadlines to get things done. For example, I have found it very effective to break projects down into component parts, so rather than thinking of an overall deadline, I make a calendar for myself with interim dates that I need to finish certain points, so that I can keep on track.
  • I consider it a weakness that I have never been very good at public speaking. Earlier in my career, it didn’t matter as much, because everyone liked my work product, and so I focused on that. At some point I realized that if I was going to become a leader in my field, I needed to interact with larger groups of people across all levels. So I started to take some presentation classes and also volunteer for panels with experts in the field. I figured that the best cure to my fear was to get out and do it, and I am frankly surprised that it is working out even better than I had hoped.
  • Honestly, my greatest weakness is that I still don’t know my way around the corporate culture. I have had two great internships in college, but I haven’t completely settled in. The good news is that I am very open to learning more and a quick study. Also, I’m fortunate to have had some really good experiences that taught me how to work across generations and build good relationships from day 1. [Be ready with examples from volunteering, travel, family life, etc. As a younger employee, by the way, being able to bridge the “Millennial-Baby Boomer Gap” is huge.]
  • I would consider it a weakness that, as I am sure you have seen, most of my experience is in another industry. I have spent the last few months getting up to speed on [name of new industry] in anticipation of the change, but there is nothing that replaces actual hands-on experience in the field. Fortunately, I have two good friends who both work in [name of new industry] who have been very gracious with their time, and I also have [name any other research, connections or background that is relevant]. I know that I can hit the ground running, because…. [If you have additional time, you can discuss leadership and other transferable skills that are cross-industry.]
  • It could be perceived as a weakness that for over twenty years I have worked at the same company, especially now when job changes are much more common. And it’s true that I will probably never be as innovative as someone who has jumped from start-up to start-up, for example. But I have realized that I don’t always need to be an “ideas man.” I can hire people for that. What I have is a really strong grasp of the fundamentals, how to execute and how to grow a company. The other thing I have learned is that even the “same company” is a different company after twenty years, and having moved across different functional areas, I have certainly seen how business evolves. [Elaborate and give examples.]

These answers, as you may see, follow a certain formula: (1) identify a weakness that is specific to your professional trajectory, (2) discuss what you are doing to improve, (3) highlight something that may be obvious to your interviewer already, based on your resume, (4) are not roadblocks for you in the target role (e.g., not being a good writer in a job that requires extensive writing) and (5) characterize the “weakness” as a growing pain along the way to advancing in your career. All of these three points can be absolutely true, obviating the need to sound rehearsed, if you study your own career with some detachment.

Imagine that you were a third-party consultant evaluating your own career path to date with a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. Everyone has each of these – S-W-O-and-T – and if you can see your own, you will be much further along in your career. At the same time, the more you consider “strengths” and “weaknesses,” the more you will see that they are often two sides of the same coin. Someone who thrives on being a “people person” may not do well in a job that involves a lot of solitary thinking and problem-solving, while an introvert may not take as well to a role that requires teamwork on a daily basis and does not allow for any “alone time.” These are generalizations, of course, and the goal is to figure out where you fall in this analysis, both to help your interviewer decide if you will be a fit and to help you sort out your best career environment, one that plays to your strengths and does not call on you to continually execute in areas of weakness.

In the context of interviewing, the beauty of a real answer to this question or others is that the true answer is not something you need to struggle to remember when you are in the interview room. If you have been actively managing your career, you will already have these insights and only need to work them into a few sentences, with examples, that you can present into the interview.

If you have not been in the driver’s seat in your career but instead treading water lately (which happens to the best of us), creating your “weaknesses” answer will not only be helpful for your interviews but also be a step in making a roadmap for where you would like to go next and how to get there.

This post is an excerpt from Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals.

Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, writer, resume strategist and former practicing attorney. She has conducted individualized interview prep coaching with scores of clients across law, business, information technology, marketing and other fields.

Anne Marie is the author of Master the Interview and the newly published Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Personal Value Proposition Workbook.

Image credit: Adobe Stock.

Essential Job Search Tool:
The Interview Debrief Form

Your interview went great – or at least it’s over! Now what?

If you have ever worked with a recruiter, you will notice that recruiters invariably request a debriefing shortly after your interview. When I was job searching, I always valued these calls rather highly, because it was helpful to hear the recruiter’s perspective and also have a chance to “hear myself talk” about the opportunity. At the same time, I knew that I needed to have room to think in my own quiet space, without any external influences.

If your first step after your interview is talking to a recruiter (or anyone else, such as a spouse, friend or parent), also make notes for yourself while the meetings are fresh in your mind. Sometimes we lose our train of thought once new information enters the picture, such as questions from others or re-entry into the mix of a current job situation.

Interviewing

If you do not have time to make written notes within the first few hours after the interview but do have the opportunity to record yourself (e.g., in a recording app on your phone), I highly suggest you do the latter and transcribe your notes, or at least email the recording to yourself for safekeeping. You will want to have these notes in front of you when you return for additional interviews and while evaluating (if applicable) multiple offers, and you may even want to keep them for future job searches.

While we all want our job search to be quick and painless, sometimes we get called back months after the initial interview.

Are you sure you will remember what you said and to whom? 

Points to include in your debrief are:

  1. Your Overall Impressions
  2. Thoughts About the Interviewer and Company
  3. Points About You to Emphasize in Future Interviews
  4. Points About the Employer or Role to Emphasize in Future Interviews
  5. Any “Bottom Line” or Potential Stocking Points on Compensation, etc.
  6. Further Questions to Have Answered
  7. Further People to Meet
  8. Pros and Cons vs. Other Potential Roles
  9. Areas of Improvement for Future Interviews
  10. Additional Thoughts or Concerns

Interviewing2

Click here for a sample interview debrief form that you can use for informational interviewing and job interviews. You may wish to compile all of your forms in a single place, whether it is electronically or in a physical binder, so that you can compare and contrast opportunities, have them as a refresher if your “dream job” does not call back for six months and reinvigorate your job search if you have a break and restart (or find a job and then head out into the market again at a later date). We all think we will remember everything from our interview, and invariably we do not. Having these notes available will add depth and continuity to your personal knowledge bank, thereby enhancing your position as a candidate and accelerating your search.

Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, author, resume strategist and member of Forbes Coaches Council. She is the author of Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals (available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and through local booksellers) and Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Personal Value Proposition Workbook.

The above article is an excerpt from Master the Interview.

Images: Adobe Stock.

 

Kirkus Reviews
“The most trusted voice in book reviews since 1933”

As an indie author, when you submit your book to Kirkus Reviews, you hold your breath waiting to hear what they will write. They are not the only voice, but they are quite an important one! Fortunately, I have good news to report! 

book-cover-design-front

Here’s what the Kirkus reviewer wrote about Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals:

“….integrating open-ended questions and self-assessment exercises into each chapter… is probably the strongest aspect of the book…”

“…a particularly helpful chapter discusses how to answer the toughest ones, such as ‘What are your weaknesses?’”

“One of the more valuable chapters steps through ‘nine common blocks’ and how to overcome them…”

“Throughout this book, Segal consistently offers positive, uplifting guidance while adopting an objective yet empathetic tone.”

“A self-directed, interactive manual that should benefit experienced and new job-seekers alike.”

To read the full review, please click here or visit: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/anne-marie-segal/master-interview.

Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, writer, resume strategist and member of Forbes Coaches Council. She is founder of Segal Coaching, author of Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals (available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and many local booksellers) and a frequent public speaker in New York, Connecticut and beyond. 

I was honored to speak to University of Chicago alumni last month about highlights from my recent book, Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals.

If you are currently in the job search, looking opportunistically or willing to move for the right role, you will save yourself hours in your interview preparation – mitigating stress and uncertainty in the process and increasing your chance of a job offer – by watching and listening to the discussions in this webinar.

Here are two of the many points I make that will help “frame” your preparation:

  1. You are “on interview” well before you enter the actual interview room. It behooves you to take an expanded view of interviewing, from the initial contact with companies and networking (including social media) to your follow-up efforts thereafter.
  2. While you cannot anticipate every question that will be asked in an interview, you can have examples ready that align with your value proposition and are versatile enough to be responsive to a range of questions. Thinking about questions thematically will help you organize and bring more impact to your potential responses.

For the slides to follow along to the presentation (or speed up the learning process), please click here.

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership development coach, author, resume strategist and member of Forbes Coaches Council. She is founder of Segal Coaching, author of Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals (available on Amazon.com) and a frequent public speaker in New York, Connecticut and beyond.