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Friday, March 14, 2008

What has been your worst interview ever?

As I’m starting to put my resume writing, interviewing, and job search strategy book together, I want to inject a little humor and inspiration at the beginning of each chapter. For this reason, I'd love to hear your horror stories about the worst interview experience you've ever had as well as any “wow” moments where someone really blew you away during the interview process.

This one's a three-parter, feel free to answer any or all:

First, describe your most memorable experience in a truly horrible interview. What were you applying for, what happened, what made it so terrible, how did it all turn out, etc.?

Then, if you've been a hiring manager or a member of an interview team, what do you remember as the most cringe-worthy moment you've had while interviewing a candidate? What made it so horrible? Did you end up hiring the person?

Finally, again if you were an interviewer, do you recall anything in particular that a candidate did to really impress you? Explain why you felt the way you did. If possible, describe whether that candidate was hired, and how they worked out as an employee.

Thanks posters!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


"Sustainability" has come up a lot this week, especially in interview coaching sessions. What's not to love about it, right? People are seeking work where sustainability is a key factor. So, in honor of sustainability, I'm recycling an article one of my resume clients (a writer) wrote about me last year, before I left my corporate recruiting job to run my business full-time. I wrote the last bit, you'll see where.


When to Splurge: Resume Writer

There are times when spending is the same as investing. And when it comes to putting your best face forward in a job search, you should invest in yourself.

Invest... in a resume writer.

I tend to overuse the term 'invest' because it indicates putting money into something that will offer returns of some kind, usually financial. I've had some people say, "You don't 'invest' in dog clippers, Andrea. You buy them." But dog clippers do offer me a return of sorts, because although they cost a good deal of money, they pay for themselves within one to two months, vis a vis savings on dog grooming costs. They could also be used to earn money, should I start clipping the neighbors' Pomeranian (not likely) every few weeks.

So when I say 'invest' in a resume writer, I mean just that. You are spending money on something that might seem unnecessary. However, not only will a brilliant, professional resume land you a good job, but the higher pay that you fetch could affect your income level for the rest of your life.

I should know - I've used a resume writer.

Sure, sure. I'm a tech writer by trade, so technically, I should be able to write. But resumes are a different beast altogether. I can whip up a user's manual like no one else, but when it comes to talking about what I've achieved over the course of my career, I don't always express myself in a way that is impressive to hiring managers. Very few managers will ever come out and tell you this, of course.

In fact, I might still be sending out my old resume and getting nowhere if it wasn't for the fact that I had an interview at a local company, one that does vendor work for Microsoft. I had updated my resume in a hurry, and the result was that there was a typo in one paragraph. It wasn't a big one, and in fact, it was something really simple. But it got noticed by a manager who had no tolerance for typos (which I understand, I really do) and the result was an insanely hostile interview in which everything I said was rudely challenged by someone who clearly wanted to pick a fight with me. Over a typo.

It was such a mortifying experience (and I didn't have the guts to stand up and say "Screw you! I don't need this job, Typo Nazi!"), that I went immediately home and started looking for resume help. And I found Jill Walser, a local HR guru who helps people tweak their resumes and prepare for interviews in her spare time from her business, I got the job!

It turns out that, in addition to the typo, my resume was kind of a mess. Which is really weird, since I wrote it using all those "how-to" books and online guides, and I was pretty confident that it was one bad-ass resume. Turns out that it was just ass-bad.

Jill was able to parse the important information out of my cluttered, 4-page resume, and massage it into a concise, 2-page resume that highlighted my strengths and accomplishments. She interviewed me and asked for more details than I thought anyone needed on a resume.

Immediately after Jill reworked my resume, I got the first job that I applied to.

I've heard people suggest that hiring a resume writer is dishonest, and I take exception to that. A resume writer can help you better express yourself in a way that makes sense to hiring managers. A resume writer does not invent experience for you, they merely guide you on how best to express what you've accomplished over the course of your career.

I asked Jill to give me the lowdown on her job, and why people SHOULD put money into something like a professional resume.


Why should someone hire a resume writer?

People who obtain a professionally written resume are (hopefully!) ensured of several things. Primarily, they are ensured that there are no glaring NO!s on the resume like misspellings, misused words, lack of focus, lack of discernible achievements, etc. Additionally, a reader other than oneself is an absolute requirement when it comes to knowing if ones resume is understandable by others. People get into patterns of expressing themselves that make perfect sense to them and to their niche industry, but no sense at all to others.

You'd hire a professional resume writer for the same reason that you'd hire an attorney to write up your will. Yes, you could probably write it yourself, but you might forget something important and you only get one chance to get it right. Either way, you're dead.

How hard can it possibly be to write a resume?

Writing ones own resume can be excruciatingly painful. Like pulling your own teeth. Hours and hours of wandering through websites, reading books, looking at other people's resumes, getting 10 different and conflicting ideas about what must be included, struggling. Doing a "pretty good" job might be OK if one is an engineer, or software developer. As long as they get the basic facts down and don't look like they have third-grade writing skills, their resumes are probably OK. If, however, one is a marketing, sales or administrative professional or *gasp* someone who writes for a living, having a less-than-perfect resume can be the kiss of death.

I have a copywriter opening at work this week. You can bet that the first thing I'll look at is resume quality, even before the quality of their experience. Resumes have to do so much. They are a marketing piece, a business document, a way to convey your personality, and your only opportunity to brand yourself as perfect for the job before the hiring manager meets you. How hard could that be? Exactly.

Isn't having someone else write your resume kind of... dishonest?

Resume writing has become one of the last professional tasks that people feel should still be clandestine. I'm pro-professional. Why should I fix my own car, put 18 million of those little foil things in my hair, give myself a massage, etc.? Sure, I could do all those things myself, but why on earth would I want to? A professional spends hours and hours training and experimenting on other, unsuspecting victims, before she has her craft perfected enough to start charging for it.

On the other hand, I have no problem with people pretending that they wrote their own resume. Its sort of like me telling my mom that I spent hours cleaning before she came by for a visit. Its *kind of* true.

What kind of mistakes do people usually make on their resumes?

What kind of mistakes DON'T they make? Trite objectives, self-aggrandisement, segments that "break" in the wrong places. My personal favorites are those who spell "detail oriented" incorrectly and those who claim to be Mangers. Once a month, I do a search on Craigslist's resume section for Mangers and randomly pick a resume to rewrite and email to the person for free. Reactions are amazingly mixed! Of note, I have yet to meet an actual professional Manger. I keep hoping.

What kind of results do YOU typically get with your reworked resumes?

My customer's resumes get results! They are called in for interviews and offered jobs. They are more confident in their application documents and it shows! The coolest part of this gig is that every single week I get at least one, "I got the job!" email. It's very thrilling to me. The act of going over the resume, answering my homework questions, talking about networking and their career vision makes them better at interviewing, so they get more job offers.

How important is a cover letter?

Its crucial. Its the best way of showing a little glimpse of your personality and demonstrating that you have done your research and really want to work for THAT company. Its a way of showing that you have gone the extra mile to spell their name right. I cannot tell you how disinterested I am in hiring people who cannot even cut and paste my name correctly. There are NO Ms. Waslers that work for my company people! Plus, in the bulleted world of resumes, it's a nice way of showing that you (well, I) can put a few sentences together.

What's the most that someone should pay to have their resume professionally written?

A million dollars. That would definitely be too much. Pricing is all over the place with resume writers. It's hard to know what to charge. Resume writer's qualifications and backgrounds are quite varied as well. I've met resume writers who were actually out-of-work novelists, trying to make some extra money. I may be the only corporate recruiter with a resume business out there. I haven't yet met another.

Personality fit is crucial. If you don't feel your resume writer "gets" you, its going to be a frustrating experience. So it's hard to compare value. I will say that every time I've raised my prices, it's had absolutely no impact on customer traffic. My rates currently range between $95 - $245, depending on employment level. I've done resumes for people with horror stories about paying $400 for a resume that looks terrible. I feel their pain. $400 for a resume that looks fabulous and gets results is not too much. $95 for a resume that sucks and lands in the trash is too much.

Monday, March 3, 2008

This stuff makes my day!

Date: 3/03/2008
Subject: I got the job
Hello Jill,
Today, I started my new job at Cisco, thanks in part to the resume you created for me. Your attention to details and industry insight are invaluable which result in an honest, yet high-impact resume. Thank you.

I get “I got the job!” letters like this all the time and they always warm my heart, but this one is special. This gentleman, for a variety of reasons, hadn't worked for eight years.

I've had several conversations this week with clients about what is "realistic" for them in terms of what jobs they are likely to land with their shiny new resumes, given their work histories, education, etc. What's amazing to me is the lack of correlation between their accomplishments and their perception of whether they'll be victorious in finding a great job. Wildly successful individuals can have terrible self-confidence.

While my answer isn't always comfortable for people to hear, it's always the same. YOU choose how far you can go. YOU choose whether you are going to work towards a goal, or decide (or let someone decide for you) that you can't attain it. I will do my best to position you as a good fit for whatever goal you pick (and I think I do a darn good job at it), but you are the one who truly controls your future. Even if you haven't tried for years, as my client above illustrates, at ANY point you can decide to get back in the game.

Will it be hard? Absolutely! Is it possible? Of course! Think of the people you admire - the people who set their sights high despite improbably high odds and just went for it. Those folks never cared whether someone (their mother, their spouse, their high school math teacher) thought they could do it; they just went right ahead and did it. Were most of them scared to death? Probably, but so what? Those that let fear, or other people, or something they’ve read dictate their options are not running their own lives.

As the former CEO of the corporation said as I left to run my own business, "No guts, no glory." I couldn't agree more. The gentlemen above, who authored that email, has guts. And my admiration.