Getting a Job: The Resume

14 08 2008

For the next few weeks I will be doing a series for recent grads called Getting a Job.  I want to cover things that are imperative to know going forward after graduation.  Chances are you didn’t learn these things in school, and/or your career development center at school sucked.

The Resume: A 10 step crash course

1. One Full Page.  Hopefully you’ve had some good internship opportunities during your time in college that you can put on your resume, but you still don’t have enough experience to merit your resume being over 1 page.  If you’ve got over a page, you’ve got too much fluff (BS), if your under a page it looks like you have no experience.  If you are under a page, be sure to add relevant school projects as experience.  If you’re over a page, most recruiters won’t turn the page, plus staples snag the other resumes in the pile which makes your 2 pager annoying to begin with.

2. Bullet Points.  No one wants to read a paragraph about you, so help make recruiters jobs easier.  Think of bullet points as catchy headlines.  You want them to jump off the page and make the reader get the idea, but also want to learn more (by calling you in for an interview).

3. Strong Action Verbs.  Start your bullet points with an action verb, not “I.”  When you say “Developed a comprehensive database to ensure…” the “I” is assumed, and Developed jumps off the page.  In the example, “Developed” is a strong action verb, it says that you are proactive, yes, it could have used “Made” instead of developed , but Made is too passive.  Use words like Monitored, Created, Examined, Coordinated, Collaborated, Maintained, and Managed.

4. Formatting. There are many ways to do this, and arguably none is better than the other as long as it looks good.  Below is my preference.

Name

Contact Info (can be on separate lines, or same, depends on space)

TITLE (Education, Experience,…)

COMPANY/SCHOOL                                                                                Location

Title/Role/Major                                                                                 Date -Date

  • Bullet Points (at least 4 per best/relevant experience, 3 or maybe 2 for less relevant.
  • Bullet Points…

5. GPA.  As a general rule of thumb, if you made above a 3.0, put it on your resume.  If not, don’t.

6. Affiliations.  Chances are you were involved in organizations on campus and you volunteered.  Include them, it looks great on a resume, that IS why you initially did them right?

7. Other/Interests.  This is where you need to humanize yourself.  If you made a 4.0 at Harvard and were super involved on campus, that’s great, but on paper you’re an overachiever without people skills that I don’t want to hire.  However, if you tell me that you are an action sports junkie, or an accomplished ballet dancer that makes you a more interesting person that I would want to work with.  Plus it provides great ice breaker conversation in interviews.

8. References.  Don’t include this section on your resume, and especially don’t put “Available upon request,” that’s just stupid.  If it’s not on there, and they want them, they will ask for them anyway.  And if they are on there it’s rude to your references because you never know when or if to give them a heads up that a call is coming.  Have a separate page that lists references when you go in for the interview.  If they ask for it, you can provide it and give a heads up to your references.

9. Contact Info.  You’re an adult.  cooln3rd1986 isn’t going to cut it anymore.  Try to get your name or initials from an e-mail service.  If not, consider buying your name or last name as a domain and setting up free e-mail like Joe@yourelastname.com/.net/.us  It is very simple to purchase (I prefer GoDaddy.com, be frugal there are always coupon codes for them, and avoid any extras, you just need the domain).  Then read about Google Apps and sign up for free e-mail using your domain!

10. Edit Edit Edit.  Your resume will always be a work in progress.  Before you apply for jobs, send it out to as many (qualified) people as possible and ask them to critique it, not to pass it on.  If no one says anything, that does not mean it’s good.  Tell them to nit pick and be mean, but remember not everyone provides good advice, so don’t feel obligated to accept it all.  You can even send it to me and I will be honest ( daniel at this domain.com).  As a bonus, by doing this and asking for advice, you are building your network and can send it back to them and ask them for more help in finding a job!

I hope you found this crash course helpful, obviously I did not include everything,  so if you have additional pointers please leave them.  My resume is always a work in progress too!

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How I’m Making the Most of a Dead End Job

23 07 2008

A couple months ago I walked into my bosses office after a few weeks of pure boredom in my job:

“We need to talk,” I said, “I enjoy working for you, and I feel like I have gained a great deal of priceless experience, but I’ve been increadibly bored over the past few weeks and when I ask for more work I get bitch work.  I need to know where my job is going.”

He was caught a little off guard, but responded “Well, to be perfectly honest, there is no vertical growth in our department.  If you were to stay at this company it would be in another department.  You aren’t thinking of quitting already are you?”

I smiled, “You know I always look for more responsibility.”

I appreciate his honesty, but I was caught off guard a bit by his frankness.  On one hand it’s good to know, but on the other I was just told I was in a dead end job and I needed to figure out my next move.  My lingering question became, do I start to look for a new job then (after 6 months on the job, the last person in my job lasted 7), or do I do as I’ve been told by most people I’ve met with…stick it out for at least a year.

Fast Forward 2 weeks.  I have breakfast with a powerful HR executive who I met through my father-in-law (networking extraordinaire).  I ask him about my situation to further our conversation, and because as a general rule… effective networking occurs when you ask for advice.  His response was just as I imagined.  “Stick it out for at least a year,” he then caught me off guard, “then send me your resume.”

I was flattered, to say the least, but I still had 6 more months to stick it out… I’m fine with being worked to death, but pure boredom is another thing all together.  I would later find out from a co-worker that the girl who had my job before me watched Grey’s Anatomy and anything else she could online, and that the guy before her brought in DVD’s to watch at work.  This is something I could NEVER do, I view it as wrong on any number of levels, so I would need to find other things to busy myself.

Today I’ve been on the job about 10 months, and I have become the unofficial corporate webmaster, in charge of maintaining our less than par website that was put up in the mid ’90s.  I have since made it my goal to get us a new corporate website, actually this is something I told my boss we needed right after I was hired.

I began lobbying slowly, but gained some backers and was able to successfully create a presentation on why we need a new website.  The presentation was successful and I got the corporate funding for it (very surprising because of the cost cutting measures my company has taken).  Now I am the point man on working with company executives from all departments and a 3rd party firm to develop the site.  I’ve been balancing schedules and putting together an advisory team to watch over the development.  I got much busier when working towards the new site, and I even took stuff home with me one night (something I never do).

By broadening my exposure and working toward my goal of getting the new site, I now have something that gets me excited for work.  It is well outside of my job description, but it has enabled me to gain invaluable management experience and exposure that will surely look good on my resume and aid me in the search for my next position.





Why You Should Ask For Potential Employer References

23 04 2008

“He get’s bitchy sometimes.  Just understand that it has nothing to do with you, it’s just his personality.”

The words of wisdom from a co-worker on my fourth day in the office, and subsequently his last, rang through my head today as I entered my bosses office and realized he was in one of his “moods.”  I quickly turned on my comedic relief to ease the tension in the room and help to lighten his mood.

Allow me to backtrack, I have a great boss, I have the kind of boss most employees would love to have, he’s not about facetime, he’s about getting work done, and he understands the concept of a work/life balance.  He fights for his employee’s rights and for these reasons I love him.  If we had 360 degree feedback, and I were to write his review, it would definitely be a good one.

The words of my co-worker while I was still in my first week stay with me.  There are days where my boss is one step from seemingly taking it out on me, so I have learned to defuse the situation by making him laugh or letting him vent.  Occasionally I have to stop him and remind him that he isn’t mad at me.  This relationship is my other serious relationship.  Penelope Trunk often writes of having a friend at work who you can work with and who helps you work better.  For better or for worse, for me that person is my boss.

I’ve learned how to cope with my boss, and I’ve learned to defuse situations by comedic relief or just calling him out on it, but I wonder if I would be working where I am now if he had given me his references when I interviewed for the job.  Afterall, I do spend just as much time with him everyday as I do with my wife.

So I ask you this, why is it expected for employers to check references for employees, but the employee doesn’t get to see a reference for his boss before accepting the position?  

Many interview books recommend that you spend upwards of 24 hours with a person before hiring them or accepting their offer, however, no one actually does this, we don’t have the time, so we are forced to base major life decisions on what we can learn in about an hour (if we’re lucky).  

So I ask again why don’t we, the employee, get to check references?





How I Impress Older Coworkers

4 04 2008

Coming out of college and entering the working world wasn’t much different from the transition between high school and college. As a high school senior I was a big fish in a little pond, I was awesome…then I graduated and quickly became little fish in the big pond of college. Now as a freshman in the working world I am once again a little fish in a big pond. Being back in this situation was intimidating, until I realized that my coworkers encourage me to learn more, and most are more than willing to facilitate the process, which is a drastically different attitude than my classmates had in college.Most of my coworkers are at least 10 years older than I am, and that puts me at an advantage. You see many of them had somewhat written me off as not understanding everything that I was doing, and while this was true and I did need help (who doesn’t?), I was able to amaze them away with 2 little things I keep up with.

1. I read the Wall Street Journal everyday. It is, hands down, the best newspaper around, and no one expects someone in their early 20’s to be reading it. Reading the Journal daily allows me to stay up to date on a variety of issues ranging from business to politics. Mary and I frequently inform our co-workers and bosses of things that are occurring in the industry in which we work, from bankruptcy of competitors to new concepts, and we can do this because we read everyday. It makes us look good that we not only know this relevant information, but that we are the one’s informing our superiors of it. It also allows me to preface talking points with “there was a great article in the Wall Street Journal the other day…”

2. I Polish my work. In many cases presentation is more important than content. If you know how to make boring things look more appealing then you are less likely to get questioned. Case in point, I maintain many spreadsheets at work, I also hold all of the backup information for them. No one has questioned me for backup information on the spreadsheets that are well laid out, easy to read, and easy on the eyes. However, I have been questioned numerous times on spreadsheets where I have made a formatting error, or it just isn’t as pretty. After I provide the backup (which proves me correct) I am told to fix the formatting. The bottom line is that if it is ugly, the content matters more, and having something pretty creates the illusion of credibility. As I said in yesterday’s post, that illusion becomes reality.

These two little things are simple to do allow me to stay at the top of my game and continue impressing those who I work with.

Edit: JRandom pointed out that I made it look like I might be trying to put one over on my boss.  I would like to clarify by stating that I never submit anything unless I have double checked all of my work.  I definitely understand the concept that you can’t polish crap, and I don’t, but I was trying to state that appearance and polish seems to give an extra level of credibility.





The Curse of a Jack-of-All-Trades

5 03 2008

I’ve always been a jack-of-all-trades, never afraid trying to do something on my own, and always watching and learning how to do things.  I can’t help it, was raised this way. 

From a young age I pushed a toy lawn mower behind my dad as he mowed the lawn, in elementary school I spent afternoons with my grandfather who taught me about woodworking and tools as we built (yet never finished) a rocking chair, in junior high I hung out with carpenters and contractors everyday after school as they remodeled both my grandparents and my parents houses.  I was an early adopter of HGTV, yet This Old House remains my favorite home improvement show.  In high school I, like most teens, was infatuated with cars, and as a result I can, and have done just about everything on a car, short of body work.  Through all of this, I learned and did even more as I became an Eagle Scout.  I watched, I learned, I did.

I loved these aspects of my childhood, and these aspects built a foundation for me to know how to do an extreme variety of things, and as much as I love (and Mary loves) this about me, it’s a curse.

I constantly have internal struggles as three aspects of my life make it nearly impossible for me to make a decision on any variety of things.  These three things that alone are great, seem to deeply conflict each other.

  1. I’m a DIY type of guy, born and raised, for the sake of being constructive, and seeing a finished product that I created, saving money is just a bonus.
  2. I’m Frugal.
  3. I’m a perfectionist.

As the saying goes, “jack of all trades, master of none.”  I’m a perfectionist that can’t do any of the things I love to do perfectly, yet I hate the concept of paying someone when I can do it myself, but since I know how things should be done (even though I can’t do them perfectly) I monitor to make sure things are being done right.  As Fat Bastard in would say “It’s a vicious cycle.”

This internal struggle is one of the major reasons that Mary and I decided to build a new house instead of buying an older home and having projects.  We’d rather move into a house already done the way we want it than have to live with imperfect DIY project after project.

JD at Get Rich Slowly, posted an interview with Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.  I have not read the book, but in the interview the concept of a “low information diet” is brought up.  Tim explains that the people who excel with this type of lifestyle don’t overload on information.  Instead they outsource what they can, and don’t feel the need to stay caught up.  Tim calls them “selectively ignorant,” not really knowing more than they need to.  In other words, they are the opposite of me.

I am going to try being selectively ignorant because in many aspects of my life I feel that because I know how something is done, I should do it myself.  As a result I have a handful of half finished projects, and quite a few that would look much better if I would have paid someone else to do it.

What it comes down to is focusing on the things that you truly thrive in.  If you can focus on these things, and outsource/outchore the rest to others, in theory you’ll be doing quite well in your career and in your life.  This concept is one that was first brought to my attention in the book Strengthsfinder 2.0, which has the reader take a personality test and then tells you the 5 things that you thrive in, and what type of people to surround yourself with in order to be most successful.  It is a great test/book and I highly recommend it, as it was the first publication that I read which focused on strengths and not weaknesses.

I have to begin accepting that just because I can do something myself, it doesn’t mean I should. I am excited that I won’t have any large or highly visible projects once we move, and I’m looking forward to being able to focus more on what I’m good at (like looking towards the future, advising, and teamwork), and getting better at a select few things I truly enjoy but am not great at (like writing). 





Frugality Increases Earning Power (And Saving Power!)

25 02 2008

I want to share a story about how being frugal can help you make more money, and not just help you save it. 

Ever since Mary and I decided to build our new house we have been living frugally for the first time, and I feel that it has opened my eyes.  I’ve always hated inefficiency with a passion, and I pride myself on trying to find the most efficient way to do things, but lately with frugality on the mind I’ve been seeing waste everywhere.  For example, this waste has forced Mary and I to become active instead of passive about recycling.  But it isn’t just at home I’m seeing waste and inefficiency, I see it on an everyday basis at work. 

The company Mary and I work for is not exactly known for being a leader in employee benefits, and it’s no secret around the company that the employees aren’t thrilled with the 401k.  But by being in the unique situation of working at the same company as my wife, and by talking with some friends, I was able to uncover something that could save the company upwards of two million dollars a year… 

From my Human Resource classes in college I know that an employees health benefits can cost the company around $4,500 a year if they are enrolled.  Because Mary started her job before I started mine, I have been under Mary’s benefits.  Each additional person on an employees benefits costs the company a fraction of that amount more, so assuming that it costs the company $2,000 a year extra to insure me under Mary’s plan, I’m effectively saving the company $2,500 a year by not being enrolled for my own benefits.  Unfortunately for Mary and I, it is more expensive for us to be on the same plan ($480/year more) so it isn’t cost effective for us, even though it’s cost effective for the company. 

In speaking with a friend who works at the same company as his wife, he mentioned that  his company offers a $500 incentive to not be enrolled in their benefits.  An incentive like that would make being on one plan cost effective for us!  So I ran some complicated numbers and realized that if a small percentage of our workforce decided to accept an incentive to not be enrolled in the company’s healthcare system and instead be enrolled in their spouses, the company could save millions of dollars! 

I took this idea, and I approached my boss, I showed him the math, and he loved it.  The next thing I know, I’m in the Treasurer’s office pitching it to him.  He also loved the idea, and even came up with the idea of re-allocating the saved money to improve the 401k (which would double the matching they do now).  After his office, I got an appointment to meet with the Senior V.P. of Human Resources, who also loved the idea!  

They will be passing it through the ranks and may be implementing the idea for the next enrollment period. By looking at things like this with a frugal eye, I have potentially saved the company money and/or doubled the retirement plan our company offers!  And while it’s nice to think that I’ve done this for the company, I’ve really done it for myself.  I got great visibility out of it, and now the executives know who I am and say hi to me in the halls, which is pretty cool for being in my first job out of school.  Hopefully I’ll be able to leverage this later on when it comes to my evaluation! 

I’ve also found that our company doesn’t recycle, and I probably throw two reams of paper away a month as part of my job.  My next task is going to be saving my paper instead of throwing it away, so I can approach my boss with a large stack of paper from only a weeks worth of saving, plop it on his desk, and ask why we don’t recycle!





Get Noticed

6 02 2008

 Guy Kawasaki is one of my heroes, he was one of the original employees of Apple inc, and now he runs his own venture capital firm (both are my dream jobs), he also runs his own blog called How to Change the World.  I was reading his blog and found one of the most creative ways to get noticed to a potential employer or investor, as the case may be. 

Everyone searches for that one thing to put in a cover letter that will make them stand out, that will make the person reading the e-mail actually want to open your attachment and see what you bring to the table.  Sherry Couch of BizNiche did just that while seeking Guy as an investor, she nailed the subject line and made Guy want to open the e-mail.  Below is the most creative cover letter I could ever imagine:

Everything you should know about me as an entrepreneur you could learn from my OB/GYN

  1. I am very good at conceiving an idea. 
  2. I can commit to something mind, body, and soul for at least nine months. 
  3.  I have the ability to over come adversity, such as eating healthily while puking all day. 
  4.  I can adapt quickly to changing and expanding situations. 
  5.  I stay focused and motivated even with a lack of oxygen to my brain. 
  6.  I am creative: Did you know with satin pajamas and satin sheets you can roll over in bed even with an extra sixty pounds. 
  7.  I am patient-ever known anyone ten months pregnant? 
  8.  I am cool under pressure: I gave birth to a ten-pound baby without a C-section or a properly functioning epidural and did not curse out my husband. 
  9.  I am resilient: I went back to work at my company four weeks after giving birth. 
  10.  I create meaning in the world! Even with all the trials and tribulations of becoming a parent I have chosen to do it twice so far because each new life gives hope and meaning to our world. Just like each new business.

Probably the easiest way to make extra money is to be innovative and get noticed, and Sherry did just that with this e-mail.   If you were a hiring manager and this e-mail came across your desk, wouldn’t you want to meet the person it came from?  I almost wouldn’t care about the résumé  because she showed enough with this e-mail to let me know that she knows how to get the job done.

I know that the next time I am in the job market, or even just trying to get noticed, I’m going to work on a creative way to do so.  I even forwarded this to my Mother-in-law who is thinking about starting her own business!