[ A few thoughts on career coaching, resume writing, and professional development ]
[Reposted from my LinkedIn profile / Photo by Peter Forster / @peter_forster]
Don’t believe anything you hear about the job search. Except maybe a few things, like "don't be an a$$" and "your resume doesn't have to be perfect."
If you ask five random people to share their thoughts on what it takes to land a new job, chances are you’ll elicit five different responses. Some common trends might emerge, but often the information is conflicting, irrelevant, overly theoretical, or simply overwhelming.
Information overload is real. Barf. Some of us spend too much time reading about landing a new job and not enough time going after it. Most of us will agree that there is no lack of information online. In fact, quite the opposite. There’s too much s#%@ out there! Plenty of articles, buzzy lists, fast-moving videos, and fancy infographics about how to develop your career, polish your resume, finesse your LinkedIn profile, and ace your next job interview. But how is one to sift through the mountains of advice? And then, how to take that knowledge and actually apply it to your own life? Humans are remarkably silly creatures. We have all this knowledge and we find incredible ways to ignore it, resist it, or forget about it. As a human who occasionally falls into such traps of hypocrisy, I speak from experience.
However, as a resume writer, career coach, and personal brand strategist, I spend my days helping clients articulate their professional stories in the hopes of securing promotions, job interviews, or – in some cases – the envy of their colleagues. Truly. Some of my clients just want to show off. Fine by me.
Below I’ve compiled a few insights that have proven successful in recent years. This isn't rocket science. It is simple (though not always easy) advice based on more than a decade of personal and professional observations. From a career coach who serves clients in every industry, job function, and continent you can imagine. Well, except Antarctica… for now, anyway. Anyone in Antarctica need a career coach? Bueller?
Your resume doesn’t have to be perfect.
Really. Nobody is perfect. But for some reason we think our resumes should be. Your resume doesn’t have to be the best-written document in all the land – it only needs to be “good enough.” Please don’t tell my clients this. Or do – many of them already know this. The resume has to be good enough to whet the recruiter’s appetite so they pick up the phone (or send you an email) to inquire for more information.
Certainly, there are some resume no-nos.
Like avoiding typos. Spelling mistakes. Grammatical errors. Outdated fonts. Ugly formats (let’s NOT party like it’s 1999). Weak verbs. Run-on sentences. And so on, and so on, and so on.
But as long as your experience is relevant, your document is easy to skim, visually attractive, and contains quantified examples of your impact -- instead of focusing on mere tasks and responsibilities – then typically that’s good enough.
The recruiter doesn’t care about how busy you were ("Oh, I pulled all-nighters every month") at your last job, just about the results you delivered.
Costs saved. Additional revenues generated. Clients satisfied. Employees retained. Processes streamlined. Efficiencies achieved. Time saved. Morale boosted. That sort of thing. Numbers, numbers, numbers.
The more specific your examples are, the more believe and compelling they become. Generic statements don’t appeal very much to a recruiter. A basic resume formula = I got s#&! done. I made a difference. Here are some relevant skills and specific examples of my impact. Done and done.
Your resume doesn’t need to include everything and the kitchen sink. Your 20+ year career may have enough content to fill an e-book, but no one’s got the time or desire to read a book about your life (and if they do, that's creepy!). One or two pages should be sufficient to make your point.
Similar advice applies to your portfolio, especially if you’re a creative professional. You don’t need to include everything and the kitchen sink. A "live" digital portfolio with five elegant work samples is infinitely more effective than a still-under construction unpublished website with 50 mediocre examples (“Because I’m still finalizing it and adding new content, and I need it to be perfect”).
Done is better than perfect. And it’ll never be perfect.
You can always add more and tweak it down the road. Don’t procrastinate. Or do. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter much to you. Sometimes people say they want a new job but they aren’t willing to make the sacrifices now to get it. So do they really want it? I really can't say.
No need to constantly reinvent the wheel. Sometimes your current resume is solid. It’s fine. It’s good enough. But, and here's a big but: you’ve stared at the same document for years and you simply want to barf. It needs a revamp. A pop of color. A breath of fresh air. A few small but important updates. This process of refreshing the document is as important for the recruiter as it is for you. It gives you that extra boost of confidence and momentum to go out there and share your brand spankin’ new resume with the world. I genuinely love it when clients are giddy with excitement about the new resume we crafted together. Adorbz.
Don’t agonize over things you can’t control. But do control the most important thing: your brand.
You can’t control global pandemics, natural disasters, or major economic downturns (unless you can, in which case, stop reading this, get back to work, and fix our world’s problems STAT).
One thing you can control, however, is your own brand message. You get to decide how you appear on the resume, on your LinkedIn, and any other social media / portfolio presence. What’s your main brand story? Your tag line? Your slogan? Your value. And is it consistent across all your digital platforms? Or are you embarking on an uphill and very fragmented job search because you're trying to be everything to everyone? I've been there. It doesn't work.
You should have at least a rough idea of your value as a professional. Where do you excel? What are you most proud of? What is your magic sauce? Where have you made the biggest contributions and impact in the last, say, five years? If you don’t know how to brand yourself, ask a former boss you respect, or your best friend. Ask them to tell you what you’re good at. And maybe ask them where you kinda suck. The latter won’t appear on your resume, but it might give food for thought.
You already know what you have to do. But for some reason you’re not doing it.
It may sound corny, but your fears contain the biggest opportunities. If you haven’t done any networking in the last six months, why not? Are you an introvert using shyness as an excuse? Or is networking something you do only when you need a job? Personally, I used to hate networking. Double-barf. But now it’s easy (and I finally enjoy it).
The most successful people I know are constantly networking, and not just when they need something from someone. Networking is about building meaningful connections and cultivating them throughout one’s career. If you treat it as transactional (i.e. only networking when you want a job), it feel contrived and its usefulness will be limited.
So, what can you do? Do anything that involves other people. Become a mentor. Seek a mentor. Attend conferences (virtually, until COVID-19 subsides). Rekindle old professional flames. Reach out to those you haven’t talked to since college. If you’ve been blindly applying to jobs online and are hitting a brick wall (aka experiencing the resume black hole) try networking for a change. Changing your resume for the 18th time might not be the best use of your energy. Just sayin'.
Talking to other people in casual environments has so many darn benefits. You’ll practice your communications skills. You’ll hear about relevant trends. You might even get ideas about a potential career switch. I’ve had clients change careers after 20 years. A lawyer who actually hated law. A sales executive who had always dreamed about being a doctor.
Other people can inspire you, but only if you let them.
And, yes, as you are networking, sometimes you might hear about internal job postings before anyone else does. But you have to put yourself out there. Don’t daydream about that next job and hope for miracles. The miracle is you going out there and making it happen. I call it active prayer. Don't just think about being good to yourself and others. Actually be. Do. Act.
And if you have some deeper troubles that are creating obstacles in the way, consider career coaching, or perhaps therapy. I’ve had prospective clients who were so emotionally broken that I had to turn them away and refer them to therapy, because career coaching isn’t well suited or equipped to handle that type of challenge.
Cover letters are dead (unless they aren’t).
Over the years, some recruiters have admitted to me that they only skim cover letters. Or read them only if the resume is a good fit. Either way, it can’t hurt to write a cover letter that is short, succinct and relevant. Make sure to call out achievements specific to that company/job to which you’re applying. And cite specific company values, projects, programs, events or news that resonate with you. In short, customize the letter so it demonstrates why you want to work for that company, and what specific value/impact you bring to the table for that job. You don't necessarily have to rewrite the whole letter for each individual job application, but make sure that the hook (near the top of the letter) is sufficiently customized.
Authenticity is critical. Just be yourself.
During interviews and networking interactions, be yourself. Sure, a professional, polished, articulate and confident version of yourself, but be yourself at the core. A savvy recruiter or hiring manager can see through the facade, so don't waste your own time, or theirs.
And if you think you can't be yourself because you think you're not a good communicator or you happen to have low self-esteem, then should you be yourself? Well, then confidence is probably the first thing you might want to work on, no? Improving your confidence (n.b.: not the same as arrogance) can impact every aspect of your professional and personal life.
During phone screenings or in-person (ahem, virtual) interviews, don’t be vague. Be unique. Uniquely you. Recruiters aren’t dumb. They can read between the lines. When they ask you “what is your greatest weakness”, if they hear “I’m a perfectionist” one more time, their eyes will roll out of their sockets.
Come up with a more realistic example. You should know your own weaknesses. Personally, I excel at client relations (pun intended), but I suck at Excel. My strength is people. My weakness is Excel. Which is fine, because I have accounting software to take care of financial matters, and it doesn’t impact my effectiveness in my line of work. I’m not a know-it-all.
If you’re struggling to identify your weaknesses, look back at your last performance reviews. Where did you have room for improvement? And what did you actually do about it? During an interview, Talk about a flaw that you’ve actually worked on, and point out what improved as a result.
Leverage your power. Think outside the rectangular prism [box]. Do what you can, no more, and no less.
During an interview, don’t answer questions passively. Ask the interviewer plenty of good questions. Stay engaged. Don’t be a forgettable interviewee.
In your resume, make sure your brand is clear, succinct and compelling.
In your networking, make sure you’re building a strong web of contacts, not just in one niche industry, but across the board. This will keep your mind sharp and open to a multitude of opportunities. If you’re, say, a software developer, don’t just attend conferences with other software developers. Go beyond. You might be the only software developer at that chicken farmer convention, but your brain will explode with business ideas and opportunities. What’s second nature and easy for you is not always easy for other people, and there are so many creative ways for you to leverage your talent in the world. Do not box yourself in. Don’t do it. In the words of Morpheus: free your mind.
Don’t be lazy (sometimes is okay, See: “Take a break” below)
If you’re complaining that your career is stagnant, or that you’re underpaid, but you haven’t tried anything new or different within the last 6 months, learned zero new technical or soft skills, made no new networking contacts, attended no conferences or trade shows, read no books on career development, then, well, I’ve got news for you. I’m not sure anyone can help you. But that’s okay…because you can help yourself. Just do any of those things. Just do one. And then another. And keep going. At the very worst, you’ll be better off where you started.
Don’t be an a$$. Be likable. And no offense to donkeys.
I think they’re cute animals. But don’t be an a$$. There may be some industries/companies that value someone being a rude, relentless, arrogant jerk… but for the most part, there is an advantage to kindness, open-mindedness, and a collaborative spirit. What I’ve learned after coaching hundreds of clients over the years is that the ones with the best interpersonal skills (not necessarily the most impressive experience, prettiest resume, or fanciest college degrees) tend to do the best.
Interpersonal skills, networking contacts, communication skills (the gift of gab), a positive attitude, and vibrant energy (i.e. how you present yourself physically and energetically) can be more important than your actual experience.
So if you've been interviewing many times over and have nothing to show for it except a bruise on your forehead from hitting that proverbial brick wall, ask yourself -- what else can you work on? Where else might you improve?
You owe it to yourself and, besides, no one else will do this important self-work for you.
Take a break.
Be patient and gentle and forgiving to yourself. Sometimes if you’re stuck in a rut, it’s good to take a breather. Go take a hike, go on a (virtual?) yoga retreat (don’t mock it until you try it), exercise, adopt a dog, change your hairstyle, take on a new hobby, learn a new skill, cook something you’ve always been intimidated to make yourself.
Or, if you’re like me, do a crossword. I can’t tell you how many epiphanies I’ve had about career and life challenges while doing crosswords… and how many tough cross-words I solved when by putting down the puzzle, doing something else altogether, and coming back to it hours, or even days, later with a fresh mind.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You may be fiercely independent. Good for you. You may want to do everything yourself. Write your own resume. So many people hate writing about themselves. If you enjoy it, good for you. You’re a rare bird. At the very least, make sure you have someone else read it over for typos and for overall impact.
Seek a mentor. Find a therapist. Hire a career coach. Talk to a good friend.
Asking someone for help can be a very bold, courageous and transformative step. Especially if you’re self-reliant and determined to go it alone.
There is such value in asking your community to help you when you need it most. Especially if you’re a life-long giver. Don’t hoard the pleasure of giving. Allow someone else a chance to give their love and support to you.
Or, if you’re not quite yet ready to ask for help, but you’re also not exactly a generous person, maybe try volunteering or mentoring someone. Studies have shown that these acts of kindness can make us feel better, give us hope, revitalize our spirit, increase our energy and boost our momentum for our own job search.
Not to mention, you can note these good deeds on your resume. And in the process of volunteering you can meet people / build your network. So it’s not a purely altruistic effort – there’s definitely a lot of benefit for you.
If you’re the type of person who vehemently resists receiving help, think it through logically: if you’re the type of person who is always willing to help others, and often doles out advice to those around you, then by definition you believe in the value of helping others. So why would you deprive yourself of that same benefit? Hypocrisy isn’t sexy. If you're out of ideas, reach out. Ask others for help. Vulnerability can be powerful (have you seen that TED talk?).
Thank you for reading. I hope that your career is every bit as fulfilling, intellectually challenging, and fun as you've dreamed it to be. Stay safe, stay sane, stay engaged.
Dawid (David) Wiacek is a resume writer and career coach who helps clients interview confidently, network effectively, earn promotions, and negotiate higher salaries. He has worked with professionals across a wide range of industries and functions, with a focus on mid- and senior-level leaders.
Prior to becoming a coach, he held roles spanning HR, Ops, and Technical Training for corporate, non-profit, and startup organizations. He is an avid baker and an aficionado of nature, languages, photography, design, and travel.
Career Fixer LLC
Poly-creative writer, brand marketer and career coach. Bakes a mean eclair and snaps thought-provoking photos, but is best known for helping clients achieve personal and professional growth.