Thursday, November 28, 2013

Resumes, Necessary but not Sufficient

In the good old days, one wrote a one page chronologically ordered resume. Since this resume was going to be printed by a professional, one size had to fit all. This generic resume was then placed in an envelope with a cover letter custom tailored for the particular target, sealed, and placed in the mail. During my 1978 job search I did my cover letters by hand in chancery cursive with a calligraphy pen to differentiate my resume from the competition. I sent out about 35 resumes. I got two interviews and one job offer. In 1985 at the dawn of the computer and laser printer age, I once again prepared two (as I recall) generic resumes one for factories and one for laboratories. Again I prepared custom cover letters. I printed them myself both to establish my computer literacy and because printing was free since I had a university computer account. I sent out over 100 pieces of mail. I received two interviews at one company, no job offers, and over 60 rejection letters. I saved this collection for quite a long time. I found it very amusing that all personnel offices use the same rejection letter, “While we are amazed and astonished by your skills and experience, we just don’t have any positions available for someone of your remarkable abilities.” I think that as early as 1985, the computer was devaluing the resume in the hiring process.

Today, while there is little agreement on what should go into a resume, how it should be structured (by chronology or major accomplishments), or even whether a resume is worth anything in the hiring process, everyone agrees that you absolutely need to have a resume.

Some of these questions comes from an article entitled “6 Controversial Resume Rules Even Recruiters Can't Agree On” by Vivian Giang some of it from my own experience and readings.

Everyone pretty much agrees that a one page resume is still the standard since the recruiter will spend an average of six seconds before tossing your resume into an electronic or physical garbage can. I think if you are applying for a position as director of research and development for a Fortune 500 company, you might need more than one page to build your case, hopefully you would need more than one page to list your publications. Maybe the one page resume is still the standard, but have a longer resume to offer your interviewer if she wants more information now that you are deeper into the hiring process.

Nobody seems to agree on an objectives paragraph at the top of the resume. On the one hand it lets the reader know what you really want. On the other hand it can pigeonhole you when what you really need is a job, any job that lets you get your foot into a desirable company. Maybe this is a good place to customize. Like the cover letter of yore, this part of the resume could be aimed at a particular target.

Chronology could be bad if you have long periods of unemployment on your resume. Everyone seems to agree (including personnel officers) that the longer you are without work the harder it becomes to find a job. Personnel officers recommend you tell the truth. List the months you were unemployed and tell them what happened. Professional resume writers (yes, there are such animals) suggest listing chronology by year. This makes it difficult to discover you were unemployed for six months in some given year or subsequent years. Maybe you could try using one of those accomplishment resumes that seem to have gone back out of fashion if you want to hide the blanks.

For a while photographs were in vogue. Now they seem to be out of fashion. Since most resumes are sent electronically, photos can cause problems with the formatting of your resume on an alien computer. Given universal formats like .pdf, this argument sounds weak to me, but photos also provide you age, sex, race, and appearance. That may not be a good thing at a very early stage in the hiring process. I will let you answer that question for yourself.

If you are older, how much of your experience should you include in your resume? Some believe that 15 years is the cut off point. Others suggest as long as it is relevant it should be included in your resume. For example if I was looking for work in management, I would include my experience as a factory supervisor and a supervisory industrial engineer. Even though for all practical purposes those experiences have disappeared into the mists of time, combined with my experience as an engineering project manager, I could show a lifetime of relevant experience.

In 1985, although I didn’t know it, the handwriting was already on the wall. I landed a job I really wanted, not because of what I knew, but because of who I knew. During a university job fair, I pitched my team’s junior design project, an all terrain wheelchair for a little crippled girl. It really worked well and actually appeared on the local TV news. It turned out that personnel officer was the specialist for recruiting handicapped employees. Because she thought our project was pretty cool, she put me in direct personal contact with six different managers each of whom had the authority to give me a job.

Go ahead, prepare your resumes. Send them out in both electronic and snail mail versions. Always carry paper copies of your resume when you are visiting a potential employer. Don’t expect that much of anything will come from all this effort, but it is still part of the process. If you want a job at a particular organization, in the current environment you need to establish some kind of personal contact with somebody on the inside. This will not only give you an obvious leg up on the competition, but it will also provide you with valuable intelligence data. You can learn how people in that company dress, talk, and behave. You can learn their value system. All this will establish you as a person of worth when it comes time for the interview.

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