Archive for the ‘Resume Formatting’ Category

Plan B Premiere Podcast

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Welcome to Plan B’s premiere podcast. On a weekly basis, Susan San Martin, a retained executive recruiter, will bring practical, tangible insights related to your career, your job search, the hiring landscape, and the tools you need to find your next great career adventure. The first podcast discusses resume resistance and how to overcome it as well as what your philosophical approach to your resume should be.

In addition to resume guidance, future episodes will include interviews with Communications and Talent Acquisition professionals, answers to listener questions, and much more. Plan B also welcomes feedback, which can be posted here or on our Facebook Page.

Thanks for listening and we’ll talk again soon!

Your Job Search Toolkit: a Resume Template and User’s Guide

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

user-guide-front-page2I am an executive recruiter . . . a retained recruiter . . . meaning that companies partner with me to identify and secure talent for key positions within their organizations. My expertise is search within the Communications and Marketing disciplines. Prior to executive search, I spent my career rising through the ranks of various Communications and Marketing roles; this is what I know and it was a very natural segue for me.

My approach to search is very comprehensive. While my priorities are obviously with my clients, I believe in really getting to know candidates for two reasons. First, a deep conversation allows me to assess not only the “technical” fit of the candidate for the hiring organization — the “can this person do the job” fit — but it also allows me to measure whether this candidate’s own career trajectory is aligned with where my Client sees the role going. I also have the ability to determine whether this person will be the right “fit” for the organization; culture fit can be as, if not more, important than “technical.” Second, I enjoy getting to know the broader circle of candidates because I know that if you, Candidate, are not right for a current search, you may be for the next one.

All of these conversations start with resumes . . . my first glimpse into a candidate’s professional story. With the process of getting to know you, can come the familiarity that is usually preceded by, “can I say something to you without hurting your feelings?” It’s the way you feel when you know you should point out to your beloved uncle that his shirt and tie are so mismatched that to let him go out in public would be devastating. I feel that way about candidates and their resumes, at times. More often than not, I have to tell a candidate that he or she is simply not right for the search. Many of those times have been followed by a “may I make a comment about your resume?” And then I’ll share what didn’t work for me. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a misspelled word or a spacing issue; but frequently, there’s something else . . . something that goes deeper than a technical misstep. It’s more about the fact that what you’ve told me, Candidate, is not what your resume is saying. There’s a disconnect.

Because reading resumes occupies so much of my time, it is inevitable that certain styles will stand out more than others — for good or for bad. As I mentioned in “Is Your Resume Guilty of Horror Vacuii,” a preferred style started emerging after an exercise where I spread dozens of resumes across a table. I then started pulling out the resumes that caught my eye because they were attractive . . . they stood out because they were inviting. I would then focus on content; it was a case of form over function, at the outset.

When delicately broaching the subject with candidates, I found myself making small suggestions . . . hints about how a few changes to his/her resume could provide a more accurate reflection of who they are as a candidate. In some cases, I rewrote sections . . . in a few instances, I’ve completely overhauled resumes. The suggestions, though, were always consistent with what I saw in the “survivor” resumes from the Great Table Experiment of ’09. Because resume writing is not a service I provide, and the process is so time-consuming, I started pulling those sections together and forming a template that could help those who wanted it. I shared the finished product with several members of the Plan B community who were actively seeking new positions. I wanted to take the template for a test drive and am happy to say that those candidates received very positive feedback about their new resumes.

As I was getting ready to release the template to a broader group, I thought it would be appropriate to provide an accompanying explanation of why I was recommending certain styles or approaches. I soon realized that this would be no small feat . . . that a few paragraphs would not do. Thus, the User’s Guide, which contains about 80 pages of resume guidance from my perspective, was born. As I mention, you can ask 100 recruiters or resume writers or career coaches their opinions and get 100 different answers. These are mine based on what resonates best with me.

With the hiring landscape improving, why not improve your opportunity for being noticed by making some changes . . . or completing overhauling your resume? I am attaching the Resume Template and the User’s Guide. I’m more than happy to answer questions about either or both, here, or on my company’s Facebook page. While future posts to this column will continue to focus on job search and career management issues, I hope you find these tools helpful as you start the New Year with a new perspective on your search efforts.

Your job search toolkit — Part Six: Is your resume rude or has it made the proper introductions?

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

We love to have people over and our best times are when we’ve mixed up the crowd a bit. Last week’s Thanksgiving was typical for us. For dinner, we had 14 and by the end of the evening, we added another seven. Besides the U.S, countries of origin of our guests included Argentina, England, India, Taiwan, and Italy. We and our guests are aerospace engineers, marketing managers, human resources directors, architects, musicians and sound track composers, venture capital analysts, college professors, business managers, credit union CEOs, students, and – of course – executive recruiters. In the precious hours leading up to the first arrival, as I stood in the kitchen, stirring, sautéing, baking, and barking commands, I also puzzle-handshake-resizedthought about, while caramelizing shallots, how to introduce everyone. How can we make sure that every guest knows enough about each other that they will sit together, talk comfortably, and want to know more. Meaningful introductions, especially with a diverse crowd, are critical to everyone having a good time. To not do so would be rude. Is your resume rude? At least 75% of the resumes I read would be guilty. If you feel strongly about introducing your guests, why wouldn’t you do the same for the companies you’ve worked for? Think of how much more meaningful a conversation is when you know a bit about the person with whom you’re speaking. It’s critical that you do the same when describing your experience.

Take a look at your resume. You spent five great years at XYZ Corp. Do you introduce who they are and what they do? Most of you don’t . . . and you should. Don’t grapple with creating a few lines about what XYZ does, regardless of whether the company is publicly-traded or privately held. Look up their stock symbol on a financial website like where there’s always a profile or go to the company’s “About Us” link on their website. How does the company describe itself to the public – what’s important to them — and then ask yourself how you contributed to that and then tell the reader how.

To demonstrate, let’s take a look at the top company on the Fortune 500 list: Wal-Mart. From their “About Us,” use a few lines to introduce them after you list them as job experience on your resume.


Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. * Bentonville, AK * 2005 – Present

Walmart serves customers and members more than 200 million times per week at more than 8,159 retail units under 55 different banners in 15 countries. With fiscal year 2009 sales of $401 billion, Walmart employs more than more than 2.1 million associates worldwide. A leader in sustainability, corporate philanthropy and employment opportunity, Walmart ranked first among retailers in Fortune Magazine’s 2009 Most Admired Companies survey.

Title, Functional Area

* Responsibility or accomplishment, #1
* Responsibility or accomplishment, #2
* Responsibility or accomplishment, #3, etc.


Let’s now take it a step further and think about what each is saying and how it should tie to how you describe your experience and contributions:

* Serves customers – and lots of them! (customer service, employee training, crisis communications are all important)

* 8,159 locations (their broad reach means the consistency of information and solid distribution channels must be a priority)

* 55 banners (branding is obviously important)

* 15 countries (global vision, cultural and language differences for both customer and employees are key to their success)

* 2.1 million associates (that’s a lot of employee communications and they all receive information in different ways: newsletters, intranet, break room posters . . .)

* Sustainability (being a steward of the environment is an important part of the Corporate Social Responsibility program)

* Corporate Philanthropy (care for their various communities is shown through diversified outreach programs)

* Employment Opportunity (means that employee development provides career paths)

You get the idea. As you describe your roles, keep how the company views itself, top of mind. Tie your responsibilities and contributions to the company’s mission and while you may not have held roles that directly impact the bottom line, you, undoubtedly, supported the leader or group that did.

Of course, not every company is as recognizable as Wal-Mart. I have found that many candidates can be defensive about working for start-ups and small companies. Get over that . . . and quickly. These types of companies require and nurture skill sets that are becoming increasingly important in a more competitive marketplace (entrepreneurial mindsets, budget-consciousness, hiring key talent . . . and the list goes on.) You may have worked for the greatest company that no one has ever heard of so its mission must be introduced, as well. XYZ Corp. could also be the world leader in the production of widgets, but if the reader hasn’t heard of them, your contribution will have less impact.

That’s why those first few lines after each company are so important. They provide the lines within which you will draw your history. By taking this approach, you’re showing a prospective employer how your contributions aligned with how the company sees itself and you’re making the reader think . . . “if he/she could do it for XYZ Corp., he/she could do it for us, as well.”

Your job search toolkit – Part Five: Using your refrigerator for resume inspiration.

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Several years ago, we started a tradition of buying a refrigerator magnet from every place to which we’ve traveled. resume-refrig-magnet-resized1It started off as a quirky habit. After two successive and successful Mars landings, Spousal Unit and I went to Moorea so he could melt into a beach. The magnet of the lagoon surrounding the island was lovely but looked lonely on the refrigerator door . . . hence the tradition was born. Whether it’s a stopover in Newark, an 18-hour trip to Vancouver, Financial Black Hole #2’s seventh and eighth grade trips to France and Italy (is there a color darker than black??), or weeks visiting family in Argentina, the magnet is a must . . . and they’re all there, all eliciting specific memories.

It doesn’t have to be a magnet, though . . . it could be a trophy or a certificate. It is a snapshot of a moment in time that was meaningful. There’s a story that goes with each, whether it’s a great family vacation or a professional triumph. It’s the latter that we should be focusing on as we tell the story of our careers.

For most job-seekers, capturing the highlights of one’s career and explaining the value brought to an organization is a nail-biting experience. What do you highlight? How much is too much . . . or not enough? How do you connect your “greatest hits” with what a prospective employer is looking for?

Assuming you have grabbed the reader with your Executive Summary, how will you now move on to tell the story of what you have brought to specific organizations? There’s the technical part of the presentation, which we’ll address in the next post, but now is the time for you to determine, from a philosophical perspective, how you brought value. What made you memorable? What I find, even with the more senior resumes that are sent to me, is that many job-seekers fall into the habit of regurgitating every single thing they’ve done in each role . . . the “first I did this and then I did that” syndrome. This could have you perceived as tactical, not strategic. Do you want to be considered as someone who will act as a forward-thinking business partner for the organization or as the go-to person when something needs to get done an hour ago? Both roles bring tremendous value to organizations and there’s always overlap, but the distinction can be important. Remember, you just described yourself in a certain way in your introduction. Make sure how you are describing your experience matches that message.

Pull out those specific experiences that made the role – and you – memorable . . . just like that magnet on your refrigerator.

Your job search toolkit – Part Four: Your Executive Summary . . . reel the reader in.

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

I was talking with my husband about the theme for the next post and I told him I was going to play with Mark Twain’s quote “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Aerospace engineer spousal unit (introduced in a previous post) then said, “I think it was Albert Einstein who said that.” I thought, yeah, right . . . always looking after your own, but I responded with, “well, I think it’s Twain, but it’s an easy mistake . . . they both look alike.” It seems we were both wrong . . . it was Thomas Edison. I gave the point to spousal unit, though, he came closer.

The point of the quote, though, is that good things never come easily . . . you really need to work at them. As far as your resume is concerned, we’ve talked about having different versions reeling-in-blog-revised1(depending on the position you’re seeking), to reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go, making your resume a breathing document, the technical aspects, and the unintended messages your e-mail address may be sending. Today, we’re going to address what could be the most important part of your resume. For me, it’s the first place I really look when assessing candidates, and it could be the last, depending on what I’ve read. It is your professional overview, executive summary . . . whatever you choose to call it. It should be one percent aspiration and ninety-nine percent inspiration. This is your opportunity to reel the reader in. Make the most of it.

First of all, unless you are a recent college graduate, never call it a Professional or Career Objective. “Seeking a position that will utilize my skills in . . .” doesn’t cut it. Of course your objective is to find a job, you’re submitting a resume. This is where paying attention to the position description for the job you are applying to is particularly important. The position description is front and center in my mind when I start reading the introduction. I’m having appetizers with you; make me want to stay around for dinner and dessert.

You have many options on what to call it . . . it can be as simple as choosing one from Column A and one from Column B: column-a-and-b-revised9

Now, you will artfully mold your experience into what the prospective employer needs. Let’s get one thing straight, however, don’t misrepresent. What you’re doing is encapsulating your career into an action-packed paragraph that will leave the reader begging for more. Practical but transcendent. Some may refer to it as personal branding, but one thing to remember is that with tightening corporate budgets, there are fewer people doing the same amount of, if not more, work. It makes sense to have a few different brands; just make it plug and play.

One of the searches I am conducting right now is very targeted and specific as far as what my client needs. I have five or six key qualities or phrases that I am looking for in viable candidates. I call them my primary qualities – the must haves. In the case of this search, I am looking for:

• Communications/public relations
• Media relations
• Bilingual
• Latin America
• Seven to ten years (or more) experience

The secondary qualities include:

• Agency experience
• Team leadership
• Financial Services

If I see a solid combination of these phrases in that opening paragraph, you could be everything I hoped you’d be and, perhaps, more.

My latest favorite resume handles this type of introduction beautifully. The candidate begins the introduction of the resume with a centered, solid cap of what this person is – CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS EXECUTIVE. This particular resume doesn’t use the terms in Column A and B, but this introduction is equally effective because that’s one of the primary qualities I am looking for in a candidate. The candidate then provides a one-paragraph introduction. It contains most of the Primary and Secondary Qualities, but also uses other terms that fill in the picture with additional important information, such as MBA, global, and spokesperson, among others. It’s one paragraph . . . solid, strong, and effective.

What this particular candidate also does immediately following the paragraph is provide a block of bullets under the title “Areas of Expertise.” This person then lists, on four lines, 12 areas of expertise separated by bullets. It looks like this (and the qualities have been made generic to protect the job-seeker):areas-of-expertise-revised

What this candidate has accomplished is to provide a powerful introductory paragraph that contains most of what I have identified as key qualities. Additionally, the section I refer to above brings it all home. I am now engaged in this resume and eager to learn more. I have a great sense of who this person is and what he/she could bring to my client. This professional has reeled me in.

By the way, I asked this candidate if the resume was self-prepared and was told that it was not. There goes the 99% perspiration part but Thomas Edison also said, “there’s a way to do it better – find it.”

Your job search toolkit – Part Three: E-mail addresses . . . what’s in a name? You’d be surprised!

Friday, October 9th, 2009

I don’t exactly remember when I first heard about this, but once I did, it changed my movie going experience forever (or, at least until I found out many years later that the “research” was debunked.) rose-by-any-other-name-revised4As the story went, theater operators would knowingly lure people to concessionaires by flashing a message about popcorn during the previews. It happened so fast that it was imperceptible, but the subliminal message, purportedly, made us head in droves to snack stands before the movie started. Zombies in need of popcorn. I hated the “fact” that someone or something had that kind of power over me and my appetite so I started watching, waiting for that flash of a message and I planned to use every ounce of self-restraint not to fall prey to it. Do you know how difficult it is not to blink when you really need to? Yet, I never saw it, not once. And I showed them, I stocked up before going into the theater . . . on my terms. Yeah.

The power of subliminal messages brings up a good point, though, when it comes to your resume. It’s natural that a potential employer or a recruiter can make some assumptions about you and your strengths by looking at the body of your career: your choices, your roles, etc. But, is there something that you’re doing at the very top of your resume that sends an unintended message? Think about your e-mail name and what it could be saying about you. Remember, many initial communications are via e-mail. Making it easy for someone to remember you can only be beneficial. You want them, however, to remember you for the right reason . . . your experience and not your e-mail moniker. This isn’t really an issue for most job-seekers, but with the job market the way it is, maximize your opportunities to get noticed. I have actually had conversations with (and provided gentle guidance to) candidates about the following references in e-mail addresses:

First, the sensitive topics:

Year of Birth: I see this one most often. Avoid using what can be construed as the year of your birth. You could be unintentionally predisposing a reader to thinking you may be too qualified or not qualified enough for the particular role they are looking to fill.

Religion: Very sensitive subject, I know, but like the next topic, proceed with caution.

Political Affiliation: Making your chosen party obvious could cause the reader to wonder whether you are too conservative/liberal for their organization . . . or not.

And the rest,

Sports team names: Leave them for your personal e-mail addresses. As rabid a Yankees fan as you may be, the reader may be a super-sensitive Mets fan who painfully recalls the 2000 World Series and the long-awaited Subway series where we got our butts kicked . . . I mean theirs . . . .

Pet names: You may love your dog, your cat, or your ferret, but don’t leave the reader wondering more about Rover than your last three positions.

Hobbies: We all have them, love them, get frustrated by them, but should your obvious love of cooking have a hiring executive wondering if you’ll bring in fresh-baked muffins on Monday mornings.

“therandomnumberofus” OR “thelastnamefamily”: We love our families but could or fourofus or whatever the number, leave the reader wondering what happens when there’s a flu epidemic . . . sharing is not always caring. Also, do you want to send the message that your 13-year old daughter may be accessing the family e-mail account??

Adult Beverages: Unless your name really is Bud Miller or Sam Adams, change it. You don’t want the reader thinking that you could be the next official Happy Hour Organizer, and I have nothing against Happy Hours.

Love to Shop: That’s great, but does that mean that lunch hours can be stretched to accommodate local sales events?

Pirate Names: arrgh . . . don’t use them.

Love of Travel: This is wonderful but don’t have the reader ponder about whether your employment could include an endless array of three and four day weekends.

All of this said, there is one situation where not using your name is fine and that’s if you are a consultant or a freelancer and instead of your name, you use an e-mail name that incorporates your talent.

It’s true that an e-mail address is personal and can be another mode of self-expression. It may be worthwhile, however, to consider how your need to share may be perceived by readers on the other side. You don’t want them setting aside your resume to get some popcorn.

Your job search toolkit — Part Two: is your resume guilty of horror vacui?

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Dr. Belloso was my Art History professor at St. Joseph’s College in New York. I remember loving the course and now, many years later, a deep appreciation and fond memories of her gentle yet enthusiastic way of sharing her passion for art, remain. She segued from era to era tying history to the cultivation of humankind’s perception of the world around it in artistic ways. But the memories have melded over time, the time periods and their characteristics less distinct. One principle, though, has stayed with me and I remember the class as though it were yesterday.

General View of the Island Neveranger,  Adolf Wolfli

General View of the Island Neveranger, Adolf Wolfli

Perhaps, it’s the daily reminders I have as I review resumes. It is the principle of horror vacui – or fear of empty spaces. It’s at times attributed to the Mycenaeans, the Greeks, the Arabs, or the Aztecs, among others. For me though, I attribute it to candidates who see developing their resumes as a chore. “There . . . it’s done . . . time to check!” I have decided that I, as far as resume design is concerned, belong to the school of minimalism, the opposite of horror vacui. As mentioned in the previous post, your resume should be a breathing document. To do that, it needs room to breathe.

To test the influence of visual appeal, I spread about 60 resumes over my dining room table . . . the largest and usually only clear space in the house (maybe I should practice what I preach??) I then started pulling out the ones that caught my eye . . . in a positive way. About 40 were left on the table and if there was a horror vacui wing at the Getty Museum . . . these would be in it. In the age of Applicant Tracking Systems, this may, to some, seem obsolete but I remain firm in my conviction that computerized candidate assessment programs are not all things to all searches. The more specific the niche or role in the influence of broader corporate culture, the more important the personal touch in the hiring process.

So, let’s talk about the 20 resumes that went on to the next round. In this post, content is not as important; today, it’s all about looks. These opinions, by the way, apply equally to those resumes I am viewing onscreen. Actually, if I’m not engaged by what I am seeing on my computer, the resumes don’t get printed. In this post, we’re going to talk about mechanics: fonts, sizing, and space. Sometimes, a candidate’s choices in these areas are influenced by the pre-conceived notion of how long one’s resume should be. If you’ve had a rich career, and there is self-imposed pressure to keep it to two pages, most candidates will try to achieve that by font size and spacing. If I receive a one-page resume, you probably don’t have the depth of experience I’m looking for on behalf of my clients. If you send two pages and I need a magnifying glass, you may be passed over. Some of my favorite resumes have been between three and four pages long. Don’t risk being overlooked because you feel restricted by the number of pages you should use to market yourself.

Fonts: I loathe Times New Roman (TNR) on resumes. ITRHO (in this recruiter’s humble opinion) TNR is old-fashioned and not as easy to read. Numerous studies have been conducted about the choice between serif and sans serif fonts, particularly for online viewing. There’s nothing conclusive about the best choice, but there appears to be a slight leaning toward the use of sans serif (like Arial, Verdana, etc.) Should you find yourself with some time to spare on a soccer field one of these weekends, take a look at this article, It’s quite comprehensive and I’d like to point out that it was posted in a sans serif font, my preference.

Sizing: For resumes, never smaller than 10 pt. – and the readability of this will be affected by font selection, by the way. I think 12 or 14 pt. for headings and 10 pt., but preferably 11 pt. or 12 pt., for the resume’s body works pretty well. You’d be astonished at the number of resumes received that are in 8 pt. or 9 pt. font size. It’s like looking at one of those matchbook covers that purportedly has the whole Bible written inside. Avoid the “how many clowns can you fit in a small car” syndrome.

Spacing: Again, your resume needs room to breathe. In fairness to you and your experience, create an environment where each bullet or sentence provides a pause for reflection . . . allow the reader to digest what they’ve just learned about you. Design the space, don’t force yourself into it. I would recommend top and bottom margins to be no smaller than .5 inches. Right and left margins should be no smaller than .75 inches. To have your experience stand out, I would use .6 pts. between bullets and/or sentences; slightly more between positions.

I’ve provided two screen shots below. Both contain exactly the same information (although the improvement in spacing and margins have moved some of the positions on the second resume excerpt onto another page.)

This shot was done in TNR with 10 pt. headers and 8 pt. body size (again, based on actual resumes I have received.) The margins are .38 inches all the way around. resume-bad-spacing-resized
The page below was done in Arial with 12 pt. and 10 pt. fonts and the margins mentioned above.resume-good-spacing-revised
Which one would you rather read?