Posts Tagged ‘Executive Search’

Ready to Graduate? Get Your Career Off and Running.

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

As a retained executive recruiter, the candidates whom I usually engage in my searches are those with a minimum of ten years of experience. Having one daughter who is a recent college graduate and another one getting ready to start, however, I am sensitive to those fresh in their careers. mortarboard3From a purely selfish standpoint, the sooner our daughters (also affectionately known as Financial Black Holes 1 and 2) have their own bank accounts filled with the fruits of their respective labors, the sooner they’ll stop assaulting ours. For all others, getting off on the right career foot now means that they will be the highly desired candidates of future searches. Through my involvement in the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), I am frequently invited to speak to graduating students about how to approach their job searches. The following counsel is what I provide directly to them.

Cleanse your Facebook Page. For me, the first piece of advice I offer a soon-to-be graduate is to sit down in front of your Facebook page and pretend your grandmother is sitting next to you. While there is no disputing the depth of social media savvy that this generation of job-seekers brings to potential employers, random photos of you knocking back tequila shots (particularly if you’re under-age) may raise a few eyebrows in the Human Resources department of the company you’d like to join. As a recruiter, I learn everything I can about candidates as they are going through the interview process with my clients. I’m not hunting for the “bad.” I do, however want to make sure that there will be no surprises because it is highly likely that if I am looking around, the prospective hiring organization is, as well. I have had several instances where a simple search exposed less than flattering information about a candidate. I’d rather be able to counsel a candidate about that prior to it becoming an issue or at least be prepared to defend the candidate, if necessary. While the argument I always get is “Well, I’ve got my Privacy Controls on . . .,” it doesn’t matter because you may be tagged in a photo by a friend who does not.

Be realistic about what your first job will look like. We all have a dream about that magnificent first job. You’ve worked hard for your degree and it’s understandable that you’d like to hit a home run straight off of the podium. Be prepared, though, the first one may not be magnificent in the way you’d like it to be . . . but, eventually it will be. Graduating candidates need to realize that in most cases, early jobs may include responsibilities that they’re not too excited about. Keep in mind, while hiring is picking up, companies that are finally expanding their payrolls will want those initial hires to be ones who can hit the ground running with less focus on “on-the-job training” and more focus on “we need this done yesterday.” These early jobs, however, provide breadth and depth to a later career that had its foundation in the candidate’s willingness to roll up sleeves and do what was needed early on to develop a solid reputation.
Focus on the following:

• Learn the organization’s culture. Figuring out how things are done can be as important to a new employee as actually doing the work. Companies, like people, have personalities; to work well together requires compatibility. Understanding the organization, how decisions are made, and the internal workings of the senior management team, will give you the guidelines for success. Be observant.

• Find a mentor. Many companies, through their onboarding processes, will match new employees with seasoned professionals who will show them “the lay of the land.” If such a program does not exist in your new organization (or even if it does) seek out people whom you would like to emulate. Most professionals will want to help and would be happy to answer questions and provide feedback. So, whether it’s through a formalized program or not, identify those with career paths that you respect and then watch, ask, and learn.

• Raise your hand. “Jumping in feet first” or “baptism by fire,” whatever the term . . . get involved. With staff rebuilding, there’s going to be more than enough work to go around. One way to get yourself noticed is by your willingness to pitch in. Whether it is project-based or part of an organization’s community outreach efforts, getting involved means becoming known and as long as your contribution is viewed as positive, it’s a good thing.

• Ask questions. Asking questions is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of curiosity and the desire to do the job right.

Don’t discard the value of internships and volunteer work. The work done while in school is looked on favorably by employers who like to see early evidence of energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity. Make sure that your resume includes the same type of message from internships held as it would from traditional full-time jobs. The experience you gain is invaluable and you should never discard the experience derived from work on political campaigns or for non-profit organizations. Skill sets are developed that will be attractive to employers (time and budget management and the ability to be nimble and resourceful are just some of the benefits.)

Learn how to network. Networking, for some, is THE way to get a job. It doesn’t have to be a longstanding relationship or face-to-face interaction . . . it’s more of an art that you will develop over time. Consider the following as you build your professional network:

• Look at every relationship you have as a potential member of your network. From professors and former bosses to members of your church and your parents’ friends, let them know what you’d like to be doing.

• Participate. There is an industry or professional association for just about everything. Check out http://www.job-hunt.org/associations.shtml, which provides a free listing of hundreds of organizations, many with local chapters. Seek out and join student or local chapters of industry associations that are aligned with your interests and career goals. These provide not only valuable industry insight, but also the opportunity to meet professionals in both your desired career and geographic areas.

• Create a 30-second “elevator” pitch that you can use when introducing yourself to someone. Let the contact know who you are and where you’d like to go and never be afraid to ask for referrals.

• Create business cards that contain contact information and hand them out when you meet someone with whom you’d like to stay in touch.

Build your resume. Use your internships and work experience to build the framework for your resume. Make sure to include volunteer activities that you participated in while in school. Even as a student, create a LinkedIn page and join groups that will bring exposure. Introduce yourself to group members.

My company, Plan B Communications, LLC, created a Resume Template and User’s Guide that you may find helpful as you take on the process of putting your career on paper. You can find the links and accompanying article on my Examiner.com page here.

What you’re getting ready to do is equally terrifying and exhilarating. Being prepared will ensure it’s more the latter than the former. Be open to opportunities, agile in finding them, careful in tending them and your career will be off to a great start.

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 www.finance.yahoo.com 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.

What job search lessons can we learn from NASA Engineers and Balloon Boy?

Monday, October 19th, 2009

I am digressing from the Job Search Toolkit series for one article because I just had to share this.

So, yesterday, NASA spousal unit and I were having breakfast with Financial Black Hole #2. With his iPhone never far away (you never know when he has to do an emergency calculation and, of course, there’s an app for that) he is reading something and just starts laughing. (The evening before, by the way, we were watching Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry King and it was all about Balloon Boy. I must admit that during the day, I was riveted as the balloon sailed across the Colorado sky and was saddened about the terrified little boy going for the unintended ride, further saddened by the fact that it was empty upon landing. It didn’t take long for spousal unit and his Poindexter friends to start analyzing the situation.) Spousal unit was laughing because of these actual e-mail exchanges between his colleagues:

From: G
> Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2009
> To: D, D, M, S

Subject: Balloon Boy calculations
>
> Some quick calculations (attached) could have spared everyone
> a lot of panic today:

balloon-boy-calculations-resized1

> Conclusion: The kid wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.

> -G

From: S
> Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2009
> To: G, D, D, M
> Subject: Re: Balloon Boy calculations
> Interesting.
> That is actually closer to flying than I thought.
>
> The instant I saw a picture of the balloon, I was pretty certain
> there was no human sized weight being carried. Without some
> structure, it would have been teardrop shaped and seemed way
> too small to fly a kid.
>
> Good example of mass (internet facilitated) hysteria I guess.
>
> S

From: D
> Date: Fri, 16 Oct 2009
> To: G, D, S, M
> Subject: Re: Balloon Boy calculations

> Sorry, G, but your calculation wouldn’t have spared anyone any
> panic (except a few nerds like us). As S points out, the answer
> you got was pretty close to flying; do you really believe a parent
> or law enforcement officer would look at your calculation and say >”oh, don’t bother looking for my kid in that balloon–G told me it
> wouldn’t get off the ground.”
>
> I was similarly skeptical when I saw the balloon yesterday, so I
> googled “helium balloon lifting force” and got an answer of 1
> cubic meter of Helium for per kg mass (I’ve long forgotten how to
> do fancy buoyancy calculations like you did). I then used
> Wolfram|Alpha to get the mean weight of a 6 year old (21 kg, by
> the way). Finally, I heard the balloon was 20 ft in diameter, 5 ft
> tall, for a total volume of 45 cubic meters (also assuming a
> cylinder).
>
> I therefore decided that, while improbable, I couldn’t rule out the
> possibility that it could get off the ground.
>
> In other words, I was still **** my pants for that kid.
>
> By the way, this is beginning to sound like a publicity stunt.
> Check out this quote from CNN:
>
>> But in a later interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Falcon said
>> he heard his parents call for him from the garage. When asked
>> by his father on air why he didn’t respond, the boy replied, “You >> guys said we did this for the show.”
>>
>> When Richard Heene was pressed by fill-in host Wolf Blitzer to
>> explain what his son meant, he became uncomfortable, finally
>> saying he was “appalled” by the questions. He added that
>> Falcon likely was referring to all the media coverage
>
> D

From: D
> Date: Fri, 16 Oct 2009
> To: G, S, D, M
> Subject: Re: Balloon Boy calculations
>
> One more thing: all you need to do with your calculation to get
> the kid off the ground is change the dimensions of the balloon
> slightly (say 6 m diameter or 3 m height)…

From: G
> Date: Fri, 16 Oct 2009
> To: D, S, D, M
> Subject: Re: Balloon Boy calculations
>
> Lucky for this kid his dad wasn’t slightly less incompetent as an
> engineer and slightly more proficient at being a nut.
>
> – G
>

It goes on but I’m stopping here because they start delving into conspiracy theories that have no eventual connection to job-hunting.

Well, I don’t know about you, but they’re blinding me with science. What I did stagger away from the exchange with was the realization that looking at the incident and applying cold hard facts, could have saved a lot of people a lot of anxiety. There’s something to be learned from that process as it applies to your job search.

Finding a job is more challenging now than it has been for decades. We know that. The problem is that for many of us, we are greatly defined by our jobs and careers . . . our families, too, of course, but it’s our job or career choices that allow us to provide for them. The search becomes emotional. For a moment, separate — albeit difficult — the financial strains of unemployment. What we run the risk of doing is becoming our own worst enemy by taking rejection (or lack of interest or communication) personally. You just can’t do that. Looking at the numbers — the data — we see that it’s tough. Data, of course, does not pay the mortgage or buy food, but what it does tell us is that we doggedly must keep at the effort. It’s all numbers . . . the more adjustments you are willing to make to your own “data,” the greater the number of opportunities available to you. These adjustments could include salary, commute time, willingness to relocate, a more junior title, etc. I’ll leave you with this:

Let data keep you “grounded”

I looked at indeed.com and created the filter for “corporate communications” (in quotes) roles that are within ten miles of my home zip code (when looking for a job in Southern California, commuting time is an issue for most.) There were three. When I broadened to a 25-mile radius, the number of jobs increased to 77. If willing to travel 50 miles, the number hits 99. Removing the quotes around corporate communications, by the way, provides 315, 3,228, and 4,905 jobs, respectively. What does this mean? It means that the data reflects a growing number of opportunities if you make some adjustments to what you are looking for; in this case you are spending more time in the car, but you have more opportunities to pursue.

Even with all the data the Bureau of Labor Statistics can provide, it’s still going to be emotional, we all have to accept that. But, try to make it less so; with some adjustments to your data, you have more control of the job search situation than you may think.

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 tenofus@xyz.com 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 CNN.com!” 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, www.alexpoole.info/academic/literaturereview.html. 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?

Can A Mission to Mars Help our Careers?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

We read a lot these days about how the ranks of the unemployed, or soon to be unemployed, can use this opportunity to turn a lifelong passion into a new career. I don’t know about you, but my early dreams of teaching Shakespeare to eighth-graders were chipped away by mortgages, tuitions, and Blackberry apps. Maybe someday, but not now . . . not until our two daughters can reclaim their birth names and are no longer referred to as Financial Black Holes 1 and 2.

What we should do is take the time to think about how every new career stage provides an opportunity for reflection and reassessment . . . a chance for reinvention. I don’t mean misrepresenting, but rather engaging in the process of looking back and determining what didn’t work and, more importantly, what worked. Which boss type was difficult (and how we chose to deal with that person . . . or not), what responsibilities or expectations were not aligned with our core strengths. At the same time, we can reflect on what we loved, where we brought value, and what made us excited to go to work every day. We should look at each meaningful role we’ve had and extract our career-defining moments. We need to ask ourselves “what was the best job I’ve ever had . . . and why?” And then, do the same for the worst. What may emerge from the vigorous process are new ideas and directions to pursue professionally. While this is not necessarily a time to be selective about what we do next, being aware of those experiences and their impact is a valuable exercise as we move onto the bigger and the better. The question is how do we actively engage in that process over the span of a career. Here are some thoughts.

My husband is a NASA engineer who has made a brilliant career of landing stuff on Mars. I am a devout English major who has found a passion for connecting communicators to careers. Over the years, we’ve gotten more than our share of “Hey, how did you guys meet . . . the planets must have aligned, right??” After I finish laughing like it’s the first time I’ve heard it, I do think about how we peacefully co-exist without really understanding what the other one does. He speaks in acronyms and I quote Browning. He can espouse the benefits of airbag landings and my explanation of how I found the absolute best candidate on this or any other planet — and the intricacies of how I found that person — have him wondering if I am better suited for the NSA than the PRSA.

Several weeks ago, though, a light bulb went off and an acronym he’s been talking about for years made sense in my world. Can job seekers benefit from TCMs – or trajectory correction maneuvers?

What we need to do is understand the potential benefits of our own professional TCMs. What happens when a spacecraft to Mars is launched? mars We, the public, watch the launch and eight to ten months later, we sit . . . holding our collective breaths (not unlike sending out a resume) and wait for the landing (offer letter?) It seems fairly point and click to us but during that ten million plus mile flight to Mars, something is going on behind the scenes that increases the likelihood of a successful landing and those are the TCMs or the usually slight adjustments in direction that refine and sharpen the spacecraft’s path. Whether its one, three, five, or even zero TCMs, they get the spacecraft to where they want it to be.

Do the same with your job search. Take some time and use Ben Franklin’s pros and cons exercise and apply it to the roles you’ve held. Highlight your strengths and uncover your weaknesses. It will nudge you in the right direction and also help you prepare to state your case with a prospective employer who is not quite sure that you’ve got the needed experience in an area that you’ve realized you’re passionate about.

So while we won’t be teaching yoga full-time or building cheesecake empires any time soon, we can decide to refine our resume or search efforts to reflect what makes sense for us to pursue and help us get to where we need to be. If a past focus on a sub-discipline that was part of a broader role really made us happy, take the time to emphasize those accomplishments. The one thing we must avoid is going for something for the sake of having a job. Lack of subject matter familiarity is going to come through in the interview process and could affect how you are perceived by the company if later, the job of your dreams is available. The future employer will remember how you danced around your experience. Trying to become something you’re not will show. If you’re currently in a role, offer to take on additional responsibilities that you’ve discovered you enjoy, using the opportunity to steer your career in a slightly different direction.

Your job search is your mission. You’ve got launch, cruise stage, and landing. Sometimes the results may not be what you hoped or they may exceed your expectations but taking the steps throughout the process, though, will help you get to where you want to be. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the process but what I do know is that when it goes right, and the planets align because we’ve all done our TCMs, this is what happens.

Welcome to the Plan B Communications Blog

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Welcome to the first posting of the Plan B Comms Blog. When I thought about the theme for the initial series of blogs, I asked myself what can I contribute that would have relevance and the answer is, hopefully, a meaningful one: to dissect a job search. From a recruiter’s perspective, I may have insights that will help job-seekers during one of the most trying economic times that most of us have experienced. So let’s get started . . . at the beginning.

A fan of Saturday Night Live since its beginning, I’ve hung in there through the good times (casts) and the bad. Every few years a character emerges that saves it for me. I have a new favorite. I am hopelessly devoted to Nicholas Fehn, political comedian who provides “his own take on this week’s top stories.” Played brilliantly by Fred Armisen, Nicholas is one of those characters, like Cheri Oteri’s cheerleader, Arianna, who makes you want to put your head through a wall by the end of his skit. Watch this . . .
(and forgive any commercial introduction):

Why highlight Fehn and what’s the connection between the well-intentioned Nicholas and the inaugural blog of an executive recruiter? Well, it’s all about having a point. There’s a strong link between Nicholas Fehn and searching for a position. Without having a point, it’s like sending your resume to resume limbo; what can we do to prevent that from happening?

With the thousands of resumes I’ve received in response to the specific searches I conduct, it is obvious that there can be a disconnect between what you, the candidate, are looking for, and the message your resume is sending. In a time when the candidate supply by far outnumbers the hiring demand, a well-tuned resume should be one tool in a quiver of many needed to find your next career adventure.

What makes me swivel three times in my much-loved office chair and say ding, ding, ding . . . I think we have a winner? To start, a resume that makes me believe the candidate has read the position description. If I am searching for a Director of Internal Communications or a Vice President of Public Affairs, do NOT send me a resume that says what a successful marketing guru you have been. They’re ships that will pass in the night and right into an Outlook folder that says “Future Marketing Searches.” Now, if you are a marketing genius who also has made significant contributions to a company’s internal communications effort, or you’ve got terrific public affairs experience as part of a broader role, your resume should send that message loud and clear. If you’ve been fortunate enough to wear many hats throughout your career, and many of you have, your resume should reflect that.

Your resume needs to be nimble, particularly when the going gets tough. In short, invest the time in creating a library of resumes tailored to the specific search or discipline you’re interested in pursuing. I’ve met many professionals who have built diversified yet connected careers and tailored resumes can highlight areas of strength and, therefore, have relevance to the recruitment effort (whether it’s conducted by an internal recruiter or someone like me). I know this may be eliciting collective “well, duuuuh . . . tell me something I don’t know” from readers, but you’d be surprised. This is an effort that requires commitment and an investment of precious job search time, but I believe it’s well worth the effort.

What we’re going to do, over the next several postings, is deconstruct a resume. Ten recruiters will likely provide ten different opinions so I am not holding myself out as the world’s authority on what your resume should look like, but what I do know is what gets me to take a second look.

Talk to you next week,

ssm