The Four Errors to Avoid when Putting Together Your Resume (Part Three)

How many resumes do you think an HR Director or hiring manager receives for each job posting they advertise for? Would you guess twenty? Thirty? I hate to break it to you, but if it is a sales position you had better revise your estimate way up. Try over seventy or eighty – and that is just in the first couple of days of posting the job!

Now ask yourself how hiring managers decide who to put in the “to call” pile or folder, and who to disqualify and delete. If you think that appropriate skills and experience are the most important parts of a resume, think again.

As you will see, there are many other factors that affect what qualifies a resume for a call back versus the delete button. Before we get into the best way to write and organize your resume, let us first start with the common problems you want to avoid – problems that can automatically get your resume disqualified regardless of your experience or appropriateness for the job.

Because of the volume of resumes a hiring manager receives, the first thing they tend to do is quickly review all the resumes in an attempt to separate out the bad ones from the good ones. You obviously don’t want your resume to get disqualified out in the very beginning, so here are four errors to avoid so you can keep in the running.

Error Number One: Obvious spelling errors or out of date resumes. While this may go without saying, the first thing you want to do is thoroughly spell check your resume. Even one misspelled word can flag your resume – and you as a job applicant – as not being detailed enough or well prepared enough to be taken seriously. At the very least it can move your resume to the bottom of the stack.

Your resume is your written representation of yourself, and if you submit one with obvious spelling (or grammatical) errors, it raises the red flag that you may not be organized, detailed, or careful in your job either. Obviously, this is not the impression you want to give a hiring manager.

It is easy to avoid these errors, and you begin by using your spelling and grammar check. If you are unsure of any errors, then take the time to research them on Google, and then choose the best words and tenses that you can. In addition, always have someone else read and comment on your resume before you submit it. Another pair of eyes on a document that you have labored over is crucial to uncover errors that you may not see anymore.

Error Number Two: It is important that you list the dates on your various jobs properly. Two things to be careful of here: The first is that none of your dates overlap; the second is that there is no time lapse between jobs is longer than two months.

The first is easy to do. If you worked at the xyz company from March of 2009 to July of 2013, then your next job should begin on August of 2013. Don’t make the sloppy mistake of putting down that your new job started on July of 2013. This is a red flag that gets the hiring manager to wonder how you worked at two different jobs at the same time. If you happened to begin the new job sooner, or if you worked at both jobs during the same month, then just stagger the start dates so it appears contiguous.

So the jobs should read:

ABC Company September 2013 — Present
XYZ Company March, 2009 – August, 2013

The point here is to show that after you left one job you were immediately employed (and thereby employable) by another. There are no questions here and so no red flags. You want to make your employment history clear to your potential employer.

There may be some situations where there was a three or four month gap between jobs. This isn’t bad per se, but unexplained time gaps on resumes are red flags that put suspicions and doubts into a hiring manager’s mind. What you need to do here is put in a brief description of the time lapse (and I mean brief – a sentence or two).

To explain the lapse of time make sure and choose the right way to describe it. For example, if you spent the summer with your folks at the lake house in Minnesota, don’t write: “Summer 2013: Spent three glorious months at our family’s lake house.”

Instead, write: “Summer 2013: Took a brief vacation break then resumed job search and found the right opportunity. Began ABC Company November 2013.”

If the gap is longer than three months (sometimes job searches can last for six months to a year or more), then you can phrase the gap like this (or something else just as appropriate):
“During the break between employments, I attended ongoing educational classes to better prepare for my next job opportunity. Began ABC Company February 2014”

The point here is to explain any large gaps in your employment history – you don’t want the hiring manager wondering why you were unemployed so long. Your goal is to be brief, professional and positive.

Now that you have corrected any spelling or grammatical errors, and have explained or accounted for any time gaps between employment longer than two months, it is time to turn your attention around to the length not only of your resume, but, most importantly, to the length of time of employment at each company.

Error Number Three: Listing a history of jobs lasting two years or less. I can’t tell you how many resumes I have seen where a job applicant has not been at a single job (or perhaps only one) longer than two years. When you list five or six jobs that you stayed at for 24 months or shorter, it screams to the hiring manager that they will have you for less than two years at their company as well. And this means that all the time, energy and money they will invest in you will be wasted because you will leave them in under 24 months. Even if you have good reasons for leaving your jobs every two years, it will look to the hiring manager that you are a short term player with a history of quitting often.

There are several things you can do if this represents your job history. The first is prominently display and describe the job that you were at the longest. For example, if you were at one company for five or six years, then make sure and describe how you took on more responsibility, talk about the production and awards you earned, and talk about the skills you used that are appropriate to the new job you are applying for.

In addition, if any company you worked for was taken over by a new company or renamed, then don’t list this as a new company! Instead, mention it in your job description, as well as any other job title you took. Many people make the mistake of listing a new company as if it helps their experience, but it doesn’t. What helps you is to show a potential employer that you are a long term player who is loyal.

If you do have a string of jobs that you stayed at for under two years, you have a couple of options. The first and best thing to do is to explain why you left each company. Here again, your answer needs to be brief and professional. “Found a better opportunity” is NOT the right reason regardless of whether it is true or not. Putting that down just tells the hiring manager that you are always on the lookout for something better, and when something comes up for you while working at their company, you will probably just leave there, too.

Much better reasons include things like, “Company reorganized and position was eliminated,” or “Company slow down resulted in layoffs”. These are both good, professional reasons that hiring managers can identify with. Others (if true, of course) can include things like: “Company relocated out of state,” or “Company was acquired by another firm and positon eliminated.” List other reasons like these if the company you worked for had to let you go (and it was not your fault).

If you did leave the company for a better opportunity, then you can state that, but always explain any increased job responsibilities or positions: “Was recruited into a team lead role,” or “Was hired by ABC Company to head up new lead generation division.” The point here is to show increased job responsibilities or positions which required better skill sets or offered job growth. Opportunities like this that show career advancement make you seem more desirable to the hiring manager.

Error Number Four: Making your resume too long. Many job seekers think that more is better. That is not the case with your resume. Similar to the above example of not listing too many short term job stays, what you want to strive for with your next resume is to keep it under two pages total. Even one page is preferable, if possible. The way you will do this is to limit the number of jobs – and years – you have been working.

I hate to tell you this, but listing every job you have had since you got out of High School is not what the hiring manager is looking for. In fact, by listing page after page all the jobs you have had, you will once again be raising a red flag that tells them that you tend to move around a lot. Furthermore, the only thing a hiring manager is looking for is current, similar experience. So listing many different types of jobs and companies – especially if the job responsibilities were different – is not going to help your cause.

Instead, what you want to do is list the most recent – and the most relevant jobs you can – that line up with what your prospective employer is looking for. If you have a few jobs that don’t relate specifically to the skills or responsibilities that are asked for, then find a way to connect them. For example, if you were a customer service rep who is now applying for a job in sales, then you should stress how many phone calls you took, how much your success relied on working with and solving problems with customers, and even how you uncovered up-sell opportunities. These are transferrable skills and will mean a lot to the hiring manager.

Next, as a rule of thumb, you want to keep your job history to the last ten years. Again, no one cares how long you have been working – whether it has been eight years or twenty eight. What they care about is how relevant your job history is to what they need you to do. As such, keeping your list of jobs – and so the length of your resume – short and to the point is what is going to make you more attractive to the hiring manager. If, while on the phone or during the interview, the hiring manager wants to know more about your job history, then you can tell them. But for moving your resume to the top of the list, don’t submit a four page resume thinking that you are going to wow them with your long and extended job history. The fact is, this will work against you.

The bottom line with the length of your resume, is you want to make it easy for a hiring manager to get through it. You don’t want them to have to navigate three or four pages trying to discern which jobs are relevant and which aren’t. The hiring manager doesn’t need to know your first job was at McDonalds. What they want to know is how your current experience lines up with that they are looking for now.

To summarize the list of the four errors to avoid: The first thing you want to do is make sure your resume is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Your resume represents you – make sure it does this well. Second, you want your dates of employment to match up. In addition, if there are any lapses of employment longer than three or four months, be sure to explain these in a professional way. Third, make sure you don’t list job after job with a length of time of two years or less. Remember, whatever you put down in terms of how long your average length of employment is, that is how long the hiring manager will think you will stay with them as well.
And finally, number four is to keep your resume short. One page is ideal, but one and half will do if absolutely necessary.

Now that you know what you should avoid, in our next installment of this series, I will tell you what you should do to write a solid resume that will put you on the top of the list of who to call back for an interview. What you will discover is that it is easier than you think – if you know what to do!

How to Write a Simple yet Powerful Cover Letter (Part Two)

Did you know that over 85% of resumes received by hiring managers arrive without a cover letter?

While that may not mean much to you, it means a lot to the people reviewing and vetting resumes for the job you are applying for. Resumes that are sent in without someone taking the time to write a cover letter appear to the hiring manager to be submitted almost blindly. It is as if the job applicant has sent their resume in to lots of jobs – shotgun approach – hoping someone might call them back. It shows a lack of preparation and even implies a lack of interest in whether the person gets the job or not.

This is NOT the kind of first impression you want to give a hiring manager.

On the other hand, those resumes that do arrive with a cover letter get extra attention and are often the first resumes an HR person reviews. A cover letter tells the hiring manager that you care enough about the job you are applying for that it is important for you to stand above the competition. When you take the time to write a cover letter, it also shows initiative and evidences your ability and willingness to go that extra mile. It signals that you are someone who is attentive to detail and that you are willing to do what others applicants (and workers) are not willing to do.

In essence, it shows that you are organized, capable, and professional. A well written cover letter tells the hiring manager that you are serious about getting the job, and it gives you the best chance (along with a relevant resume) of landing an interview and ultimately the job you really want.

While a cover letter is a huge benefit for job applicants, there are both things to avoid and some definite best practices you can use to insure your cover letter is heads and tails above anybody else’s.

How to Address your Cover Letter:

Let’s start first with what to avoid. The most obvious thing you want to avoid is writing a generic cover letter that is unspecific to the job you are applying to. Doing so erases any benefit of putting one together to begin with. The first thing you want to avoid is addressing your letter to the generic: “To Whom it May Concern.” This, once again, just lumps you into the generic cover letter pile, and doesn’t differentiate you from the other applicants.

To avoid this, try to find out the hiring manager’s name or job title, and direct the cover letter to him/her. If this is not possible, then the following addresses are best:

1) Address your cover letter to the department head you are applying to. So if it is sales, use: “Dear Hiring Sales Manager,” or “Dear Hiring Marketing Director,” or “Dear HR Director.”
2) If you don’t know the department, then a good address is: “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “Dear Human Resources Director.”
3) If you do know the name of the hiring manager, then always use their name as such: “Dear Mr. Brooks,” or “Dear Ms. Collins.”

This is the kind of detail that takes just a minute or two to customize, but it makes a huge first impression on the hiring manager. Again, it evidences that you care enough – and are resourceful enough – to take the time to go beyond what the majority of job seekers are not willing to do. The inference is that you will also be more organized and detail oriented on the job as well. And this is the kind of person hiring personnel are looking for.

Next, the content of the cover letter is where you will make or break a good impression. Now, don’t be intimidated here. The hiring manager is not looking for a college essay, nor are they looking for a sample of your writing skills. What they do want, however – and what you want to give them – is why you are uniquely qualified for this particular job. In other words, they are looking for relevant experience that matches up specifically to the position you are applying for.

Let me say that again because this is key: What the hiring manager is looking for is relevant experience of yours that directly relates to the specific job skills and duties they are hiring for.

And the good news is there are some easy, sure fire, best practices you can follow that will immediately give them what they are looking for. Here is how to go about it:

Number One: Carefully review each employer’s ad description and pick out specific words and phrases that describe the skills and day to day activities they are advertising for. An example would be the phrase:

“Relevant experience in prospecting by phone, candidates should be prepared to make between 50 to 75 cold calls per day. In addition, the ideal candidate should also have experience in contacting existing or non-active accounts to expand and grow client base.”

Once you see something like this, it is telling you exactly how to write your cover letter. What you need to do next is match up any (or as many as possible) of your past positions where you performed similar duties. And then include a brief description of that in your cover letter. For example:

“The skills and duties which you are seeking – specifically prospecting by phone and calling into non-active accounts – are exactly the kind of work I did at Sherman Rentals and ABC Financial. I am highly adept at cold calling and regularly average 68 prospecting calls per day.

“In addition, I was also responsible for calling into existing accounts and even won awards for my ability to reactivate and up sell existing customers.”

Now how easy was that? By taking just a few minutes to highlight specific words and phrases and repeat them in your cover letter, you will be doing what 98% of your competition simply won’t take the time to do. Your effort will get noticed and it will move your resume to the top of the stack.

By the way, if you didn’t win any awards, then don’t make it up! Instead, talk about the achievements you did accomplish and the results that you did get. Your goal here, again, is to match up your relevant experience that directly relates to the specific job skills and duties they are advertising for. Remember, the key is to use their exact words and phrases when describing your experience in your cover letter.

Taking this simple step is 75% of writing a powerful cover letter. The other part is to show a sincere interest in their company and job opportunity, and to keep it brief. Here is a complete, best practice cover letter that you can use as a template:

Dear Sales Hiring Manager,

My name is Mike Brooks, and I was very excited to find your job listing on Monster.com. I have always been interested in the online advertising industry (whatever industry their company is in), and feel that I have the relevant experience you are looking for that would enable me to be highly successfully with your company.

The skills and duties which you are seeking – specifically prospecting by phone and calling into non-active accounts – are exactly the kind of work I did at Sherman Rentals and ABC Financial. I am highly adept at cold calling and regularly average 68 prospecting calls per day.

In addition, I was also responsible for calling into existing accounts and even won awards for my ability to reactivate and up sell existing customers.

I would enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the position of account manager you are advertising for, and look forward to exploring how my career experience can be an asset to your company.

I have attached my resume for your review and would be happy to discuss my experience or any questions you may have.

The best way to reach me is by my cell phone: (515) 555-1234. Alternatively, you can email me here: Mike@youremailaddress.com

I hope my experience meets what you are searching for, and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Mike Brooks

Use this template for any sales job you are applying for. (Or any other kind of position as well.) Simply change the name of the company and type of job where appropriate and match up your skills and duties as discussed previously.

By taking just a few minutes to customize a carefully worded cover litter like this, you will instantly become one of – if not the very first – candidate that gets a call back. You will be very much in demand and soon you will have your pick of which opportunities to pursue. And having many companies who are interested in hiring you gives you the leverage to ask for and get things like a higher salary, a better commission structure and even a possible hiring bonus. But we’ll cover these in a little while.

Once you have perfected your cover letter, the next step to landing the job of your dreams is to make sure your resume matches up with what a potential company is looking for. You also want to make sure not to make the common errors so prevalent with most resumes that are submitted – errors that often get resumes rejected right away. All of these points will be covered in next week’s Ezine, so make sure and be on the lookout for it next week.

In the meantime, try practicing a few cover letters and see for yourself how easy it is!