Level Up #1: Resumes

Andrew and Jesse discuss the role of resumes in the job search. Learn more about how to design a good one-page resume, what tools to use to learn the language of your potential employers, and what a resume is definitely not good for.


Andrew: Hello. I'm Andrew...

Jesse: And I'm Jesse.

Andrew: Welcome to Level Up, the new show from Dialog FM!

Jesse: Whether you're looking for your first job, or trying to get a raise...

Andrew: Whether you're chasing a promotion or changing careers altogether... We are here to help you tackle your professional goals.

Okay, get me fired up tell you how bad it's going to be...

Jesse: I've always stuck to a two page resume and I got all of these tips from, well let's just say previous guidance counselors... Your thoughts about resume are completely different. You have a different take on resumes all together. What's worked for you in the past and what are your thoughts on resumes?

Andrew: I think that it's less about what's worked for me and more about the perspective that I've come to have about what they're useful for and what they're not. Resumes are one of the few parts of the job application process that any of us get any sort of training on. We usually work through one or two of them as part of some high school writing class or some sort of college prep exercise. We don't get help with the interviews. We don't get help with finding our calling or building our skill sets. We get help these resumes, and despite that fact, all of the advice that we tend to get about resumes is wrong. We draft them in a kind of canned format, structured with an objective line at the top: to achieve an experience broadening position at Company X... Et cetera. Right?

Jesse: The objective statement.

Andrew: And it goes downhill from there. You're given this format that is designed to, I don't know, appeal to a ninth grade English instructor and not one that really serves your interests in the market at all and doesn't really convey your strengths as an employee for a company that you're trying to work for. There's a lot that goes into applying and how to get companies' attention that is maybe something we should save for another time, but even just in this first step in building a resume that might actually advocate for you, there's a lot that needs to be an un-learned in order to be effective based on what I've learned about how companies look at people and what it looks like on the other side of that hiring desk.

Jesse: When i think of reaching out to a company, what's the traditional way we do i go on the website? I see a job posting. I create an account. I create my resume and then I retype my resume into their job application formats. I'm submitting two resumes because I am attaching the document itself. And then I submit it, crossed my fingers, and hope something happens.

Andrew: Right, exactly. The crossing your fingers part is the most skill-based part of this entire exercise I mean, people go even one step further away. They'll will be approached by a recruiter they don't know or they'll go to Monster.com and submit their resume and hope and pray that someone will stumble across it amongst the pile of other resumes that look exactly the same- Objective statement: To achieve a fulfilling position at a company with growth potential. Whatever. And it's no way to get noticed out of the blue.

There's a lot that goes into making introductions to companies that can be better served by making connections and networking and a whole bunch of other scary words that most people hate and don't want to hear about. If you understand that the application process does not start, nor end, with just your resume and learn more about what role that resume plays in the job application process, that knowledge can go a long way towards making you much more effective at being noticed and standing out from the crowd with this document. Because, to be fair, a lot of the other parts of a job application process are not in your control. Being noticed is not one hundred percent on you. Doing well in the interview depends on what the person on the other side of that table is looking for. H.R. Policies and the hiring criteria have a lot to do with that as well. So this is actually the only part of the job application process that you actually have one hundred percent control over. And that means that, despite the fact that there is other work you need to be doing to get a job, the resume is very much a living document that you need to continue working on throughout your application process. And it's a lot more customized and tailored to individual jobs, ideally, than I think most people think.

Most folks will go in, they'll draft the resume to list their previous experience. They'll jot down the degrees they've gotten. They will make a list of the office programs that they know how to use and maybe a few that they don't, when really they should be looking at the specific needs of the jobs that they're looking for, trolling job descriptions for keywords and skill sets that that job needs, and using that to form the basis the foundation of how they're going to structure their resume for that position. If this is sounding like a lot of work. That's because it kind of is. While you're looking for a job. Your job is to get a job and. There is a lot of work that goes into putting your best foot forward in many areas, but the resume is one.

Jesse: Let's start with how I've been doing resumes up until this point. I have a two page resume, and I was under the impression for the longest time that two page resumes are okay if you have enough relevant experience. You have clearly advocated for a one page resume and I couldn't exactly understand why.

Andrew: I think the impression that you have is a pretty natural one. Look, I've got all this great experience. I worked at and many jobs doing many different things. I want to show them off. I want to show all the breadth and depth of what I can do, even if it is maybe not all in the same area of expertise- it's not necessarily in the same type of job. Implicitly, you're going for a quantity over quality approach when you are providing all of your experience un-edited for a role. And that's actually where you get into trouble because: I think it's maybe hard to imagine from the desk where you're writing your resume and sending out a bunch of applications, but you are one of one hundred or more applicants to any given job, and the people who are evaluating you on the other end have not just your two pages to read through, but everyone else's two pages. And guess what? They all look the same: Objective statement. Master's degree. Business school. Pharmacy expert. Whatever. And since their job description is a very narrowly focused thing, all of the resumes are going to look very, very similar to yours. Typically speaking, hiring managers and companies looking for new recruits don't have the time to go through line by line and call out all of your unique experience and go digging through your content for your strong suits. That's why customizing your resume is important to each job. Because you need to know what that company is looking for.

It also goes a long way towards explaining why having a one page resume is going to work much better in your favor. Because they're not going to spend enough time to even get past the first page most of the time. And if they are, something has already gone wrong in the process, because they're short of candidates, or they don't know what they want, and they're going digging looking for extra reasons to keep you included in the list.

Jesse: This makes me wonder who is the target audience for this resume. You're a strong advocate of networking and making sure that your resume gets to the hiring manager and not the H.R. Coordinator.

Andrew: I guess at the end of the day, if what you're doing is a resume drop... Which is to say, you are applying blind to a job which you have no introduction to. And you have no access to hiring managers for. And you don't have any access to other people in the company to get a feel for the job... Then your resume is pretty much worthless whether it's one page, two pages, gilded in gold. No one's going to pay attention to your resume with that low of a profile. There are just too many other people out there looking for the same job as you using the same bland terminology and the same basic skill set. The only way to filter through them at the end of the day is through personal recommendations and referrals and face to face interviews and technical interviews where they're actually testing your skills that they relate to the job. If you think of it in those terms, you need a leg up no matter what to get into this process and have a reasonable rate of success. So what this means is the resume holds an important, but brief, place in your hiring strategy: After you've already introduced yourself to other people- to hiring managers, H.R., and other people who are interested in hiring- but before they've met you in person or talked to you on the phone to continue the process. And in that context, they need to know as much as they can about you in as brief a time as possible to make sure that you measure up to the image in their head of who you are. If you think about the ideal hiring pipeline, someone near and dear to a hiring manager is going to recommend you and say that you're highly qualified for the job and would be an excellent fit for this company. And on that basis, this hiring manager is going to be interested in you because of the recommendation but not know much else about you. They're already interested in pursuing this interview process and considering you for hire, but they need to know some basics. And those basics are what the resume is designed to do. It's to show that you have relevant experience. It's to show that you have the relevant background and education. It's to show that you have relevant skill sets. And anything above and beyond that: Works well with others... Motivated and determined to deliver on time... A lot of the fluff statements that people are coached into providing on the resumes have no place in that part of the process because they are already spoken for by your advocates or by you in person because you've already made it to the interview. I understand that, in general, it's not always possible to have the ideal case where you have strong referrals, you have a strong introduction to the company prior, and you have a gateway into the interview process like this. But that doesn't change the extent of the power the resume can have. There's no way to, by making it longer or submitting it more times, get more noticed as a result of that effort.

Jesse: Let's talk about content. You mentioned some of the things that people are coached into including in their in their resume. Walk me through different scenarios. What if i'm fresh out of school? Or what if I'm making an industry change?

Andrew: So what if you don't have very much relevant experience? In either of those cases, that would apply either because you haven't been in the workforce very long or because you have a lot of experience in an area that might not be relevant to this job. That's actually a large part of why it's so important to customize your resume to a specific position because you need to be able to answer, as best you can, the questions that the hiring people have about who you are as a person and who you are as an employee. That means that it is important to understand what those questions are. They need to know that you are already skilled in the technical aspects of your job and familiar with them or, if not, that have practiced similar or related skills. So let's say you've never been a project manager before, but you have lead teams at school. That's the relevant experience to bring to the forefront. If the job requires that you be able to work well on your own and deliver things on time. Find examples in your past life where you were on your own that you can highlight and showcase as part of your resume. They're not going to care that you rung up a thousand people over a holiday weekend at retail if your job is not going to involve working with people every day. So pick and choose based on your existing experience. It can be on a football team in high school if that's the most experience you have working in groups. Great! Awesome! It can also be in a completely unrelated industry and just be an interesting anecdote that highlights these personal skills that you have that might be relevant to the role at hand. The idea at the end of the day is to pick, from your own experience and your own life, the pieces of your professional career that will be relevant to the people who are trying to hire you.

Jesse: Now let's say hypothetically you have a lot of experience. And you could make the case of some of this relevant experience that goes back to 2006 (in my case)... I would deem it still relevant for the opportunity that I'm applying to. How would you manage that?

Andrew: I think prioritization is the biggest issue when designing a resume to submit for a job application. And that's part of why the hard one-page limit comes in. Cap your resume to the attention span of the person reading it. That means if you've got a lot of experience, you need to fit as much that is relevant in that space so that they will actually see it and take note of it. Conversely, If you are brand new to this game- it is your first job and you don't have a whole lot of experience to bring to the table to fill out that resume... Dip into your educational background. Dip into the classes you've taken, the homework assignments you've turned in. Bring in those margins and make sure that what you do have to bring to the table is read loud and clear and they can see it up front.

Jesse: What it sounds like it is for people who are writing the resume they're writing it for the hiring manager, assuming that they know somebody within the company who can put that resume in front of the hiring manager's eyes. Assuming that one doesn't... One is new to the city. One moves to Seattle and they're applying to a job at Swedish. They don't know anybody at Swedish... Now, yes, we can say that they should start networking. But hypothetically there's a job posting on there and their only current course to applying is applying online. You'd still make the case there one page makes sense? Or would one want to then leverage two pages so that there's more information to be scanned through their robot?

Andrew: I think if you're relying on robots, or H.R. People as they're sometimes called, to do the picking and selecting for you, it's already a game that you've lost and so no extra length is going to help you get out of that sticky situation. I would argue that even in a city that you've never been to before where you have no contacts and no outreach, we have a lot of other tools available to us that are a better chance to get close to people who can help advocate for you, if only to see what experience they have in the same role and to see what the company is looking for in terms of other personnel. LinkedIn is essentially a giant pile of resumes online that you can sift through to see who's close to the jobs that you want. And you can reach out! And I'm not necessarily guaranteeing that you're going to have a great response rate there either. But even seeing what they highlight on their online resumes is going to tell you a lot about what that company looks for. Because they're in it. They're already doing the job, and they can help inform you about what that company needs to see to help push you through the process.

Jesse: When you think about creating multiple versions of your resume, I assume you don't mean that one is creating a resume from scratch, right? Ten different resumes, one for Project Manager, Program Manager, Business Development Manager... One is not going to create those from scratch, right? What's a good way for people to create multiple versions of a resume without having to spend two hours each time?

Andrew: That's a good question, and I know it does sound daunting especially at first if you toiled over your resume once, you consider it done, and you hear you're being asked to start all over again for the next job down the line. When you're starting out, I think there's a tendency to be overly broad- overly generic with your resume in the first place. So I actually recommend that people start with the job descriptions that they're looking to apply to. And even in the industry in general, look at the words that people use to describe their skill sets. Look for the type of people skills or other management characteristics that they're looking for in their company in general and use those to form the basis of the vocabulary that you can use, and also the types of skills and experience you can highlight for those roles. As you look more broadly, or if you don't know exactly what kind of job you want to end up at... You're maybe applying for Project Managers and Analysts at the same time... Build out vocabulary and experience for both of those. When I was last applying for jobs, I had a master resume that actually ran to five or six pages with all of the relevant experience that I might want to bring to bear. And actually, that's the form of the resume that you want to post on LinkedIn, where recruiters and H.R. People are searching for keywords, looking for your skill sets, and maybe contacting out of the blue. When it comes time to apply to a specific job, though, you want to pick and choose from those powerful pieces of language and phrasing and skill sets that are relevant to those jobs and condense them to the single page that the H.R. Person or the hiring manager is going to have the attention to get through. That will help you defeat H.R.'s filters for keywords by using the same language that they're using. And, it will also keep you within that one page limit that is about the extent that anybody could bear to read.

Jesse: After you do that... After you've created a particular resume for a project manager job at Microsoft... How does one go about finding the hiring manager for that particular job? It seems like that's a bit of a needle in a haystack even for LinkedIn...

Andrew: The language and terminology problem extends not just to skill sets, but also to job titles. Different companies call the same job many different things. You might be a Data Scientist or a Business Analyst or a Financial Analyst or a Finance Manager. All of these people do approximately the same job in different organizations, and you don't want to exclude yourself from the search to any of those. So a lot of the job hunt is to find synonyms in both job title and skill set so that you can translate the different languages that people speak. You're looking for people in these roles. You need to look not just within the same company and within the role title that you're looking for because maybe it's a small company... Maybe they don't have any openings for the type of job you want. But there are going to be other people in the market doing this type of work, and they'll be able to provide you insight into who's hiring, what sort of skills they're looking for... And it lets you kind of cast your net more broadly. If LinkedIn gets you connected to any of the companies in your region that you might be interested in working for... And you can usually navigate their hiring trees, or rather their employee trees to see who's working under whom and be kind of a passive observer of that system in action.

Another tool that I recommend is Indeed.com, which (at least on the west coast) is an aggregator of jobs that will automatically hook you into other companies that are looking for similar work. I keep my searches simple. Look for "Manager" or "Business" or "Analyst" or "Finance". And you're going to get a broad array of options, but that is part of the research process that goes into finding the right terminology and the right language to use when you're looking for a new role.

Jesse: Now as I rethink my own resume process. No matter what - If I'm submitting it through a friend, or if I'm taking a leap of faith and going on LinkedIn and finding the hiring manager for this business development opportunity. It's going to be a one page resume. That one page resume is going to be derived from a master resume that I've created that has all the information I could possibly describe about my experiences. Picking and choosing the most relevant ones. Making sacrifices on space- making sacrifice, rather, on content if the job I had is further back in my career? Yeah?

Andrew: Yes. Always prioritize relevance first and timeliness second. Because I'm glad you were working a decade ago, but we have computers and cell phones now, and so those skills may not be as relevant, or at least may not appear as relevant to a hiring manager or an H.R. Representative if you've not done it in the intervening ten years.

Jesse: And then, once I have that... Be it submitting directly through a friend, reaching out to the hiring manager, or even if I still have to do the dreaded apply online, it's still going to be a one pager.

Andrew: Yes. I realize that in many cases it feels like the resume is the only tool you have. And so you're often inclined to, as with a hammer, identify everything as a nail. But don't try to make the resume do work that the resume is not designed to do. It's not going to be effective at it. It's not going to get you further in the process. And I think any work that you put into it in that direction is going to be frustrating for you and discouraging for you on your search to find a job that is a good fit.

Jesse: Going all the way back to the beginning of this conversation, why do you think people still teach resumes to way they do? Two page. Objective statement. I don't understand. We've come so far and used the resume for so many years. We've made improvements but it sounds like were still living in the past when it comes to teaching resumes.

Andrew: It's a good question. I think I have a lot of theories that are not really backed up by evidence. In the same way that you can learn how to bake and sew but not balance your checkbook in Home Economics in high school, instruction hasn't really caught up with the times. I think, also, that many of the people who are teaching these classes maybe haven't looked for a job in the past decade or so, and so they're not really familiar with the newest ways that people go about looking for new careers. LinkedIn is a relatively new thing in the span of history where people have been applying for jobs. As has the entire online social networking complex, and so a lot of these rules have been changing very very fast in a very short period of time so it's hard to keep up. The other problem is just that we don't teach this stuff to people. We don't teach them how to interview. We don't teach them how to negotiate. Never mind just getting their resume into good shape. And that's a lot of what I hope to talk about over the next couple of episodes. Let's get people on the same page about what it means to interview well, get the resume out the door, and get in the hands of the people who really need to see it and make sure you have the best chance possible of getting the job you want.

Jesse: This has been Level Up on Dialog FM.

Andrew: Subscribe to Level Up on iTunes to hear the latest episodes. Or, catch up on past episodes on our website - Dialog.fm. That's d-i-a-l-o-g dot f-m.

Jesse: If you have comments or questions, we'd love to hear from you on Twitter - @dialogdotfm, or Facebook at Facebook.com/dialogfm. Thanks for listening!