Two Ways to Do Your Resume: DIY & HAE

Boiled down to its simplest level, you have two ways to create or revamp your resume: Do It Yourself (DIY) or Hire An Expert (HAE). Since my profession is resume writing, you might guess I’m not going to tell you you should always do your own resume, but I will say that sometimes “it depends.”

Having made my disclosure about possibly not being 100% impartial, I’ll still do my best to give an unbiased view of the two ways you can choose to do your resume.

Write Your Own Resume (DIY)

In some ways, you know yourself better than anyone else does. That means that, theoretically at least, you’re the one who should be most familiar with your strengths, skills, achievements and so on–the elements that will form the basis of your resume.

Here are a few questions you should be able to say yes to if you plan to write your own resume:

  1. Do I have strong writing skills?
  2. Do I have a clear target or direction I want to pursue?
  3. Can I take an objective look at my current situation and identify what I need to do to move forward?
  4. Am I up on how things are done these days? If not, can I spend the time to get up to date on them?
  5. Do I know what to do next after I get my resume finished?

Hire An Expert Resume Writer (HAE)

For some people, hiring experts to do things they don’t have the expertise, time or interest to do for themselves is a no-brainer. They consider it a good investment in themselves and don’t need other reasons.

However, you might be one of those job seekers who either believe you should do your own resume or feel you need to save your money for other (“more important”) purposes. That’s fine, if it works for you. On the other hand, you might want to think about one or more of the following:

  1. You might be very good at what you do for a living–whether it’s sales, operations, or some other role–and know what it takes to be successful in your job. However, do you know how to communicate your value in that role to potential employers?
    Knowing how to DO the work and knowing how to communicate your value in doing it are two different things.
  2. Employment and job search trends seem to change constantly. Keeping as up to date on them as possible is a critical element of a successful job search. That means it’s critical for your resume.
    For instance, how much do you know about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)? Do your resume and your LinkedIn profile work well together?
  3. Well-qualified resume writers can bring an emotional distance that allows them to see important aspects of your situation that you might be too close to. That doesn’t mean they’re disinterested in the outcome–far from it; but they can look at the situation objectively.

How Do You Choose Which Way to Do Your Resume?

No answer is perfect for the entire population, and ultimately no one can decide the answer to this question but you. You’re the one who has the most at stake.

You can, however, consult with people whose opinion you value and give some consideration to their input. In addition, you can do some research into various options and try to evaluate them with regard to your needs and goals.

If you choose to hire an expert resume writer, just make sure the person is reputable and not a fly-by-night operation or a resume mill that churns out $50-$100 resumes on an assembly line. I don’t know any professional resume writer who will come close to doing that!


Toxic Work Environments

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about toxic work situations–including toxic bosses. However, it was prompted by a recent comment from a new client that was fairly disturbing.

He indicated that even though he’d had a successful record over the past three years, he was very concerned about the situation in his company. Many people had quit, including his last two bosses, and a number of others had been fired.

He felt strongly that the company’s culture was fear-based (using fear as a tactic), which had not only created a toxic work environment but also resulted in an abnormally high attrition rate. He found the whole situation alarming, and I don’t blame him.

Are You in a Toxic Work Environment?

So how do you determine if you’re currently in a toxic work environment? Of course, there could be obvious signs, such as managers who regularly scream and rant at their subordinates. If you’ve found yourself subjected to that type of inexcusable treatment, you might already have started taking steps to move out.

On the other hand, you might be in a work environment where the toxicity is less obvious but potentially just as damaging to your career and personal well-being. For example, your boss might be the kind of person who leads you on with promises of a reward if you accomplish an important assignment and then consistently “forgets” the promise or denies having made it.

To assess your work environment toxicity, you need to start by keeping a record of key events and their related circumstances. Then plan to review it periodically. This will help you evaluate situations a little more objectively than you might be able to do in the heat of the moment (when you’re in the middle of a situation).

Toxic Work Environments–Stay or Go

This is also something I’ve written about before–deciding whether to look for a way out or stay where you are and work (or hope) for some kind of acceptable resolution of the situation.

If, as appears might be the case for my new client, the entire company constitutes a toxic work environment, you probably need to consider one critical fact. Either senior management is directly the cause of the mess or they are at least not doing anything (or not nearly enough) to correct it.

In such cases, you might not have a choice. You either bail at your earliest opportunity or you resign yourself to living with imminent disaster–professionally, personally or both.

Occasionally you might face a situation where it’s just your department/boss that’s the source of the toxicity. That offers you a potential solution that doesn’t involve leaving the company altogether. For instance, if you can take advantage of an opportunity to make a good career move into a different department, you might achieve a win-win outcome.

Toxic Work Environments and Work-Related Stress

Workplace toxicity and job stress are tightly linked. To quote from an article titled “Chronic Job Stress is a Risk Factor for Heart Disease” by Elizabeth Scott, M.S., “Job stress is widely experienced, and so pervasive that it’s been found to affect people from all industries, ranks and socio-economic status levels. And because so much of our lives are spent at work, job stress can create stress in other areas of life as well….Because of a close link between job stress and chronic stress, job stress can take a significant toll on overall health and wellness….”

Clearly, you need to be alert for indications of a toxic work environment and do your best to (ideally) avoid getting into one or (next-best) remove yourself from it ASAP.


Your Career Roadmap

In the days before GPS, you didn’t take a trip to unfamiliar territory without a roadmap. If you did, you were likely to get lost and waste a lot of time trying to find your way again! The same is true of your hopes for career success.

Note that a roadmap can often include more than one route to a given destination. For example, you might want to stick to the freeways as much as possible to reach your destination quickly or you might be in the mood to amble along some country lanes and avoid the fast-track route. The point is that you might have a choice in how you get where you want to go. Maybe you don’t even care if it takes you halfway to forever to end up there.

When it comes to your career, though, halfway to forever is a long time to wander aimlessly. Time and other events might not work in your favor, either. While you’re dithering, your competitors might be sweeping past you on their way to the prize.

Career Roadmap Choices

Sometimes I work with clients who tell me they kind of “fell into” their current career. Maybe an early job opportunity led to the next one in the same industry or they took the first job they found, just to pay the bills, and ended up staying in that field. In other words, they never made a conscious choice. They went with whatever crossed their path.

To stick with the roadmap analogy, these individuals started their journey without any specific destination in mind. In a few cases, it worked out all right for them–they really enjoyed and felt fulfilled in their careers. Others, however, were subtly or actively dissatisfied with their situation and felt stuck.

What’s your situation? Are you happy with where you are? Did you choose to go there? It’s all about (or a lot about) the choices we make, the ones we don’t make, and the ones we have to pass up because they conflict with the ones we’ve made.

Look at the “Road Not Taken”

I recently ran across an article that referenced one of my favorite poems, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” The article, “The ‘road not taken’ resume” by John Read, made for some interesting reading. He talked about what your resume might look like if you put in all the choices you didn’t make at various decision points in your life rather than listing all your jobs and successes.

Of course, Read wasn’t seriously suggesting that you submit such an unorthodox resume to potential employers, but he felt that going through the exercise might in some way enhance your conventional resume. As he put it, “Not so long ago, jobs and careers could be for life. Now, in this more dynamic and unstable economy, employment security is non-existent and job changes are a part of everyone’s work experience. You don’t need to be approaching retirement for there to be an appreciable number of these forks in the road under your belt, and mapping backwards through the choices you’ve made can be instructive.”

No one can expect to go through life without choices, whether those were made consciously or by default. Maybe we should all be doing some backward-looking to find out what it can tell us about where we are now, how we got there and–if desired–where we’d really like to go next.


Job Interviews: When Silence is Golden

Have you ever put your foot in your mouth, figuratively speaking, and then wished you could take back what you said? That’s an uncomfortable experience in any situation, but it’s potentially disastrous in a job interview. Once the words are out of your mouth, you can’t un-say them.

That’s why the title of this blog post is “Job Interviews: When Silence is Golden.” Now, don’t get me wrong: When you prepare for a job interview properly, it means that among other things, you’re doing your homework–on the company, the job, hopefully the person or people you’ll be interviewing with, and so on. That’s so you can say the right things at the right time.

However, to increase your interview effectiveness and avoid missteps, you also need to learn to use silence as one of your interview tools.

Two Kinds of Silence in Job Interviews

Like the positive and negative ends of a battery, there are basically two kinds of silence in job interviews. One is what I call the deer-in-the-headlights silence. That’s when the interviewer can immediately tell that you have no clue what to say in response to his/her question. This is awkward, to say the least.

Some job seekers have more trouble with this type of silence than others. Their mind seems to go blank when they’re asked something–especially if it’s not one of the topics they’ve carefully rehearsed beforehand. Even if you’re one of those people, though, you can and should work on avoiding this kind of silence in your job interviews.

The other kind of silence is one that’s thoughtful, reflective–and short! When you use silence as an interview tool, it means you’re giving yourself a brief mental pause before taking whatever the next step is.

For example, if you’re not 100% sure what the interviewer’s question meant (what he/she was really asking), you can pause for a couple of seconds to get your thoughts in order. That might lead to a question of your own, such as, “It sounds to me as if you’re asking….Is that correct?” The interviewer should either agree or make some sort of clarification of the question. Either way, you’re better prepared to answer it appropriately.

Speech versus Silence in Job Interviews

Part of the problem job seekers have is knowing when to talk and when to be silent. While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about it, I like to think of it this way: If you’re asked a question and you’re clear about what your answer should be, you don’t need to use silence. If you feel uncertain, take a few seconds to get squared away. It’s not mandatory that you start speaking the moment the interviewer stops talking. Also, if you don’t want to appear too eager about something, you can pause briefly and then make your comment. That enables you to appear interested but not desperate.

Where Did “Silence is Golden”Come From?

My limited research on this quote indicates that there’s considerable uncertainty about its origins, but it apparently dates back centuries, at least in some form. One longer version was “Speech is silver, silence is golden.” That suggests to me that speech has its place, its value, but that silence can be even more powerful if used appropriately. Think about this concept the next time you’re engaged in job interview preparation.


Internal or External Hiring: What It Means to You

Whether you’re looking for an internal promotion or a new external job opportunity, the subject of internal versus external hiring could have an impact on your job search. You need to be aware of the possible implications and effects it could produce.

Internal or External Hiring at Various Levels

Companies will often go for an internal person–that is, promote someone who already works for the company–because of several factors, including the following:

  1. The individual is at least something of a known quantity and is presumably well familiar with the workings of the company.
  2. He/she might have internal champions who emphasize the value the individual can bring to the company based on previous contributions.
  3. If the individual has done a good job of networking while employed at the company, he/she might be perceived as a strong asset who merits a greater opportunity.
  4. Promoting from within tends to be a simpler and less costly process than going outside.

This is true at all levels of the organization, but it can become even more important at senior levels, where the costs of external recruitment easily climb into the stratosphere, especially if executive search fees enter the mix. If you’re the external candidate, you might not consider that aspect, but it can definitely play a role in the hiring decision, including whether to pursue internal or external hiring methods.

What the Hiring Method Means to You

First, you need to be aware that whether you’re an existing employee or an outside candidate for a position, you’re going to have competition. That competition might come from others inside your company or from individuals outside the company who are hoping to break in. You can’t assume, for example, that because you already work for the company, you have the inside track all to yourself.

On the other hand, if you’re the one trying to join a new company, you need to be realistic about the possibility that you might even get an initial interview but not necessarily be the hiring choice because someone inside the company has the edge for a variety of reasons. What’s important to understand overall is that your competition can come from two directions–someone inside the company or outside candidates.

Whichever situation is yours, it’s wise to scope things out as thoroughly as you can to get potentially useful hints about what you might be facing. For instance, if you’re going for an internal senior-level promotion, you might need to be aware that other managers are likely to be considered for the position you’re targeting. If so, you should think about doing some due diligence to get an idea of what you’ll be up against.

Internal or External Hiring–Which is “Better”?

An article by Todd Henneman called “The Insiders or the Outsiders” includes some striking information about the hiring trend for CEOs, including the fact that the turnover rate in 2013 was higher than it had been since 2008 and that the tenure of CEOs was down from 11.3 years in 2002 to 8.1 years in 2012. However, it appears that the preponderance of CEO hiring activity has focused on insiders. This seems to be based on the idea that the insiders bring a lot to the table that an external candidate might not have.

To quote from the article: “‘Internal is better in every case unless you have a really deficient internal candidate,’ said John Thompson, vice chairman of the global CEO and board practice, at executive-search firm Heidrick & Struggles….’External candidates should really be head and shoulders above internal candidates to be chosen.’”


Job Offers and Foot-Dragging Employers

Have you ever had the experience of interviewing (multiple times) for a position and feeling as if an offer was just around the corner…but it didn’t come and didn’t come and….? Then you know how frustrating and exasperating it can be. What you might not have considered was how seriously this situation can derail your job search and prevent you from reaching a successful conclusion.

Job Offers Aren’t Inevitable

Even if you’ve done everything right and it seems like you’re a prime candidate for the position, that doesn’t mean an offer is coming soon, if at all. The company might be operating in one of the following modes:

  • An internal power struggle is holding up progress, and no one is making any concessions–or likely to in the foreseeable future. “Your” position is in limbo as a result.
  • Business revenues have been less stellar than expected, and budget cuts are looming as a distinct possibility. Hiring managers are playing the wait-and-see game at this point.
  • A competitive candidate who wasn’t initially available for some reason has now become viable. He/she might have an advocate inside who is going to bat for him/her as the choice.

Of course, any number of other possible reasons could be at the heart of the problem. You’ll probably never know for sure. What matters to you is that the expected offer isn’t happening.

What Can You Do about Foot-Dragging Employers?

Not a lot. You can and should do a reasonable amount of follow-up after each interview. However, that doesn’t mean basically stalking the employer, making daily phone calls, etc. Unless you get a reliable indication that the delay really is very temporary, don’t count on it ending soon. That means, don’t put off everything else in your job search while you wait for that coveted offer to reach you.

In the past, I’ve had clients who put their entire job search on hold because an offer was “imminent,” only to find that they had wasted weeks, even months, because no offer ever came. Consequently, they had to re-energize themselves, get momentum going again, jump through all the hoops they were going through before they thought they had things nailed down. That’s discouraging, to say the least.

What Should You Do about “Pending” Job Offers?

Keep your job search active and in full swing until you have a firm, written offer in hand and have negotiated the key elements, including start date, salary and benefits. Then, and only then, should you dial-back your job search and shift to an ongoing career management outlook.


Does Your Resume Have the “Right” Words?

A sure-fire attention-getter in the media seems to be publishing a list of the best and worst words to use in a resume. CareerBuilder has recently contributed to the ocean of opinion on this subject with its list based on a survey of hiring managers, which ranks their views of the Best and Worst Words to Use in a Resume.

According to Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s VP of Human Resources, “Hiring managers prefer strong action words that define specific experience, skills and accomplishments….Subjective terms and cliches are seen as negative because they don’t convey real information. For instance, don’t say you are ‘results-driven’; show the employer your actual results.”

However, as with many such statements, this one (and the lists as a whole) carries some baggage that makes it less than 100% reliable.

Worst Resume Terms

The survey results indicate 17 terms you should presumably avoid using in your resume. Here are the top 5, including the percentage of respondents who listed them:

  1. Best of breed (38%);
  2. Go-getter (27%);
  3. Think outside of the box (26%);
  4. Synergy (22%);
  5. Go-to person (22%).

Best Resume Terms

Survey respondents advocated using 15 strong verbs and terms to help describe your experience in your resume, including these 5:

  1. Achieved (52%);
  2. Improved (48%);
  3. Trained/Mentored (47%);
  4. Managed (44%);
  5. Created (43%).

The list included a couple of terms that were not verbs: Revenue/Profits (23%) and Under budget (16%).

So What are the “Right” Words for Your Resume?

It depends. One of my esteemed colleagues, Robin Schlinger, is very knowledgeable about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and how the systems handle resumes. Briefly, here’s what she had to say about CareerBuilder’s list:
“Some of the worst terms are the ones that ATS systems are checking on, based on job announcements….The best terms all seem to be results driven words. They are not the words, in general, that ATS systems sort on….We need to write for both the human (achievements) and machine (keywords)….”

As I’ve said before, many of the changes employers have made in how they process and handle applicants’ resumes were not instituted to make your life as a job seeker easier, and nowhere is this more true than with ATS processing (as I said in my last post). You need to study carefully each job posting you want to respond to and do your best to make sure you are on-target with the words and phrases used, at the same time as you strive to inject a strong value message into your resume content.

Caveat: Just throwing a string of keywords into the mix will not (as I’ve said before) automatically win you points with the ATS and get you to the top of the candidate selection heap. You need to put some thought and effort into the development and refinement of your resume. Hey, no one promised it would be easy! Just be careful you don’t take as gospel the official-sounding pronouncements of publications such as the CareerBuilder best-and-worst list.


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