July 26, 2009

Resume, Resume, Where Fore Art Thou?

By Paul Bieber

Reading resumes is just like working in your garden. There are a lot of weeds, be careful not to step in the fertilizer, and yet…there are beautiful flowers coming up here and there.

You have a hundred resumes. Now what? How do you separate the weeds from the flowers?

What is the purpose of the resume? It should be to whet your appetite to have a phone conversation or a face-to-face meeting. It is like reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Too much information will bore you and hide the relevant details. Too little will leaving you wanting. ‘Just right’ is a one page cover letter, and a one page resume.

Here is what I look for when wanting ‘just right’. Remember, you want someone who wants to work for you as a career.

•The cover letter is specifically addressed to you. If there is no personal greeting, I don’t read it and the resume goes to the maybe pile without getting read.

•The cover letter is well created, about two or three paragraphs, telling something about the applicant that you find interesting. It should mention relevant experience to your job opportunity.

•There should be no more than one typo or grammar miscue. If there are more, it speaks to their ability to proofread. How are they going to do on estimates and quotes if they can’t proofread their own letter?

•The cover letter should look like a business letter, not something scribbled on a piece of scrap paper. Professionalism counts.

Let’s look at the resume next. After your first look, you will separate the resumes into three categories:

1.Worth a second read


3.No Way

Most will go into ‘no way’.

Things that I look for in a resume are:

•It is current in its dating? No hand-filled-in recent employment or hand-changed data.

•Most of the resume focuses on work history, not personal goals or accomplishments. (Except if they are a Mets fan.)

•Check dating to make sure there are no unexplained gaps in school or work history. These can often have unpleasant consequences, such as a job history skipped, or jail-time. If a person is unemployed for a period of time, in this economy, that is not a problem. It should be noted on the resume.

•I look at how many jobs the applicant has held. If they are young, I look to no more than a job a year. If they are into middle age, I like an average of a job change no more often then every three years. The era of long-term employment is over. Sorry.

•Many people place salary levels on their resume. If they currently make more than 20% over what you can pay, don’t bother. Even though people say they are willing to take a pay cut, they will still be looking for a job that pays what they want and may leave you very quickly. If their background is strong, place in the maybe pile; if not put in the ‘no’ pile.

•Look for a one page resume. A long resume tells me that the person is unsure of them self, and they have to send a ton of information. The only time a long resume is required is for technical/scientific/advanced education jobs. For an office/staff position in our industry, one page should do. It also tells me if a person is able to communicate easily with brevity, which is an important point in sales and customer service.

•Look for relevant experience, of course. If your job is service or phone heavy, and you are willing to train, then look for complimentary type jobs. Many times it is better to train someone to fit your organization than to bring in someone who ‘knows it all’. This is a tough balancing act.

•Look for timeliness in receiving the resume. If your ad is in Sunday’s paper, you should have the resumes by Wednesday. If someone waits a week to mail to you, they are not really interested.

•If you receive resumes by email and fax, look for proper formatting. If you can’t open a file, they candidate didn’t do their homework.

I have emphasized the sizzle rather than the steak. So far. Now let’s get into the actual details of their work experience and potential.

Reread all of the resumes in the first pile. Make a quick judgement call–do I want to invest thirty minutes and meet this person? If so, call them, have a short conversation on the phone covering a couple of points:

•If there is no salary experience, I ask “Can you give me a ballpark figure of what your earnings experiences have been?” If they are in your ballpark, ask them to come in for an interview. If not, honestly explain that your budget doesn’t go that far, and you don’t think an interview would be beneficial.

•Make sure they know where you are located, and the rough hours that your job requires. If someone has a long commute, and winter weather has an impact on you, consider this before offering an interview.

•Does the candidate’s enthusiasm jump through the phone at you. Are they just job shopping, or do they really want to change their current position and join your organization.

•If they ask questions, give short, to the point answers. If the question needs a longer answer, simply say, “That’s a great question, let’s cover that in the interview.” When they ask the salary and/or benefits, give a reasonable ball park figure so each of you can make a first call decision. If they are looking for $50K, and you are offering $35K, there is no sense setting up an interview. If you are asked the salary question before you learn their earnings history, deflect the question by asking the range they are looking for. Then you can say, “looking at our total package, we will be within your range. Leave actual numbers discussions for the face-to-face.

•Ask just a couple of questions concerning their job experiences. Enough to see if they did have the last listed job. No more than a minute or two. You will get into the details at the interview.

This phone call is only meant to qualify them for the interview. If you ask too many questions now, the candidate can rehearse their answers when you discuss the same questions in the interview. You want to see them answer the questions spontaneously.

Enough for today; next week we’ll discuss the actual interview process.