Sunday, August 02, 2015

Feedback on resume - tough love

It's always easier to look at someone else's resume or CV and critique than your own. Always. I help a lot of people with the job applications, scanning their resumes and CVs, adding a few key words, giving suggestions on how to best "present yourself in line with the ad" and so forth.

And I am aware that my resume isn't directly on par with what it should be. Why? Mainly because I'm in the (for me) new position where my technical skills in the lab and some other details aren't as important as "overall roundness and experience in management and strategic planning working with upper management and board work".

And my resume has lagged behind. Add on top of that, my detail orientation and want for accuracy. I'm silly proud of some of my skills, not to mention wanting to show what a renaissance* person I am (dabble in writing, volunteer work, selected for this and that, got a grant here) all the time I do know though that "Those things" need to be cut, streamlined and focused for one specific job advert and the process.

Kill your darlings indeed.

I got the opportunity to get my resume and cover letter abilities evaluated a bit back. "Look for your dream job and write cover letter and resume for it- then get feedback and concrete suggestions tailored for you".

Said and done. In the process I found a job ad that was interesting, not only "a sense of humor" as the last bullet point in the ad. I mean, who wouldn't want to work in a place like that?

Anyhow, I got a good slap in the face when it came to the feedback part of the exercise. I've never been great with listening to praise, and I didn't have to worry about it too much. My resume needed some work to be "top notch". Funny enough, a lot of it stemmed from issues I am very aware of in my personality:
1) my sense of wanting "all the details"
2) I'm old and haven't kept up with how the cool people do it nowadays
(3) I've reached the age where it's more than 15 years since I entered the work force, therefore not every job I've had is relevant, nor should go on the resume* )
4) losing focus on the point - also known as "cut some details" and present a whole image/brand...

In short, I've spent my last week updating it and going through a few steps that I thought were really good advice and figured I could write them down and share.

  • Don't lose focus. The Goal of a Resume is to get an Interview (All the details are for the interview itself). Some details though, are relevant and extremely important (see next bullet point)
  • Bullets points under each job with your achievements - use action words (implemented, wrote, published, planned and executed, communicated, presented, directed, organized .... ) Make these things specific and if possible bring metrics to the table "coordinated three project teams with 10 scientists in each, resulting in two clinical trials". If you had a grant "awarded Grant X for €20000 for 2 years" etc... 
    • A suggestion on how to reminiscence and get a kick start on what you have done is to look at your self evaluations. If you get evaluated each year like where I work - you write a self eval (where you end up wanting to highlight all the stuff you've done that your manager may or may not remember and realize) before your supervisor writes the final eval and sends it to HR. Pull these self evals and see what you wrote. Also, check the final evals for what your manager wrote about you - usually nice strengths and good action words to boost you to write about yourself.
  • Make a summary on top with who you are and where you fit in - three-four rows with succinct keywords from the adverts highlighting your marvellous personality and experience (this is one of those things that have come and gone for me, making me feel dated. For a while it was "one liner", then it was "nothing", then "a story"....) Alternatively, this can be bullet point list with years of experience highlighting skills&qualifications that they look for in the ad. Again, GOAL is to make you stand out for the 6 seconds the HR person looks at your resume. And for the seconds the computer scans through the resume to pick up the key words and moving your resume forward in the system.
  • IF you have publications and presentations that you would like to add to the resume (since this is generally 2 pages tops), you can add a "supplement list" with the publications. However, if you are very productive and have published more than 20 articles, I'd recommend you add that in the summary section about you rather than adding long supplement with ALL the pubs and presentations. Same thing with presentations (pick the mot prestigious ones and add to the specific job position) or add a section "Honors, awards". (again, how important are those details for getting you the interview?)
  • If you have volunteer work that gives you qualifications that are relevant for your job search (say that you haven't gotten too much team skills working as a post-doc in a lab but you have worked with community outreach/teaching sports to children and worked with parents) you could rename your "work experience" to "relevant experience" and add non-paying work into there.
    • I struggle a little with this since I like the "other experiences relevant to being you".... However, back to the "I like to show that I'm a well-rounded person who can interact with others, likes reading books and work out on a regular basis (half-marathon runs) and certain races are always excellent to highlight (based on my country of origin where this is regarded as 'fit character') - HOWEVER, back to the first point: Focus on the goal - getting an interview. And "what I like to show", that might not be what is best for the goal. Tough. It's just to deal with it and decide what you think is best for the goal. (I cut all those things apart for my "origin country resume" where I have a short paragraph on the bottom second page with "Övrigt" ("Diverse"). I haven't been able to cut that just yet. Work in progress.)
  • No need to keep that (physical) address on top (in header or bottom where ever you keep the contact info) - UNLESS it helps you to prove that you are already "in town". For everyone else, email address and phone number is plenty enough. When was the last time you got a REAL letter sent to your house with "we would like to interview you on the phone"? Yep, back to the "focus on the purpose of the resume - to get an interview".
  • "From left to right", keep the most important pieces to the left (name of job position) and the less important (dates you worked) to the right. This make is easier to focus on the "easy to scan and get a quick look on who you are". (obviously this is for applications in the languages where one reads from left-right.)
What I got reminded about most? That it is a darn long process to fix your resume for that specific job - and a little heart breaking to know that the "me writing:HR reading" ratio is "hours:seconds". Then again, it's the world we live in and it's just to suck up and accept it. One way of making the process easier is to keep a Master Life File (I have a master CV for that exact reason, where everything I've done gets put in) and keep it updated with bullet points and details that you can modify for each time you need to make a resume for a job application.

Comments? Feedback? Was this at all helpful or just an annoying "generalization" post?

*I'm being slightly sarcastic here - facing my own ego on what I'm proud of since this may or may not be relevant at all for a future job search.

**no need to add every job you've had - it also opens up for age discrimination. Apparently there is no need to add year to your terminal degrees (this dates you), nor add your thesis title. Again, this is more IF it's relevant and makes it better for you to stand out for the job advert but for a lot of things I look for at least, A Degree is relevant - not my beautiful protein thesis title....