Resumés or CVs can be the most difficult pitch to influence someone from hiring you.
All it takes is 30 seconds for the potential employer to read through a resume and cover letter before deciding whether or not to bring you in for an interview or to throw your application into the trash.
And no, most companies or organizations don’t “file” your application if you are not successful. It usually gets thrown into “File 13,” especially if you have never received a call for an interview.
With that said, I’ve had a few people ask me about resume writing and what it takes to make a good resume or cover letter. Fortunately, during my search, I have landed one job interview every week since I lost my job. I know for a fact my issue isn’t my resumé or cover letter. As mentioned before, it has everything to do with my lack of confidence in a job interview and my inability to tell a potential employer about how my skills can help an organization.
Enough about me though. I have jotted down five things to help you in your job search after some valuable lessons I’ve learned after attending a number of hiring workshops:
1. Take inventory of your skills and characteristics.
Before even beginning to write a resumé, you need to take an inventory of your skills and abilities, as in what are you really good at? Also, you need to jot down your characteristics which will tell an employer how you are able to approach certain situations.
For me, based on my skills, I am a creative, social media-savvy storyteller who is able to multitask. In terms of my characteristics, I value integrity, hard-work, along with being flexible and adaptable — an important trait when it comes to the media biz.
Once you’ve determined your list, those skills, values, characteristics and abilities should be the theme for your cover letter and resume.
2. No resume or cover letter should ever be the same.
Alberta’s economy is struggling and odds are when you are applying for a job, there are 100 or so people who have also applied to the same position. That’s a good reason why you need to tailor your resumé and cover letter to the organization you are applying to rather than sending one static application to multiple organizations during your job search.
An employer needs to know how your specific assets — skills, characteristics, and values — can benefit an organization along with being the right fit for its corporate work culture. Having a static application that you have sent over and over again to multiple organizations won’t necessarily answer those questions for a potential employer.
3. Do your values align with a potential employer's mission and vision statement?
A mission and vision statement says a lot about an organization or a company.
During my last job at a non-profit, its mission and vision statement changed while I was employed there. It’s mission is now to only “raise money” for research, prevention and support for patients as donations were slowly trickling in.
Once the mission and vision statements changed, the writing was on the wall for me to lose my job. Based on my assets — my skills and characteristics — I am a storyteller and a communicator, not a fundraiser. I lost my job a year after that decision was made by its board and I understand the decision. No hard feelings.
This is also something to pay extra attention to when sending your application off to an organization. Do your skills, characteristics, and values align with an organization’s mission and vision statement? If they do, those assets need to pop out in your application.
4. Does your resumé clear the robots?
If you are applying to a large firm, odds are the 30 seconds it takes to read through your application isn’t being read from an actual human at all.
Many large firms or companies use an HR computer program that parses through your application to identify key words or phrases within the text of your resume. That same computer program then breaks down the text of your application into four categories usually: education, contact info, skills, and work experience.
The graphic below, from Resunate.com, breaks down the process even further. Double-click or right click the graphic below to expand it.:
With that said, it is absolutely vital to include key terms and phrases to your application so a human can actually read your application. Use key nouns in your application — like the names of the equipment that you are skilled in using, or the computer programs you know extremely well. Also pay attention to the job positing and find what words are being used the most to describe the position. You may need to include those over-used words in your cover letter and resumé.
5. Does your application pass the test?
The Alberta Learning Information Service has an awesome online checklist that you can use to review your application before sending it off to a potential employer.
The first checklist determines whether or not your resumé is complete and the second checklist helps you determine if your resume is up to professional standards.
It’s a handy tool worth checking out here.
Here’s a gut-wrenching scenario during a job interview (at least it is for me): it’s when an employer asks “what are your salary expectations?”
Your answer could sink you.
As Alberta goes through one of its worst recession in decades, that question is more than difficult to answer. Should you cite how much you made at your previous job? Should you undersell yourself given Alberta’s current economic situation? Should you give the potential employer a wide, vague range of your salary expectations.
For me, all of those questions run through my mind as I am in the middle of a job interview. When I get asked that, I freeze. I don’t know what to tell the potential employer, especially if the job ad didn’t specify a salary.
I have so far answered that question by telling the potential employer how much I earned during my last position. Given my lack of success in nailing a job offer, I have recently given a range after getting some advice from BGS Career and Corporate Services.
As BGS points out, knowing what your salary expectations are and what you’re actually worth is all part of the prep work before going to a job interview.
I don’t think there is a wrong or right answer when it comes to salary expectations. It all depends on the employer and how competitive you are willing to be among hundreds of applicants who applied to the same position. Welcome to Alberta in 2016!
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. A good place to start — if you live in Alberta — is to check out alis.alberta.ca. The government website is a great place to find out what the average salary is for any type of position.
Knowing the average salary for a public relations professional, I gave a potential employer during a pre-screening phone call a range around the average listed in the government site. The employer also asked a few follow-up questions in relation to the salary and that is when I pointed cited the info from the government website. It must have worked as I now have a second job interview.
Muhammad Ali was truly the greatest ever. He has always inspired greatness with his confidence, his precision in the ring, his courage to stick up for what he believed in, and his compassion.
He was so great. It was as if he was almost immortal — that is why his death is somewhat of a shock because of his public persona.
However, his death last week helped me reflect on a few things happening in my life, including my struggle to find a job.
After attending a couple of free provincially-funded government sessions — provided by BGS Career and Corporate Services — to help me succeed in my job search, I am learning I lack one thing that Ali was so good at: confidence.
It has been a massive struggle for me to talk about what I have accomplished for my past employers in order to convince someone to hire me, or to show my passion on why I enjoy what I do, which is essentially to share and tell stories.
It’s been frustrating to say the least, but looking back at all the old footage of Ali’s press conferences and fights on YouTube, it has given me a new outlook on my search.
For starters, I am terrible at talking about how great I really am, or why I can help an organization succeed, or what I can bring to the table.
You almost need to bring that Ali-champion-like attitude to your job search by pretending you are a champion (yes, my eyes rolled after writing that sentence too). You need to have that mindset. And to help you maintain that kind of attitude, think about all of the great things — big or small — that you accomplished for your past employers.
For me, I had to think long and hard about everything that I accomplished at all of the positions I held.
During my time at the Edmonton Sun as a night city editor, I never directly won an award or anything, but during a big news day when four armoured guards were shot — including three killed — at the University of Alberta’s HUB Mall June 15, 2012, I played a role in that coverage that helped the newsroom win an award among all Sun Media newspapers for best spot news coverage that year.
What I did was a small effort, but looking back, it was huge. I was on vacation that day and I was struggling with some sort of infection or allergic reaction. My boss called me for help, and I — without hesitation — came in to the newsroom that day to help out, even with my arms being so swollen and me looking like I had ebola.
Realizing this, along with other accomplishments, it has given me the need to overhaul this website to reflect my successes, along with changing how I write my resumé, cover letters, or how I approach another job interview.
With that said, rest in peace Muhammad Ali; you’ve already inspired me to be great.
One thing I’m finding out about my struggle to land a new job isn’t the fact that I can land a job interview — it’s the fact that I sometimes drop the ball during the nerve-wracking event.
Since my layoff May 13 I’ve had three job interviews. Two of those interviews were from potential employers who called me the same day I applied to the position.
I will research the employer’s website to learn more about the organization at least a day before the interview, followed by jotting down some specific question-scenarios the employer may ask me during the interview to help me prepare. Basically, I am well prepared going into an interview.
During the interview, however, that is a completely different story.
I find that I am grossly underselling myself. I don’t make myself standout among the dozens of other candidates who are contending for the same position. I found this out the hard way after a potential employer informed me they had to chose among a lot of “excellent candidates.”
It’s a tough grind, to say the least. But after attending a provincial-government-funded workshop — offered by BGS Career & Corporate Development — this week, I learned five things:
1. Show the potential employer that you are passionate about the work that you do or the work that you may be doing once your hired.
This was the biggest lesson for me, as I found out during the workshop. I always describe myself as a storyteller and a journalist. But to an employer, I’m probably not going to get hired by just saying I am a journalist and a storyteller — especially if I’m among a handful of candidates with journalism backgrounds.
You need to show why you love the work that you do, or how the new job you are applying for will help fuel your passion. For me, I love the fact that my storytelling raised awareness for the charity that employed me during my last job. It was gratifying — I was able to raise awareness about medical research and about the struggles patients have for certain diseases like asthma and COPD.
2. Be confident.
After losing my job, it’s hard to be confident, especially when I’m among a handful of candidates with similar backgrounds looking for the same work. Also, I’m not one to brag, but as BGS pointed out during the workshop, you almost have to.
As Canadians, we’re too reserved. We’re not ones to boast about ourselves, but to an employer, you have to showcase how good your skills are. You can’t undersell yourself.
And to add to that, you have to show how your so-called awesomeness helped a supervisor or your previous employer in the past.
3. A mission and vision statement says a lot about the organization
A mission statement says a lot about the organization you’re applying for. It’s a must-thing to pay attention to before an interview. A mission and vision statement speaks about the work culture and the organization’s expectations for its staff.
During one interview I had this week I found out the organization didn’t have a mission or vision statement. So I asked about it. I felt it helped me during the interview as the potential employer told me his company values integrity, which is practised by its entire team.
4. Just be yourself.
An organization that is interviewing you is determining if you and your personality are good fits for the organization — along with figuring out if your values are aligned with the organization’s values. It’s more than just skills and qualifications.
Sometimes getting a rejection from a potential employer has nothing to do with your skills, experience or qualifications. This a good reason why you should never try to pretend to be someone else during an interview just so you can win the job. Just be yourself. Getting a “no” sometimes could be a good thing for you if the potential employer explains that you weren’t the right fit.
5. Plan to say everything you want to share to win the job.
As BGS Career & Corporate Development pointed out, it’s always important to prepare for an interview. It will help you share everything that you want to tell to a potential employer.
With that said, there have been a lot of times where I’ve left an interview feeling that I forgot to tell an employer something that would have added to my proof of my skills and qualifications for the job.
BGS recommends preparing for a closing by jotting down some notes highlighting the things that you would like to share during the interview. Make sure you’ve said everything on that list before the interview ends.