Job front: Chasing the job interview with a résumé

From the Archives

Originally published February 3, 2015

You’ve submitted more than 200 applications, résumés, and cover letters in the last six months. You’ve made impressions at numerous job fairs. Somehow, though, you’ve been on less than a score of interviews. What are prospective employers missing here? Moreover, what might you be missing in all this? As this is my actual story at the moment, the question I’m really asking is, “What am I missing here?” Here’s some of the job search advice I’ve heard since making myself available to industry last Fall.

  • Make your résumé fit one page: Between online reading and advice from recruiters, the one-page résumé is still making a splash among some hiring managers. So despite a long career in IT, finance, and communications, I condensed my CV to one page in hope that it would make it easier for prospective employers to take notice.
  • Eliminate the objective: This is advice that I started following years ago when objectives were supposedly cliché. I’ve not gone back to including a career objective on my résumé, though now I wonder whether it’s the one things I’m leaving out that employers really care to see. Instead of the objective, I had, until recently, opted for a brief professional profile that tells employers what kind of person I am on the job. Lately, though, professional advice informs me that a summary of qualifications that also reads like a profile will best serve someone with my experience and goals.
  • Make your skills stand out: Before my job search got serious a few months ago, my résumé was a list of my main job duties and key highlights or accomplishments in each role. A recruiter acknowledged that I had many skills that were evident in my career trajectory and not so clear from descriptions on my main marketing tool that hiring managers would see. So I collected the top industry-related skill sets in a section at the top of my résumé and highlighted particular duties and achievements in a few of those categories in the descriptions for each of my job titles. And then things got complicated.
  • Make it more descriptive: Truth is that when I received this advice from a recruiter, I didn’t entirely understand it. When I asked what “more descriptive” means for a job seeker, one professional told me to include as much as I could in a way that demonstrates my varied skills and knowledge. And I ended up with paragraphs for each bullet point in my dossier.
  • Make it less dense: Yes, the paragraphs made my résumé look full and not in a good way. In fact, it read like a short story rather than a marketing tool. One hiring manager was kind enough to tell me so when I solicited feedback after being passed over for an interview with her company. She said very openly and honestly that the good information on my résumé was hard to find and required a lot of reading to get to the relevant skills for the job in question. No manager, she reminded me, wants to do all that reading in today’s fast-paced online job market. I’ve since resorted to condensing bullet points to one line, which means developing language that succinctly highlights my value in a particular area of discipline or skill.
  • Let your résumé run two pages: Advice from others in my job search have pointed to my rather lengthy and diverse career background, insisting that two carefully plotted pages can give hiring managers a far clearer picture of my specific talents and value to their organizations. Combined with a skillfully crafted cover letter, no hiring manager could resist calling me to schedule an interview with all the facts plainly in front of them, right? Wrong. There has been no difference between responses to the one-page format and responses to the two-page format. So far.
  • Follow up: Some job descriptions include a note not to call their offices. They don’t want calls BEFORE you apply, and they don’t want the calls to follow up AFTER you apply. And if there is no such note included in a job description, I let job posters know I wish to follow up by including a note to that effect in both my cover letter and the email by which I submit my materials. I set a reminder to follow up, and after about a week, I send a follow-up note to see where I stand in their hiring process. On the other hand, I’m careful not to commit overkill. Hiring managers are busy enough without being hounded daily for an interview or status update. I respect their need for space and time to perform due diligence, and if I never get that call or e-mail requesting an interview, I keep an eye on my other prospects.

Other advice that I follow is that I customize my cover letters and résumés for each job for which I apply. That sounds like obvious advice, and you’d be surprised how many people use the same materials to apply to multiple jobs. Trust me, copy/paste oversights are costing them valuable opportunities. I also make sure to address key concerns that job descriptions seem to raise, and I visit companies’ websites and do thorough research to be sure I also connect with the organizations’ missions and goals before applying. All this research and study are reflected in my cover letter and in the details I include on the résumé I tailor for each job. To boot, I focus on key achievements in addition to relevant duties and responsibilities.

So what’s next? What else can I do to ensure that my résumé is at the top of the “MUST INTERVIEW” pile? Is it in the résumé format or length? Is it in the cover letter style? Is it whether or not I follow up with employers after I submit everything? If you’re a job seeker also struggling for clarity around your job search results, comment additional questions you have or advice you’ve found helpful. If you’re a recruiter or hiring manager, comments are open to your insights and expertise. Never know who you’ll help with a few words of wisdom today. Please share.