Job hunting

The simple math of why your resume probably isn’t getting read.

September 13, 2013 Job hunting, Resumes No comments ,

You spend hours slaving over your resume, crafting every word of every bullet point, and yet you’re getting no interest from the companies you send the resume to.  Maybe your problem is that you’re ignoring the most important part of your resume: The first half-page, or the first screenful.

Let’s do some simple math here.  Last time I posted job ads for programmers I was getting 300-400 responses per ad, so let’s say conservatively that a job posting nets a hiring manager 250 resumes. If he spends 10 minutes on each resume, examining each in detail, that comes out to:

250 resumes x 10 mins/resume  = 2500 minutes = 41.2 hours

That’s one entire work week doing absolutely nothing but reading those resumes 8 hours a day.  That’s not going to happen.

Much more realistic is for the reader to spend maybe a minute on each resume determining which ones are obviously crap, and which ones have potential and get put aside into a pile for closer consideration.

250 resumes x 1 min/resume  = 250 minutes = 4 hours

That’s much more manageable.  Now the hiring manager is able to set aside the 5-10% of the resumes that are not clearly garbage, or shotgunned to everyone, or from offshore consulting firms offering their services.

So you have at most a minute of actual reading time, max.  I’ve seen the claim of 10-20 seconds per resume commonly cited, too.

What does this mean to you, the resume writer?

Nobody is going to read past the first half-page of your resume unless you give them a reason to read the rest.

Think of the top half of your resume as a movie trailer, a teaser for what’s in the rest of the movie.  You want that top half-page to put all the best about you out front.   You’re going to start with a summary of what’s to follow, such as:

  • Six years experience system administration for 20-30 Linux and Windows servers.
  • Fully certified as both Red Hat Something Something and Windows Certified Blah Blah.
  • Extensive experience with backup strategies to physical media and offsite solutions.

In three lines, you’ve summarized who you are and given the reader reason to read the rest.  Yes, it is redundant to what’s in the rest of the resume, but that’s OK, because (and I know I’m repeating myself) nobody is going to read your entire resume unless they have a reason to.

The top half-page of your resume is so crucial it’s why an objective is absolutely the worst way to start a resume.  Consider a typical resume objective:

JOB TARGET: My goal is to become associated with a company where I can utilize my skills and gain further experience while enhancing the company’s productivity and reputation.

There is absolutely nothing in that to make the reader want to read further. Everything is about what the writer wants, not what she can bring to the company. That resume is bound for the reject folder.

You have less than half a minute to convince the reader to read your entire resume.  Make the first part of your resume tell all the important stuff, and only the important stuff.

How to prepare for a job interview: The 4-point summary

March 7, 2013 Interviews, Job hunting 2 comments

The core of your preparation for the job interview:

  1. Learn what they do.
  2. Learn how they do what they do.
  3. Figure out exactly what skills, experience and background you have that will help them do what they do faster and cheaper.
  4. Plan how you’re going to explain #3 to them.

Everything else is implementation details.

You should have the first three figured out before you even send a resume. If you don’t have what it takes to help them do it cheaper and faster, then don’t waste your time applying for the job.

Slides from today’s resumes & interviews talk

August 22, 2012 Job hunting 1 comment

This morning I gave a presentation titled Resumes & Interviews From the Hiring Manager’s Perspective at the Career TOOLS Conference in Milwaukee, WI.

Big lesson learned: Even when the conference says they’re providing the laptops already set up, bring your own slide clicker, in case you’re on a big stage in an auditorium, and the laptop is in the orchestra pit, and they don’t have a clicker for you.

That technical problem aside, solved by a having a human slide clicker and hand signals, it was a good conference and I hope some people got some ideas to help them in their job searches.

What if news stories were written like resumes?

April 20, 2012 Job hunting, Resumes No comments

If news stories were written like the resumes I see every day, a news story about a fire might look like this:

“There was a fire on Tuesday in a building. Traffic was backed up some distance for some period of time. Costs of the damage were estimated. There may have been fatalities and injuries, or maybe not.”

Now look at your resume. Does it have bullet items like “Wrote web apps in Ruby”? That’s just about as barely informative as my hypothetical news story above. However, your resume’s job is to get you an interview by providing compelling details in your work history.

Add details! What sort of web apps? What did they do? Did they drive company revenue? How many users used them? How big were these apps?

Or maybe you have a bullet point of “provided help desk support.” How many users did you support? How many incidents per day/week? What sorts of problems? Were they geographically close, or remote? What OSes did you support? What apps? Was there sort of service level agreement you had to hit?

If you don’t provide these details, the reader is left to make her own assumptions. “Help desk support” might mean something as basically as handling two phone calls a day for basic “I can’t get the Google to work” questions. Without details you provide, that’s the picture the reader is free to infer.

When you write about your work experiences, you have a picture in your head of the history and skills you’re talking about. To you, “wrote web apps in Ruby” or “provided help desk support” brings back the memory of what that entailed. The reader doesn’t have access to your memory. That’s why you have a resume with written words. You have to spell it out, to draw that picture for her. Your details make that happen and increase the chances you’ll get an interview.

How long should it take for an interviewer to get back to me?

February 24, 2012 Job hunting 1 comment

Every few days in the /r/jobs subreddit, someone will ask “It’s been N days since my interview, and I haven’t heard back. When can I follow up?  How long does it usually take?”

Two big lessons here:  1) there is no such thing as “usual” in the job process, and 2) the time to ask about timeframes is before you leave the interview.

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 8 of my book, Land The Tech Job You Love:

[After specifically stating you want the job, ]ask about follow-up. Ask about what the next steps in the process are and when you can expect them to happen. It can be very simple.

You: So, what are our next steps? What timeframe are we looking at?

Interviewer: Well, we’ve got a another week of interviews, and then we look at them as a group, so probably the next two weeks you should hear from us.

You: That sounds fine. If I don’t hear back by the 18th, may I call you? Is this number on your card best?

This part is purely for your benefit, so you may omit it if you don’t really care about waiting. However, if you’re like most people, after a while you’ll wonder “Have they forgotten me? Are they just taking a long time?” There’s no such thing as a “usual” amount of time it takes to hear back, so it’s up to you to ask before you leave. This is also a good time to ask for a business card, if you haven’t already been offered one, to make sure you have all the contact information you need.

Be sure to get a specific day, rather than “a couple of days.” As I posted last week, “a couple of days” may mean very different things to you than to the interviewer. Leaving it at “couple of days” is too vague, and leaves you wondering “How many days did he mean?”

Don’t waste your time with fancy resume sites and video resumes

January 9, 2012 Job hunting 1 comment ,

I came across a website that offers a service to host your resume in a snazzy web 2.0 format. It offers a custom URL that you can send employers to, and it lets you host a video resume. The site is all pretty with the latest pastel colors and rounded corners, and there are little tabs you click on to get to different bits of information. Somehow this is supposed to make you stand out and let you take control of your career or something.

Don’t believe it. It’s extra work for the hiring manager, and will work against you in the hiring process.

Consider the hiring manager who has 100 resumes in his inbox. He’s looking to weed through the crap and find the good people. Now here’s an email that says “I don’t have a resume, but here’s a link to my Yadayadayada.com page”.

You think that hiring manager is going to click through? Not very likely.

Say he clicks through and sees all the Web 2.0 colorful goodness. Hey, look, a video. You think he’s going to watch a video about you? Not very likely.

And then say you put up a video, and you fill it with meaningless blather like “I’m a hard worker and I’m a team player” and don’t tell anything about what you’ve actually done and haven’t given the viewer any details about what you’ve actually achieved in your career. Now you’ve wasted the hiring manager’s time to tell them the same nothing.

Video resumes aren’t a new idea. They’ve been around since the 80s when people thought it was brilliant to mail a VHS tape to an employer. Now it’s the 10s, and it’s only slightly less time-wasting.

It’s all about WHAT you say, and not about making it flashy. Flashy works against you if it gets in the way of the hiring manager quickly and easily finding out what he wants to know.

And what does a hiring manager want to know? Three key points:

  • What can you do for me?
  • What have you done in the past, in specific?
  • Are you going to be a pain in the ass if I hire you? Or are you one of those guys who comes in and disrupts a team and has to be fired three months later?

A resume and cover letter that answer those questions are worth 100x more than a video resume and branded website.

How do I make my resume stand out?

November 29, 2011 Job hunting 2 comments , ,

All the time I hear people asking “How do I make my resume stand out?” It’s a great question to ask, because your resume is one of dozens or hundreds of others. The problem isn’t that you want your resume to get noticed, but that you want the reader to be interested in what you say and call you in for an interview. How do you do that?

Remove fluff

Do you have an objective? Don’t. It’s filled with meaningless fluff. “I want to leverage my skills to add value to the bottom line of a forward-thinking blah blah blah bullshit bullshit bullshit.” That says nothing other than “I want this job.” No kidding. Never use an objective.

Do you make meaningless claims like “Excellent written and verbal communication skills.” Crap. It means nothing. Anyone can say that. Give just the facts, not your own assessments. “Excellent written and verbal communication skills” is not a fact. It is an opinion, a self-assessment. Leave it off.

Those are all vague, meaningless generalities. Give details!

Add numbers and other details

Use numbers in everything you can. Numbers draw the eye and give detail. You should have at least one number on every bullet line in your resume.

Let me repeat: Every bullet point in your resume should have a number that gives size of the job.

Instead of saying “Worked on the help desk, answering user questions” you say you “Worked on the help desk, answering an average of 30 user questions per day.”

“Proficient with MS Office, Windows suite and all around tech savvy” is hopelessly vague and uninspiring. Tech savvy according to who? Your grandma? Oooh, you know Windows. So does my dog, and he died six years ago.

Now, if you’ve done amazing presentations in PowerPoint, then say that. “Created three presentations in PowerPoint in a year for area sales directors.” That says much more than “I know Office.”

Remove fluff. Add numbers and details. That’s 90% of the battle right there. If you can do that well, you’re ahead of the pack.

Looking for ideas on how to add details to your bullet points? Post them in the comments and I’ll see if I can help.

Track your professional stats like a pro athlete to give your resume power

November 14, 2011 Job hunting 1 comment , , ,

Let’s say that you’re Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and you’ve got to submit a resume to the next team you want to play for. If he wrote a resume like most resumes I see, he’d write something like this:

Chicago Bears, 2009-current
Quarterback

  • Responsible for directing on-field offense of professional football team.
  • Called plays, led huddles before each play.
  • Play-to-play responsibilities include handing ball to running back, throwing passes, and running with ball as necessary.

Hardly inspiring, is it? It tells what his job responsibilities were, but not what he actually achieved. Let’s rewrite some of those bullets with some of his statistics.

  • Lead Bears offense to 11-5 season, and to the NFC championship game in the postseason.
  • In 2010, threw for 7.58 yard passing average with a 60.4 completion average.
  • etc etc etc

See how the second resume is focused on results, not responsibilities? Your resume should be thought out the same way. When you talk about results, you need numbers to tell the story. Plus, numbers draw the eye and give your resume the detail that makes it interesting.

“But Andy,” I hear you saying, “we’re just humble programmers and graphic designers and system administrators. We don’t have the collective power of the NFL stats keepers keeping track of all this for us!” Indeed you don’t, which is why you have to do it yourself.

Start keeping track of your own stats. Start today and look around you. Think about “how many” for all the things that are part of your workday, and put them on your resume. (You ARE keeping your resume current, right?)

  • How many people on your team?
  • How many lines of code in the codebase?
  • How many users use your software?
  • How many users on your network? How many servers? How much storage?
  • How many support calls do you take per day? Per week?
  • How much money has your work saved the company?
  • etc etc etc

Your goal should be to have at least one number in each bullet point, supporting the story that the text tells.

So few resumes have any sort of numbers or statistics on them, you’ll put your resume ahead of 90% of the other applicants’ resumes.

Credit for this way of thinking about resumes goes to Rich Stone, in his blog post Resume and Interview Preparation Tips. Thanks, Rich!

How can I help my 50ish sysadmin brother find a job?

November 9, 2011 Ask Andy, Career, Interviews, Job hunting 1 comment ,

A reader wrote me yesterday:

I just finished your great book Land the Tech Job You Love. I wish I’d had this to refer to when I was job searching over the years. This afternoon I’m going to give my highlighted copy to my brother who is currently in his 4th year of his search for a UNIX Sys Admin job.

My brother’s situation is the reason behind this email. He has 14 years of programming experience (at [big technical company]) and 14 years of UNIX Sys Admin experience (mostly at [company] but the latest 4 years were various short term contract positions). We’re in [big tech city] so there are jobs available. He seems to be able to get phone screens and some interviews but hasn’t been able to land a job. The brutal fact is that he is not very verbal and doesn’t interview well. I also suspect his Sys Admin experience lacks some breadth. It doesn’t help his cause that, even though the subject is taboo, he is in his early 50s (see: The graying of the long-term unemployed).

I would appreciate any thoughts you might have specific to my brother’s situation.

You say he doesn’t interview well, and his experience lacks breadth. Sounds like you have the two things to fix right there! 🙂

As far as his lack of experience, I’d do as much on my own as possible. I don’t know what he has NOT done, but I’m guessing you have some ideas. What do employers in the area want that he’s lacking. Do people want him to know LDAP? Set up an LDAP server on your home box. Does he not know enough languages, or maybe the last “new” language he learned as C++? Get a copy of a book on Ruby or Perl or Erlang and start writing some apps. Set up Ruby and Rails on a local server and start learning. Pragmatic has many introductory Ruby titles.

The perception of “This guy is too old” is, I suspect, a vicious cycle. They see him as “an old guy”, and then it turns out he knows old skills, which reinforces the “old” part. So he’s got to know new skills even more than a kid fresh out of school.

As to interviewing well, I can only suggest practice practice practice, and help him identify the areas that he’s weak. Again, I get the feeling you have an idea what these are. Does he not answer questions with enough detail? Then help him practice giving longer answers that focus on business. Or is it just that he doesn’t keep good eye contact or speak clearly? Again, practice is key. Maybe you could record a mock interview, with you as the interviewer. Afterward, the two of you can identify and discuss where he can improve. I’ve also heard wonderful things about Toastmasters for helping people get better at speaking with others.

Let me know how it goes!

Readers, have you had to deal with the perils of job hunting in tech later in your career? How did you handle it? Please let me (and the rest of us) know in the comments.

Objective: “Obtain job where I commute by zipline”

September 8, 2011 Job hunting 2 comments , , , ,

I spent an hour last night reading freelance writer Julieanne Smolinski‘s Twitter feed.  She’s funny in a Jack Handey kind of way, and I retweeted this Tweet:

I know you’re not supposed to lie on a resume, so I suppose my “Objective” has to be “obtain job where I commute by zipline.”

Thing is, that’s as good an objective to put on your résumé as any other.  Objectives say nothing and waste the attention of your reader.

Look at these sample objectives I found from Googling “sample resume objectives”:

  • Marketing position that utilizes my writing skills and enables me to make a positive contribution to the organization.
  • Accomplished administrator seeking to leverage extensive background in personnel management, recruitment, employee relations and benefits administration in an entry-level human resources position.
  • To transfer the office management expertise gained during eight years in a corporate setting to a managerial-level position for an established non-profit that needs fundraising and event-planning talent
  • To find a role in Human Resources that will utilize my experience with legal forms, payroll and employee recruitment as well as enable me to grow within the company.

The pattern is clear: Describe the position for which you’re applying, often with obvious fluff.  Rest assured that saying that you want to “make a positive contribution to the organization” does not give you an advantage over those candidates who don’t state it.

Don’t waste the reader’s attention on a rehash of the job description and canned drivel.  Leave out the objective.  Instead, write a three-or-four-bullet summary of your skills that summarizes the rest of the résumé.  For example:

  • Seven years experience in system administration on Linux and Windows datacenters
  • Certified MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional), working on CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)
  • Four years help desk experience for 300-seat company, and fluent in Spanish

A hiring manager with 100 résumés to sift through isn’t going to read the whole thing word-for-word unless you give her a reason to.  Without a summary at the top, the reader has to skim to find the good parts.  Make it easy for her to find the good parts.

Finally, note that Julieanne’s quip gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the objective: It’s all about what the candidate wants. It’s like saying “Hi, glad to meet you, I’m Bob Smith, here’s what I want from your company.” The résumé is a tool to help you get the interview, and that starts with telling the reader what you can do for her, not the other way around.

(For more on objectives, see The worst way to start a resume)