Monday, March 2, 2009

Reading resumes

Today a colleague at my part time job asked me to read over some resumes that had come in for a position he's hiring. I had written the job description, and while the job is for an executive assistant, there is hope this person we hire will have some communications skills to back me up, at least in an administrative capacity. So he asked me to read the resumes, the stack I got having been already filtered once to weed out the chaff. And I found myself surprised all the same at the reasons I had for ranking people.

It's funny what sticks out in a resume. One woman left a period off the end of her first paragraph. One girl's resume printed with really weird formatting. One lady wrote in what I think she thought was a witty style, but it came off as brash and self-important. Not a one of the resumes I saw mentioned the two software programs we listed as assets for the job. None mentioned that they had experience in the two industries our association works in, despite the assocation being clearly identified.

I think the strangest thing to catch my eye, though, was how much I liked reading about their interests or extra-curricular activities. One lady was into drag racing. She had a really strong resume, but the drag racing just made her seem so interesting. She's getting an interview.

For years as a freelancer I've heard about resume writing and how HR people look for anything to get one off the read-me pile -- anything to reject you -- but until I had to go through them today myself it hadn't really hit home. So here are a few tips from me:

1. Write a targeted cover letter: Don't just regurgitate the job description, but do address the main points. Don't just tell me you're the ideal candidate -- show me why. We really do read the cover letters -- they are much more than window dressing.

2. Proofread, spellcheck and PDF: The format and style of your resume does matter. Spelling mistakes are fatal, especially for a job description that includes admin work and proofreading. And bad formatting can ruin your chances, so always PDF the file you're sending to be sure it will print the way you want it to. We do print them out.

3. Be interesting: Finding the right person is all about how they'll fit in, so tell the employer something about yourself that isn't in descriptions of previous jobs. What do you do with your spare time?

4. Explain why you're job hunting: There's a recession on, so lots of people are looking for work. There's no shame in it, but you need to explain why you're looking. Want to go from part time to full time? Returning to work after a break? Bad fit at your last job? It's the same thing as meeting a great single person -- if you're such a great catch, why are you available?

5. Show that you know something about the company you are applying to: If it's a small office, say why a small office suits you. If it's in a particular industry, show that either you know the industry or that you're able to get up to speed quickly. Read the company's website, even if it's an admin job. It will give you the edge.

I hope we find the right candidate here. I can't say any of the ones I read today struck me as the ideal person, but interviews should help us figure that out.


Goldie said...

I came across your site through some of my own personal searching on job help. I'm a recent college graduate trying to navigate the new world of employment and I just wanted to say that I really appreciated your advice. I'm sure most of it is common sense, but it's also reassuring to hear this from the HR/hiring perspective.

Thanks again.

Carla S. said...

Goldie, thanks for your note. I hadn't read that entry in a few years, and as I'm about to start (again) looking for new work assignments, it was a great reminder to myself too. Good luck on your job search!