3 Pitfalls to avoid when creating resume

This post is a follow-up to my earlier post Creating Resumes that Work where I shared some tactics for creating purposeful resume.

I review a large number of resumes every week – they come through ‘Get Resume Review’ section of our website (now closed), from Sunstone students, and from family and friends. I share my perspectives on resume creation with all of them and review a number of iterations of their drafts. However, it seems that telling ‘what to do’ is not enough. This post is an attempt to capture some of the important ‘what not to do’ when creating resume. There are 3 ways people lose focus on right things and end up with mediocre resumes.

The ‘Why’ Pitfall: Focusing on showcasing your talent, and not on getting an interview call

It is very common to find resumes full of great accomplishments, awards, experiences, buzzwords, which don’t create a compelling story for the reader. This happens because these people create resume to showcase themselves. However, this is not why a resume needs to be created. Single-most important purpose of a resume is to get you an interview call. In an interview, you will get more opportunities to showcase yourself. Eulogizing yourself is rarely the most effective means to awe the resume reader and make them curious enough to call you for an interview. Connecting to reader’s needs and wishes and connecting to their belief and values is the best way to make the reader curious.

The ‘What’ Pitfall: Focusing on activities, and not on results

This is most common pitfall people fall into, and many templates and samples you will find on the web perpetrate this. Frankly, no one cares about what all things you did in your prior roles. What they care about is what you accomplished for the company (or client or someone else), and how big and hard was the accomplishment. This is because activities tend to be domain-specific (what you do in a semiconductor industry to achieve growth is very different than what you need to do in an internet company for example), while results (when written like specific and measurable business outcomes) tend to be domain-agnostic (20% growth or customer sat of 4/5 mean the same in different industries). So the resume is better understood if it is written focusing on outcomes or results, than when focusing on activities.

The ‘Who’ Pitfall: Focusing on what is important to you, and not what is important for reader

Many resumes tend to focus on activities and accomplishments they hold dear to their heart. However, it is important to understand who you are making the resume for, and what is important to them. Many people find it hard to do, for 2 reasons:

  1. They may not know what is important for the reader, because they haven’t thought much about the reader
  2. Focusing on reader may mean dropping a few details that you hold dear, which many people find hard to accept.

For example, if the reader is likely to look for ‘creative problem solving’ as a key skill, burying it deep inside the details and instead highlighting your team management skills doesn’t help your reader, and diminishes your chances of achieving your objective. It is important to research your reader (read job description, company profile, talk to someone in the company, etc.), and then re-prioritize your resume content by putting yourself in reader’s shoes.

To avoid these pitfalls, it is critical to keep a keen eye on 3 areas:

  1. Purpose
  2. Results
  3. Reader

In subsequent posts, I will present a few suggestions on how to take a resume that suffers from one or more of these pitfalls and fix them. I am also interested in hearing about what pitfalls you have come across.

Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

Job Change – Changing Domains successfully

It is not easy to change your domain when changing jobs. A domain change may mean moving from a functional domain to another (say Banking to Real Estate, or semiconductors to internet) or moving from one discipline to another within the same functional domain (Developer to Product Manager, Support Engineer to Sales Person, etc.). In either of these cases, you expose yourself to a changed environment, where many of your prior experiences are rendered useless, and you are required to learn new domain very quickly. Hence, many of such changes might not work as expected.

So why do people go for such domain changes? There are many reasons, most have something to do with your career choice. Here are a few:

  1. New domain is hot and happening, existing domain is boring and stagnant
  2. New domain offers role that old domain can’t offer, and you want that role
  3. You can perform very well in the new domain since your expertise of old domain can be leveraged.
  4. Long term career can be better developed in the new domain than in the old

Whatever the reason for change might be, it is very important to proceed with caution and a good plan. We have posted a document Changing Domains that presents 5 steps that should be followed when changing domains – this mitigates the risk of failure, and prepares you for success.

Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

Creating Resumes that work

An effective resume presents you in an impactful way and compels the reader to invite you to an interview. It also acts as a marketing brochure for the product YOU and presents the value you offer to a prospective ‘buyer’ (employer). Therefore, it is very important to construct this document carefully and provide right information that conveys your value in the best possible manner. Quality and presentation of a resume impacts the # of interview calls you will get when you are looking for a job. It also impacts how the interviewer will perceive you – a well-written resume creates a positive bias in interviewer’s mind towards you and helps you a lot. Hence it is important to pay utmost attention to your resume and create it with good principles in mind. There are 3 things that need to be focused on:

  1. Context of the reader: There are different types of readers who read a resume and each has a unique goal and characteristic that must be factored in when creating a resume
  2. Principles of good resume writing: There are some key principles to create a good resume and they must be adhered to
  3. Creating a domain-independent resume: This is useful all the time, but becomes critical when you wish to change your domain (say banking to real estate, or semiconductor to internet).

We have posted a document Creating Purposeful Resumes that presents this in more detail and will help you create resumes that work. You can also send your resume to us if you want to get resume review.

3 good reasons to change job

In a previous post 3 bad reasons to change job, I presented 3 reasons which people usually give when changing jobs, but which are really bad reasons to do so. Subsequently, I was asked what are good reasons to change jobs, and hence this post.

A job is a promise of fair exchange between you and your organization – you promise to deliver results for the organization, and the organization promises to provide you with financial incentives in exchange. Both sides believe they get a fair deal in this bargain (which is true for any fair-market exchange). This exchange takes place through your manager, who representative organization to you, and you to the organization.

In addition to financial incentive, you can also get non-financial ones, like learning new skills, visiting new places, meeting new people etc. which you might value a lot. In a stable state, organization gets great results delivered through you, and you get great financial and non-financial gains from the organization. Higher the alignment of non-financial gains to your career goals, higher the value you assign to these gains. Of course, this assumes that you have defined your career goals to some level of detail; if you haven’t, then you have a bigger problem to worry about!

Manager plays a crucial role in this exchange. Organization relies on the manager to quantify the value being created by you through your results delivery (through the often dreaded performance appraisal process). You rely on the manager to derive your financial and non-financial gains from the organization. So manager is an important piece in this exchange and can strongly influence the outcome for each party.

Given this market-style definition of a job, let me present 3 good reasons to change job. However, please note that it may not always be clear that you are encountering one or more of these. So it is always a good idea to do a simple check from time to time by asking yourself this question: Am I having fun at work, and am I looking forward to another day at work? When answers consistently come negative, it is time to investigate more.

You give much more than you receive

This means that your financial and non-financial gains are much less compared to what you give to the organization. This is an unfair exchange and you are losing, so you must cut your losses and move on. It is also important to keep an eye on each of the gains (financial and non-financial) even when overall gains seem fine:

  1. Very low financial gains, high non-financial gains – When your non-financial gains are high, they may compensate for your financial shortfalls. It is important to see if your financial goals are being met. If not, it is time to move on. However, if the financial stability is ensured (though your bank balance might not be growing as much as your friend’s), non-financial gains is great to have and this is a good situation to be in. Typically this situation is encountered in early phases of the career.
  2. Very low non-financial gains, high financial gains – It is important to keep an eye on the extent of non-financial gains, since they build your stock value and make you more valuable for the next company and years to come. If the non-financial component is very less, you should consider changing job even when the financial gains seem to compensate for the non-financial shortfall. An example is when you are asked to do highly repetitive/mundane work (though critical for the company) which doesn’t give you any learning but the salary is good. Keep doing it for years, and your career will get irreparable damage though your bank balance will be fine. Typically, this is encountered in middle phase of the career.

You give much less than you receive

This means that your financial gains are much more than what you give to the organization (since organizations don’t typically look at your non-financial gains when comparing the fair exchange value). This may sound like a contrarian advice to change the job in this situation, because it is great to get paid much more than what you offer in value. However, staying in such a situation for long makes you complacent, and vulnerable to changing market dynamics (since organization is getting much less value for its money, it is much more likely to react to get rid of you). For example, you may be a highly-paid senior employee in a company that does cutting edge technology work and your expertise is highly desirable for the company, but your salary has grown so much over the years that it hurts the company (and you may be paid much more than your peers in other industries). This will happen in niche industries where talent is scarce and deep expertise is required. This is also reached when you become too senior in the company but there is no space to grow beyond your current level.

Your manager is not your well-wisher

As mentioned above, manager is a crucial link in the exchange between you and the organization. When the manager doesn’t have your best interests at their heart, you are not in a place where your career can succeed, and you must change your job. There have been many cases (read my earlier post ‘Is your manager killing your career aspiration‘ to see one of the ways manager can be problematic) of managers adversely impacting a career, and when you encounter such a manager, you must change your job.

A note on ‘change the job’ advice is in order: this doesn’t always translate into changing the company. Depending on the kind of issue you find yourself facing, sometimes it could mean moving to a new part of the organization, or taking a new role. Change is the operative word here: something must be different in the new state, and a new company is just one (though the most common) dimension that can be changed when changing a job.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3 bad reasons to change job

Most of us are guilty of leaving a job when it wasn’t needed, as well as not leaving a job when it was needed. This hurts our career prospects significantly. Here are 3 bad reasons for changing job, and how to avoid them.

‘I can’t get along with my boss’

This is probably the most common reason to change the job. There are very few good bosses around, so there is indeed a good chance you will find a bad boss and may want to leave. However, for this very reason, you are equally likely to walk into another such boss again in your career. Whenever you encounter a boss you can’t work with, take the opportunity to learn how to work with him rather than running away from the problem by leaving the job. This usually requires understanding your own style of working, your boss’s style, and how to change yourself (or your boss) to adapt. This experience could be frustrating or painful but the reward is not only a workable (and sometimes good, in my experience) relationship with your boss, but also a joy in knowing you now have an important skill in your career arsenal. While you may eventually leave when pain outweighs learning, the reason for change should always be something other than leaving your boss if you care about your career.

‘It is hard getting anything done here’

This is usually the case when organizations are/become ineffective, inefficient, or both. You get frustrated by the lack of progress and would like to move on. However, in my experience, best career experiences happen when you are willing to stay engaged as the organization tries to fix its issues, and keenly observe and learn from what is happening around you. It comes with pain and hardship because you are getting frustrated at the lack of progress. However, you learn valuable lessons about organization, management, inter-personal relationships, and change management, and any prospective company will value them a lot. You can’t get such experiential lessons by reading a book, talking to others or taking a course. It is important to be selective in such a learning, pick people/situations that offer learning most aligned to your career milestones. Of course, there will be a time when situation hasn’t improved, you think you have learned enough, and it is time for you to move, then you should find a good reason to move.

‘I am being offered a higher salary’

When salary is the primary reason for change, it is a bad reason and you should be careful, it usually hides some valuable information. A company will always look for the return on investment on your salary, and so a higher salary should mean one of the two things: the new company thinks you are being undervalued currently, or it is paying for your potential. If it is the former, you should be investigating how you reached this stage of being undervalued (assuming it is a right assessment), and if it is the latter, you should be very careful in clarifying the expectation this company has from you, otherwise this may set you up for career failure. However, most common reason for being offered a higher salary is to entice you to move. Such changes are dangerous for the career, because you will reach a position where you don’t offer enough to the organization to justify the price tag and your performance evaluation will suffer.

 

Change is very hard. Moving to a new company requires you to spend time re-establishing your credibility, and learn about it enough to be productive at a level higher than in previous company. Such changes may risks to your career. Reasons for changes should be evaluated carefully, and above reasons should be avoided. In our next post, we will talk about some good reasons to change job.

What is your favorite ‘bad reason’ to change job?