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To Tout or Not to Tout (Or, Resumes Revisited)

February 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Most of us are not inclined to “to blow our own horns,” experiencing significant discomfort in describing our work and life accomplishments with anything other than monosyllabic terms like “did” or “made.” Exciting words they are not. If you were to pick up a brochure on a brand new car that was typed on an IBM Selectric in Courier 12 pt. on white copy paper with an austere, word-starved list of options, you’d probably be less than impressed.

Yet that’s exactly what many people do when preparing their resumes! Fearing the monstrous sin of pride, they go to the opposite extent out of an honest desire to show humility. Please don’t misunderstand. I agree that over-inflated egos are not only insufferable but ineffective as lifestyles or marketing campaigns. And false humility isn’t any better. To quote a favorite author of mine, C. S. Lewis, “A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility.”


So what’s the answer? How can you strike a reasonable balance between turning in a 3×5 card and writing an epic work of fiction?

Much of it starts with language. Words like “exceptional, extraordinary, demonstrated expertise, expert,” etc. may seem to be over the top, but my experience has shown that most of us UNDERREPORT our competencies, what I like to call the “Aw, Shucks Syndrome.” We can take criticism. We don’t like it, but we usually believe it. Compliments are much harder to handle, particularly when they come in our own voice!

When I presented a client of mine with the phrase “possesses an extraordinary work ethic,” he sucked through his teeth and said, “I certainly sound full of myself, don’t I?!” He was virtually incapable of saying positive things about himself. Yet the statement was true. I advised him that I would abide by his decision on the resume (since I wouldn’t be present at the interview to defend his words), but recounted from his own experience why I felt this phrase belonged in his document. Here was a man who treated all he met (subordinates, peers, bosses, outside vendors, etc.) with dignity and professionalism. His word was his bond. As a senior project engineer, he was one of the first on a site and one of the last to leave. He never requested anything from a coworker that he wasn’t willing to do himself.

After making these points to this fine gentleman, I advised him that I did not see this language as over the top but as fact demonstrated by his years of experience. If he wished, I would remove the phrase from his resume, but my vote was to keep it. He hesitated for a moment, then grudgingly agreed, “OK, we can keep it.” He didn’t like hearing it, but he knew it was true!

Following are some guidelines for deciding if a statement belongs in your resume or if you’re signing up for a Pinocchio button:

  • If the language seems a bit over the top but you can cite specific experiences where these skills were demonstrated effectively, I say keep it in!
  • If, however, your work and life experiences seem to bear out that you’re capable but not necessarily extraordinary, scale the language back to something like “solid interpersonal ability.”
  • Be aware that most of us are unable to give ourselves credit when it is due, over-exercising our humility muscles when it’s important to make sure people understand how competent we are. Unfortunately, humility in a resume or during an interview is frequently misinterpreted as lack of confidence. Sadly, they are likely to feel that this lack of confidence is well-deserved!
  • Consider asking a friend or someone who is skilled with words to help you showcase your experiences effectively. Remember that the goal of your resume is to make you worth seeing. No more. No less.

In summary, step back from your self evaluation long enough to recognize where you excel and admit it! For example, if your work and life experiences bear out that you interact with the vast majority of individuals at all levels with success and professionalism, I would argue that your interpersonal skills are “exceptional.”

Remember, if you did it, you’re not bragging!

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Job Fairs & Business Expos – Are they great for career development or just a place to stock up on pens and coffee mugs?

August 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Do your research in advance

Get the most current list of attendees and spend time on LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, Facebook, their websites, et al, to be as informed as possible in advance of meeting them. Take note of information regarding their industry, products or services, guiding principles, mission statements, careers, etc. In this day and age, there is simply no excuse for going into these events without significant business intelligence regarding the occupants of each booth.

Assemble your “package”

Have adequate professional copies of your resume. Consider having business cards (you can get some free at www.vistaprint.com, or print your own with card stock) to trade with contacts. Use a briefcase or portfolio to carry your career “paperwork.” If appropriate, have samples of your work to share, letters of recommendation, perhaps even a list of references. Be sure you have adequate materials to take notes and record impressions. Also, dress and comport yourself conservatively and professionally. If you do so, you are likely to stand out from the crowd. Treat each interaction with every individual as an opportunity to impress them. Don’t be aggressive, however, just be polished.

Plan your attack

Based on the list of companies or organizations you have gathered, identify your key targets for making contact. Upon arrival, note any changes or additions to the attendees and adjust your activity accordingly. Plans are useful, but be open for a serendipitous meeting as well. I have a client who secured very useful information on a company not from their representative (no one was there at the time) but from a former co-worker who was packing up the company display in a nearby booth and happened to know someone who had worked at the target company. Now THAT’s serendipity!

Make a great first impression all day

You are constantly making a first impression, even as you round the corner to saunter down the next aisle. Don’t forget it. Always make eye contact, offer a firm handshake, ask intelligent questions, etc. Every person you meet, pass by, network or interview with is getting an impression of you as a employee, a peer, a customer, or a resource. Make sure it’s a good one.

Follow up

Tap into that wealth of information you have gleaned from the business cards you’ve gathered and the copious notes you’ve taken to send a personalized follow up email or handwritten note to everyone you meet. The best time for them think of you again is within 24 hours of when they first met you. If you’re on LinkedIn, seek them out and request a connection. If you aren’t on LinkedIn, get on LinkedIn! If they are online themselves, investigate their groups and connections to expand your personal network. Be sure your follow up to them references your interaction in a professional yet personal way (after all, that’s why you took notes, right?!).

Finally, continue to nurture build on these new contacts to increase your visibility and create opportunities for success.

In Memoriam: Columbo and the Job Hunt

I can see him now. Rumpled raincoat, stub of a cigar, tousled hair and knitted brow, driving around in his old Peugeot looking befuddled. Yet, from 1971 to 1978, in 55 episodes and 14 specials, Columbo always seemed to crack the case wide open. What in the world, you may say, does this have to do with me and my employment search?

Quite a bit. Let me introduce you to what I like to call the “Columbo style” of job hunting – four key principles that you can apply to increase your opportunity for success.

Columbo always had insight into what was really happening.

If you recall, the episodes started by showing us “who done it,” someone who had carefully prepared an airtight alibi. No one thought that person could have possibly committed the dastardly deed. No one, that is, but Lieutenant Columbo. Somehow or another, he seemed to have an inside track on the events before him.

You also have insights. You know that many of the better opportunities are hidden from public view, will never be acknowledged in the traditional market (Internet, newspapers, recruiters, etc.). You also know that contact with others to seek information, advice and referral can be a powerful and highly successful way to tap into this hidden market. Furthermore, you know that most of the individuals you network with are inclined to feel that the only way they can help you is to either provide you with the Lead of a Lifetime, or hire you themselves. If they can do neither, they feel that they have nothing to offer. You, however, understand that through networking with others, they can become more informed about you and your interests and can begin to connect the dots between your skills and abilities and opportunities they may encounter in their work and life. Not to mention what you can learn from them!

Columbo never tipped his hat on this insight.

He never barged right into the obvious “Where were you on the night of . . .?” questions. He often spent considerable time talking around the issues at hand, to the point of having conversations that seemed totally unrelated to what was really important. One of his typical questions, “What did you pay for those shoes?” even became a famous catchphrase for comedians and impersonators, even though he uttered it only once.

How does this relate to the job search? Just because you understand more about the process of networking than your contacts doesn’t mean you should approach them that way. For example, you should not start out by saying something like “I know you think the only way to help me is to offer me a job, but I know that you’ll come up with contacts, advice and insights that you’re unaware of that will really help me.” Such a lead-in is a recipe for failure. You want to start with friendly, conversational topics that tap into the individual’s interests and activities, then move on into seeking his or her perspective on things. We have a solid article on this very topic called “Networking Questions” you may want to read.

Columbo was willing to be confused to get the answers he needed.

As a matter of fact, more often than not he appeared to be totally perplexed. Of course, that gave the criminal false confidence that this disheveled character was no threat at all, a misinterpretation that the lieutenant used to his advantage every week!

You need to be confused, too. As a matter of fact, you are confused, whether you believe it or not. According to Barbara Sher in Live the Life You Love, most people are natural problem-solvers, relishing the opportunity to figure things out, give advice and share their perspective. You can use this “I don’t know what I am doing” technique to admit to your contact that you are not sure what your next steps should be, wonder if your resume represents you properly, are not at all sure you are identifying the best fit for your skills, etc. Most individuals will rise to the occasion of your “confusion” and provide assistance.

Columbo was always seeking to “put two and two together.”

As he managed to extract the facts from the criminal, he took full advantage of these gems to bring the offender to justice.

Our application? OK, I admit that you’re not trying to catch a murderer or throw the keys away on a blackmailer, but you are seeking to get the key information necessary to take action towards a meaningful, satisfying career. That is where you need to be constantly investigating, considering and applying what you learn as well as continually tapping into the people and resources that are all around you to be successful in your career development.

Skip the raincoat. Forget the cigar. Comb your hair. But stay confused!

It worked for Lieutenant Columbo!