Knowing good grammar is a social skill

My friend is staying at my apartment while he job hunts in Boston. My job hunts were always done in pajamas with a jeans-and-T-shirt interview finale. Micah is in sales and his hunt starts with a trip to a clothing store. Read more

I am writing this post at the hairdresser. It’s my son’s second haircut this month. He loves the process of reinvention. While the haircuts feel extravagant, I like that he knows what he wants. Read more

When I had my second son, I had a nervous breakdown. I’m not sure exactly what the cause was. But things were bad. I had a three-year-old with autism, a baby with a facial deformity that required a team of ten different types of doctors, and no family helping me, and I didn’t take maternity leave.

This is what happened: I put a knife in my head. It’s a weird thing about the knife. A knife can’t get very far in one’s head. The head is protected. But there was enough blood that my husband and I decided I needed to go to the emergency room.

I took the baby with me. That’s what I called him: The baby. He was very new, and I was having trouble bonding. So I never let him out of my sight in the hope that physical proximity would promote emotional closeness.

The hospital in Brooklyn was well versed in post-partum depression. There was no wait to get into the emergency room. There was a social worker waiting for me next to a bed in a little room formed by large curtains on three sides. Read more

Melissa is back. She stayed with us on the farm a little while over the winter, telling me to shut up, and playing with me in the snow.

I think by now you get the picture that Melissa is one of those people who breaks every rule and lands on her feet. One of the things I really admire about her is that she quits a job as soon as she knows it's not the right fit for her long term.

1. Keep rewriting your story so that it makes sense.
I don't think I've ever told you that Melissa worked at Ogilvy in NYC. Her stint was less than a year, but long enough for her to become an search marketing genius. Not that she's doing anything with that knowledge.

“It's interesting to know,” she told me. “And everyone should live in NYC once in their life. For as long as they can stand it.”

She took a finance job in Hong Kong and retooled her resume to tell a new story: Her developer resume showed a child prodigy programmer becoming an Ogilvy SEO queen. But she changed it to a sales resume where she is an Ogilvy account management and moves seamlessly into hedge fund sales. It's all true. But good storytelling on a resume requires selective shifts in focus for each job description.

2. Do two jobs at once to hide a job that is death to a resume.
Then Melissa quit her private equity job in Hong Kong with tons of tax-free money in her bank account and fled the finance industry to become a nanny in Milan.

It seemed like a great job. There's one kid in the family. He's nine years old and he's in school (the British school) until 3pm. For this, Melissa was earning the equivalent of US$100,000 per year. Here's the area where she was living:

The idea was that she'd hang out in Milan for a year, but she'd also do some sort of official launch of a career coaching business where she helps me put a lot of my individual career coaching online so that I can do more coaching over the phone. And then, I told her, she could drop the nanny job from her resume and say she spent the year building a coaching business. Her resume will look fine. Read more

When you want to get a new job, don't look at your resume to see what you could get. Instead, take time to build a resume that meets the requirements of the jobs you want. This doesn't mean using keywords that are in the job description. That is not going to work. Instead, look at the types of experience that are required to get the job you want, and then get yourself that experience.

1. Make up a project for yourself
You don't need to be paid in order to put something on your resume. A resume is about experience, not income. So invent projects for yourself, and do them, and make sure you execute exactly what you need in order to put a bullet on your resume. For example, if you need to be able to say you executed national campaigns, then do one.

Jessica Goodman is a great example of this. She just graduated from the University of Denver and she's looking for a job in public relations or marketing. Inevitably, the job she lands will involve social media. Because that's where both industries are headed.

In the meantime, Jessica created a project for herself that showed her college counseling office why they should be teaching students how to job hunt with social media. (And she wrote a blog post about it.) This is a great project because whether or not the college does anything with it, Jessica conceived and executed a project to promote an organization-wide adoption of social media tools. Read more

It’s very hard to write your own resume because a resume is a macro view of your life, but you live your life at the micro level, obsessing about daily details that have no bearing on your resume. So I recommend to a lot of people that they hire someone to help them. After all, spending money on a resume writer is one of the few expenditures that will have good return right away.

But some of you will be able to do a decent job rewriting your resume on your own. The first thing you’ll have to do is make some mental shifts. You need to rethink the goals of a resume, and rethink the rules of a resume in order to approach the project like the best of the resume professionals.

Here are three ideas that guide professional resume writers and should guide you as well:

1. Don’t focus on your responsibilities, focus on what you achieved.
A resume is not your life story. No one cares. If your life story were so interesting, you’d have a book deal. The only things that should be on your resume are achievements. Anyone can do their job, but only a small percentage of the population can do their job well, wherever they go.

The best way to show that you did your job well is from achievements. The best achievement is a promotion.It is an objective way to show that you impressed the people you work for. The next best way to show objective measures is to present quantified achievements.

Most people do not think in terms of quantified achievements when they are in the job, but on the resume, that’s the only part of the job that matters. No one can see that you were a “good team player” on your resume unless you can say “established a team to solve problem x and increased sales x%” or “joined under-performing team and helped that team beat production delivery dates by three weeks.”

If you are only putting achievements on your resume, you are going to be hard-pressed to fill a whole page. That’s okay. Anything on your resume that is not an achievement is wasting space. Because you don’t know what a hiring manager will look at first—and if you have ten good achievements and three mediocre lines about your life story, the hiring manager may only read those three lines—so remove them.

2. Don’t make your resume a moral statement; it’s a marketing document.
Think about when a company announced the launch of their product. First of all, the product is not done. Second of all, it has bugs. And third, the company is probably showing photos of prototypes and the real thing will look different.

All this stuff is fine. It’s accepted practice for marketing. The company will tell you that they are doing their best to get you the information you want in the way they think is best for letting you know what your consumer options are.

You need to take the same approach with your resume, because a resume is a marketing document. The best marketing documents show the product in the very best light, which means using whatever most outrageous tactics possible to make you look good. As long as you are not lying, you will be fine.

Here’s an example: You join a software company that just launched a product and the product had so many problems that they had to hire someone to handle the calls. You start doing the tech support, and you work tons of overtime because the calls are so backed up. You clean up the phone queue and then you start taking long lunches because there’s not a lot to do, and then you start job hunting because the job is boring.

Here’s how you summarize this job on your resume: Assumed management responsibility for tech support and decreased call volume 20%.

How do you know 20%? Who knows? It was probably more. But you can’t quantify exactly, so err on the safe side. But if you just say “Did tech support for a software company” no one knows you did a good job.

There is a fine art of almost-lying-but-not-lying on a resume. You need to talk about it a lot in order to know where you fall on the spectrum. Here is a sample of my own family discussions about what is lying and what isn’t.

3. Don’t give everything away in the resume.
The idea of a resume is to get someone to call you. Talk with you on the phone. Offer you an interview. So a resume is like a first date. You only show your best stuff and you don’t show it all.

Some people dump everything they can think of onto their resume, but a resume is not the only chance you’ll have to sell yourself. In fact the interview is where the hard-core selling takes place. So you only put your very best achievements on the resume. Sure, there will be other questions people will want answers to, but that will make them call you. And that’s good, right?

For those of you who can’t bear to take off the twenty extra lines on your resume because you think the interviewer has to see every single thing about you right away, consider that we have statistics to show that people don’t want to know everything up front. It does not make for a good match. Of people who got married, only 3% had sex on the first date.


The reason I spend so much time telling you to have someone else write your resume is that I have done it before, and it worked out really well for me.

I thought of myself differently after getting help with the resume. This is because a good resume is not a list or a work history, but rather, a story. And the way we tell stories about ourselves really reveals who we are, but it’s very hard to craft a story about our work when we are so close to the details day in and day out.

Stories are powerful. If you have a coherent story of yourself, then your resume reads like an organized plan. If you have no idea what your story is, your resume reads like a disjointed list. The most effective resumes show a timeline of progression in your life in a way that creates a story that will stick in the reader’s mind.

It’s hard to sift through all the resume writers and figure out who is good. So people ask me all the time for the name of the company I used. The problem is, that company is no longer in business.

However a bunch of the people from that company continue to do the resume work as freelancers. And one of them, Elaine Basham will rewrite two peoples’ resumes for free this week.

If you want to have Elaine take a crack at your resume, send a three-sentence email to me by March 25 that says what is wrong with your resume now, and what you want to accomplish with a new resume. Elaine will pick the two people who are most able to benefit from her service.

For those of you who don’t end up working with Elaine, you might end up having to write your resume yourself, so here are some of the most common mistakes.

Look, you have to hire someone to help you with your resume. This should not even be a conversation any more. Would you cut your own bangs? If you were in sixth grade, yes, because the only thing you know about bangs in sixth grade is that they hang on your forehead. Once you learn that bangs need to be even, you go to someone who cuts even bangs. When you get older, and you really understand the intricacies of hair, you realize that great bangs are uneven in a highly skilled way, and you don’t even have the right scissors. That’s when you pay a lot of money for someone to “do” your bangs.

If you think you can write your own resume, you’re in sixth grade. A resume is a complicated sales document and also a piece of direct mail. You know who runs to the resume writers the fastest? The people who write direct mail, becuase they understand the intricacies of resumes, just like a fashionista understands the intricacies of bangs – enough to know they can’t do it themselves. Other big customers of resume writers are career coaches — because they see so many terrible resumes from otherwise very impressive people and the coaches don’t want to fall into that category themselves.

Please stop telling me that resume writers are too expensive. Sometimes I hear prices from resume writers and I think, who would trust their resume in the hands of someone who is so cheap? You should be looking for an expensive resume writer. Your resume, more than most things you buy, can earn it’s costs back ten times over.

Think of it this way: An effective resume doesn’t just get you a job. It gets you the job you want. A good resume writer can help you reposition yourself to shift careers, or make you look more high level than you have been in the past. Many good resume writers can also help you to talk about your resume in a way that will allow you to turn an interview into a job.

How can you deny this to yourself? And, by the way, don’t use your haircut money to pay for the resume. You need both.

Here’s some career advice I’m sick of reading: “Don’t have typos in your resume.”

If you need to read that advice to know you shouldn’t have typos in your resume then you are unemployable.

My friend Ben pointed out that when Colin Powell resigned, he typed his own letter at his home computer to keep the resignation a secret. But the White House sent the letter back because it had a typo. I wish the lesson here were that you always get a second chance. But no one will give your resume back to you to fix. So instead the lesson is that everyone makes typos. It’s human.

It is near impossible to not have a typo in a resume at some point because we’ve all read our resume five hundred times, and it’s ineffective to proofread something you’ve reread so much. On top of that, job hunting is often a repetitive, boring task, so it’s no surprise that people copy and paste and put the wrong employer name in the salutation all the time.

So there’s nothing you can do to fix a typo if the resume is sent. You look bad resending a resume to a hiring manager and saying “I had a typo in my resume.” Most likely the person won’t notice the typo anyway unless it is in his name. Even if you are applying for a proofreader job, it’s not going to help to resend the resume. The job of a proofreader is to catch the error before he hits send.

A lot of polls say recruiters will dump a resume in the garbage if there’s one typo. I don’t believe it. First, all typos are not equal. But also, a sales person with a typo is different than a technical writer with a typo. While a technical writer should be detail-oriented, the skills that make a good sales person don’t necessarily make a good proofreader.

So if you send a resume with a typo, hope the recruiter doesn’t notice, and try not to do it again. Move on.

But you should consider hiring a resume writing service to write your resume. You can trust a top company to not have a typo. There are a million reasons to hire someone to help you with your resume. It’s a very important document and it’s very hard to write yourself because you’re too close to the information on many levels, not just in terms of spelling.

That said, I hired a top resume writing company and then later made some changes in my resume and, of course, sent it out a couple of times with typos. Maybe it was a good thing, though. Because to be honest, if anyone ever hired me for being detail-oriented, they would be disappointed. It’s important to know your strengths. I know who to hire to compensate for my shortcomings. And now, years later, I know not to mess with what those experts come up with.

Getting a call from a recruiter is like getting asked to the prom. It doesn’t matter if the offer is sub-par; it’s always flattering to be asked. But there’s a lot of advice about how to get a prom date and not very much on how to attract recruiters.

The best way to encourage recruiters to call you is to understand how they do their job. So I talked to a few recruiters and came up with five things you can do to look attractive to recruiters.

1. Post to sites with good search tools.
Recruiters like to visit sites that aggregate resumes and offer specific search criteria, says recruiter Matt Millunchick. Blogs are difficult to search but social networking sites like MySpace and LinkedIn facilitate keyword searches. Be sure to fill in profiles thoroughly on these sites so that your resume matches more searches.

2. Choose your friends carefully, and then monitor them.
Recruiters will put up with a little quirkiness in an online profile but don’t worry only about what you post yourself: “Be careful about what photos of you are available and what and your friends post about you,” warns Millunchick. Recruiters will find everything. Recruiter Mark Jaffe told me he has a full-time employee with a master’s degree who researches candidates. “The two of us work like the FBI looking at persons on interest.

3. Be a thought leader.
Recruiters use Google to find the articles you’ve published, says Millunchick. So write some. Many sites are eager to get well-written content for free. If you feel totally lost in the article-writing world, Article Marketing Niche Blog can show you how to do it.

4. Use the scientific method.
The importance of keywords on your resume cannot be overestimated. John Sullivan, recruiting advisor and professor of management at San Francisco State University, told me that he advises his students to post three different resumes in an online database and see which receives the most responses. This is a way to continually hone the keyword effectiveness of your resume.

5. Do great work at the job you have.
The higher up you get, the less likely it is that a recruiter will troll the Internet. Jaffe told me he relies on word of mouth to find senior executives. “We follow candidates like my sixteen-year-old son follows all the details of baseball players. We look at minor leaguers, we look at who’s coming up, and we track people who we see as nascent superstars.”

He adds, “If you’re doing a really, really good job at work, we’ll find you. Once you try to get our attention you are turning that dangerous corner where you start looking like a used car salesman in gold chains.”