How to Avoid the Job Search Black Hole with Real Resume Results
How to Avoid the Job Search Black Hole with Real Resume Results
Erin Urban, LSSBB, CPDC, PMI Houston Contributor
Do you feel like submitting your resume online is a waste of time? You’ve probably heard that networking is the best way to find a job. While networking is highly important – what if you’ve not kept your network ‘warm’? Besides, how in the world can you leverage your network when we are all isolated?
I can tell with clarity and confidence that you CAN find a job online. Unfortunately, many people feel like applying online is like dumping their resume into a job search black hole. I have good news for you: there is a very simple explanation for this very common issue.
The biggest job search issue I see with experienced professionals – even executives – is the glaring lack of value-centered career contributions in their resume that are relevant to the jobs they seek. If your resume is a boring list of roles and responsibilities, it is almost impossible to stand out from all the noise.
In a highly competitive job market: it is essential to express how you have leveraged your expertise to positively impact your organization, your team or your client.
Let me be blunt. If you cannot articulate what value you can bring to the table, why should they hire you? It is critical to express your potential ROI (return on investment) to the hiring manager. Some earnest job seekers think that their work speaks for itself, but that is simply not the case.
Avoid the Job Search Black Hole
I get it, talking about yourself is hard. I’ve written articles about this very topic! Most of us are conditionally programmed from an early age not to talk about ourselves. Do you feel like you are bragging if you discuss your accomplishments?
It always seems impossible until it’s done. -Nelson Mandela
Just in case you are worried about sounding like a ‘know-it-all’ – I have good news for you! Articulating your professional value to potential employers is not bragging. When you develop your career contributions, it’s important that you stick to the facts. Bragging is taking a situation or example and blowing it out of proportion to your own benefit. There is no place for bragging in developing your contribution information.
To create and leverage your career contributions correctly: you must provide clear, succinct examples of situations, projects or focused work where you have positively impacted the organization, team or client. Ideally, you will have either avoided risk, improved something, or created a positive outcome during the course of your work. These are real stories with real results – not something you made up. You are simply stating the truth, explaining your involvement, and what the impact was: that’s it.
Getting Started with Career Contributions
When I work with my clients, the first focus we have is determining their ideal type of job position. This is so you can define your target. It is very difficult to aim at the unknown and even more difficult to provide relevant examples without a focus. Discussing your work is hard enough – make it easier by leveraging your ideal job position(s) as a guideline.
First – pull 2-3 positions from online job boards. The location isn’t as important as the type of role. You want to identify your ideal job position based on your expertise and experience. In other words: your ideal job might be something you have little experience in, yet. You want to leverage most of your existing expertise to shorten your job search time frame.
Second – compare your current resume to the job positions. You want to be around 70-80% match on skills and over 80% on requirements. (Preferred experience or certifications are optional.) Once you have done your comparison and targeted your ideal role; highlight all of the expertise, experience, and job tasks outlined in the job description.
Third – consider what you have highlighted. What do you already have experience in? Leverage this list to develop your relevant career contributions. You can also simply go through each listed responsibility and see if you have an example to back it up. This exercise is critical for your job search.
Developing Your Career Contributions
When you start writing out your career contribution example ‘stories’ – don’t be too concerned about being succinct, that is for later. At first, you need detail and lots of it. Because you have lived your experiences, the tendency is to overlook or skip data that matters to hiring managers and recruiters. There are three main parts to any good career contribution:
- The Catalyst: (business case) what sparked a change or an issue that you needed to solve?
- The Detail:(overview) a very brief synopsis of what happened and your involvement.
- The Impact: (results) how did it affect the company or client in a positive way? Quantify if possible.
Common career contribution questions I get are:
“I really didn’t make any improvements, I just did my job well – does that actually matter?” Yes! Doing your job well matters! In order to discuss it, consider this: what would have happened if you didn’t do your job well?
“I didn’t make any gains at work – my job was to avoid risk, so what do I talk about?” There are many professions that focus on avoiding risk and it is a critical role to have. Consider what risk you avoided and articulate this in your contribution stories.
“I cannot quantify the impact of what I have done, can I use it as an example anyway?” Of course! Obviously, we want to be able to quantify if possible in dollars or percentages – but if you cannot, the contribution is still important.
“Do soft skills count toward valuable career contributions?” Soft skills are important and I encourage you to use them as examples only if you can cite exactly how your skills produced a positive impact. Otherwise, you can list them in your resume instead in an appropriate section.
“Much of my work is under Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) with clients – how do I approach this?” If you performed work under an NDA then feel free to discuss the type of client without naming them. Such as: ‘Fortune 500 Energy Company’.
Finalizing Your Career Contributions
The final step in developing your career contributions is distilling them into impact statements that can be inserted into your resume and LinkedIn. I recommend leading with the actual outcome of your contribution. These statements are usually one or two sentences that capture the essence of the example.
“Reduced the number of open mobile/handheld application defects by 50% in four months by collaborating with subject matter experts and leading a select project team with a focus on improving the customer experience.”
You might notice that this statement doesn’t get into all the details but it does give the reader a taste of where you used your expertise in a real-life situation to benefit the customer and the organization. You also are able to express a tangible result. A good impact statement incites conversation, not finishes it.
A hiring manager is much more likely to be intrigued and ask questions which allows you to elaborate further in the interviewing process. Most importantly, your impact statement showcases your abilities and defines the results you will deliver!
How to Leverage Your Career Contributions
Short, succinct and value-packed impact statements can be inserted into your resume in lieu of boring bullet points about your roles and responsibilities. These are important and can be summarized in a short paragraph. Save the bullet points for your contributions.
On LinkedIn, these statements can live under each relevant Experience. Your finest accomplishments (only 2-3) that are relevant towards your career target can be showcased in your About section on LinkedIn. If you have project work that provides further detail and depth about your expertise, you can add a Project Section to your LinkedIn profile as well.
In interviews: developing your contributions in advance is essential. You can better answer those questions like, “Tell me about a time when…” The interview process will be easier for you because you already have your stories written down! You won’t have to frantically try to remember a situation where you used a particular skill or expertise.
Career Contributions aren’t Just for Job Seekers
For promotions or salary raises: keep your career contributions up to date. It’s a myth that your boss knows exactly what you do. It’s a good idea to keep a running list of the specific examples of how you have added value to your position, the team, your clients, and the organization. Not only is it helpful for performance reviews, but it’s essential for asking for (and backing up) a promotion or a raise.
As another bonus, being able to define and articulate your contributions is helpful for your own self-esteem. While that might sound trivial at first, I argue that your job search has almost as much to do with your attitude as anything else. If you don’t feel like you are good enough – it’s not likely that you will be able to convince someone else that you are a great fit for a job.
Having a healthy mental perspective is just as important as having a healthy list of career contributions. If you have a ‘black hole’ where your self-esteem should be, it’s hard to avoid the job search black hole. Get over your fear of expressing your value and embrace that you do make a difference! It’s important that you stand out, and not stress out, to land your ideal job.