Succeeding in Your Career

The 6 Most Important Things About Your Resume

Some people are better at presenting themselves in person; some are better at doing it in writing. One of the facts of employment life is that you are unlikely to get the chance to do the former if you don’t do a more than adequate job at the latter. Fair or not, many potential employers--and most in large organizations--cannot find the time to interview job candidates who have not already made a plausible case for their desirability on paper. Today’s labor market only compounds the problem for many job-seekers.

Another fact of life is a partial solution for those who find crafting a resume difficult. Commercial services, if not capable friends, are available to assist in the design and completion of an appealing resume. But whether or not the candidate relies on friendly or professional assistance, only he or she can provide the facts about relevant education, training, and experience that will convince a screener that an interview is warranted. Fonts and formats may help, but ultimately content will make the difference.

So here are six practical recommendations for making the resume as effective as possible:

1. Lead with a highlights paragraph that tells a potential employer what well developed skills and relevant experience he can be getting. These items can include systems, equipment, concepts, communication skills, and contacts.

2. Keep experience paragraphs in chronological order. They should be relatively brief but each should include at least one specific accomplishment or problem solved. Be sure these are phrased in meaningful terms, quantitative if possible, but technical jargon that might not be generally familiar should be avoided.

3. Show how you worked well on a team, establishing and maintaining good relationships with people of different skills and backgrounds.

4. Weed out extravagant claims and ambiguous wording in favor of simple, factual statements and clear language, and avoid negative observations about past employers and colleagues.

5. Show how you have pursued continuing education. Include formal courses, live or on-line, as well as on-the-job training, special assignments, and professional society activity.

6. Read your resume from the point of view of a potential employer. Is there enough there to suggest that the candidate behind the resume has something significant to offer in the job?

You may have no way of knowing how many resumes are competing for attention against yours. You can only make sure that yours has enough substance and clarity to make your best case. Good luck.

Valuing People-What They Know and What They Do

Nearly two thousand years ago, one of the sages of the Jews asked, "Who is wise,?" and answered himself, "He who learns from every person." The advice bears consideration in our competitive age when we may be intimidated, repelled, or unimpressed by many around us.

The sage's point, in his presumably less complex era, was that valuable knowledge and behavior traits are widely distributed in any population and that our routine and necessary contacts can be more beneficial to ourselves if we simply pay attention to those around us rather than hurrying by them to reach whatever our goals may be. We would be inclined to tolerate bad jokes or boorish behavior from someone who has data we must have. But do we have time for the low-ranking technical assistant who's been around for 25 years? Do we write him off as someone who never made it or do we contemplate the gold mine of information about the organization he must possess?

And how about some of those personal assistants who run interference for their principals and keep them on their demanding schedules? Besides modeling loyalty and selflessness, they can probably teach us more about time management than many that give the high-priced courses. A conversation with one of those "helpers" could be very enlightening.

It takes a certain amount of humility and openness, but assuming one can learn something from everyone around him can add significantly to one's own value.

Becoming an MVP

In our technological age, the equipment, systems, and processes we work with are constantly being updated or replaced. New is often better, but just as often there are bugs and kinks to be worked out before productivity really improves. How many of us have gone through weeks of trying to master a new machine or system while regular work lagged?

Rather than look at these periods of adjustment as downers, they should be seen as opportunities to focus on a challenge and make a visible contribution to the organization. Here are some tips for making the most of these opportunities:

  • Pay close attention to whatever training or orientation accompanies a new system;
  • Anticipate problems introducing it into your organization;
  • Identify all the applications you can find for your organization;
  • Formulate a simple way to explain the system to all who will work with it; and
  • Share your findings with your team.

The same principles of serious study, analysis, and communication apply to old systems and processes as well. Time-honored methods are taken for granted until someone hears of a better way. Consistently looking for a more efficient, economical, or productive way to do things is the responsibility of some, but the opportunity for all, to become the Most Valuable Player on the team.

Lifelong Education

Few can afford to stop learning just because formal education has been completed. We need to continue growing in knowledge and understanding to fulfill all our human responsibilities, including our careers.

Occupations vary in the degree and pace of technological change. Classroom or on-line courses have become routine, and often required, in some professions. However, even in those jobs involving a relatively stable technology base, methods, procedures, and teamwork can be improved. There are many ways for motivated individuals to enhance their value to their organization and boost their qualifications for advancement.

See how many of these may be relevant for you:

  • Volunteer for committees and task teams;
  • Become active in a professional or trade society;
  • Read the publications of your own and similar organizations;
  • Research a topic of interest and write and submit an article of your own;
  • Analyze the systems and procedures you work with and make suggestions for improvement;
  • Take courses to improve your written or oral communications skills, if needed;
  • Talk to leaders and star performers in your organization about their approach to challenges;
  • Take an active part in a community organization.

The dividends in knowledge, experience, insight, and interpersonal relations will make these kinds of efforts worthwhile.


Find and Learn from a Career Mentor

We come to a new job or organization with skills, knowledge, and a motivation to perform well and make our mark. Whatever our level of experience and self-assurance, however, we are bound to encounter surprises and unanticipated complexities. The difference between really succeeding and floundering can be an in-house guide and role model—a mentor.

Mentoring has achieved recognition in recent decades in both work and community settings. Children deprived of wholesome role models in the home for one reason or another have been saved from lifelong suffering by regular contact with a caring person who offered guidance and taught character traits. So, too, employers have brought out the best in employees by assigning or encouraging their engagement with seasoned, empathetic workers who could facilitate the learning of the job skills and personal interrelationships essential to superior performance.

Many organizations, particularly larger ones, have incorporated mentoring into training and development programs. The practice of “shadowing” a highly regarded senior official or performer to observe techniques and decision-making processes is a key element in many such programs. But in a place which lacks this type of formal arrangement, an employee who wants to go far should take on the responsibility of identifying a person or persons who can provide guidance on how best to work with a team to advance the organization’s mission.

STEP ONE: Learn who the organization’s leaders and outstanding performers are.

STEP TWO: Determine whether any of these people have the interest and character to invest time and effort in counseling and advising a junior colleague.

Not all top performers have that sincere motivation or the communication skills to convey what they know and how they feel. It may be necessary to interview several prospective mentors before a good match is made and a relationship begun.

A mentor can offer insight into the “informal” organization; i.e., “how things really get done around here.” Conversely, he or she can identify unseen roadblocks and obstacles, from especially troublesome processes to personal conflicts and rivalries. The mentor can identify the most reliable sources of information, make introductions, provide technical advice, and, perhaps most important , model the personal traits and skills that make him or her a highly effective, much-sought-after contributor to organizational success.

If both the technical and personal attributes do not seem to reside in any one person, two or more mentors may be preferable. In any event, the bottom line is that an employee who aspires to be a star or a leader—or both—can get there more easily with guidance from those who have already made it on their merits.

The Internet: A Two-Edged Sword

People seeking employment or a job change have a marvelous tool in the World-Wide Web. Seemingly limitless information can be accessed on industries, companies, technological and commercial developments, and key executives. These types of data can be both useful and time-saving in searching out prospects, evaluating their worth as prosective employers, and building credibility as a candidate for a specific job.

There is a danger, however, in relying exclusively or too heavily on the Internet. First, the value of the information has its limitations: some emanating from a business firm may be slanted in its favor, while some from critics, competitors, or regulators may reflect an axe-to-grind. Second, the written word alone will not convey details, nuances, and opinions that its authors may be constrained from publishing.

So while the Internet can save today's job-seeker a good deal of time, shoe leather, and library research, it can't do the whole information-gathering job. If at all possible, one should attempt to talk with people who have worked in a field or employer of interest to get an accurate picture of challenges, conditions, and career prospects. An actual visit to a prospective workplace can be revealing as well. Failing those opportunities, one should at least spend some time analyzing published data and attempting to resolve conflicting information or claims.

Using all your information to make yourself the best possible candidate is another story.


Give Yourself the Edge

There's a lot more you can know about a potential employer nowadays. The Internet and cable business channels carry lots of useful information never to be found in annual reports and press releases. In part, this information can help you decide if you want to work for an organization. And if you decide in its favor, it can help give you an edge in competing for a job.

Your RESUME can benefit from detailed knowledge of the missions, major projects, finances, and even the setbacks of a company or agency. You can better document the skills and experience you've acquired with the needs of the prospective employer. Get as specific as you can:

"I headed a task team that solved Problem X with Solution Y."

" I'm currently taking a course in System Z, wth applications to your ---".

When it comes to the INTERVIEW, you can respond to questions with answers targeted at ongoing activities and even future challenges. You will also be able to ask intelligent questions of your own that will reflect the information-gathering you've done. Interviewers and ultimate selecting officials will appreciate the effort, initiative, and interest demonstrated by your command on both sides of the ball.

Here's a research investment that pays off--quickly and effectively.

Volunteer or Not?

The short, not immediately helpful answer is that there are times one should and times one shouldn't. The trick, as with many other aspects of work life, is to recognize the opportunities to help the team without hurting your own prospects.

Of course, the cardinal rule is to make sure you're doing your own job as well as you can. Nevertheless, there will come times when a sudden increase in workload, an unanticipated problem, or the unscheduled absence of a colleague will call for burden-sharing. If volunteers are requested, consider the following:

*Is someone better qualified than you to assume the burden available and willing to do it?

*Are you capable of performing the assignment or quickly learning how to do it?

*Will it harm your ability to keep up with your regular work?

*Will it add to your skill set?

*Will it interfere with evening classes or important family matters for any appreciable time?

If you can give the right answers to these questions, then you should look favorably on the opportunity.

There is also a reason to volunteer even when not requested. That is when you have become aware of a problem and brought it to the attention of your supervisor or manager. On this type of occasion, you should be prepared to research and find a solution if it is within your competence. Your team spirit and the results you produce can help you build a strong foundation for future career success.

Beware of Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is a pejorative term most commonly associated with government. We disdain, and many regularly condemn, what appear to be excessive numbers of paper-pushers administering excessive numbers of rules and regulations, taking excessive amounts of time to get something done.

Whatever the caricature, the phenomenon has long been widely observed in the profit-motivated private sector as well. Although the critical mass for the birth and growth of bureaucracy cannot be calculated, it is a danger to be anticipated once an organization is too big to be in constant close touch with all its parts day by day. Mighty corporations, as well as medium sized-businesses, have lost their competitive agility in a blizzard of paperwork obscuring vital goals and pathways.

How does it start? It can be based on a positive or negative experience. An action or procedure may have been found exemplary, and a well-meaning leader wants to be sure it's done that way from now on. So the practice is made mandatory, it's written up, everybody is required to follow it, and maybe even a report is instituted. More paper, less productive work, and, perhaps most important, individual initiative and innovation are discouraged.

Conversely, someone may have made a mistake or conspicuously failed at a task and drawn criticism on the organization. The well-meaning leader reacts vigorously. A list of potentially risky actions will be prohibited or allowed only subject to a cumbersome process of clearances or approvals. The results are the same as above.

This is not to say that clear standard procedures or decisive, well-targeted remedial actions and controls are not indispensable tools of good management. It is to say, however, that effective organizations need to guard against unneeded restraints on the positive motivations and creativity of a carefully selected, trained, and trusted workforce, and that the introduction of rules, reports, and documentation should be viewed with a healthy skepticism by all conscientious team members.


Be Your Own Advocate

In dealing with the increasingly complex world of health care, many authorities recommend arming oneself with an advocate. Whether it be surgery or other crucial and sophisticated options presented, a trusted associate can help a likely stressed patient, almost by definition not at the top of his/her game, review options, make choices, and monitor subsequent actions.

The world of work does not usually involve as many life-or-death crises, but many situations arise that leave employees in need of advocacy. Managers are focused on the missions, policies, and progress of the organization. What's good for the organization is not necessarily good for each member of the team. A valued employee may find her unit not tapping her expertise as much as in the past. Financial constraints may have put a pinch on training for future advancement or continuing education. Someone else may have received a promotion or plush assignment that is a stepping-stone to higher office.

Since typical work situations happily don't involve diminished physical or emotional capacity, an employee can be his or her own best advocate. While not being overbearing, he makes sure that his supervisors and managers know that he is doing his part to maintain and enhance his qualifications and expects management to supplement those efforts with content that he cannot provide on his own. Giving her best effort at all times, she expects appropriate recognition and constructive correction when necessary.

That means establishing a candid and open relationship with supervisors that results in continuing and candid two-way communications. These regular exchanges will provide the opportunity for the employee to present ideas and innovations, and for supervisors to keep team members as up to date as possible on the organization's plans and progress.

You need an advocate; let it be you.

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