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A HeadHunter's advice on getting an interview

Batting Zero on Resume Response?

The most common complaint heard by this headhunter is, ‘I’m working hard on my job search sending out 20 resumes a day but nothing meaningful ever comes back’. Well in contrast to most of the self-help advice you receive, here are some specific actions to improve your odds. Yes, and I use the word odds because no matter how much energy and focus applied, the numbers are so overwhelming it has become a numbers game.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the problem in a nutshell. Google is receiving a resume every 30 seconds. Southwest Airlines has taken a different tact and is now employing an Internet screening questionnaire. This process is the only way in and unless the applicant scores 100, the entire process comes to a dead halt. Here’s my point; an increasing number of people are chasing a dwindling number jobs and everyone is using the Internet as their primary tool. We are all part of the problem; get it?

Okay, now put yourself in the position of the resume screener seeking only the most qualified candidates in a tsunami of responses. The task is initially overwhelming so on first pass you take a negative approach – a plethora of resumes must be rejected while discovering a chosen few. And keep in mind these responses are coming in so rapidly and in such a standardized fashion, your mind glazes over after an hour or two of in-depth reading. Oh, oh, now you are just start scanning each one in 10 or 20 seconds and unless it grabs your attention, it’s deleted.

Something else often heard on this side of the telephone is, ‘Every headhunter wants my resume written in a different way’. Why? Because he is a creature of habit, because he wants you to write his sales document, because your resume is flawed…..who knows? But please, please don’t set your CV in stone. It’s merely a flexible tool for seeking an interview not some piece of artwork cast in stone.

Now the first and only rule is to apply for positions for which you truly qualify. Reaching upward a bit is acceptable, but let’s limit ourselves to the real world. No one wants to relocate a salesman who is going to leave his Rolodex behind and spend the next 3 months finding a new house, dentist, etc. No one wants to take a chance on your career transition with so many dead-on candidates competing. No one wants to promote you to an executive level because you are a people person. So please stop contributing to the resume blizzard and concentrate on the task at hand.

Now if you are suited to the advertised position, the challenge is to change the reader’s mindset; getting him to place your CV in the short pile rather than hitting delete. Is he going to read that beautifully constructed cover letter you craftily addressed ‘To whom it may concern’? Probably not! So what should be the first thing read on the resume after it is ascertained you are in an acceptable geography. I’ll tell you what it should be – a personal objective that resonates with his desired attributes for the position.

After your name and contact information, before your Executive Summary, Experience, or whatever, begin your sales document with Objective. You know what the reader is looking for; you read it in the position description – play it back in your personal search goals. Wait, I’m not asking to misrepresent yourself or to fabricate anything; this is a job you qualify for (see above) and that you want. Your objective should be so worded as to grab the reader’s attention and get him to read on.

If you have succeeded this far, the next challenge to one of wording past responsibilities to indicate you can handle the position and that you are a ‘value add’. By the way, history is for historians. Catch the eye by concentrating keywords, mention of a common customers, telling success stories, etc. Well you get the idea: 1. Get the screener’s attention, 2. Create a positive attitude toward your paper and 3. Sell yourself.

In closing let me leave you with this litmus test. If the position is worth the time to tailor your resume, then do it and send it out immediately. However if you are dubious, the reader will also be dubious per your credentials. Best here to take a pass and don’t further contribute to the paper jam. Following this methodology will create more work and less email, but your odds for success will dramatically increase. You will be addressing the psyche of the gatekeeper rather than just going through time worn motions. Think like an employer, work smart and follow up; you’re now in the game. Good hunting.

By Ronald Ternosky,