Category Archives: Résumés

Don’t Use an “Objective” Statement on Your Résumé! Please!

woman holding nose

If there’s one suggestion that bears repeating at frequent intervals to job seekers, it is this: Avoid including an Objective statement on your résumé. Please. Few things will get a hiring manager to quickly move on to the next résumé in the pile than some poorly worded, self-serving Objective statement.

Some résumé writers and career professionals continue to suggest using Objective statements, but they are quickly recognized by hiring managers as euphemisms for “I need a job.” Forget what other authors write about creating an awe-inspiring Objectives section on your résumé—it is self-serving, states the obvious, takes up precious space on the page, and is not read by hiring managers. Your objective, as implied in your crafted cover letter, is to sell the hiring manager on how you can help that hiring manager solve problems; don’t use your résumé to talk about you and your needs.

Here are some examples of useless, ineffective Objective statements:

Objective (for an electrical engineering position): To obtain a challenging Test Engineering position with a dynamic high technology company.

Objective (for a technical writer position): A senior-level technical communications position in a company that demands quality documentation focused on customer needs.

Objective (for a criminal investigation management position): Seeking a challenging position as a Deputy Chief Investigator where I can pursue my goals and be an important asset in the organization.

These Objective statements are all self-serving (“here’s what I want”) from individuals who have employee mentalities and thus fail in those critical initial few seconds to hook the hiring manager’s interest in his or her pursuit of finding a problem solver among the masses.

Next post, we’ll take a look at what you should use to replace the Objective statement: The Professional Summary.

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Keep a Log of Project Successes

This sounds like obvious advice, but far too many people think of their project accomplishments only when it’s time to update their résumé, often years later. By then, important details may have escaped their memory. Keeping a weekly log of project accomplishments and challenges helps keep you on course throughout the journey through minor adjustments, rather than having to make a major “dead reckoning” midcourse correction or as the project comes to a conclusion.

Here are just a few reasons why you should maintain a detailed project log regardless of the size of the project.

  • A log of past project accomplishments not only helps with crafting an attention-getting résumé, but serves as a project history and reference guide for when you encounter the same or similar projects later.
  • A detailed project log helps capture your thought processes and how you assimilate, formulate, and execute your ideas throughout the project history.
  • When you need talking points for an annual review, promotion opportunity, or job interview, you have the details handy.
  • A detailed project log shows you the dead ends you may have been down once, and can avoid them in the future for similar projects.
  • It helps you frame your participation as a contribution to the higher strategic objectives of the organization rather than as a “task completion” if you update your résumé further down the road.
  • A detailed project log helps you calculate reliable quantitative data (dollars earned, costs avoided, percent improvements, etc.) that further demonstrates your value as a solutions provider to the organization.

Participating in internal process improvement initiatives can pepper your résumé with notable accomplishments.

My friend Stan Smith was part of a division publishing initiative at a former employer where seven people were charged with designing a new plan for creating, managing, and disseminating technical information to address emerging changes in the publications world. While the cost to implement the 18-month plan was between $1.5 and $2 million dollars (in 1998), the initiative was projected to save $2.3 million dollars in publishing costs and overhead each year after implementation.

Even though Stan wasn’t responsible for the entire initiative, his contribution is mentioned on his résumé. In fact, his detailed weekly log entries were a significant component of the final published study that was presented to upper management.

My wife  kept a project log of how she prepared for taking the exam for the “Certified Fraud Examiner” designation. During the lengthy practice test and study sections, she noted which sections were harder than others, and mnemonics she created to help her memorize key information, terminology, and formulas. Her notes were later published through the certified fraud examiner association website as a study tool for others to use as they prepared for the hugely comprehensive exam.

If you are in the habit of keeping a project log, keep doing it; if not, today’s a good day to start.

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A Couple of Items to Remove from Your Résumé

Some things don't belong on your résumé

Some things don’t belong on your résumé

In many of the individual résumé evaluations I perform for client organizations, I see on a consistent basis mention of two items that don’t belong on a résumé: Microsoft Office expertise and outside interests/community involvement. Unless the job posting specifically asks how you spend your time away from the office, it’s not pertinent at the résumé level. As I’ve said repeatedly, the hiring process involves the staged release of information that attests to your professional capabilities. You provide the hiring manager with a little in the cover letter; a little more in the résume; even more at the interview; and–if you follow my “Continuous Promotion Approach” I write about in Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0–even more after the interviews are finished.

One reason to remove any mention of your knowledge of Microsoft Office is because today, it is no longer a differentiating factor. Back when companies were starting to transition from DOS-based word processing applications, like WordPerfect and XyWrite to name a few, it carried more weight. Today, my middle school nephews are using Microsoft Office for classroom projects. And be sure to remove that “Certified Office 2000 Professional” designation from your résumé–that just screams “obsolete skills.”

I suggest only listing those advanced software applications or those specific to your professional specialty where you have expertise.

As for listing outside interests or community involvement, those things are better left for the job interview–and some are better left for conversation after you’ve been hired. For example, mentioning Xtreme sports, “avid mountain climber”, or “skydiving enthusiast” might label you as a high-risk candiate for the time off you’ll need to mend injuries. While every employer wants to hire well-rounded employees who have lives outside of work (well, maybe except for the high-tech world), the space on a résumé is valuable real estate and should be used to promote you as the qualfied professional you claim to be. If it doesn’t support that claim, leave it off. I have in the past asked candidates about their outside interests (benign interests and otherwise) and often they exude a bit too much enthusiasm for their hobbies, so in some cases it could be a red flag to the hiring manager about commitment levels.

Résumé Fraud: From the Mailroom to the Boardroom

What do former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson, former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patrick Couwenberg, former Cabot Electronics CIO James DeHoniesto, and former RadioShack CEO David Edmondson have in common? They all had fraudulent information on their résumés that helped them reach their executive positions.  Thompson, DeHoniesto, and Edmondson all resigned after being found out; in Couwenberg’s case, he was removed from the bench after lengthy public hearings. Other high-level executives caught with fraudulent information on their résumés include former Etsy CEO Rob Kalin, former MIT admissions dean Marilee Jones, former Bausch & Lomb CEO Ronald Zarrella, former Notre Dame head coach George O’Leary, former Homeland Security senior director Laura Callahan, former U.S. Olympic Committee head Sandra Baldwin, former Sunbeam CEO Al Dunlap, and former CEO and President of Lotus Corporation Jeff Papows.

Are these highly publicized cases of résumé fraud the tip of the iceberg, or are they just isolated instances of high profile executives?

According to Marquet International  LTD., a firm that vets corporate executives and conducts extensive due diligence investigations of corporate directors and management teams, they see an “astonishing” amount of résumé fraud in the course of their executive vetting and investigations. “Academic résumé fraud has increased between 20 and 30 percent over the past five decades,” says Peter Levine, a background investigator. According to Marquet International CEO Christopher Marquet, “When executive lies go unchecked, an organization can be tremendously damaged and embarrassed by negative press, lost revenue, loss of reputation, and plunging stock prices.” One consulting firm in New York City reported that more than half of the high-tech résumés in their database had employment histories that were misrepresented. Executive search firm CTPartners found that 64 percent of candidates overstate their accomplishments, while 71 percent misrepresent the number of years in a particular position with an employer. Most of the time, however, people augment a title or salary figure in the hopes of negotiating a better compensation package.

Such in-depth executive vetting and background checks can be expensive—anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. But many times, a simple phone call to a candidate’s alma mater can confirm a claimed degree, or to a former employer to verify a title, responsibilities, or claimed accomplishments. Too often, hiring managers or a board of directors may be so impressed with a candidate’s résumé they get “schmoozed” and fail to perform the due diligence so necessary today, particularly with candidates claiming education, degrees, and experience from overseas.

My list of common résumé “embellishments” seen over my 25 years experience is pretty much the same as what’s being reported by other companies and research. Here are Marquet International’s ten most common résumé fabrications based on their experience (which parallels my own) and both our suggestions for addressing them.

  1. Stretching employment dates to cover gaps in employment. This is easy enough to verify by calling the former employer to verify the dates.
  2. Inflating achievements, professional skills, computer software knowledge, foreign language proficiency. This claimed knowledge is sometimes more difficult to assess and verify during the screening portion of the hiring process. Testing is possible during interviews and using situational and behavioral interviewing techniques can help. However, I have never been tested about the claim on my résumé to possess “conversational” level proficiency in Spanish, which I have.
  3. Enhancing job titles and responsibilities. This too is a common résumé enhancement; again, a phone call to a former employer can validate any claimed job title and duties.
  4. Exaggerating education and bogus degrees.  Another familiar embellishment, seen often with highly publicized cases involving executives. In my experience, I mostly have encountered detailed listings of academic and professional courses as attempts to defect attention away from the fact that a candidate does not meet the education prerequisite as set by an employer. In addition, the National Student Clearinghouse (www.studentclearinghouse.org) can help with verifying education credentials.
  5. Unexplained employment gaps and periods of self-employment. There’s nothing wrong with gaps in employment so long as the gap can be explained, such as time off for raising a family or returning to school for an advanced degree; but “serving 5 to 10 in San Quentin for grand larceny” should raise a flag. Self-employment isn’t a sin—I was self-employed for several years after a layoff and it was a legitimate period of time working for myself for clients.
  6. Omitting past employment. I’ve seen a few instances whereby an employment date was extended at one employer to cover the dates from a subsequent position where the employee was fired for some offense or unwarranted behavior. When employment dates are stretched on purpose, it’s usually to conceal something.
  7. Bogus or outdated credentials. In a previous post, I touted the value of credentials and professional designations to help in career advancement. A 2001 ADP study revealed that 23 percent of applicants falsified certifications and licenses on their résumés. All it takes is a phone call to the credentialing organization to verify the candidate holds the designation and is in good standing without censure or other disciplinary actions.
  8. Phony reasons for leaving a previous position. A recent study by HireRight reports that 11 percent of applicants misrepresent the reason for leaving a previous job. A phone call to a previous employer verifies any claims for leaving the employ of that entity. If an employee is not eligible for rehire, then prudence dictates passing on the candidate.
  9. Providing fraudulent references. I have encountered applicants who provided their best friends as references—complete with bogus titles and sometimes phony company names. Rather than call the phone number provided with the reference, HR often used search engines to locate the company’s primary phone number and start the reference checking from that end.
  10. Misrepresenting military service.  Verifying military service can be difficult and time consuming. The National Personnel Records Center (http://www.archives.gov/st-louis) is the central repository of personnel-related records for both the military and civil services of the United States Government. Given the time required to obtain verification, employment offers should be made contingent upon verification of military service records.

A thorough background check for potential hires involves more than searching on Google for any negative information. Due diligence for high-dollar executive-level positions demands reviewing criminal records, regulatory measures, civil lawsuits, bankruptcy filings, and media coverage to avoid costly discovery after the fact that your CEO was once involved with smuggling weapons into a foreign country.

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