Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Get Your Resume Seen Today

As the economy picks up, you may find yourself looking for a job - or looking to move up by moving to another job. Let me give you a bit of the employer's perspective to help you out.

Disclaimer: I'm not an asshole. Really. I'm just a guy trying to run a business. And when I try to grow my business I have to find good people who have the skills I'm looking for right now. I'm going to put out an advertisement and be overwhelmed with resumes.

Please do all the things you need to do to get a job.

Please avoid the things that will just annoy possible employers.

I know it's hard to blast the universe with a million resumes and get little or no response. I know it's very difficult to be out there looking for a job in a down economy. But it's also difficult to be looking to hire and to dig through mountains of "spam" applications.

Hiring is difficult. Keeping that in mind will help you get past the first few hurdles. When I go through the hiring process, I have to cull through hundreds of horrible, unqualified resumes. Then I ask for appointments and 60% of the applicants don't respond. I make interview appointments and 25% don't show up. I make second interview appointments and another 25% don't show up. It's difficult and depressing.

So when you drop your resume into the "inbox" of that process, you need to work hard to make sure you make the cut.

The first time I look at a resume, I plan to spend less than ten seconds per applicant. In fact, the first time someone looks at a resume, it's not me. There are a few requirements I have that cull out most applicants. One is Microsoft Certification. So I have someone look through the inbox and eliminate everyone whose resume does not say Microsoft Certified Professional.

In a perfect world you, the perfect candidate, will apply to us, the perfect company, and we'll be together forever. In the real world, your perfect application comes in with 200 others, most of which are garbage, spam, unrelated, or unqualified. In a batch of 200 resumes, I'm lucky to find ten people who are qualified and don't turn me off immediately.

Don't fool yourself into thinking you have an equal chance. Your first goal is make sure I don't throw away your resume. After that, if you're one of the ten, then you'll have an equal chance.

Here are some tips. Please take them seriously.

Do These Things

- Make Your Resume Readable
In the 21st century a technical resume should be provided as a PDF. You can get a free plug-in from Microsoft to create PDFs right out of Word. Or buy PDF Complete or some other tool. You don't know what my settings are in Word, so your Word doc might show up on my screen with lines and markup and all kinds of stuff you didn't intend.

Invest $20 in a book on resumes and follow their advice with a grain of salt. DO use one inch margins all around. DO use a readable font. Don't worry about going to two or three pages. If you're the right candidate, eight pages is okay.

- Offer Up Your Microsoft Transcript
Beginning this Fall, KPEnterprises is requiring that you give us a link to the Microsoft transcript tool. This is a pretty cool way to show off your technical expertise. Go to to register and share your MCP transcript. If you put that link with the access code in your resume or cover letter you will stand out from the crowd.

- Name Your Resume Well
If I get 150 resumes, 125 of them will be named something like "resume.doc" or "currentresume.doc." But if your resume is "Anderson Resume.doc" it will make my life easier. If I were to search my archives for "resume.doc," I'd probably get 10,000 hits. But even with the name Anderson, I'd get very few hits.

And don't name your resume something cute like "The best technician at any price.doc." Cute works after you've made the first cut. Before that it's just annoying.

- Explain Large Time Gaps
If your most recent job ended a year ago, that's a major flag. I actually go looking for an explanation of this. Took time off for a kid? No problem. Worked in an unrelated field for a year? Probably okay if the rest of the resume is fine. But you have to understand that every employer will want to know about that big blank. Rather than giving an excuse to reject you, just put some explanation in your resume.

- Be Positive
As I mentioned, it's difficult to look for a job and it's difficult to be hiring right now. Everyone's a little stressed. Everyone's a little unsure about the future. You want to eat. I want to avoid hiring the wrong person.

Perhaps the best way to stand out is to be very up-beat. Help me see a brighter, more wonderful future with you on my team.

- Have a Good Cover Letter
I don't need a long letter. Just 2-3 paragraphs to show me that you are articulate. Please proof read. I know you're not the sales person. But I need people who can communicate with clients. This is more important with all the remote work we do than it used to be. If 80% of your communication is by email, you need to know how to say what you want.

Don't Do These Things

- Don't Ignore the Salary Range
When the job says $X/hour firm, don't ask for the moon. If you're really worth $60,000, that's great. Don't apply for the $14/hour bench tech job. No one's going to say "I was looking for someone to install hard drives but you have ten years of project management skills so I'll pay you three times the salary." It's not going to happen. If I need an entry level tech, I'm not going to move from $20/hr to $30/hr because you have lots of experience.

- Don't Have Typos
Seriously. Read your resume. If you send me a resume in a Word doc and it's got red squiggly underlines all over the place, I'm not even going to look at them long enough to make fun of you. I'm going to close it, delete it, and move on. This takes me one second.

And have someone else read your resume and cover letter -- aloud if possible. "Your excellent add caught my intention." Delete.

Note, please, that the employer can make all the typos he wants. The world is not fair. The one offering the money gets to decide who to hire.

- Don't Ignore Basic Qualifications
If the job announcement says "Microsoft Certification Required" and you don't have it, do not apply. Period. You will never get a chance to tell me that certifications are meaningless and you know brilliant, talented people without certs, blah, blah, blah. Your opinion on this subject does not matter. If the certification is easy, stupid, and meaningless, then go get it before you apply. If I say you have to have a license or certification, then you have to have it. Period.

Along these lines, don't bother starting your cover letter with an explanation of why you're not qualified. Nothing personal, but I've got a stack of resumes and most of them aren't qualified. Go get qualified. If you need a clean DMV, stop driving like an idiot and come back in three years. If you need a professional license, go get it.

- Don't Provide Fake Certifications
Your tech school is not doing you a favor if they tell you that passing their class on MCSE training allows you to use the title "Associate degree in MCSE A.A.S.S.X.Y.Z." There is no such thing and whatever it is, it's not an MCSE. If you have an MCSE, say "MCSE, acquired June 2006." Similarly, if the only place I see MCSE is a bullet point under XYZ Technical Institute, I'm going to assume you took the prep class but not the exam. If you have a certification, say so.

- Don't Apply for Every Remotely-Technical Job
If I'm advertising for a desktop or help desk technician and your cover letter begins with "I'm seeking a position as a programmer" I stop reading and delete. Maybe you just forgot to update the cover letter. I don't know. But I know I don't want to hire a tech who really wants to be a programmer.

And your resume will be buried deep in a cavern next to the Ark of the Covenant on the day I need a programmer, so you'll have to send it again when that day comes.

- Don't Be Cute and Colorful.
Please make your resume and cover letter readable to someone in a hurry. Flashing borders and bouncing graphics don't substitute for certifications and experience.

- Don't Ignore the Location Requirement
I have nothing against people who live in other cities or countries. But please read the job description. If you live in Iowa and want to work for me, driving to client offices in Sacramento, then you have to move to Sacramento. If you live in Bangalore and the job description includes stuffing envelopes in Sacramento, you can't telecommute.

- Don't Send Links Rather Than The Resume
Thankfully, this trend has faded. Our policy is that we will not click on (or some other service). I don't know what's there. And I'll never find out. We educate our clients to never click on unknown links that show up in email from strangers. We follow the same advice. And remember: Everyone else is making it easy on me by providing a resume. You're making me take an extra step.

- Don't Attach Irrelevant Files
When I open your email and you've accidentally included listings for all the jobs you're applying for, or letters to other employers, I'm never going to write back and tell you that you made a mistake. Be careful. Go slow.

- Don't List Your Requirements
Don't state a bunch of your requirements in the cover letter. At this point, your goal is to shine like the sun and get through the first cut. If you have time restrictions or need special days off, save it for after you've been offered a job, or if you get asked about it in an interview.

Make me want you. Once I want you, I'll be a lot more flexible.

Note: Several people disagree with me on this. But today I'm doing the hiring.

- Don't Ask for Benefits
Don't ask about benefits in your cover letter. Even if we offer everything you need, this is not the place to bring it up. My reaction will be "This doesn't taste right." If benefits are a deal-breaker, send a separate email and ask whether/which benefits are included. That separates the benefits discussion from the resume sorting discussion.

- Don't Over-State Your Awesomeness
I've had more than one cover letter that said something like "Don't be intimidated by my skill level . . . I can bring extensive knowledge to this low level position." I'm not impressed. Similarly, don't promise that you can bring a new level of organization to my company unless you actually know something about how we're organized. Remember, if the phrase "Forget You" floats through my mind, I press the delete button and you are forgotten.


The Fastest Cuts

Most of the resumes are rejected for just a handful of issues. Here are the top three:

1) No Microsoft Certification
Sorry. Arbitrary, perhaps. But it's just a requirement.

2) Not local to Sacramento
We are very proud of what we can do remotely. But when the position is in the Central Valley, you just have to live here.

3) Over Qualified
This is easier to spot than under qualified. Got a Ph.D. in Information Systems, spent 20 years at IBM, and made $80,000 on your last job? Somehow I think you won't stay with us at $20/hour hoping to get a bump to $21.

The Biggest Boost

Let's look at the other side: Who stands out the most?

1) A Good Cover Letter
In some sense, it doesn't matter what you say. Just say something and present yourself well. I personally don't hire people to sit in Dilbert Cubes, head down, avoiding human contact. So a paragraph or two goes a long ways.

2) Organize Your Resume
Get help if you need it. Always ask for advice and tell them to be brutal. This document is worth tens of thousands of dollars to you. Sculpt it with care!

Think about what you would look for. Is it easy to find certifications/education, Job dates, titles, and companies? All the details about "Improved capacity 27% in six months" is useful AFTER I figure out where you were and what you were doing.

3) Show You Can Do The Job
Give examples that show skills you think will be relevant. "I'm great with organizing small projects" or "I helped write the procedure for setting up a new client." Be someone who can add to the team.

As I said before - Make me want you!


The bottom line: This isn't fun for you and it isn't fun for me.

Look good and professional. Don't waste my time. Don't do things that will get you rejected right off the bat.

And I wish you luck in your search. Getting the right job can make your life truly enjoyable. And that's the way it should be.


Join Karl for a Zero Downtime Migration Seminar

Cincinnati October 24th

Seattle November 3rd


  1. You mean I'm not the only one that thinks a Red Squiggle in Word for anything other than a name is an automatic disqualification?

  2. Had a good one today.

    Did troublshoting on the swing shit.


  3. I'm sure that there's something preventing us from sharing redacted copies of some of the doozies we've seen, ala The Daily WTF?

  4. Sounds like a good domain name.

  5. Well put!! This post should be required reading for every applicant. I am considering linking to it from our jobs page, and if you don't pass a simple quiz based on the content, you can't submit your resume.


Feedback Welcome

Please note, however, that spam will be deleted, as will abusive posts.

Disagreements welcome!