Job Search Advice

I get asked on a regular basis to pass on resumes to my connections via LinkedIn or my customers. Sometimes it is very directed (i.e. can you give this to Bob at XYZ company) and sometimes it is very broad (i.e. get this to everyone). 

Before you give your resume to someone to distribute, please take a look at these simple rules. I have hired a few hundred people in my life. In order to hire 1 person, you have to interview 4-5. To interview 4-5 you have to phone screen 20. To phone screen 20, you have to read 200 resumes. I don’t claim to be an expert, but if you do the math, I think you can see where I am coming from. These are tips that have been collected over the years but they are as true today as they were back then and I will continue to add to this list.

1. Don’t lie. We’ll find out. I had to pull an offer because someone did not pass the background check once. If you put something on your resume about a place you worked at, you can assume that I am going to call my buddy at that company. It’s a small world, I will know someone there, it never fails.

2. Don’t focus on responsibilities, focus on results. Don’t tell me your were responsible for making widgets, tell them that you made the best widgets and what your performance levels were (top 3 on the team, etc.) I don’t want to hire people who manage things, I want to hire people who get results.

3. Be concise. Bullet points are better than paragraphs – tells me that you can get to the point and not waste my time. This is especially true for marketing (my field). Flowery speech may be fine for some industries, but it may prevent someone from giving your resume the proper attention.

4. Be real. Start with an objective then get right into your experience, most recent first. The objective tells me what you are looking for. Be specific as a general one like “apply my skills at a winning company” is worthless but “an opportunity to apply my supply chain skills with a company focused on the automotive industry” helps narrow down who you are. If you can be specific then skip it as it looks weak and generic if your not specific. Some people believe that non-traditional resumes that list skills and experiences and wonderful facts first and then list 6 companies that they worked at with no detail will set them apart. BS. If I can’t figure out what you did where, you don’t get the call to come in. I look at resumes in stacks of 50-60 at a time. If I can’t easily track down what the hell is going on, I pass. EXCEPTION: Technical folks. For them, listing skills, languages, etc. is important, but follow through and tell them at what company you did what at.

5. Length. When you are 24 years old and you have a 3-page resume, you’re likely to get passed on – don’t pad the resume with lots of data to make it “look impressive.” Some of the best resumes I’ve seen are single pages. Contrary thought – if you’re 40 and you can barely fill a single page you have the same problem. Use space to your advantage – don’t leave really wide margins that force text on to the next page. Don’t leave orphans (3-4 lines of text on page 2).

6. Header. Make sure that page 2 has your name and phone number. About 10-20% of the printed resumes become unstapled while reviewing – this makes it easier to keep people in sync.

7. Acronyms are bad. Technical Acronyms (XML, UDI, etc.) are fine because people should know what they mean. I’ve worked for the COC, S&P, HSB, etc. Know what those are? Nope, they’re company specific. Spell them out.

8. Email – get a life. Nobody gets hired in a corporate setting if they have an email like “” . There are tons of free services. Get an email based on your name and use it. Also, DON’T use your current work email or phone number. This tells prospective employers that you wouldn’t think twice about wasting their resources. Also, if your employer is monitoring your mail/phone (and, yes they are) you may be tipping your hand unknowingly and may find yourself out of a job before you have a replacement.

9. Hobbies. As if. Nobody cares about what you like to do on the weekends. I want you from 8-5 and that’s it. Some people thinks this shows they are “well rounded”. Let’s face it, I’d rather hire a workaholic – I’ll get more out of them. Some people believe that by listing hobbies they might get consideration that they wouldn’t normally get without them. If the difference between getting an interview and not getting it is the fact that you play tennis or are an avid reader, then you are sadly disappointed. If tennis is the only thing to get you in the door, you will NEVER be hired because you don’t have the other skills.

10. Thank You notes. Few people send them, few people read the ones that are sent. However, they are a nice formality that shows respect. If you are going to take the time to send one, take a minute and mention something that you had in common or something specific for the interview, it won’t seem like a form letter then. A few years ago an email thank you was a no-no, but times have changed. Paper is dead. I get mail very irregularly. Because of that, a paper note makes it to my desk about 2-3 weeks later. Email is the best, but you can usually ask a sly question to figure out how they like to communicate.

11. References. CHECK WITH THEM FIRST. Ask them “what will you say about me”. The worst reference you can have will say “yeah, he worked for me, he was OK I guess.” Ugh. If you are going to have a reference, make sure they will say something really good about you. And make them specific to your job. I had a guy use his dentist. Another used his mom.

12. What the hell??? Have someone read it first and make them be really critical of you. In 1998 I actually had someone include “Miss Such and Such County, 1987.” That was 11 years ago, and COMPLETELY inappropriate for a marketing job. Best one yet: “Homecoming queen runner-up” Huh? Do you think she has an axe to grind after all these years. Keep it relevant (see #3)

13. Get an in. Use tools like to find people you may know that are in the company. Be very selective in your own social network. Some people like to feel important because they have thousands of contacts in their network. Great. I check and see that we have a mutual contact and I call them about you. They hardly know you and give a lukewarm review. Don’t treat the social networks as a game to see how many contacts you can acquire, use it to get some good quality contacts. Also use them to find someone you know at the company you are targeting. You need to find out about the culture, company, etc. Maybe they have no impact or pull, but make sure you know about the company.

14. Do the research. The internet is a series of tubes, so use the Google to find out everything you can. I always ask an interviewee “what should we be doing better, where are we exposed?” If you know about the company you can drop phrases about initiatives, products, people, etc. It shows you are interested and that you know what you are getting into. I once started a phone screen by saying “we just announced that we would lay off 2500 people last month, why in the world would you send your resume here today?” They had no answer. There is an old theory that you should send resumes out to a million companies, something has to work. Congratulations, you just became Pizza Hut. What you want to do is target a company or a job and go after it. You significantly increase your chances of winning the role.

15. Dress for the job. I interviewed someone last week for a position on my team. He works in our department so we just chose a time later in the week to meet. No socks. Jeans. This was a marketing/business development job for Europe, the person would be calling on the heads of small and medium companies, occasionally even a larger company. That doesn’t work. You are always better to be overdressed, even if you know the people and it is a casual environment. This says “I care.”

16. Don’t throw your company under the bus. Do you want to earn 10% less then I am willing to pay you? Then tell me your company is unstable and you fear for your job. I can get you cheap if your boss is a jerk. A very wise boss once told me “don’t ever run FROM something, run TO something.” If you work for Enron, you are looking for more personal growth.

17. Think about the future. Where do you want to be in 5 years? It’s a cheesy question but it always gets asked. The worst possible answers are “I don’t know” or “vice president” (unless you are a senior director, in which case you should not be listening to me because you have gotten a lot further in life…) If you don’t know where you want to be in 5 years, then you can’t be sure that this job is the next logical step. You need something that is reasonable. In 5 years you should assume to be one grade higher, nothing more. The key is to use the phrases “more responsibility” and “contributing to the company at a greater level.” The worst answer is “I want your job.” People think this shows they are an aggressive go-getter. To me this means you are willing to stab me in the back.

18. Practice, practice, practice. Find someone to interview you. Find the meanest jerk you can. They need to ask tough questions. Practice a few times. I spend a lot of time doing press interviews, so I can walk into a job interview and nail it on the first try. I not special, I am just used to that environment and have done it more than a thousand times. Put me on a basketball court and you’ll see the limits of my skills – we all have our gifts, and we all need to develop skills that we don’t have. Why do you usually get the job on the fifth interview and not the first? Because by the fifth company you are more relaxed and more practiced. Unfortunately you just screwed your chances at 4 great companies. Even salespeople need practice because they are used to talking about products. If you deal with the press or interview a lot of people you may be mostly exempt from this rule.

19. Network. Use your time now, when you are not desperate, to find out about companies. Or meet with people in other departments in your own company. I landed a past job because I met with the director, told him I wanted to get back into the department and said when he had an opening to call me. He called me 3 months later. I was the only candidate considered and was hired immediately because he knew me, he did some background research on me before he needed to and when the position opened up, he was ready to make the decision.

20. Customize. The days of printing resumes at a print shop are gone. This means that EVERY resume can be customized. A job opportunity to deal with Asia, stress your travels to Seoul and Tokyo. A job that works with product management, stress your skills at negotiating with the engineering department. A customized resume significantly increases your chances. Don’t be “everything to everyone”, just be “everything to someone”.

21. Seek advice. You can’t do this on your own. Talk to other people, especially people outside of your field. They can give you interesting insight. Make sure that if you are looking for a job, people know about it. Not your boss (although I don’t always rule this out) but the people who can help. The worst thing you can do is keep it all bottled up inside.

22. Politics and religion. What’s the best way to ensure that your chances drop to zero? Fire off a religious or political comment in the process. The best answer is “that is a personal matter.” Even if they say “oh, it’s ok,” don’t be tempted. Don’t wear religious medals or jewelry when you go to the interviews. Some people believe that they should always wear something like that to show their religion to the world. An employer is looking for red flags. You don’t want them thinking that you might be a problem down the road. It’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, but there are always signs, both obvious and subliminal, so don’t add to the mix.

23. Smoke? Not today. Nothing kills a job interview schedule like slipping out between interviews to grab a quick smoke. As an employer I am thinking “is this guy going to get sick more often? Is he going to pump up my health insurance costs? Is he going to run out once an hour and smoke?” The problem is that even if you are discrete, we can smell it and it won’t help you land the job. I once had a woman working for me that took a 10 minute “smoke break” every hour. That was 80 minutes a day that she was away from her desk. Or, if you are not good with math, 1/6th of the day. Employers don’t want that, they see smokers as a risk.

24. Creativity in resumes. Don’t try to be “non-traditional” because you think you can stand out. You will, but, unless you are trying to get into an ad agency or a creative job, you’ll probably be seen as “the guy that can’t follow directions.” In this country, all of our paragraphs are left aligned. Don’t make your resume right aligned unless you are looking for a job in a country like Israel. The resume is supposed to be a quick read. If I have to take my time to figure out how to read it, I’ll just ditch it and go on to the next one in the stack of 300 on my desk. If you want to stand out, do something with your life, that gets you noticed.

25. Scarcity is value. There are plenty of gimmicks like going to a trade show and handing every attendee your resume or getting a sandwich board and standing on a busy street corner. But if you hand your resume to everyone, it becomes something that people throw away. Show your value – pick your targets. A little research and a rifle shot works far better than a shotgun blast.

This is more advice for a corporate setting but some may still apply to you. I have never hired outside of technology, so that may have some impact.

I can’t say that I am 100% right on anything, and most likely I am only 50% right. You only get one chance, so if you are serious about your career, follow the advice above. If you only want a job, then ignore this stuff, eventually you will find one.

My 2 cents, your mileage may vary.