What good is a resume REALLY? 6 answers

What good is a resume REALLY? 6 answers


Let me cut you off at the pass. I know you’re not a fan of resumes and you tell us not to rely on a resume to get a job. I get that. But if I’m going to use a resume anyway, what’s your advice about how to make it pay off? What good is a resume really? (Sorry for the affront but I’d really like some commando-style advice out in the job jungle.)

Nick’s Reply

what good is a resumeYour question is no affront — not any more than the in-your-face interview questions the best managers ask. And I welcome in-your-face questions. It’s the hard questions that are most important and that force us to countenance the challenges in our job search that no one else wants to deal with.

What good is a resume?

You’re right: I advocate against relying on a resume to introduce yourself, to get in the door, to show your stuff or to provide good reasons why someone should hire you. A resume is a dumb piece of paper (or string of digital “key words”) that cannot defend you. Think about it: The more resumes (or profiles, thank you LinkedIn) there are in the world, the more rejections occur and the harder it is for you to get matched to the right job.

There’s a line from comedian Steven Wright that I’ve bent a little bit to help make my point: Suppose you could have… everything in the world! Where would you put it?

Today employers have access to every resume in the world and job seekers can look up and apply to every job posting on the planet. What does it get anyone? More failures at matching. More rejection. And more is not better.

But you know all this already. You’d just rather ignore it and play along because resumes (and their sad brethren, job descriptions) are the coin of the failed realm of HR. (“Why can’t we find good workers?!”)

6 ways to make your resume pay off

So I’ll consider your “affront” with gusto! If you’re going to use a resume anyway, here are six answers about how to make your resume pay off:

1. Write it yourself

I don’t care how talented a professional resume writer is. You know your skills and history best. If you don’t accept the challenge to write your own resume, you will never recognize the kernel of qualities that will get you hired. You’ll know you did a good job if you can use the best sections of your resume as convincing statements in your job interviews. That’s why writing your resume has to hurt. It’s not a recitation. It’s a well-thought out plan for how you’re going to do a job that makes an employer want to hire you. Unless that resume writer is going to carefully research every job you’re going to apply to and customize each resume you submit, do it on your own.

2. Make your resume the cure

Make it vanilla. Skip the fancy flavoring. Leave lots of white space. Don’t tell all. Nobody wants to know everything about you. Include only what will help a specific employer. Yup, that means one resume per job you apply for. That means you must know what kind of pain an employer suffers from, and your resume must be the specific remedy.

3. The 6 second rule

Tell the manager exactly how you are the remedy on the top half of the first page. Eye-tracking studies suggest employers spend about six seconds scanning a resume. If you don’t show why you’re the best hire in six seconds, you instantly become a NO or a MAYBE.

4. Make contact first

Never, ever send a resume to an employer or hiring manager until after you have had substantive contact with that person. Don’t be someone the manager doesn’t know who clearly doesn’t know the manager. That’s the definition of junk mail. Managers are more likely to read your resume, interview or hire you, if you’re someone they know. The manager doesn’t know you? Do the work required to become known to the manager.

5. What good is a resume? It fills in the blanks

Once that manager already knows who you are, use your resume for one purpose. What good is your resume? It fills in the blanks about your history, experience and skills. Your resume is best used as follow-up information, not to introduce yourself cold. Do you want to be one of the very few applicants with an inside edge, or do you want your resume to be one of thousands?

6. Explain it to the manager

Try this test as you hand your resume to a manager: “Here’s my resume, Manager. When I give it to you, what am I really saying to you?” Are you saying, “Here’s my plan for doing the job you want done,” or are you saying, “Here’s all there is to know about me. Now you go figure out what to do with me.”

Managers stink at figuring out what to do with you. That’s why you (and everyone else) get rejected again and again. Your resume must quickly show the manager what to do with you.

Hope that helps.

How do you use your resume? Is it effective? Or do you use your resume like you buy a lottery ticket — so you can “be in the game”? What do you put in your resume that pays off?

NOTE FROM NICK: There will be no newsletter next week (Dec. 5). I’m going to visit Santa. See you Dec. 12!

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Stay or Pay: How employers TRAP you when you quit

Stay or Pay: How employers TRAP you when you quit

When you accepted that job offer, did you agree to stay or pay?


Can your employer trap you into paying thousands of dollars when you quit your job?

stay or payStay or pay: quitting is gonna cost you

It’s already happening. Employees sign agreements to reimburse their company for training expenses if they don’t stick around for a year, two years, or even more. Employers say they need to use these “stay or pay” clauses in employment contracts because jobs are difficult to fill when newly trained hires quit and take their training with them.

The New York Times Magazine (paywall protected) reports that the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are now taking measures to end this widespread indentured-servitude trend. Meanwhile, the costs of training are trapping workers across industries and jobs.

“A typical stay-or-pay clause [in an employment contract] is called a training-repayment-agreement provision (TRAP), which stipulates that the cost of on-the-job training will be borne by the employee.”

Who pays for overhead?

It kinda brings to mind restaurants that now charge their overhead costs to their customers — in the form of surcharges to cover credit card fees. That would have been unheard of 30 years ago. In fact, credit card accounts for merchants once prohibited merchants from passing credit card fees on to users. The use of a credit card was marketed as a benefit, not a cost.

Likewise, training was once held out as a benefit and as a reason to join a company. Today, employers argue they need to impose TRAPs to recover the overhead of employee training. But making workers pay is nothing new. Some employers also try to recover hiring and recruiting costs from departing workers.

Pay to work

Critics contend that training is a business overhead cost and that making employees agree to repay training expenses is similar to requiring restrictive non-compete agreements (NCAs). But NCAs are now illegal in some states and will likely be forbidden everywhere because they interfere with the right to work.

Stay-or-pay clauses used to be limited to just a few industries and high-paying jobs, like airline pilots and software engineers, but are now applied to dog groomers, bank workers, nurses, roofers and truckers. Experts estimate that up to a third of all American workers are now subjected to TRAPs — and, in fact, TRAPs may have become a racket:

“Workers’ rights advocates say that, in many cases, stay-or-pay clauses no longer accurately reflect the company’s costs but instead appear to be inflated financial penalties designed to discourage quitting.”

Ending the stay or pay TRAP

Help may be on the way. It’s no accident that the insidious nature of “stay or pay” leads to comparisons to other questionable methods employers use to control workers.

“Regulators, governmental officials and politicians are starting to take notice of stay-or-pay clauses. The Federal Trade Commission’s proposed ban would include TRAPs that operate like de facto NCAs…Last June, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced an investigation into ‘practices that leave workers indebted to employers,’ indicating that it may use its power as a consumer-debt watchdog to intervene in such cases.”

But the wheels of government turn so slowly that workers subjected to TRAPs continue to be hurt when employers penalize workers for quitting. For now, it’s up to you to avoid funding an employer’s overhead when you quit. Read all job offers, employee policy handbooks, and all associated documents carefully before accepting a new job.

How widespread are TRAPs? Have you ever reimbursed your employer for training because you quit too soon? Would you sign a job offer or contract that included a stay-or-pay clause?

Do you have a contract with stay-or-pay provisions that you can share with Ask The Headhunter? We will review to help us better understand how employers use such agreements, and report in a future column. Sorry, but we cannot provide legal advice! Please e-mail to nick@asktheheadhunter.com. Feel free to redact identifying information. Thanks!

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My backstabbing co-worker

My backstabbing co-worker


I’ve made lateral moves to align my interests and strengths with the emerging needs of my employer. It requires concerted effort in an environment that lacks any real professional development structure, but has been worth it so far. However, I have a fairly new co-worker who has been riding my coattails hard since he started, with subtle undermining, and one overt backstabbing, and who even knows what else. Having a toxic competitor rather than a trusted collaborator on our team has led to a lot of anger, lost sleep, and too many days when I just didn’t want to get out of bed and go to work.

backstabbing co-workerToo often lately, I’m torn between not giving this person the satisfaction of pushing me out the door given all that I’ve worked for, and the liberation of handing in a resignation letter (drafted when the backstabbing incident came to a head) with a two week effective date. What do you think?

Nick’s Reply

I admire that, despite the lack of professional development opportunities, you have invested a lot in making a challenging work situation acceptable if not satisfactory – you say it’s worth it. But now that someone is trying to undermine you, I think you have to decide whether your job is worth fighting for. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

Look the backstabbing co-worker in the eye

If you feel it is, before you resign because of that toxic dolt, please ask yourself, do you have anything to lose by confronting him in the company of your boss? The philosopher king Marcus Aurelius counseled, “The second rule is to look a thing in the face, and know it for what it is.” (We’ll get to his first rule shortly!)

You know what this backstabbing co-worker is. Is it okay to let him push you out the door?

I’d say no, but that’s because I like to face things head-on, and because I know so few details about your situation that I can appear cavalier! Would it be worth looking this in the face by discussing it candidly in a meeting with the co-worker and with your boss? In other words, openly call out the backstabber’s behavior for what it is. Do it politely and professionally, but frankly and firmly.

Keep an untroubled spirit

This very direct approach assumes, of course, that you have already decided to resign and that you have carefully planned out your next steps if that meeting doesn’t yield a good outcome. Because maybe you won’t have to resign.

Perhaps you should not be so quick to be the one to move out of the way and let the dolt pass. As long as you have a good exit strategy, why not take this head-on and try to protect all you’ve worked for?

Toxic, backstabbing co-workers should not control our work lives.

Leaving may be your best option. I wanted to suggest an alternative that might not pose much risk, and that gives your employer a chance to do the right thing by you. Whatever you decide, remember what else Marcus Aurelius said: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit.”

I wish you the best!

Would you take the backstabbing co-worker head-on? What other options might this reader have? Have you ever been undermined or run out of your company by a toxic co-worker? How did you handle it?

(The question in this column was edited from a reader’s comment on another recent column.)

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6 signs it’s time to quit your job

6 signs it’s time to quit your job


I’m feeling very “bleh” about my job but I can’t put my finger on the problem. I think I want to quit and move on. But I don’t want to make a rash decision. So I’ve been thinking, how do you know when it’s time to quit your job and go?

Nick’s Reply

time to quit your jobThis is a really good question, and it’s one of those that readers can answer better than I can — from their own experience. Everyone hits a kind of wall at work at some time or other. A lot of people tend to ignore the signals, sometimes for too long, and then they’re surprised when they get laid off or fired. It’s important to know where you stand — and what those “bleh” feelings really mean.

I’ll start us off with signs to look for that tell us it’s time to go — and I can’t wait to hear what signs you rely on!

How do you know it’s time to quit your job?

We all know that feeling in our gut: Something is wrong at work. It starts as soon as you wake up on work days. Here are some of the signals.

1. You’re the top dog.

Everyone comes to you for help and advice doing their job because you know more than anyone else. You’re the department’s chief mentor, but there’s no one who can teach you more. Being on a pedestal might be cool, but it can be lonely, boring, and demoralizing. Always work with people who are more expert than you are, even if you must find them elsewhere.

2. Your boss adds nothing to your future.

That is, your boss is no help to your career. Your future is to keep doing the job you have now because all your boss sees is a one-trick pony. Make sure you have a boss who leads you forward.

3. You’re ahead of your employer.

The company doesn’t embrace your ideas. It’s not interested in your suggestions. Business and product cycles come and go, and you feel your contributions are being ignored. Your company is content with the status quo and thinks you should be, too. But you’ve got ideas. You study and keep up with the state of the art — but your managers are content treading water. You’re always thinking ahead of your employer. Strive to work in a place where you can help create something new under the sun.

4. You keep running into walls.

You suddenly realize that your department or team is always isolated. For example, if you’re an engineer, you never get to work with Finance, or Marketing, or Manufacturing, or Sales. Organizational walls prevent you from being part of the bigger picture in your company. Your bosses like to keep you away from other departments. You’re stuck in your corner of the organization without any regular cross-pollination of experience or ideas. Don’t settle for living in a maze with limited range of movement.

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5. You’re stagnating.

The soundtrack at work is that Billy Joel song telling you to “stay just the way you are.” Training and professional development are lacking. You’re on your own when it comes to improving your skills and prospects. Your boss doesn’t seem to care about your professional improvement because you’re just a cog in the wheel. Your boss will not support you posting for a different or better job in the company. No promotions, no new work, no growth. Make sure there’s a steady flow of fresh air wherever you report to work every day.

6. You don’t want to get up in the morning to go to work.

This is the last straw, and it’s the sign to quit your job that I believe most people ignore the longest. You don’t want to get out of bed. You don’t want to go to your job. Change your work, change your employer, change your life.

How do you know it’s time to quit your job and move on? There are probably a million signs. Which ones have you seen? What signs have you ignored (or rationalized) the longest? Which signs were compelling enough to make you quit your job and move? Ever read a sign wrong — and make a mistake?

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