Posts filed under Job Search Toolkit

Feeling Stuck? Create a Career Plan Based on your Values

Photo by  Kelly Sikkema  on  Unsplash

In preparation to remodel our basement, I have spent hours going through and cleaning out cardboard boxes of old papers, books, and memorabilia from childhood that is currently in storage.  My mom saved many mementos: school programs, report cards, newspaper clippings, photos, and cards that document the first 22 years of my life. While most of the items brought back fun memories, I was pleasantly surprised to find a personal career plan that I created in high school.  I had forgotten about the exercise until I read through it and vaguely remembered putting it together in a life skills class. (Side note: While that class was the most practical I have ever taken, at the time, I thought it was pointless. The 17-year-old version of me said, “what did I need ‘life skills’ for? I was going to college and would have a fabulous career naturally unfold.”  Youth).

What was most interesting to me was how relevant my plan was to my early college and internship decisions.  While I may have forgotten about it during the past 10 years, I looking at it now, I saw how it served as a guidepost to me in the early professional decisions I made as it related to college selection, majors, and internships.

I wish I could say that I continued creating or updating a career plan during college; however, my previous thought pattern about the unnecessity of a detailed, well-thought-out plan ruled. In college, my “career plan” morphed into securing a job that was impressive, prestigious, and paid well.  Needless to say, I lacked some focus and maturity. After starting off in consulting and thinking that this would be the fulfillment of my career dreams, with the ultimate goal of being the youngest partner at the firm and retiring at 50 years old, I found myself unemployed in 2009 during the recession.  Out of necessity, I decided to be more intentional about my career plan.

During my unemployment, I treated career planning and job searching like a full-time job.  From networking everywhere I went to researching graduate programs in business and law along with the related job prospects, to meeting with any professional who would give me 30 minutes to ask questions about their career and allow me the opportunity to share my story, I spent three months hyper-focused not only on getting a job, but on getting the right job that would put me on a career path that aligned with my interests and values.

I found that career planning has two parts.  The first is understanding who you are, what makes you tick, and the kind of work environment you thrive in so that you can focus your college studies or job search on industries companies and jobs where you can give the most and do so with joy and fulfillment.  In my experience, finding the right work environment is a big part of the difference between a job and a vocation. A job is work that you have to do, a vocation is the fulfillment of a calling. When I hire people, I always want to find people who feel like the job is fulfilling a calling or greater purpose for them.  While a vocation does not mean that every day will be perfect, it does create a sense of purpose for people and allows people and the organization to thrive.

Your work environment can be things like being in a creative or technical field, working mostly with a team or working in isolation, being based in one office or traveling, operating in ambiguity or in a black and white environment, or working in a particular industry that holds a unique interest for you.  For example, when I interviewed Michelle McClay (link), she shared how she was interested in healthcare from a young age and wanted to be a doctor. When she decided not to pursue medical school, she transitioned to healthcare administration and now works in the healthcare industry in a non-clinical role.

The second part of career planning is a more specific and practical application of your answers above as it relates to specific jobs, evaluating specific companies and job opportunities related to your answers.  For example, toward the end of my unemployment I was fortunate to receive four job offers all within a 24 hour span, which was nothing short of miraculous after months of failure. Having multiple options to choose from, with roles that were quite different, prompted me to find an objective way to evaluate each opportunity.  Emotionally, there was one job I wanted because it allowed me to remain in Cincinnati and closer to family, but the growth potential and stability were lacking. I felt that I needed better criteria than emotion.

Instead, I created a job assessment grid in Excel, writing down the attributes of my career that were important to me in a column, and the four companies in a row across the top.  I weighted each attribute based on how important it was to me, gave each company a score for each attribute, and calculated the overall score for each company to see which came out on top.

My attributes ranged from quantitative (e.g. compensation, benefits, and bonus potential) to qualitative (e.g. growth opportunities, learning and mentoring, organizational stability) to descriptive (geography, industry, type of work I would do).   While I hesitated to move too far from Ohio, this exercise showed me that the best opportunity based on my criteria was to move to St. Louis for an opportunity in healthcare because of the growth opportunities, learning and mentoring, and organizational stability.  As a startup within a larger organization it was a bit of a risk, but less so than the smaller firm on my list. And while it was not the most financially lucrative, it held the most long-term financial promise.

Looking at my options objectively helped me make the right choice for my career.  While it was not an easy choice due to the location, it was a career move that aligned with my values and would put me on the long-term career path that I wanted.

While I unfortunately no longer have my original spreadsheet (my old ThinkPad died years ago), I recreated a career planning template that you can download and use to start creating your own career plan.  There are fields already created as well as customizable areas so you can adjust it to meet your needs.

You may find that you update your career plan over time as the things you value in a job change.  When I was a new graduate learning and growth were the most important things. After getting married and having kids, flexibility and work/life balance have been more important.  I have been able to find these values in one organization by taking different roles that align with my values. In five or six years, I anticipate my values will change again as I will be in a different phase of life.  Career planning allows you to prepare for these seasons of life and find roles and organizations where you can both thrive individually and in turn give your best self to the company.

Looking for a New Job? Give Your Resume a Major Reboot this Spring

Since I was 18, I’ve used a chronological resume style with my relevant work experience listed newest to oldest.  My education started at the top and stayed there until I had a couple years of work experience, and my objective statement disappeared after securing my first full-time job.  With the exception of updating the information over time and tailoring the content to particular companies and job opportunities, I’ve used the same format for years.

As I gained more experience in marketing and communication at work, I started to see issues with the chronological resume style for experienced professionals, particularly managers and leaders.  This style does not provide the latitude to tell a story; instead it requires the reader to put together a story on their own based on a lot of detail. Frustrated, I looked for different options.  Functional resumes focused too much on nebulous skills and taglines and were too much “tell” rather than “show”. Artsy and fancy formatted resumes were too distracting and bold, especially for more conservative industries.  

Finally, I found a style that merged the best parts of various resumes together and used the most valuable real estate on the page - the top half of page one - as an executive summary of you.  This style - the “combination resume” is exactly how it sounds - a combination of the best parts of different resumes styles. It maintains your work history and accomplishments while providing space to craft a your personal brand and story.  

Should you use a combination resume?

In my opinion, the combination resume style works best for people who have at least five years of professional experience and people or project management or leadership experience, since it allows you to highlight transferable competencies and accomplishments.  Otherwise, a chronological resume is still an appropriate format since you are likely working in a more defined career path.

Why is this important? What is wrong with a chronological resume?

As you advance from a producer of something to a manager of teams or projects, you focus less on developing your your technical skills and depth of knowledge and more on gaining transferable competencies and skills.  Additionally, your career options often expand from a specific career track to a number of options within a particular functional area (HR or supply chain, for example) or industry (healthcare, consumer goods, etc). You may also want to position yourself for a broader set of opportunities.  As more people apply for jobs - the latest stats show that there are 250 applicants per job - you need a way to sell yourself on paper. A combination resume helps you do all of these things more effectively.

How does a combination resume work?

A combination resume uses three things to tell your story to recruiters: a personal “title”, a personal tagline, and an executive summary of accomplishments.  Together, this section tells your reader who you are in five to ten seconds rather than relying on them to piece together the right story from your entire resume.  The rest of your resume includes the details that support this story. As recruiters are given more positions to recruit and rely more on automated Applicant Tracking Systems to filter candidates, a clear personal story is even more important to getting your foot in the door.

How do you create a combination resume?

A combination resume starts with a compelling personal brand.  Take some time alone to reflect on who you are and how you would describe yourself in 30 seconds.  

Step 1: Brainstorm.

Start by writing down every positive word that comes to mind about you: energetic, fastidious, ambitious, driven, conservative, risk-taker, entrepreneur, efficient.  Identify five that are the most relevant.

Step 2: Give yourself a personal title.

A personal title is a different title than your work title; it is more descriptive of the general type of work and value you bring.  The personal title goes at the top of your resume and describes your general career interests. It might include a title similar to your own - for example, if you are currently the Director of Operations for a manufacturing plant, it might start with “Operational Leader”.  Let’s also say that you have a Six Sigma Black Belt and experience implementing changes from Six Sigma projects. Six Sigma Black Belts are rare, and both these and change agents are in demand across every industry. The idea is to highlight this at the top of your resume, so your full title might be “Operational Leader | Six Sigma Black Belt | Change Agent”.  Conversely, if you are in marketing, your title may be something like “Marketing Executive | Social Media Influencer | Brand Ambassador”. The key is to pick three phrases that describe your ideal career track.

Step 3: Pick your top three accomplishments.

Remember my article about keeping things simple and grouping them in threes?  The same concept applies here. Write down as many accomplishments as you can think of, focusing on those with quantitative results.  Then, go through and select three accomplishments that highlight different skills and capabilities that are relevant to your career interests.   One might show how you create high performing teams, another might document your ability to manage a budget, and a third could show how your metrics exceeded results.  These three accomplishments will be part of your executive summary and will be one of the first things a reader looks at when reviewing your resume.

Step 4: Write a personal slogan.

Brands have slogans - short statements that describe their mission and brand promise, like Nike’s “Just Do It” or Apple’s “Think Different”.  Slogans are memorable and share a key benefit of the brand. Just as companies have slogans, people can have personal slogans that describe their mission and unique brand promise as a leader.  Going back to your list of descriptive words, find one or two that articulate your brand promise. Are you an entrepreneur who brings new ideas to life? A finance leader who provides strategic leadership to startups?  A visionary leader who creates high performing teams? Figure out who you are “at your best” and articulate it in one sentence.

Step 5: Fill in your resume content.

The remainder of your content is similar to a chronological resume, with your most recent work experience listed first.  To help give the reader context, include a company summary for each employer, and a scope summary for each job. The company summary uses standard language from the company’s website, while the job scope summary explains your span of control (the number of teams and people directly or indirectly reporting to you), your budget (labor and/or department), and your reporting relationship(s) (who you reported to in the organization).  After the scope summary, list key accomplishments during your tenure in the role that describe your hard and soft skills as well as show quantitative results. The reader should see that each point reinforces the content in the executive summary, including your personal title, slogan, and key accomplishments.

Interested in creating a combination resume ? Click here to download my combination resume template, and comment below if you have questions. You can also check out my other posts about chronological resumes here.

How to...Land Your Dream Job (or Internship) at the Career Fair


I attended my first career fair on a sunny spring day in April 2005.  Armed with professional printouts of my resume (albeit rather light on experience as I was a freshman in college) and the fanciest attire I owned (which was a mishmash of business casual separates at the time), I was ready to wow the recruiters and land a summer internship.

Two hours later, I left the business school with no prospects.  Most of the companies were looking for full-time hires, not interns.  And I was the epitome of a "green" freshman who made a lot of first-time mistakes; not exactly desirable intern material.

That said, what I remember most about the day was a recruiter congratulating me on putting myself out there as a freshman - better to make mistakes when it doesn't matter than during crunch time my junior and senior years!  Or, to put it in baseball terms, I was utilizing my "spring training" well to practice for the World Series.

Career Fairs were an integral part of my early success in finding internships and a full-time job.  I attended every fair when I was an undergrad at Miami (Ohio) as a way to practice and perfect my elevator pitch and to learn about different companies and opportunities.  I found that a personal connection with a person, rather than an email or online application, made the difference between my resume being put in the "yes" pile over the "no" or the "we'll get to it later" piles.

 After graduating, I had the opportunity to attend Career Fairs as a company representative rather than a job seeker, and learned what "the other side of the desk" is looking for in their ideal candidate.  With fall college Career Fairs coming up this month and next, it's a great time to refresh yourself on the elements for success in landing that dream internship or job.

Before the Career Fair

Research the companies and jobs that will be in attendance: Many (if not all) schools publish a list of the companies and jobs/majors they are recruiting in advance for students to reference.  As a student, I studied this and only visited companies where I fit what they needed.  I also created research packets on each organization so I knew basic information like locations, size, services/products, financial information (if publicly traded), and career information from their website.  All this information was accessible online and allowed me to showcase my ability to prepare in advance.  It also allowed me to avoid wasting time asking basic questions that I should already know the answer to if I am truly interested in the job.  When I was on the other side, it drove me crazy when someone asked what our company did or where we were located.  Those are basic facts you should know if you want to come talk to anyone about a job; otherwise, you are wasting your time and theirs.

Game plan your route: At Miami, there would often be 200 - 300 organizations with tables set up around Millet Hall, and I tried to visit 5 - 7 during a two hour block of time.  I used a few criteria to determine which order I would visit each table.  First, I wanted to start with a few "warm ups" - companies I liked but were not my "dream jobs" so I could get any nervousness out in a less stressful environment but still being productive with the recruiter and my time.  I never went to a table where, after research, I was not at least open to working/interning there.  I also considered wait times for the most popular companies and made sure I didn't wait too long to visit them and risk running out of time.  Finally, I did not want to trek back and forth around the building ten times, so I looked for natural groupings by location as I developed the order of my visits.

Plan your attire: I mentioned above that I showed up in business casual to my first Career Fair.  I did not own a suit, and as a 19-year-old I could not imagine spending hundreds of dollars on something I would wear once or twice a year.  Looking back, I now see the importance of investing in a good suit - it is a necessary purchase in order to secure a job (that will pay off the suit and then some)!  Even on a tight budget, there are good suiting options available for men and women.  J. Crew Factory is a personal favorite of mine for inexpensive, high quality suits.  Look for navy or charcoal; they will be the most versatile and prevent you from looking like you are going to a funeral.  

Practice your elevator speech: Think through what you are going to say to each company you talk to.  You should have a 30-second summary of who you are (name, major, what you are looking for as far as an internship/job, noteworthy/unique item about yourself, and how you could add value for Company X).  Stand in front of a mirror in your suit and practice saying this over and over until it feels comfortable.  And then practice it five more times!  

Print your resume at a copy shop: Nothing screams professional quite like a resume on heavy white or cream paper.  The converse is the resume that is printed on standard white copy paper from a personal printer, and the differences are shocking.  Make a good first impression, take an extra 15 minutes (and probably $10), and have your resume professionally printed!

During the Career Fair

Limit the swag: Other than a pen (blue or black) and the portfolio you are bringing with copies of your resume, your game plan, and questions for each company, you should not carry anything around with you.  Leave your phone at home (shocking, I know) and gracefully decline the "swag" that companies want to hand out.  I was never impressed with candidates who showed up with bags of water bottles, pens, coasters...the list goes on.  Besides, everyone ends up tossing those things out at home anyways.  A polite "thank you but no thank you" should suffice.

Execute your game plan: You are ready!  Go up to each table, share your elevator speech, have a few questions prepared for each company (take notes on the answers), and ask for clear information on next steps in the recruiting process.  

After the Career Fair

Send follow up notes: In my experience, we went through and made decisions on our "yes" and "no" piles the night of the Career Fair to determine which candidates would move forward.  Candidates who sent follow up notes immediately were looked upon with favor.  After all, it only takes a few minutes to send a thank you email, and today you can send it from your smartphone (we weren't so lucky back in 2006).  Take five minutes, set yourself apart, and send a thank you note.

Attending company receptions/events: Oftentimes, companies will have receptions or open houses the night of the career fair or shortly thereafter.  If people have already traveled for the event (especially to a small college town in the middle of nowhere like Oxford, OH), it makes sense to couple a few events together.  If you are invited to attend, do everything you can to do so.  When you do, wear a suit or dressy business casual, come prepared with questions, arrive early, and sit in the front.  Take notes (on paper, not on your laptop or tablet).  Do not bring your dinner - especially something that smells.  Do not look at your phone.  This is an important opportunity to impress the company and move your resume up on the "yes" list.   We always consider every interaction, not just the resume or the career fair conversation or an interview, when determining which candidates to offer jobs.  While we understood that things come up or there are unique circumstances (e.g. you are coming straight from football practice and are five minutes late/in athletic apparel), these are things you want to be proactive in sharing ahead of time.  For the most part, these events are just as important as a job interview and should be treated as such.

From here, it's time to start preparing for the interview process!  For assistance with this, visit my post on interviewing here or pick up a copy of my book, The Savvy Young Professional: A Twenty-Somethings Essential Career Guide, here.


Posted on September 11, 2017 and filed under Job Search Toolkit, Networking.

Thank You for the Interview

Sending a thank you note after an interview has been a standard practice for years.  With the advent of the internet, the opportunity to immediately send thank you notes became a reality.  That said, the handwritten vs. email debate has gone on for years, each side citing the benefits of their approach.  Regardless of which method you use, at the very least you should send a thank you note.  I interview about 100 people every year, and am shocked at how few thank you notes, handwritten or emailed, I receive as a follow up.


Pro: Instantaneous.  Email allows you to send a thank you note the same day you interview, reinforcing your interest in the job and ability to follow up quickly.  

Con: Mechanical.  Email lacks the personal touch conveyed by a handwritten thank you note.


Pro: Personalization.  A handwritten thank you note says “I took the extra time to send you a thank you note because this opportunity is important”.  Who doesn’t want the hiring manager of their dream job to hear this message?

Con: Time.  It takes time for your note to make it’s way to the decision-maker, and likely will not make it to them before they make a decision about your candidacy.  While a thank you note probably isn’t a deal breaker, do everything you can to put the odds in your favor for a job offer.


Utilize both forums.  In the interest of time, send well-written, thoughtful thank you notes via email to each person you meet with the same day you interview.  If you have time in between interviews, take a few seconds to jot down something unique that came up during your conversation so you can reference it in your thank you email.  Otherwise, by the time you sit down to write your emails every conversation will have run together, making this exercise harder than necessary.  Then, send a handwritten thank you note to the hiring manager and the recruiter.  This approach allows you to immediately follow up as well as send a more thoughtful note to the decision-makers who matter most.

7 Behavioral Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them)

Behavioral interview questions have gained popularity in recent years as interviewers realized the ability to predict future performance based on a candidate's behavior in specific past experiences.  These questions typically start with the phrase “tell me about a time you,” followed by a question about skills and competencies that are relevant to the job.  Recently, interviewers have started to also ask the corollary of the question as a follow up to your answer.  For example, after answering the question “tell me about a time you accomplished a goal”, the interviewer may ask you about a time that you did not accomplish a goal and what you learned from it.

Behavioral questions are easiest answered in the “Context, Action, Result” structure.  This structure keeps you organized and helps to ensure that you cover all the relevant points in your answer.  The Context, Action, Result structure breaks down as follows:

  • Context: Introduce and describe the situation.  This is like the exposition of a book, where you introduce people, identify the location (university, employer, etc) and describe the problem or situation.  
  • Action: How you addressed the situation.  This part should be specific and detailed, as it is the opportunity to articulate how you handled the situation.
  • Result: The end result or solution to the initial problem, perhaps a grade on a project, revenue generated from sales efforts, or an improved relationship.  The more a result can be quantified, the easier it is to help your interviewer understand the magnitude and impact you had on the situation.

Below are some of the most common behavioral interview questions I’ve received or ask to young professionals, starting with the phrase, "tell me about a time you…"

…. accomplished a goal.

Purpose: An interviewer wants to know that you have a history of setting and achieving goals, because this will hopefully translate to their job.

Response: A story about achieving a quantifiable goal is best for this question.  Think of a situation when you had a specific, numerical goal; maybe it was saving a certain amount of money, completing a certain number of contracts, or selling a specific number of products or revenue. The interviewer will be interested in how you went about accomplishing the goal, so take time to explain how you planned and prepared in order to meet the number along with articulating the goal and the actual amount you accomplished.  

… persevered through adversity.

Purpose: The workplace is full of challenge and adversity, and an interviewer wants to know that you can effectively rise to the challenge and solve problems.

Response: This is a character question, so draw on your lifetime of experiences to find a situation where you were facing particular challenge or adversity and were successful.  

… navigated through conflict with someone.

Purpose: Competing interests, miscommunication, and personality rifts are among the many things that lead to conflict.  While conflict is inevitable, being a person that can confront conflict in a useful and thoughtful way is important in the work environment.

Response: Your example should show that you aren’t afraid to deal with conflict directly, while also being reasonable and collaborative in how you worked through the issue with the other person.

… led a team to complete a project.

Purpose: Good leadership means taking responsibility and holding others accountable to achieve a vision.  The interviewer wants to know about your past experience to see how you would lead at their organization.

Response: The best response will involve situations where you inspired a team to accomplish a greater vision, held people accountable if they did not meet their obligations, and took responsibility while giving credit to the team.

…were managing a lot of conflicting priorities.  How did you prioritize and accomplish them?

Purpose: The interviewer wants to see how you handle the stress that comes with having more to do than you can accomplish in a particular timeline.  

Response:  This is an opportunity to highlight your ability to delegate, align and complete priorities, and collaborate while not pawning work off on other people.  The best answers I’ve heard involve the interviewee confirming what tasks are really important and when they need to be completed, as well as elements of collaboration and teamwork by involving others to help them finish everything.  

…had to deliver bad news to a coworker or client.  How did you deliver the message?

Purpose: Effective communication is critical in any job.  The purpose of this question is to assess your ability to determine the best communication channel for bad news as well as ascertain how you delivered the information.

Response: Bad news is best delivered in person or, worst case, via phone.  A great response would demonstrate how you went above and beyond what is expected to deliver bad news in person, to provide alternative solutions, and to show empathy and ownership as it relates to the problem at hand.

…persuaded someone to agree with your viewpoint.

Purpose: People respond differently to ideas based on how they process information and how this information impacts the things that are important to them.  This question highlights your ability to identify what is important to another person and position an idea or viewpoint that resonates with them.

Response: It’s important to hit on the points in the “purpose” section; how you identified what was important to the other person and how you prepared for the conversation or communicated with them in a way that changed their viewpoint to one that agreed with yours.  

Job Search Toolkit: Résumés - Your Story on Paper (Part 6)

I'm excited to approach the sixth post on a seven-part series on résumés.  To date, we've gone over the following:

  • Résumé Header
  • Education
  • Professional Experience 
  • Accomplishment Statements

Today, I'd like to share more about when and how to include "non-traditional" experience on your résumé.  "Non-traditional" experiences are jobs, volunteer positions, or projects that do not directly relate to your career path (not professional experiences like internships, co-ops, and full-time positions) but demonstrate transferable skills.  Non-traditional experiences are especially important early in your career when you do not have years of professional experiences to fill up a page of your résumé.

So what are the transferable skills you might want to highlight?  As I think about someone new to the workforce, I tend to look for these skills or competencies regardless of where they acquired them.

  • Work ethic
  • Proactivity
  • Ability to balance competing priorities
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Humility
  • Willingness to take responsibility
  • Teamwork
  • Comfort with ambiguity

Experiences like part-time jobs, volunteer positions, class projects, and school organizations are great places to acquire these skills.  Oftentimes, when I see someone with a sparse résumé it's because they have a lot of non-traditional experiences that are not included in their résumé.  This is especially common for college students and recent graduates since they do not have years of professional experience to draw on.

If this is the case for you, the easiest method I have found is to brainstorm times when you have demonstrated the skills and competencies listed above and to use this list to round out your résumé.  For example, work ethic could mean working 20+ hours a week during college while graduating in four years, creativity might be growing the non-profit organization you started on campus from one member to 300 and raising money for a cause, and comfort with ambiguity might be the time you learned a new language and spent a semester abroad.  College is rich with opportunities to develop the skills that will make you competitive in the workplace, and your résumé is the place to highlight these experiences.

Non-traditional experience should be added to your résumé in a similar way as professional experience; focusing on accomplishment statements rather than a list of activities.  In the case of a job, this would fit in your experience section in chronological order.  For other experiences like volunteering, leadership, and special projects, I create a new section titled "Philanthropic and On-Campus Involvement" or "Academic Related Projects".  From here, I list out the specific experience just like a job or internship: name of the organization, date(s) of involvement, and location.  Under this, I add in three to five accomplishment statements.

What kinds of valuable experiences do you have that are not on your résumé?  Is there an opportunity to enhance your story by adding this information?

Posted on December 5, 2015 and filed under Job Search Toolkit, Resume.

Job Search Toolkit: Résumés - Your Story on Paper (Part 5)

Finally, the "Experience' section.  I wanted to go through each section of the resume in detail before this one to give appropriate attention and importance to the entire document.  Most people focus on their experience, filling in the other parts as an afterthought.  I've placed resumes in the "no" pile long before I reach the experience section due to poor formatting or typos.  Each and every square centimeter on a resume is critical; it can make or break your career opportunities.

After making it through the top portion of a resume, I take 2- 3 seconds to skim their experience.  I’m looking for quantifiable accomplishments and results.  In the hiring process, the best indicator of future performance is past behavior, so I want to understand how the person performed in the past.  Did they achieve goals?  Did they save $10,000, increase revenue by 5%, or improve cycle time  by 20%?  Oftentimes, people write down a task list or a job description in their experience section, as if describing their previous job duties qualifies them for a future role.  I throw these resumes out.  I do not care about what you did in your previous job(s), what I care about is if you did your previous jobs(s) well.

The other important thing to remember is that this one piece of paper is serving as your first impression.  The reader might not get the opportunity to meet you first, so your charming personality or great elevator speech cannot help you.  Your resume must be able to stand on its own and represent you as a professional.  

It’s a bit like preparing for a first date.  You both want to make a great impression, so you dress up, go somewhere nice, make sure your car is clean, open the door, etc.  One year later, date night probably looks a little different, right?  If your resume is your best impression and it isn’t the most fantastic description of you, maybe it isn’t even good, what does that say about you and how you would perform after you get a little comfortable?

There is a lot to cover when it comes to experience, so today I’m going to focus on the most important: accomplishment statements.  Here are two examples; one using the job description methodology and one using accomplishment statements.  Which one jumps out to you?

Example #1: Job Description

Marketing Analyst

  • Supported Director, Marketing with all deliverables for Tide laundry detergent and presented findings regularly

  • Created brand campaign based on market research findings

  • Completed market research, including focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and live demonstrations, for Tide laundry detergent

Example #2: Accomplishments

Marketing Analyst

  • Conducted market research for the Tide brand, including six focus groups, 15 consumer shadowing experiences, and purchasing analytics on over 100 million data points

  • Used market research findings to craft a new brand campaign, resulting in a 4% same store sales increase in revenue and a 10% increase in volume compared to a goal of increasing same store sales by 3% and volume by 8%

  • Presented brand campaign deliverables to the Director of Marketing for final approval prior to execution.  Director of Marketing made an exception and invited me to present the brand campaign at the Marketing Executives meeting due to the quality of the materials


The example shows two different ways to describe the exact same situation.  Example #1 is the most common, and will typically land you in the “no” pile.  What did this person do that was outstanding?  Example #2 is less common and moves to the top of the “yes” pile.  They get an immediate phone call to see if they are as good over the phone as they are on paper.  Their experience is impressive, and indicates that they will continue to perform this way in the future.

So how do you become a #2?  Take time to brainstorm your accomplishments, whether at work, internships, or campus clubs.  What stands out as exceptional?  Can you quantify it so others understand the magnitude of why it is exceptional?  It takes an investment of time up front to develop meaningful examples, but once you start, coming up with accomplishments is easy.  Take your examples and then try to put them in the order of a story so someone could read through and understand it.  Make sure to have others proofread it.  Put your best food forward, and always be honest.


Job Search Toolkit: Résumés - Your Story on Paper (Part 4)

The "Education" section of the résumé oftentimes is overlooked as a necessary placeholder to list colleges and degrees.  Done correctly, the Education section can elevate your résumé to the must-interview list, regardless of where you attended school.

During your time in school as well as up to five years post-graduation, your education section plays an important role in telling your story beyond listing where you went to school and what degree(s) you earned.  Here's why: employers look for people's behaviors, as past behavior is a great predictor of future success.  Undergraduate and graduate education is a great opportunity to demonstrate the behaviors that potential employers seek, and it's easy to make the connections.  For example...

  • A high GPA probably means that you're a hard worker who prepared for classes and exams.
  • Scholarships mean that you excelled in a particular area, and that you had the drive and determination to succeed in a competitive arena (sports, academics, etc).
  • Awards are similar to scholarships; you excelled at something and competed to win against a number of other qualified candidates.
  • Leadership and elected positions mean you inspired confidence in others to take responsibility for a student organization or event.  
  • Volunteer positions mean you care about other people and are inspired to give back to your community.

Applying this to the education section of your résumé takes it from the content in Example A to the content in Example B.

Example A


Miami University, Oxford, OH;                                                                                           2004 - 2008

  • Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Supply Chain Management
  • GPA: 3.8 / 4.0
  • Vice President, Recruitment - Delta Pi Sigma Business Fraternity
  • Big Brothers, Big Sisters Volunteer

Example B


Miami University, Oxford, OH;                                                                                           2004 - 2008

  • Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Supply Chain Management
  • GPA: 3.8 / 4.0; Graduated Magna Cum Laude; Top 5% of class and a Beta Gamma Sigma Business Honorary Scholar
  • Vice President, Recruitment - Delta Pi Sigma Business Fraternity: Selected by peers among five candidates to lead competitive recruitment program for fraternity membership.   
  • Distinguished Department Scholar: Chosen by Marketing department professors among all marketing senior majors (315 total) as the Department Scholar
  • Academic Excellence Scholarship: Awarded an annual scholarship of $15,000 (75% of tuition costs) based on high school and college academic achievement.  Self-funded remaining tuition.
  • Big Brothers, Big Sisters Volunteer
  • Study Abroad Experience: Miami University Luxembourg (Summer 2007)

Example B gives a much clearer view of the candidate and how their previous behavior will translate to future behaviors.  The candidate in Example B comes across as hard working, determined, socially-confident, and financially-savvy.  Almost everyone has these types of attributes and value to highlight, but rarely do I see a candidate highlight how well they did in comparison to others, especially in the "Education" section.  In some cases you could further expand the content later in the "Experience" section, giving a well-rounded view of your accomplishments during your undergraduate and/or graduate years will give employers a well-rounded picture of who you are.  This is especially important if you have less than five years of work experience, as the Education section is more prominent.

Job Search Toolkit: Résumés - Your Story on Paper (Part 3)

Fall.  It's my favorite time of the year.  The crisp cool air, memories of going back to school, and the feeling of being extra-motivated for the year ahead.  Now, I love going back to campus to recruit students.  The only memories I do not cherish are the years I was also job or internship-searching in the fall - it's much easier being on the other side of the interviewing table!  

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.41.29 AM.png

In  light of this time of year, today I want to start going through résumés step-by-step, starting with the header. Every piece of a résumé is important, and as the first thing the reader sees, your header must capture their attention and make them want to keep reading. 

So, what should you include in the header?

Your full name.

Your mailing address.

Your email address.

Your phone number.

Sounds simple, right?  It should be simple, but I've placed people in the "no" pile simply due to their header.  Here is why...

An unprofessional email address.  Be safe and use your name as your email address, with a gmail or yahoo - type account that will not expire after graduation.  Never place your work email address on your résumé.

Formatting errors within their header.  I've seen multiple fonts, center and left justification, and countless other formatting inconsistencies in headers.  If something so simple has errors, I have no interest in reading the rest of the document.

An objective statement about "seeking a challenging position in finance" or "an internship that leverages my analytical skills".  Objective statements are the worst uses of space on a résumé.  If you are applying to jobs, what is your objective other than to gain employment in that field?  What purpose does it serve to list it on your résumé?  The objective statement is a present-day shortcut to the well-crafted cover letter, which is a must to set yourself apart in the job market.

Your header can be as simple as the following:

Easy, right?  Let your accomplishments and the professionalism of your résumé differentiate you, not crazy fonts or unique formatting that requires the reader to search for information.

There are nuances to each part of a resume, even the header.  I've included guidance on frequently asked questions.

Résumé Header FAQs

Where does the header belong?

I prefer to see a header center-justified at the top of the page, with the name on the top line and in a noticeably larger font than the rest of the information.  This makes it easy to remember your name and tie it to your information.

What name should I use if I changed my last name (e.g. due to marriage, divorce, etc)?

Your name is a key piece of your brand.  If you have legally changed last names and are using a different last name than what is commonly known, I recommend using your new last name, followed by née [former last name] all in parenthesis.  "Née" means "formerly" in French and is common terminology to indicate a last name change.  For me, this looks like: KaLeena S. Thomas (née Weaver)

If I am in college, should I use my college address or my home address?

It depends.  From a simplicity standpoint, using one mailing address is easier for the reader to navigate and it keeps the top of your résumé from being too "busy".  Companies use your mailing address infrequently, usually only to send you an "official" offer letter (most are emailed) and to set up new hire paperwork.  

If you are applying to smaller companies in different areas of the country while in college, seeing a non-local address may deter them as they may not typically fly candidates in to interview.  In this case, if your permanent address is a local address for that organization, use both your permanent and current address.  This will indicate that you are familiar with the area, intend to move back after graduation, and available to travel (likely on your own dime) for an interview.  If you want to move somewhere else specifically and can move immediately, it's oftentimes easier to move first and then find a local job.  It frees you up to interview any time without a commute and solidifies your interest in and willingness to move for an opportunity.

Should I use my university email address?

No, unless you are positive your university will keep this email address "active" permanently and you want to manage this inbox into the future.  Many universities will disable accounts a year after graduation, meaning those with your university email will get a bounce back rather than reaching you.  Why risk missing out on an opportunity?  Set up a free email using a configuration of your name (see example above) and route everything through this email.

Posted on September 19, 2015 and filed under Job Search Toolkit, Resume.

Job Search Toolkit: Résumés - Your Story on Paper (Part 2)

I had the pleasure of attending lunch with our new undergraduate co-ops from Georgia Tech on Friday.  What an impressive group!  They asked great questions, behaved professionally, and gracefully accepted feedback.  The entire luncheon consisted of our CEO, a couple members from my team, the co-ops, and myself at a great restaurant in Atlanta. 

Our CEO loves reading and reviewing resumes from the perspective of using them to understand the person and their motivations.  My team provided him with copies of each co-op's résumé in advance of the lunch, and he proceeded to study the content and mark up the formatting.  Over lunch, he shared feedback with each co-op, gave them the redlined documents, and had a conversation about his initial observations of them based on the content in their résumé.  While some of the feedback consisted of cleaning up the formatting, the more interesting observations were about what their résumé said about their personality, motivations, and aspirations.

My favorite idea related to strengthening your résumé was to start by making a list of the attributes you want to convey and the things you aspire to, and to then create your content based on this list.  For example, if you want to show that you are a leader, your résumé should highlight leadership behaviors and experiences such as being selected by your classmates or a boss to lead a group project, a vote by a sports team to be the captain, or a time that you started a project, task force, or club and had to inspire others to join you in this new venture.  Leadership is not about forcing your will on someone else, it is about inspiring others to follow you.  Make sure the content on your resume matches who you are.

Make your list privately and be honest about what you want to convey and what you aspire to.  If you want to make a lot of money, write it down.  If you want power, write it down.  Your list might look something like this:


  • Leader
  • Giving
  • Strong Academics
  • Motivated
  • Determined
  • Team Player
  • Financial Acumen
  • Organized
  • Detail-Oriented


  • Become a VP at a Financial Services Firm
  • Live in Chicago
  • Gain Experience in Private Equity
  • Start my Own Wealth Management Company 

Look at your current résumé.  Does it tell the story of who you are and what you want to be, or is it a list of jobs, internships, and academics in chronological order?  In many cases, résumés are just a listing of information without a consistent theme or story pulling the information together about the person behind the résumé.  I also see many résumés that have inconsistent formatting or are so disorganized I cannot follow them, leading me to believe that the person who crafted this document lacks attention to detail and organizational skills.  It's kind of like dating, where your résumé is the equivalent of a first date.  It's common to be at the top of your game on a first date, so if you went out with someone for the first time and they were rude to people, late, and generally obnoxious, you probably would not want to see them again.  It is the same concept for your résumé.  If the first thing a potential employer sees about you is poor grammar or formatting, their confidence that you can perform will decrease and they probably will not call you in for an interview.

Using this methodology can help you create a consistent message about who you are and help you position yourself for opportunities that are in line with your aspirations.Once you make this list, you can use the information to match experiences and accomplishments with each attribute and develop the content for your résumé.  I'll share an example of this in Part 3.