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Tandem Powered offers a full suite of Professional Resume Writing, Career Development, and HR / Business Consulting services.

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Tandem Powered's blog is dedicated to empowering readers by highlighting best practices in the arena of resume writing, career development, and organizational effectiveness, as well as by providing readers with an insider's view of the corporate hiring process.

5 Tips For Communicating Complex Information on Your Resume

Kent Nolen

As our roles become more technical and specialized, it is becoming more and more difficult to create a personal marketing piece (resume / LinkedIn / bio) that speaks to a broad audience. While this is an issue that effects a broad range of roles, it is especially true for professionals in IT and those transitioning from military / government roles into the “civilian” sector. If you stick to the following guidelines, you should be able to come up with a resume that is more readable, engaging and effective.

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The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

Kent Nolen

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

That line from Hamlet – now broadly used to express doubt based on someone’s over explaining – often comes to mind when a client is adamant that every detail of their background, no matter how old, must be included on their resume. The reasoning, per the client, is that each position contributes to the perception that they are the most qualified candidate for a job. I completely get that thinking, but – based on the consulting work I do with small and large companies – I know that it is not an effective strategy. I want you to be armed with the best information possible, so here is the unvarnished truth…

  1. Focusing on outdated or irrelevant positions in an attempt to bolster your qualifications is not effective. In fact, like that quote, many readers perceive this kind of “over sharing” as a sign of insecurity. It can send the message that you are not confident in your recent experience – in the impact you have made lately – and that you are trying to make up for that by throwing everything at the reader. 
  2. Readers don’t have time to be regaled with your entire career history. They want to know what you’ve done lately and what you can do for them right now. That experience from 15 years ago may be a powerful part of your career trajectory (nothing can change that), but unless you have put those skills to work recently, potential employers are just not going to care when reviewing your resume.
  3. To that last point, the reason most clients want to show older experience is because they want to capture something (a skill, a quality, an achievement) that they believe will pique readers’ interests. That makes perfect sense. But if you’ve not exercised that skill or achieved something as significant in, say, the last 10 years, then including that information on the resume could just frame your recent experience as "less valuable." 

Keep your resume current and have the courage to allow older positions to age off of the resume. Remember that there are other ways to honor older experience that you feel differentiates you (e.g., LinkedIn, during the interview process, a mention in the cover letter, etc.). Focus on what you’ve done recently and the potential impact you can have on an employer, not on aging experience that has little relevancy to readers today.

How to Find Your Passion

Kent Nolen

This post is part of my new Everyday Fulfillment series. This series focuses on tips for moving closer to – and embracing – fulfillment in all aspects of life. These posts address topics that frequently come up in my seminars and speaking engagements. They are also the topics that clients commonly want to dig into during Coaching sessions. I hope you find them helpful!

Many people feel a lack of passion in their lives. Social media, movies, and television often glamorize passion and make us feel feel as though it's something we're just, you know, meant to magically harness. As in, if you don't instinctively know what you're passionate about, something's wrong with you.

Well, that's an inaccurate way to model passion and is probably a significant contributor to the fact that so many people are confused about what passion actually is.

Passion is the hum that emerges when your strengths and values are put into action.

We all have glimpses of passion in life. You know what I'm talking about because you've felt it. But when passion is not grounded in self-awareness, it's fleeting. When passion is not rooted in knowledge of your strengths and values, it's impossible to sustain it and elevate it to the most constructive, fulfilling levels possible.

Some passion-fostering questions for you to consider:

Do you put yourself in environments and around people that inspire passion? It helps! If you have passion, putting yourself in these environments is a booster shot. If you're lacking true passion, the inspiration can conjure thoughts that will help you along your path. Sporting events, arts events, conferences, and special-interest clubs are all good places to start.

Do you mistake other things for passion? Just because you spend a lot of time doing something, doesn't mean it's a passion. This is a big problem in today's world with so many of us wasting time, for example, curating presences on social media that are often driven by presenting yourself in a certain way rather than in an accurate, authentic way.

Do you chip away at knowing your strengths and values? Knowing yourself – and in this case, your strengths and values – is something that no one can take away from you, boosts confidence, and unlocks doors. 

The Best Format for a Resume

Kent Nolen

Several weeks ago, I published a post about “Marissa Mayer’s resume” that got a lot of attention and spurred a lot of readers to send off questions about formatting. All of those questions can be essentially summarized as follows: “If this is an example of a badly formatted resume, then what is the best format for a resume?” 

Long term readers of this blog will immediately recognize the following statement as something I say a lot: there is no best format for a resume. However, there some things to consider that will help to ensure your resume is effective. And, really, effective is the ideal when developing a resume, isn’t it?

When it comes to formatting, we have to consider 3 things: automated screeners, human readers, and strategic use of space.

Automated Screening Systems: If your resume is not formatted to perform well with automated screening systems, then the other two points are irrelevant because your resume will never actually be seen. When it comes to automated screening systems, anything beyond basic formatting can spell trouble. These systems scan for keywords, which can be hindered by things like columns, icons, and other design elements.

Human Readers: If your resume flows through the automated screening process and into the hands of an actual person, it will likely be free of formatting. Generally speaking, screening systems strip away formatting to present human readers with a plain-text version of the resume. It is best to format your resume with the idea that the formatting may be removed altogether.

Strategic Use of Space: For a resume to be effective with either screeners or humans, the content has to be strong. If your format is placing more emphasis on the design and less on the quality and amount of actual content, you could be in trouble. Not only will that hinder your ability to make it through the automated screening process (remember: keywords), but human readers will not be seeing quality content that compels them to get in touch with you.

Let me be perfectly clear, your resume needs to be aesthetically pleasing. I am not advocating for formatting free resumes written in Times New Roman. But I would take a plain resume full of compelling content – strong achievements, clearly targeted branding elements, etc. – over a pretty resume with weak content any day.

How Do I Keep My Job Search Confidential?

Kent Nolen

Q. I have some questions about confidentiality in the job search process. How can I make sure that my current employer is not contacted? I really would prefer to have a job secured before I let me current employer know. Also, I have been listing my current position as ‘confidential,’ but I am afraid this may be hurting my chances.

A. I completely understand your concerns about privacy. Many of my clients find themselves in similar situations. While you can absolutely request that a potential employer not contact your current employer during the early stages of the job search process – this is a fairly standard practice – it is unlikely that you would have a firm offer prior to a job verification.

There are other steps you can take to help keep your job search confidential, including making your LinkedIn profile private or not listing your current employer's name on the resume or LinkedIn. However, each of those actions will come with a trade-off. For instance, not listing your current employer on your resume could lead readers to wonder why you can’t be more forthright (and, worse, wonder if you would, in the future, look for another job without telling them).

Ultimately, you will need to weigh the cost / benefit of different approaches and find the mix that is best for you. Discretion in the job search process is very smart, but trying to keep your current employer completely out of the loop could be more damaging than being up-front about your plans.

Searching for a job? Quit doing these 5 things…

Kent Nolen

Searching for a new job is nobody’s idea of a good time. I am regularly being entrusted with the hopes, fears, and anxieties of job seekers, so I can safely say that it is a universally uncomfortable process for people. However, many of things that make searching for a job painful are completely avoidable.

Here are 5 common “pain points” that you can stop doing, and 5 things you can do to make the process more effective and maybe, even, a little enjoyable.

  1. Stop Being Unrealistic – You applied for your dream job as a data scientist for a non-profit that pays people to play with puppies. It’s PERFECT. The only problem is that it’s extremely competitive, it's in a different city, and your experience is in Geology. Start putting the bulk of your energy into positions that align with your qualifications, even if they are aspirational.
  2. Stop Being Impatient – You sent your resume to your dream job over a week ago and you are freaking out that you have not heard back. Take a breath. There are many likely reasons why you’ve not been contacted: HR departments are understaffed, corporate bureaucracy is stifling, the job posting hasn’t closed, and – oh yeah – it’s only been a week! Start channeling your energy into healthier pastimes and remember that filling a new position requires the efforts of multiple people and quite a bit of time.
  3. Stop Sending Untargeted Documents – You applied for 100 jobs in 4 hours and haven’t heard a thing since. That’s because the “spray and pray” job search method doesn’t work because readers can tell that you just want any job, but they want to hire someone who wants their specific job. Start taking the time to research each position and target your documents toward each specific position and organization.
  4. Stop Not Actually Applying – You updated LinkedIn and put your new resume on Indeed and are wondering why you haven’t gotten any offers. Unless you have a set of especially desirable and competitive skills, a passive job search is not going to work. Start sourcing positions and organizations that you are specifically interested in and actively apply.
  5. Stop Focusing on the Wrong Things – You crafted a beautiful, high design resume that is truly a work of art. The problem is that you didn’t pay attention to making it readable or bother to include any actual accomplishments. Worse, you are applying for a corporate accounting role, not a graphic design position. Start focusing on building a resume that is exceptionally easy to read, laser focused on achievements and impact, and is aligned with expectations of readers in your field.

Strengths First

Kent Nolen

This post is part of my new Everyday Fulfillment series. This series focuses on tips for moving closer to – and embracing – fulfillment in all aspects of life. These posts address topics that frequently come up in my seminars and speaking engagements. They are also the topics that clients commonly want to dig into during Coaching sessions. I hope you find them helpful!

"Because I'm good at it."

"Because it's something I can do."

"Because I just sort of fell into it."

These are things I regularly hear from clients. People oftentimes "like" what they do and are good at it. But, more often than not, they have no real passion for it. The same can actually be said of people's non-work lives. They often feel happy-ish but not completely on track. Likely, that's because they are not playing to their strengths.

Here are a few thoughts that might help you to sort things out and move forward with a strengths-first mindset:

1) Figure out you. Plain and simple. If you don't have a sense of what you are made of, what your strengths are – how you "plug into" this world – you may find temporary gain but you won't find enduring fulfillment. Ask: What do I do that doesn't feel like work at all? When am I happiest? When am I most free?

2) Strip away what doesn't matter and/or add value to your life. Think lean and focused. Ask: What relationships are draining? What old patterns do I need to let go of? How do I waste time in a typical day?

3) Be a change agent. Agility is increasingly important in the modern world. Additionally, a change mindset helps to keep things fresh and forward-moving. Ask: What am I resistant to change in my life? What's something I can do differently this week? When is the last time I was open to hearing a divergent viewpoint?

I Need a Resume That Stands Out

Kent Nolen

Q: I read your last post and don't understand why a resume that visually catches the reader's attention is a bad idea. Isn't this a sound way to stand out from the pack?

A: As I said in my last post, I understand the allure. There's a lot to like about something that sets your resume apart visually. But, overall, it's simply not a good strategy. Let me add a couple more thoughts to this conversation.

  • Highly designed resumes do not play well with automated software, and that's where many resumes start in today's hiring environment.
  • For every person in the hiring continuum who appreciates a design-forward resume, there will be nine who don't. Simply put... When it comes down to the presentation of solid, achievement-centric information, designed resumes miss the mark.
  • As I've said here on the blog many times, I do think there is room for varying degrees of a designed resume, depending on the specifics of your situation. For example, I've seen design-forward resumes work very effectively as a "leave behind" after an interview. The reason? The organization is already working with your primary resume. This "leave behind" version simply presents your information in a unique way.

This is what I want my resume to look like…

Kent Nolen

About once a month a client or potential client sends me “Marissa Mayer’s resume” as an example of how they would like their resume to look. And I always say the same thing, “I can completely understand why the approach interests you, but we can do MUCH better.”

Before I even get into what is wrong with this viral resume – a resume that, despite glaring issues, has been elevated by major trusted publications – let me say that I this is not, in fact, Marissa Mayer’s resume. It was created by a CV design company as a marketing tool. In fact, I would be very surprised to learn that Marissa Mayer even has a resume.

So, despite being pretty and eye-catching, let me point out a few things that are likely to keep this resume from actually being effective.

  1. Design – The design is compelling but, as I go on-and-on about, a highly designed resume is rarely a good idea. Designed resumes generally don’t take into account resume screening software or even the way actual humans consume information. This resume is a perfect example of form over function.
  2. Picture – In the US, including a photo on your resume is a no-no. Yes, readers can go right to LinkedIn to check you out, but including a photo on your resume communicates that you have not done some basic research about the job search landscape. I am pretty sure Marissa Mayer wouldn’t thumb her nose at basic HR practices, so I don’t suggest you do.
  3. Quotes – Sections like “Life Philosophy” take up room that could be used to speak to actual accomplishments. Focusing on platitudes may be an option if your achievements make headlines on Bloomberg, but otherwise you need to leave the quotes for desk calendars and dedicate the bulk of your resume to what you’ve actually accomplished and the impact you’ve made. 
  4. Charts – The “Day In My Life” chart is an example of something that looks like a good idea – it’s a chart! – but is fairly meaningless. Does anyone believe that Marissa Mayer spends nearly as much time baking cupcakes as she does sleeping? Sure, it’s a cute way to make a point, but cute is rarely effective on a professional resume. And talking about your kids or staying at the Four Seasons on your resume... Let’s not even get into that.
  5. Skills Meters – Like the above chart, skills meters are generally a complicated way of communicating something that could be easily and more concisely said otherwise. In this instance, it is fairly easy to grasp the meaning – 5 dots means fluent – but there are many instances where that isn’t even the case. So why not just simply state your level of proficiency instead of making time strapped people decifer what 3 dots means next to German? Also, how does an automated screening system grasp what 5 dots means (assuming it can even "read" dots)?

Everyday Fulfillment

Kent Nolen

With this post, I am introducing something new here on the blog: an Everyday Fulfillment series. This series will focus on tips for moving closer to – and embracing – fulfillment in all aspects of life. These posts will address topics that frequently come up in my seminars and speaking engagements. They are also the topics that clients commonly want to dig into during Coaching  sessions. I hope you find it helpful!

Ready to have more Big Thinking mojo in your life? Here are some tips:

Think critically – Mindless group-think is a powerful force that goads people into simply "going along" with things. Question the norm. Make your own decisions.

Don't look sideways  Glance sideways from time to time because it's important to know the landscape. Otherwise, look forward. Paying too much attention to what others are doing immediately puts you in the space of duplication and envy. Find your own version of success. When you're focused on the best version of you and doing your best work – regardless of what everyone else is doing – you're less likely to waste time on time-sucking "because they are doing it" activities.

Define yourself – Don't be limited by others' need to put you in a box. We're all dynamic, multi-faceted individuals. Create the frame through which others see you (and not the other way around).

Have a vision for your life – Want to know a great way to become success oriented? Have a vision for your life. Of course, that vision will evolve over time but always have one. Not sure what that vision looks like? Time for some heavy lifting. Start by monster-hugging life's greatest (and most rewarding!) challenge: knowing yourself. The more self-empowered you feel, the stronger your resolution in the face of distractions and the powerful pull of mediocrity. Living with vision is also a prime ingredient of making major change.

Be honest – Being honest is not about being tedious or unkind; it's about growth and authenticity. You can't grow if you are not honest with yourself. And you can't build authentic relationships based on half-truths and lies. That may upset some people, but they will get over it. If they don't get over it, whose problem is it, really?

Keep it positive – Negativity can be fun in the moment, but the fun is superficial and fleeting. Negativity breeds myopic vision and shallow thinking. Sometimes a vigorous, critical conversation can seem negative. That's okay. Here, we're focusing on the kind of pointless negativity that can saturate a conversation or, quite often, an entire relationship. Negativity is the sinkhole of life. If something isn't positive or framed in positive action, run away as fast as you can. If someone is a consistent drain on your life, give them the chop.