Advice from 'The Job Closer' author on resumes, LinkedIn, networking and job interviews
By Kerry Hannon
Job hunting these days is not for the meek, especially for those in their 50s or 60s. It's challenging both in terms of time and emotional energy. But Steve Dalton, author of the new book "The Job Closer: Time-Saving Techniques for Acing Resumes, Negotiations, and More," has some smart advice, which he shared with me.
Dalton typically offers job hunting advice to students as program director for daytime career services at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. But although some of the tips in his book and in our interview apply to job seekers of all ages, others are specifically for older job hunters.
Before I get to his tips, let me tell you my two favorite techniques in his book:
The "You Bet Your Life" Exercise (it takes one minute). Name a single professional skill or ability in which you are most confident you are in the top 1% of the world.
"If nothing else, make sure that any job you accept in the future takes advantage of this one skill," writes Dalton.
By quickly naming your best skill, it "just clarifies everything," Dalton says.
This example in the book is geared perhaps to a younger set, but I think it can get your wheels moving: "If you are struggling to find firms willing to pay for your elite Tetris-playing ability, you may want to reinterpret your skill more figuratively than literally. For example, in what way is your Tetris ability exceptional? Is it your pattern recognition? Your spatial creativity?"
The "Brain Dump" Exercise (it takes two minutes). Write down every job you would enjoy doing and could practically be, or become, qualified for.
"Many of my job seekers tend to endlessly cycle through all of the options they have in their head, wearing themselves out with self-debate but never actually making any progress," Dalton writes. "This technique will at least help you avoid that endless churning in your mind."
Now here are my favorite job-seeking tips from Dalton:
Slash your resumé. "Cut the less-impressive versions of similar projects from earlier in your career so your resumé is as close as possible to being a "greatest hits" list of bullets," Dalton said. "Each bullet should be a story you're excited to tell in an interview… Hiring managers are trained to spend six seconds per resumé. The bulk of that time is spent on where you worked, what your dates of employment were, what your job titles were — basically all of the things that you can't change."
Dalton thinks older job seekers should cull their resumé dates of employment and college or graduate degree dates. "We'd love to think that ageism doesn't exist, but I wouldn't want to take that gamble. So, I would leave my education dates out and then you can cut earlier work experiences."
Eliminate "Responsible For…" in your resumé. "Those aren't stories. They're job descriptions, which are tedious to discuss and don't show you in your best light," said Dalton. "Your bullet points will be accomplishment statements showing results. Your ability to achieve impact is what differentiates you and shows someone that you're probably better at this job than the person who had the seat before."
Skip your "objective" in your resumé. "Nobody cares. It's this thing that people stress over that doesn't have much impact," said Dalton. "It ends up becoming this milktoasty, inoffensive repository for jargon and buzzwords."
Ensure your resumé, cover letter and emails are error-free. In your resumé and cover letter, "Microsoft Word will help you catch most typos, misspellings and some grammar issues. And a free [online] tool called Grammarly will do the same for your word-processing software and email services," Dalton said.
"Many business schools are big fans of a tool called VMock, a resumé-specific analysis tool that is also free," he added. "VMock will point out if you've used the same action words over and over and will suggest replacements; it will also highlight the use of jargon and filler words like 'successfully.'"
Spend your time networking. "We think that networking is this concept where neighbors and relatives or people you know tell you about job openings," Dalton said. "But now with online job postings, networking is something totally different. It's not about passively who do you know; it's about creating those relationships on demand as needed."
"I can understand for more experienced job seekers who've made a great career on being experts in their field, trying to learn a brand-new job searching skill set may feel a little embarrassing. There may be a shame element to it: 'Why don't I already know how to do this?' I would encourage more experienced job seekers to not feel that shame. It's like feeling bad that you can't play the violin without ever having been trained to play the violin. There's no shame in it, but there is a need to invest in that new skill set.
"It's completely optional to like networking, but it's not optional to do networking," Dalton noted.
Use LinkedIn as a teaser. "If an employer is looking you up on LinkedIn, they know exactly where to look to find the information they're seeking in a nice, neat, predictable format about where you worked before, how long you were there and what job titles you've held," Dalton said. "LinkedIn is your objective information. I keep mine very minimalist."
Don't advertise on LinkedIn that you're available. "The thing to spend it on is that the summary underneath your picture. That is what people search on and is the job closer," Dalton said. "I don't like putting 'I'm seeking new opportunities' under your picture because you don't want to lead with what you need. You don't want to project desperation.
"Saying 'I'm available' and hoping other people will help you, that's very reactive, like you're putting your fate in other people's hands. I want to hire someone who puts their fate in their own hands."
Use one- or two-word descriptors in your LinkedIn profile, each followed by a vertical slash. "Some examples are: problem solver, vertical slash, team builder, vertical slash, mentor, vertical slash. I like it because it's constructive and it's positive," Dalton said.
During the job interview, show a genuine interest in your interviewer. "Ask: 'What do you see in the marketplace right now? Where do you think it's headed? What do you think the biggest challenge coming up for the organization is?'" Dalton advised.
Give the job interviewer a story about yourself that they can identify with. "The way to overcome ageism is to give people a story that makes sense about why you want to work there," said Dalton. "If you're over fifty, there's probably a moment in your life where your current story starts…or that moment where you took a completely different path, wherever your hero story is."
"It's about helping people understand what motivates you from personal experience…If you just repeat what your responsibilities were and where you work, you're just reading your resumé out to them. And that's not adding any value, nor building any rapport."
Kerry Hannon is the author of Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home. She has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for The New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among others. She is the author of more than a dozen books including Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life, Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single Women and What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Her website is kerryhannon.com. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.