In English, Opinions, Personal Observation

What to Avoid when Making Resumés

I once read an article titled “10 Ways Your Resumé Irks Hiring Managers.” Back then, I had just read through hundreds of resumes myself as I was looking for candidates for vacant positions. Naturally the title is of great interest for me.

The article listed 10 mistakes applicants make in their resumés. I tried to find the article again with no luck. Luckily I had copied the list. After comparing some of the points with my own experience, here’s what I came up with (my comments in brackets):

1. Spelling Mistakes and Grammatical Errors. (This is a big red flag. This could be an indication of the applicant’s lack of attention to work quality and thoroughness in completing a task. There are tons of resources to check anything for grammatical and spelling correctness, such as grammarly.com, or the spell checker in the latest word processing app.)

2. Opening Objective. (Some applicants found it necessary to include an objective in applying for the position. I personally think it is not necessary. Most of the time it is obvious what someone wants to get when applying for a job. Skipping this won’t be a bad idea, because the real chance to put the best foot forward is in the interview.)

3. Personal Attributes. (Recruiters don’t need to know that a person has a black belt in karate. Unless they are looking for a club bouncer.)

4. Interest and Hobbies. (Some interests do add value to a resumé. Some are better to be kept to yourself. I remember one applicant wrote in his interest, “I hate the government.” Yes, you guessed it. I immediately put it on the “reject” pile. A better strategy to display interests and hobbies is to put it on social media or blogs, and list the link in the contact information. Recruiters love it when they can dig out more information about an applicant.)

5. Details of every task you’ve ever performed in every job you’ve ever had. (Some descriptions of past responsibilities do help to illustrate capabilities. But there is no need to use 10 pages to detail them. This is even evident if an applicant held similar jobs in different companies. A better strategy is to list completed challenges in pervious job posts. This would make it easier for the hiring manager to see if the applicant is a good fit with the challenges of the vacant position.)

6. Excessive Bragging.  (Point 5 can escalate to showing off if one is not careful in describing his/her past achievements. For example, listing all the VIPs or celebrities an applicant had previously worked with or the dollar amount of bonuses he/she had won may come across as bragging. Keep the information about job achievements relevant by focusing on what was done in one sentence. The “how” can be discussed in the interview.)

7. Outdated Information. (There is no use to list skills that are no longer in demand just to make a resumé long and impressive. Considering the very small amount a manager can give in reading resumés, it is a better strategy to list the skills that are relevant to the job being applied to, and keep the rest for the interview.)

8. False Information. (One applicant had a suspicious name for his college. I googled it, and I found out the school was banned by the Indonesian Ministry of Education because it sold diplomas. In the era where information is highly accessible anytime, lying on a resumé is downright stupid.)

9. Unexplained gaps in  work history. (Some applicants thought they only need to list impressive past job positions and to skip the three-month job probation that went wrong. This may create gaps in a resumé that would raise questions in the mind of the hiring manager. It is best to be honest and write down job experience as it is.)

10. A lack of professionalism. (I got this a lot, especially from first time applicants. They simply type their resumés with no additional formatting. There are many free templates available online, or in Microsoft Word. Again, hiring managers have to go through piles of applications. A professional look can make one resumé stand out from the rest, and improve its chance of being read in full.

Here are a few things that I would add to the list:

11. E-mailing resume to multiple companies in a single send. As soon as I see addresses other than mine in the “To:” field, I either perceive the applicant as being cocky (it’s like he’s saying, “hey, just  to let you know I’m not applying just to you,”) or simply as being too lazy to send each application in a separate mail. Cocky and Lazy. Those are two things in a person who I am so keen to keep as far away from being part of my company.

12. Wrong addressee. Some applicants sent too many resumes that they forgot to change the name of the recipient in the cover letter. I got that several times. Since it might  be just an honest mistake, I sent a reply pointing out the error, and ask for the applicant to send me another e-mail with the correct name in the address. When the applicant didn’t do what I suggested, I knew the person was just not worth my time.

13. Pictures Not Perfect. In Indonesia, especially in service industry, we do ask for pictures of the applicants. We do not mean to discriminate a person by physical appearance. We can learn about a person’s personality from the way he/she presents himself/herself in a picture. Also, it is a good security measure to know how a person looks like before inviting him in for an interview. Unfortunately, some applicants do not see this as an opportunity to sell themselves. Instead of a well-groomed image, they sent a selfie photo, or a very miniscule graphic representation of themselves, or a photo so blurred it’s hard to identify the person. They took themselves for granted. Why should the hiring managers treat them differently?

14. Too Little Information. This is so true for fresh graduates applying for their first jobs. They thought that resumés can only contain work related experience, when they had none. Since they could not come up with anything they thought worth saying, they simply let their resume to be half a page long. This left very little room for conversation. And even the weather cannot make up for it. I had awkward interview moments when I really did not know what else to ask, and the candidate had nothing else to say! When hiring new graduates, I like to probe for some activities in school that they are particularly good at or at least they love doing. Anything that contributes to work capability discussion is worth noting. If there is little to say in job experience, be more informative on the part of the resumé related to school or social activities.

15. Sending In Multiple Resumés from Different People in a single e-mail. Email accounts are free and very easy to make these days. There is no room for excuse such as “I don’t have an email address so I asked my friend to help send it along with his.”

The way we make our resumés speaks volumes about the way we do our work and, most importantly, about ourselves.

Edited and updated on January 10, 2021

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Current Issues, In English, Lessons, Opinions

Embracing Another “New” Normal

The security guard watched closely as I unhooked my backpack from my shoulders and placed it on the x-ray machine. I was sure I already put my gloves, my cap and my phone in there, and I was about to continue my entrance into the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum when she stopped me. “Your cold pack too, sir,” she said, pointing at my winter jacket. Of course. I could have hidden some dangerous item inside my jacket.

It was December 2002, just shy of 14 months after a group of 19 terrorists hijacked four passenger jets and crashed two them into the World Trace Center towers on September 11, 2001. America was in high alert.

Special scrutiny was given to passengers going to the US or flying on US airlines. Flying on Northwest (now Delta) Airlines from Singapore to DC, we had to go through a screening interview by the airline security at Changi airport. “What is the purpose of your visit to the US? May I see your invitation? Is this your luggage? Who packed your luggage? Have you ever left your luggage out of sight? Has anyone approached you and asked you to bring something for them?” It was pretty jarring to be confronted with those questions at 4 in the morning. No amount of caffeine could ever give you the same jolt.

Post 9/11, there were more attacks by different groups and individuals on various targets in different countries. Some of targets were night clubs in Bali (2002), a school in Beslan, North Ossetia (2004), underground trains in London (2005), a hotel in Mumbai (2008),a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin (2012), a shopping mall in Nairobi (2013), a magazine publisher in Paris (2015), a church in Texas (2017), and a mosque in Christchurch (2019).

As possibility of violent attacks is ever present, nowadays security checkpoints are common sights almost at every public areas: airports, office buildings, music concerts, shopping malls, theatres, theme parks, schools, even in houses of worship. We have accepted security threats as a daily possibility, and security checks as part of our lives. Being subjected to searches, scans, dog sniffs, even body frisks has become routine. We no longer see it as overreaction. It is what our normal has become.

If someone from the 80’s had traveled through time and landed in 2020, they would have been dumbfounded at having to go through security just to stop by a hotel to use the restroom. “What do you mean you need to check my bag? Keep your hands off!” They would have been even more surprised when the security guard pointed a infrared thermometer at their forehead and asked them to sanitize their hands!

But that’s the new reality today. As terrorism and gun violence changed our world, so has Covid-19 pandemic. To stop the virus from infecting more people, governments imposed various rules that affected the way we live and work. Some believe that until  a few of those changes will stay for good. 

As the virus started to widespread, starting on January 23, 2020, authorities issued lockdown on Wuhan and other cities in the Hubei Province, China. People were ordered to stay home. Public transportation, airport and highways were closed. Some non-essential companies were ordered to shutdown. It took the cities nearly 3 months to be declared free of new Covid-19 cases, and finally the lockdown order was lifted on April 8, 2020. 

Bloomberg reported, when Wuhan workers slowly returned to their jobs, they are faced with measures that the companies have put in place to minimize risk of infection. In Lenovo tablet and phone factory in Wuhan, before returning to their work site, staff members had to pass tests proving that they were free from the virus, and they had to wait for the result in a special dormitory. The meeting rooms that used to accommodate six, now could only be used by three people. The cafeteria had partitions put on tables with reminders to avoid conversations during meals. Rooms were disinfected regularly, with the last cleaning date posted on signs. Robots were used to deliver parts to reduce the number of interactions between people. The elevators were shut, and everyone must take the stairs. 

Yes, Wuhan is no longer under lockdown, but infection risk is still present. The way people live there is no longer the same.

As some governments, including ours, begin to completely lift or ease restrictions, either due to its success in controlling transmission of Covid-19 or to economic pressure, the virus is still with us. There is no guarantee that the absence of new cases means that the virus has been completely eradicated. Some people will remain to be carriers although experiencing no symptoms. In turn, they may infect less healthy people in the slightest way possible.  

In 2010, there was an episode of a popular TV show on Discovery Channel called Mythbusters, where the hosts conducted an experiment to see how far snot from a person with a cold could transfer to others in the same room within an hour. Similar experiment was also done by NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster to see how far germs from a sneeze that was covered by hand could be picked up by people eating a buffet on a cruise ship. The answer was grim: in a short time, the germs landed on everyone in the room. Imagine if the sneeze was from a person with Covid-19. 

This realization will change in the way we conduct our day-to-day lives. We must be aware not to touch surfaces with our bare hands. We must keep our faces and hands covered. We must wash our hands often. We must keep a minimum of 6 feet from others. Much of our life will move online. Some of us may have to keep working at home as companies reduce their space. We no longer hold meetings in person, but online. Our children learn at home while the teachers give lessons through the internet. 

For many of us, it will be difficult to accept these changes to our way of life. The bad news is, this won’t be the last time it would change. Some experts predict that there will be other pandemics in the future, and that crisis will be our continuous mode of thinking.

The good news is this is not the first time our normal has changed. We have survived previous changes and we will survive more changes, as long as we have the right mindset. For myself, here are some that I am learning to internalize.

  1. Stop hanging to the past. When my father passed away nearly three years ago, I was having a hard time accepting his absence. I thought of the many things that I could have done with him that I didn’t, and the regret was bearing down on me. One thought that consoled me was my Dad was already happy where he was, and nothing in this world could make him happier.  If we wanted to move on into the new normal, we must stop thinking about how good our lives were in past. Who knows, this new situation can also bring good things.
  2. Accepting the new normal. It wasn’t easy to adapt to working from home. There were things that I could not do from home. But as time went on and my team and I began to find ways to make it work, I realized that it is not that bad. We found that we did not have to print everything on paper. There were resources that we could use to stay in touch and communicate. For me, being apart from the others give me the space to think without feeling pressured. 
  3. Enjoying the new normal. There are things that I could do now that I couldn’t in the past. In the office, I often got invited to meetings where I did not have much to contribute. It was almost always a waste of time. But when it is online, I could move my attendance from my laptop to my phone, put on my earpiece, turn off my microphone and camera, and spend the time doing something else while listening, and making occasional comments. 
  4. Taking advantage of the new normal. Now that many people will spend most of their time online, there are opportunities to exploit. It is now easier to learn anything as there are now many free webinars and online courses. I found it easier now to attend community meetings since many of them are now online. Some people decided to make more social media content since they have so much free time now that they don’t have to fight traffic to work. For me, the opportunity is to expand my online presence by writing articles and blog posts. 

There are challenges in the future, that is a given. We have gone through changes in the past, and we have prevailed. As there are crisis so there are opportunities. Our choice will decide how much better or worse off this situation make us. 

Have a great New Year!

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In English, Observation, Opinions

Taking Charge

I’ve been learning, applying, even teaching Dale Carnegie’s principles for years. And it is not until the past few weeks I began to understand the underlying philosphy.

A co-worker spent about 10 minutes complaining to me about her boss. As I was listening I began to wonder why she didn’t do something about it. It wasn’t something that’s beyond her influence. Even obstacles that she said might be keeping her from doing so, were actually things that she could overcome. She only needed to stop assigning blame, and to use the time to find ways by which she could correct the situation.

Looking into other people’s problem provides me a mirror to look at my own situation. Are there situations where I wait for somebody else to do something? Have I been blaming others without taking responsibility to do my own part?

Embarassingly, the answer is a loud, resounding ‘YES!’

The next question is, “Why?” Why do we choose to blame others instead of taking responsibility? Why do we wait for the other person to do something?

1. Because we feel it is not within our power to take action.
2. Because we feel helpless.
3. Because the situation is already there when we first arrived.
4. Because we don’t want people to dislike us.
5. Because we would rather let someone else do something and if anything goes wrong, we won’t get blamed.
6. Because we would rather let others do the difficult thing.
7. Because it’s not our problem.
8. Because we are afraid things would backfire.
9. Because we don’t like to take chances and endanger our position in the constellation of the office politics.
10. Because we are afraid.

It’s like arguing who should pump the water as the boat is sinking.

Participants in a management leadership program that I had the privilege to teach, complained about their current boss and reminisced about their former CEO. They said, “He’s got guts. He would take risk and say, ‘The worst thing that can happen is I got fired.'”

Of course people are eager to stand in line behind the person who is willing to take the bullet. The question is, are they themselves just as willing? Are we?

I began to see the value of taking charge of our situation, instead of waiting for other people. Yes, there are probably things that we cannot influence directly. But why bother about stuff that we can do nothing about?

In a selling skills class that I co-taught last year, I asked the participants to list the challenges they were facing in making a sale. Some of the items they mentioned were ‘lack of management support’, ‘need better promotion program’, etc. Things that were externally controlled. As the list got longer, I could almost feel the Sales Manager, who were sitting in the back of the room, shifting in his seat, trying hard to keep himself from cutting into the discussion.

I then asked them to identify from the list the items that they could control. And they picked almost half of the items on the list! “These are what we need to focus on in this program,” I concluded.

Taking charge is not taking control of everything, but of things that we can directly influence. That, in Dale Carnegie’s philosophy, means people. We may not have power, but we can build relationships which can produce bigger effect that if we try to do things ourselves.

We were evaluating the first session of our Saturday weekly class when the discussion focused on one participant who asked to be re-registered in a workday class because he felt attending a class on weekends cost him his time with his family. A senior trainer in our team said, “That’s out of the question. He must remain in this class because his boss asked me to give him my personal attention.” We could not ignore the fact that the guy lived in a city 600 miles away and only had time to return home every weekend.

The senior trainer said, “I will talk to the boss. I am his godfather when was baptized. He listens to me.”

Our senior trainer was able to pull this off not because he had the power, but because he had strong bond with the person who had the power to make it happen.

We may not have the power to take charge, but we can take charge of the relationships we have, and ultimately, we can influence any situation we are facing.
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