The intricacies of resume writing and job search in an automated corporate world

Writing a resume has been the biggest bane of job seekers and sometimes it would seem to be much worse than not getting a job itself. We pore over 100s of different formats available through contacts and on the internet, but we are never sure if our resumes are good enough to land us our desired jobs. This apprehension increases exponentially every time our job applications get rejected by companies when we believe we have applied for the jobs that are the best fits for us. I have gone through all of it and I have learned very important lessons as well.

Now what is the challenge to writing a resume? There are three aspects to a resume. One that represents who we are, the second that positions us in the job market and the third that satisfies job requirements. Then they say resumes cannot be more than two pages long. Freshers and people with less than 3 years experience usually struggle to make their resumes to 2 pages. For people with more than 8 years of experience, the pain is to keep it down to 2 pages. Now bringing together these three aspects into 2 pages does seem like a humongous task, but it really is not.

Most companies now use automated systems to screen resumes which means technology rather than humanity is scanning rather than reading our resumes. Now technology is not intelligent so it is taught to look for keywords. We are traditionally used to writing sentences to describe ourselves so suddenly articulation is not in vogue anymore. We are being made to run helter-skelter in search of keywords. Even job sites are using keywords to filter out and show us jobs that match our profiles. I am wondering how long before keywords get replaced by hashtags.

Keywords represent only industry standard definitions and requirements and has got nothing to do with a person’s skills, abilities and most importantly experience. The primary problem with a resume is that it only allows us to list our activities in our previous and current employment. There is no way to speak out about our experiences through our resumes unless we are called for interviews. A business analyst may have far greater experiences with understanding of different business environments in day to day activities than what is required for a particular job profile but because he/she is not able to express it through the resume, a person assessing the resume will never get to “feel” the way the candidate feels about a job profile. Keywords have only compounded this problem and killed off the human aspect completely.

Now, there is no perfect format for a resume. Standard formats vary across jobs and domains. But what we need to do is to create a relevant resume that clearly highlights our current status, past experiences and our aspirations. Everything starts seeming important- what we have done before, what we are doing now and what we want to do in our next job and all we have is 2 pages. What I do is to write down everything that comes to my mind and let it go to 4 or 5 pages. Then I start thinking about what jobs do I want to apply for. I cannot position myself to be a candidate for 10 different types of jobs or roles. Spreading myself that far and thin will only result in my profile losing relevance in the market. I have to narrow it down to mostly 3. Find 2 job profiles I am aspiring to work on and keep the 3rd one as the continuation of my current or previous job as contingency plan if in case I do not get the jobs I am aspiring for. Then start searching for open vacancies corresponding to these job profiles on company websites and read through the job descriptions. This I believe is the best way to understand the expectations of companies regarding job profiles and also find relevant keywords.

The tricky and interesting part is yet to come. The challenge is to use these keywords and job descriptions to tailor our present and past experiences to make our resume a good fit for the job and worthy enough to be noticed. We are not required to list out all our experiences in our resumes. Only what is relevant for a particular job is required. Our experiences with older companies should get lesser in the number of words and more streamlined towards what we are aspiring for in our next job. For example, client engagement plays a major role in consulting gigs. So if someone is aspiring for consulting jobs and has extensive experience in client engagement through a variety of jobs, highlight client engagement and the ability to handle clients and leave out what is not relevant. This way the 4-5 page resume will get streamlined into a 2 page one. We do not have to actually worry much about all of this now. The challenge was before the time of LinkedIn. Now we can write whatever we want on our LinkedIn profiles, use it’s condensed version as our resumes and put the links to our LinkedIn profiles in our resumes. The automated resume scanning system works somewhat similarly to website SEOs. SEOs scan websites for keywords. The search ranking of the website becomes better when more keywords are detected. The resume scanning system must also be ranking resumes based on keywords so the strategy should be to show these keywords in our resumes to the scanning system.

Indian job market has always been notoriously inconsiderate to the aspirations of job seekers. An ex-colleague  in the Netherlands was completely into medical research when suddenly he developed the affinity for computers. He studied computers for a bit and eventually moved into a IT support job. It was a jaw dropping experience for me. In India, not even in my wildest dreams in a million years would this be possible. In the early years of my career, I was interviewed by someone who opted to hire me on contract. What I didn’t know was that the HR person wasn’t convinced about his decision to hire me and she had a strong intuition that I would get another offer very soon which was exactly what happened. What this translates into is that if we are not getting the jobs we are aspiring for and if we apply for jobs that do not require the academic qualifications and the experience we have, we will get rejected even if we are open to working on a lower pay. The perspective is that the job would be a stop gap arrangement for us and we will move out as soon as we get the job what we are looking for.

There are no perfect jobs so there are no perfect resumes. Stuffing up our resumes with keywords is no validator to our relevance in the job market. Candidates for senior roles are all being searched and dug out from LinkedIn now. Well written resumes and completed LinkedIn profiles shows how much time people have invested on themselves which in turn indicates how much they value their work experiences. Job search has become a maze of complex uncertainty and resumes are just one aspect of it. If a resume is being scanned for 30 or 60 seconds before a decision is made, then what we need to do is to first see if there are any lucky stars beaming at us before applying for jobs.

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Corporate wisdom from death

A neighbour, in his late 40s passed away today morning. He fell sick a few days back and was in the ICU for the past couple of days. But we had noticed that he was under a lot of stress for the past month or so and now it seems he knew this was coming his way. Death always brings in a cloud of melancholy and pensiveness over the grieving family and the people around them. From the moment we are born, death is a part of each one of us. To put it simply, the only companion who is with us from the first breath we take to the last is death. I cannot comprehend why there is so much fear, apprehension, sorrow and remorse over something that is inevitable to each one of us. All of this throws a very intriguing comparison with the corporate world we are part of.

Ancient Indian texts say Brahma is the creator of the Universe and all celestial bodies in the Universe. Manu is the creator of life in the Universe. Woah…so it means Brahma is the Founder and Chairman and Manu is the CEO. Then there are entities who can control wind, fire, sun, water and all other natural elements. All of them must be managers then. Have they written down essentially about a freaking enterprise at the cosmic level? No need to be surprised. How our brain is wired looks similar to how the cosmos with the all the celestial bodies have been created. The structure of an atom resembles how planetary bodies move around their stars. So even the hierarchy and structure we follow in the companies might be a reflection of how the Universe has been created. Then there is the concept of reincarnation. For some this may be the first life or the first job and for others, each life may be like each job in the corporate journey. But then there is a stark difference in the way we perceive life in the world and life in the corporate world. When a child is born, we get overjoyed and are in full celebratory mode and when someone dies we drown ourselves in sorrow. In the corporate world, we step into every new job with eagerness but with plenty of apprehension as well. We keep our guards up till we start feeling comfortable in our job, with our colleagues and with the corporate culture and work environment. When we quit a job and move on, we give parties and treats to our friends and colleagues. I believe this is how we should approach life as well. But why don’t we? Because if we see start of life with apprehension, we wouldn’t want to have children and humanity will cease to exist. We cannot celebrate death because we still do not know what happens to us after death and we never may. The fear of the unknown and the fact that we will never see our loved ones again is what brings in all the sorrow and pain. If reincarnation is true, we will simply step into a new life just like we step into a new job and if the concept of moksha is true, we will escape the cycle of life and death. No more jobs to take up in the cosmic cycle. What next is the next level of unknown.

What is our take away from all of this? All of us are here for a reason, just like we are hired by companies for particular roles. Understand our responsibilities, fulfill them and live our lives to the fullest. Just like we agree to disagree and work together, we should learn to agree to disagree and live our lives together. Just like all companies have their business objectives which gets fulfilled by hiring us, the cosmos may also have it’s own objectives by putting us in the cycle of life and death. We have been endowed with the five senses and to savour the beauty of life and the vibrant nature that nourishes and sustains us. We just need to learn to appreciate life in general the way we appreciate life in the corporate world. Just like we learn new things in our job and become comfortable with time, the more we understand nature, the more we learn about life, the more we comprehend about our life and our purpose and the less uncertain we will become about death. My first encounter with death was when I was 10, when I lost my grandpa, the man who taught me that it is possible to love someone wholeheartedly with no expectations. I realized then that everyone including myself will meet death some day. For a 10 year old, the knowledge was too overwhelming and it took a while for my mind to become stable. What I also learned was that everything we do should be with full passion be it in our jobs or be it in our relationships, so that when we leave our jobs or when people in our lives pass away or move on from us, we can keep going forward without having to tow a baggage of regrets with us. I have had to give up on salary increments, promotions and an international assignment, but giving my time to my grandma during her final years was paramount to me than anything else. When she did pass away eventually, I did not have any regrets.

Just like we are connected to our bosses, colleagues and friends on social networks, we may also be connected to everyone at the cosmic level. There is this concept of jeevatma and paramatma according to ancient Indian texts. Jeevatma is the energy that fuels our body and paramatma is something that is part of the creator in us. It has been found recently that a part of our DNA consists of an extraterrestrial code that will stay unchanged throughout the lifespan of the Universe. Is this what paramatma means? A code that is activated from the time we are conceived and is actively communicating with a single entity or source of supreme energy? If all of us are connected to that entity, then it means we are all connected to one another in the cosmos. Maybe we meet some people because we have met them in our past lives just like we come across old colleagues in new companies. We meet new people to learn more and to gather more experiences.

I have never feared death because I know it is something I have no control over. As long as I am learning from my experiences and focused on the present moment, my future will only become better. I know that I cannot keep everyone around me equally happy at the same time, so the easy thing to do is to find my own happiness and make those people a part of my life who are happy with the way I am. As long as I am not hurting anyone intentionally and living life the way I want to, I know I am doing just fine. There was a time when my life had become completely monotonous because I was focused only on my professional life and my personal side was in tatters. It has taken me time, effort and pain to find the real me, but it has been well worth the trouble. Life in a way is imprisonment because the society and circumstances restricts us from exploring ourselves and finding our true abilities. Death is release from this imprisonment. We take up a new role to learn more, take up more responsibilities, expand our capabilities and challenge ourselves. We need to apply the same concept to life as well. Live in harmony with nature, find our happiness and live life to the fullest and death may take us to a better afterlife.

Pitfalls in people management

Enough has been said and written about people management in companies. It has also been said that good people managers are those who manage their own lives well. I find it completely ridiculous. Each individual is unique in several ways and there is no correlation between managing oneself and managing a team of coworkers in office. Most of the rules we are groomed upon in people management do not hold true when it comes to ground realities. Trying hard to stick to those rules is what makes managers rigid when dealing with team members and increase attrition rates as employees change companies when in reality they are changing their managers.

In India, most industries have evolved into a situation where all managers are expected to micromanage their team members and team members are inevitably expecting to be micromanaged. Team leads and managers peering over my shoulder to see what I was doing was a common aspect of my working life. All of that changed when I went to work in the Netherlands. My team leader used to assign me work and that was it. No questions no looking over my shoulder. I got confused, went to his desk and told him that the task was complete and I had sent him an email. He said good and thanks, that’s it. I was amazed. I realized something after a couple of more such experiences with him. He knew about my work experience and knowledge and he was assigning tasks to me accordingly. It was upon me to decide how to do them, how much time will I need and how I will report back to him. I learnt a valuable lesson from all of this. The perceived objective of micromanaging people is to extract maximum efficiency from them. The common belief is that constricting people will create more efficiency but the fact is, keeping people bottled up creates negative energy which slowly leads to disharmony in the team and kills the efficiency of people. Giving people space and time to understand their tasks and do their research to find the most optimum ways to complete the tasks are what leads to better utilization of people.

Every discussion about people management leaves me speechless. The way it is discussed, I visualize it as the manager coming into the office, flicking a few switches on and lo and behold, the employees start working. When they talk about maximum utilization of people, it seems as if employees are single dimensional beings with just professional lives and no personal lives or employees are unplugging their personal lives and leaving it at home when they go to work. The fact is, our professional and personal lives are intertwined in many complex ways and there is no way we can untangle them. All of us have the implicit habit of carrying baggage in our minds, be it a domestic issue to office or a conflict in office back home. This is enough to reduce our focus and efficiency in the tasks we do, be it in office or at home. I make sure to tell the people in the teams I work that we are all working to improve the company and improve our lives and there is nothing personal going on. At the end of each day, we go to our own homes and no one owes anything to anyone. Arguments should be seen as difference of opinions and we need different opinions to find the best way forward. We have to agree to disagree and co-exist and let’s make sure not to carry any luggage back home. My experience tells me that on an average, no one can maintain peak focus beyond 5 hours in office even in ideal working conditions. So there is no point pushing people to work more. The more time we spend in office, the more our performance graph tanks.

I absolutely loathe the concept of interviews to hire people. I am glad to see the word discussion prop up more during hiring. I have come across many Indian interviewers who see interviews as an opportunity to show off what they know. I have only pity for such people. It is said that interviews are meant to understand if a candidate has the required skills and knowledge for a particular role and has the attitude to be a part of the company’s work culture. But interviews are almost never conducted on these premises. Consider these evergreen questions asked most of the time: 1) What are your biggest weaknesses? 2) Where do you expect to find yourself in 5 years? By weaknesses, they mean professional ones. So what they are expecting is, I should identify my professional weaknesses, carry them around and make sure I do not correct them, so that I can answer them. Where do I find myself in 5 years is a completely hypothetical question based on the assumption that nothing can go wrong with me in those 5 years and my life would just be the same as it is now. But the truth is far from it. Life is so uncertain that I do not even know what will happen to me in the next moment or in 24 hours. I was there in office in a previous job when a completely healthy 22 year old girl collapsed and died of brain hemorrhage in 3 minutes. And I am expected to tell the interviewers about 5 years down the road. God bless them.

I came across a couple of interesting questions recently. How to stop an employee from being poached by a competing company and how to lure away an employee from a competitor. These are actually two sides of the same coin. If an employee is totally comfortable with his/her job profile, he/she will not even waste time attending interviews. But if the competing company is able to initiate a conversation with an employee, it means that the employee is not entirely content in his/her present job role. I used to attend interviews, but for totally different purposes. My objectives were to pick up tips on interviewing, understand the not-to-do’s as an interviewer, measure my current skills, see what is expected of me in the market and sharpen my negotiation skills. How to stop an employee from being poached is a very interesting question. Such employees are top performers who have high visibility in the company and word has gone out into the market about them. Offering more money or promotions may stall them for a while, but the lure of such benefits become immaterial with time. Priorities in life changes with time. The one factor that remains almost constant is a challenging job. But it is as good as impossible to have constant challenges in a job so the best option for companies is to monitor the growth and evolution of employees, understand what job profiles suit them best where they can be utilized to the maximum and keep moving them to those roles. This will also show that companies are taking keen interest in the growth and future of their employees. Our personalities will evolve with time and with experience, we should be able to identify what jobs will suit us and change the track of our career accordingly.

Managing people in companies, especially in India is increasingly looking like herding cattle in a farm. There is no proper flow of goals through the company hierarchy so no one is clear what is expected of them. Managers have only statistical data of making their team work to show as proof of their worth. This is why team members are pushed to work more because managers are desperate to show results. Moreover, they have to piggyback on their managers for growth and this chain of dependency winds right up the corporate ladder. To add to this, companies hire people into their management team from other companies rather than identifying and promoting their own employees, thereby belittling and undervaluing them. Finally, the poison into this mix. Corporate politics. Any time a group of people come together, conflict arises automatically and people take sides leading to groupism and favouritism. In the corporate world, doing good work amounts to nothing. Allegiance to powerful people in the corporate hierarchy and being in the “good books” of the management are the elixirs of corporate growth. All of this is enough to get people disillusioned but we will know how deep this runs and how much negative energy is getting created in our lives only we step out of the corporate system.

People need to be understood, accepted, guided and valued rather than managed. Empathy and compassion are the other key factors that help leaders build rapport with their team members and bond with them. All great leaders have achieved glory on the foundations of just one factor : loyalty of people. A leader can do great things only when he has a good and loyal team backing him/her to the hilt. This applies in the corporate world as well. But the logic of economics and finance and the dynamic nature of the business world shines the limelight on money and dims the focus on people. The one man I look up to here is Amar Bose, founder of Bose Corp. His company shares would have skyrocketed if he had taken his company to the stock markets. But he preferred to keep his control over the company and used to invest 60% of the company’s profit margin into R&D. I seriously envy the people who work there and the kind of respect they must be getting. No wonder all their products are so amazing. One of the teams in my previous company was doing a project for Bose and upon succesful completion, every team member was given a Bose headphone. This, despite the fact that they were not even employees of Bose. Goes to show how much the company values people. As a side note, I heard something new on those headphones and took me a while to comprehend what true digital music is like.