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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Hiring for the right fit

Over the years, one of the things I have watched with a lot of interest about the corporate world is how people get hired. Hiring people is an extremely fascinating job and I have spent time with people in HR teams to understand what goes on behind the scene. But like other aspects of the corporate, HR activities have also been automated and become process oriented, with the result that rather than making it easier for the right people to get into the right jobs, finding the “right fit” for a job has become more complex.

Resumes are now run through automated software to search for keywords in the resumes that match the ones in the job description. I am not able to wrap my brains around it. Are companies hiring people or robots? All of us evolve continuously in life and the work place plays a very important role in that evolution in our lives. Who we are today is not who we were when we started our careers. Our personal lives also play a major role in determining how we mature in our professional lives. Describing ourselves completely in our resume is impossible because we are all unique from one another and that is how we have been created. We can only highlight what we have done in our past and present jobs in our resumes, but experience and knowledge we have gained from the jobs can never be written about. Most interviews are conducted based on what is in the resumes rather than how the candidates can add value to jobs they are being considered for. Even though interviews give companies the opportunity to understand candidates better, it is still hard to comprehend someone’s ability to adapt to new challenges and the desire to keep learning.

What we are seeing now is organizations growing irrespective of whether all their employees are also growing as well. This is simply not right. Bose is a company that is not registered in the stock markets and they pump back 60% of their revenue into research and development, which basically means back into their employees. We can now see how Bose has become a market leader. All businesses are by and for the people, so everything that is attributed to the organizations should also be applicable to the employees. If a company becomes market leaders because of more efficient management, it’s employees should also become more efficient. Employees should be motivated to improve their working standards and have the passion to grow. For an organization to stand out and be competitive, it’s the people should be in that mindset first. Throughout our academic lives, we compete with our classmates/batch mates for some reason or the other which motivates and drives us to perform better. For most people, this competitive spirit dies off once the stress of life and work engulfs them and for the rest, it becomes a matter of one-upmanship and usurping the position of someone else in the companies they are working. Neither contributes towards the growth of the employees and the growth of the organization.

People are trying out different things in the name of maintaining work-life balance. But again, planning a trip during the weekend keeps us excited through the week but the thought of going back to office and the back to the same old life makes the return journey dreary. Now all businesses are in a stage where cost is the primary driving factor and this is putting more pressure on employees to perform or perish. All of us are innately talented in one way or the other, be it in arts or sports or in something else. Most of us never find this within ourselves, because we are always busy with academics, work, responsibilities, etc. Increasing number of people are trying their hand at different things outside their work place, like taking up sporting activities or trying their hands at music, theater or some other art form. But this is mostly to beat work pressure rather than to excel in it. If people start taking up activities with the objective of competing and excelling, it could put a completely different spin to the organization’s overall efficiency. People will have an outlet to release pent up energy and they will carry the need to excel into their work place as well. This is why companies should promote and start hiring people who are doing productive activities outside office. Top colleges give admissions to students not only based on their academic skills but also on what else they are excelling in. In one way, this is an indicator of how effectively we manage ourselves and our time, implying that they are checking our leadership capabilities and our ability to handle multiple responsibilities together and excel in them. In short, they are looking for what they call as “well rounded resumes”. This is what companies need to do as well to find the “right fit” for the jobs they have.

Something that puzzles me is the fact that most companies give provision for candidates to upload their resumes on their website. The objective is to inform candidates when suitable opportunities come up. I have tried searching for jobs this way as well but I have never understood the objective. If I, as a candidate is trying for jobs in a company, I must be having a reason for it. Either the company is into a business which I am or have been working in or the company must be having a business unit where I can fit myself in. So I would do basic research about the company before uploading my resume into their website. But when I am doing this, I feel more like a robot than a human because everything is automated and I don’t get the human touch. What I believe will truly work well here is, I should be able to schedule an informational interview with someone in the company I am aspiring to work for. This will give me the opportunity to highlight my skills and showcase my objective and passion for working for the company in the role I am seeking. This will also help companies find the “right fit” for the jobs they have. There will of course be a cost in employing people to do the informational interviews, but it will be more than offset when the company improves significantly.

So much gets written about how to prepare resumes, how to prepare and appear for interviews, how to negotiate for salaries and so on, the basic part I feel is missing is treating candidates as humans and giving them the opportunity to showcase their abilities. The whole process of job search is in itself a revelation because it can give plenty of insights into what we can potentially do and how and where we can extend our capabilities. A little bit of “human touch” to the recruitment process can definitely add a lot of value to the company and people aspiring to be a part of the company.