Resume Help/Resume


QUESTION: Whenever I look for people to help me find work there seems to be a much stronger emphasis on writing a good resume and interviewing well, and just about no emphasis on the finding and choosing of the actual job. It almost seems like what a person puts on paper and how it's put on paper, much more than anything else determines their success at getting a job, and not necessarily how well they have proved themselves at past jobs. Does that seem like a fair assumption?

ANSWER: Hi James,

Congratulations.  You have just asked one of the most important questions I have seen in a long time.  It is a consideration that most job seekers simply do not understand.

Allow me to give you a bit of background information before I respond directly.  The job-seeking endeavor involves a three-part process: (1) finding jobs in which you are interested and for which you are qualified; (2) applying for those jobs; (3) dealing with the post-offer issues.  The phase that is routinely ignored is the second one.  Many applicants (most, I am convinced) make the assumption that "nothing difficult about applying ... just fill out the paperwork and send it in, right?"  Wrong.  And the direct answer to your question deals with why that is wrong.

To be sure, finding the right jobs to apply for is an art in itself.  Too often, applicants use the "shotgun" approach and apply for anything that is remotely related to their background and/or education.  That is a mistake.  If you aren't qualified either by experience or education for a position, don't apply.  It's a waste of everyone's time and energy.  I am going to assume you are not making that mistake and are selective about the positions for which you apply.

I frequently do workshops for job seekers, but I don't cover the first of the three parts in the process at all.  And I cover the third part very briefly.  The workshop is typically six hours and virtually all of that time is spent in the application/interview arena.  Why?  Because, as I alluded to earlier, this is the part that is most neglected and the part that is done so very badly by a lot of job applicants.  I have been a job applicant myself, and I have interviewed hundreds of job seekers over the years and reviewed literally thousands of job application packages.  I also interviewed dozens of other employers before writing my two books on this very subject.  I only tell you this because I want you to understand that what I will relate to you is not theoretical; it is real-world stuff.

To begin with, think like an employer.  What is an employer who reviews your application trying to do?  You might respond "find the best person for the job they have to fill."  But that is only the end result.  What are they trying to do before making a final selection about that one best person that fits the needs of the institution (business, school, non-profit, etc.)?  Here is the brutal truth: they are trying to find a reason to eliminate you from consideration.  Think of it this way - suppose you apply for a job and there are 100 other applicants.  My job, as the person who reviews those applicants, is to find a way to quickly eliminate 95 of them.  Five will be interviewed and we'll choose one.  Your chances of being in the final group of five are 20 to 1.  Your chances of being the anointed one are 100 to 1.  And that's if there are only 100 applicants.  The last young lady I helped secure a job was up against 1500 applicants ... and she was successful.

Why and how she was successful is the subject you have asked about.  To answer your question directly, yes, that is "a fair assumption."  Here is another truth about job searching: the successful job seeker is not necessarily the one who is most qualified to do the job, it is the person who best understands how to present themselves.  The "finding and choosing of the actual job" that you asked about in your question is one that we, in the training profession, assume that you know more about than we do.  We assume you can find jobs for which you are qualified.  Our job is to help you be successful in the application.

So, let's consider what you "put on paper."  Why is that so important?  Because it is ALL the employer has to judge you on until or unless you get an interview.  And unless your resume and cover letter (and other required documents) are professionally presented, you won't get an interview.  You will have given me, the guy who sorts through that pile of applications, an excuse to shred your stuff.  And how long do you get to impress me with your paperwork?  The national average is 8 seconds.  One memorable example I can relate to you is from a university position that was open where I worked some years ago.  I was reviewing the apps and the first one I came to had a color photo of the applicant and his dog in the upper left corner of his resume.  He was done.  I wasn't going to spend time reviewing anything else this person sent if he was so stupid as to make that kind of mistake.  It took a lot less than 8 seconds.  You must impress the reviewer with your professional savvy and present yourself in a way that makes the reviewer want to continue to look at your documents.  If you don't, you have no chance at an interview.  And the chances, as the numbers I gave you above indicate, are never in your favor.

So, is your past work important?  Of course.  Should the employer be interested in "how well [you] have proved [yourself] at past jobs"?  Yes, absolutely.  But if you present yourself on paper as the kind of person who can't spell, can't punctuate, is sloppy in the paperwork they submit, why would an employer want to hire you?  Their assumption is that your lack of attention to detail will probably characterize your work, if they should hire you, so why would they want to take that kind of chance?  They are going to hire the person who presents themselves as a serious and professional candidate who understand the employer and their needs and knows how to communicate that on paper and in an interview.  Period.  That's it.  And even then, you'll have lots of competition.  But I can tell you from experience, that bad application packages (that is, imperfect ones) are the norm, not the exception.  In my years of acting as an employer's agent or document reviewer, I can tell you that 92% of all app packages have some kind of mistake in them.  We don't have the time or inclination to "make allowances" for those errors.  So I counsel people in my workshops and in private consulting to make everything you turn in ABSOLUTELY PERFECT; every period, every comma, every detail, no matter how small, must be attended to.

Bottom line: you are correct.  What you put on paper and how you put it on paper determines whether you get an interview.  And if you don't get an interview, you can't get the job, right?  The employer doesn't know the "real" you.  They only have the paperwork you submit to judge you on.  That may be harsh and perhaps unfair, but it's the way it is.  And I can assure you that if you were the one having to wade through several hundred (often badly done) application packages, you would also be just as ruthless.  You must present yourself in the best possible way, because that is all the employer has to go by ... just the paperwork.

I hope this helps.  If you would like me to do an analysis of your resume and/or cover letter, you can write me back here with a follow-up and I will give you a place to send the documents.  My company does this 24/7 for people just like you.  The good news is that, because we have made contact here on AllExperts, I will do the analysis for you free of charge.

Good luck and best wishes in the future; let me know if I can be of further help.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: You assume incorrectly. I have applied to any job I could get. I deliver pizzas now. I could not even get a job in the mail room of an insurance company. Or Walmart for that matter. I have a 4 and 2 year degree in dislike topics, have over 120 credit hours, and am working on something else unrelated to the first two because I haven't been able to find work. Even my chemistry professor who has two master's degrees can't find work beyond teaching, and with her kids and all wishes she could get hired at Kmart during the time she isn't teaching. So it just feels like hard work doesn't pay off.

ANSWER: James,

I know it will not be any comfort to know you are not alone in your predicament.  However, from what you have written in this note, I am guessing that having dissimilar degrees with activity on a third is not serving you well on your resume or application.

Consider the message that some employers may read into your resume: he is undecided about what he wants or what his goals are.  I am not saying that is what all employers may see or that is the message you intend to send.  But, if you look at it from the employer point of view, you can see that such a message could be deduced by some who receive your application.

I can't agree that "hard work doesn't pay off" because I know of far too many instances where it does pay off.  It seems to me that you need to fundamentally rethink your goals and see if it might be possible to turn this third degree you are working on into something that is related to one of the first two.  Without that, you can understand that an applicant with a disparate educational history might be, at best, confusing to a prospective employer.

Also, it might make your cover letter and resume difficult to reconcile depending on the jobs for which you apply.  I encourage you to send me the documents you have and let me take a look at them with a different pair of eyes.  If you decide to do that, send me an email with "Resume" in the subject line and attach whatever you want me to look at.  Send it to rdconverse at gmail.  Include in your email a brief narrative for me that tells me something of both your short- and long-term goals.  It will make my evaluation easier.

Best wishes,

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: My goal at one point was to be a programmer, but those jobs don't seem to exist in this area so I switched to business, but again few jobs other than as accountants require a business degree so I went on to get my BA in psychology and that doesn't appear to have turned too many people's heads either. So I have been looking for work all along, and I have been going to college on and off for 12 years and am paid less now than when I started. I'm not even sure if completing my lab tech degree will even be worth the money I put into. Particularly since financial aide isn't offering me any help at all.

Hi Again James,

Yes, there appears to be a sort of "randomness" about your education.  What you'll need to do is decide which of those tracks you want to eventually end up in and then tailor your job searches and resume to that particular field.  There is a way to structure and format your documents so as to limit the impact that might be made on an employer who will view your educational background as somewhat scattered.  But it will take some work on your part to to get that kind of document just right.

Financial aid is usually capped off by schools when their perception is that you already have enough education to get employed, OR you have borrowed more money than is allowed any one student.  I can't say, of course, what your situation is, but I am guessing they are looking at  your aid app with the same eye as an employer might use.

Best of luck crafting your documents!


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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.


I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.


I have interviewed for, and held, dozens of jobs in a career going back more than 42 years. I have taught at all educational levels including middle school, high school, community college, and university. In more than 42 years of experience on both sides of the job-search process, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants and have reviewed literally tens of thousands of job application packages. I am the author of 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them! I conduct workshops for job seekers in a variety of locations every year.

Music Educator's Journal, Teaching Music, Music and American Culture (forthcoming, 2013), Last Teacher Standing: The Job is Yours Now! and 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them!

B.A. New Mexico State University; M.Mus. Southern Illinois University; Ph.D. University of California and University of North Texas

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