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Crush the Other Candidates – Personal Branding Tips from Adrienne Tom

Expert Interview Series

Adrienne Tom

President/Chief Executive Resume Strategist, Career Impressions

Adrienne Tom is President and Chief Executive Resume Strategist at Career Impressions, where she packages and positions professionals for high-level employment and career success. Recently, we had a chance to speak with Adrienne about a wide range of topics, including job search best practices, effective resume writing, personal branding, and interview preparation.

Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to start Career Impressions? 

After several years of working in the career industry, I identified a gap in the market and decided to launch my own independent practice offering resume and interview support to a wide range of professionals.  I always enjoyed writing and creating content; and with Career Impressions, I could blend my love of word creation with career storytelling to help job seekers promote themselves as a candidate of choice.

What are some basic concepts that apply both to people seeking entry-level jobs and to applicants seeking senior level positions? 

Regardless of career level, job seekers need to promote themselves with purpose to capture the attention of hiring authorities.  To stand out in a competitive market, job seekers must understand unique organizational requirements (pain points) and position themselves as the answer (problem solver). Strong, succinct marketing tools like resumes, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles are required by all types of job seekers, and they must demonstrate why they are the candidate of choice.

To stand out in a competitive market, job seekers must understand unique organizational requirements (pain points) and position themselves as the answer (problem solver).

How should applicants go about creating their personal brands if their past work experience is largely irrelevant to the positions they are seeking?

If a person is targeting a position outside of their usual experience (as with a career change, for example) or looking to secure their first career role (new graduate), they need to emphasize value versus experience. Everyone brings something unique to the table.  The trick is to align personal offerings with the employers’ requirements and needs.  By demonstrating value through related qualifications, transferable skills, and perceived business impacts, a job seeker can present a brand and offering that is appealing to the "buyer."

When it comes to the format and layout of a resume, could you please share a few dos and don'ts with us? 

First, it’s important to note that there is no one way or right way to write a resume.  Everyone is unique, therefore, their resume should be, too.  A few best practices to improve resume success include:

  1. Tailor content for each job.  Don’t use a blanket approach and fire off a mass-produced resume to every application.  General resumes rarely work because they don’t align personal value to unique role requirements.  Address the needs of the reader – every… single… time.
  2. Use a format that works best for you, your career history, and your target.  This may involve a standard reverse chronological format or a more modern combination format. Develop a resume that positions you and your offerings in the best possible light.
  3. Keep resume content results-focused, not task-focused. Employers are not interested in basic job tasks. These are often a given and provide no real value or insights to abilities.  Instead, provide proof of skill through quantifiable and measurable career achievements and accomplishments. 
  4. Keep the resume simplified and short.  Long-winded and dense resumes are likely not tailored enough in content, nor will they be read.  Employers appreciate straight facts that are easy to pick out and absorb. As Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. Employers agree; complexity hides while simplicity reveals.

What are some elements of exceptional cover letters that help them to stand out from the dozens of others that a hiring manager or HR person may receive?  

Cover letters aren’t always read, but if you want yours to get noticed, keep it short, keep it simple, and keep it relevant.  Employers want to know value – fast.  A standard boring four-paragraph cover letter will look like all the rest and take too long to read.  Modernize the cover letter by cutting to the chase in just a few value-loaded sentences.  Keep content snappy and bold.  

Do research to identify potential pain points of each application and then open the cover letter with a direct question like:  “Are you looking for an administrative assistant who can manage a 10-line switchboard and provide world-class customer service?” Then follow this up with a few strong examples! 

An additional cover letter strategy would be to employ design components to naturally guide the reader's eye to main points; so you could break out top impact statements into short bullets, a box, or a sidebar to summarize offerings in a more succinct and eye-catching manner. Or insert a graph or chart that clearly demonstrates growth, success, or achievement.

Name some of the fundamental habits or actions that people interviewing for senior level positions are still doing (or not doing) that negatively impact their chances of getting hired. 

The biggest interview mistake that senior professionals make with interviews is not preparing.  Since they often describe themselves as "excellent communicators," many professionals feel that they can wing an interview and still win the job. Wrong!

In this informational age, employers’ expectations are greater than ever that job candidates will come to the interview fully prepared.  Senior-level candidates must research the company they are being interviewed for and have a firm grasp of organizational structure, financials, culture, product and service offerings, and job requirements.  This ensures that all answers and information delivered during the interview are aligned and demonstrate value.

What are some of the key differences in how an applicant should approach an initial interview versus a second or third interview with a potential employer? 

Regardless if the interview is the first or third, the same attention to detail and careful preparation is required. Initial interviews may be conducted with human resources, while second or third interviews might involve higher-level company representatives who press for more technical insights and perform a deeper qualifications analysis.  Having a firm grasp of the company and role requirements will ensure that job candidates can address a wide range of questions with ease and value alignment.  

With job search technology continuing to become more sophisticated, how will it affect the overall job searching process for applicants in the future? What aspects of this process do you think will not change much at all? 

It is becoming increasingly difficult for job seekers to navigate "the system" when it comes to a job search. More often than not, a computer conducts a lot of the screening processes and job seekers who aren’t aware of how an ATS (applicant tracking system) works will be hard pressed to get their resume though the electronic gatekeeper.  With technological advances, it is more important than ever to employ savvy strategies that bypass traditional job application procedures.  Job seekers need to focus on networking, relationship building, and referral avenues to get noticed by decision-makers.  

Regardless of advances in technology or screening processes, one thing remains constant: the need to "sell oneself." Both the traditional resume and new online platforms like LinkedIn are still widely used by recruiters and employers to vet and qualify candidates, and they remain critical components of every job seeker's "toolbox."

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Zack Andresen

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