Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Who Is Talking About You? Google Alerts Will Tell You

I just saw on Facebook that a resume writing colleague had been quoted in an article in a major business magazine. She said she was alerted to it when she saw traffic on her Google Analytics report. But Google has an even better tool for letting you know when your name is in the news -- and it's free.

Google Alert is the easy way to monitor what is being said about you online.

You “register” certain keywords and phrases with Google and Google Alerts will send you an email when there are new results with your search words and phrases.

To start, visit the Google Alerts website:

If you have a Google account, sign into it (using the blue “Sign In” button in the upper right-hand corner).

Next, make a list of relevant keywords and/or phrases you’d like to monitor. Suggestions include:

  • Your name (with all the various ways you use it) – for example, my Google Alerts include “Bridget Weide Brooks,” “Bridget (Weide) Brooks,” “Bridget Ann Brooks,” “Bridget Ann Weide,” and “Bridget Brooks, CPRW”
  • Your company name
  • “Resume writer” + (Your City/Town)
  • Your phone number
  • Your email address

If you use quotation marks around a phrase, you’ll get alerts when the search matches that exact phrase. If you don’t use quotation marks, you’ll get alerts that include the words separately.

Note: You may have to tweak the alerts if you’re getting too many or too few results.

Enter each phrase into the Alert box:

Enter one search term at a time. Don’t be concerned about upper or lower case — both will be searched.

If you are not logged into your Google account, you can specify the email address you want to have alert notifications sent to.

Click “Show Options” to further customize your alerts:

  • How Often. You can choose to receive notifications immediately (“as it happens,” once a day, or once a week.
  • Sources. You can choose to receive a notification depending on where your search term shows up. For example, “Automatic” covers any results found. You can also narrow the alert down to notifications when your keyword phrase is found on Google News, blogs, web pages, video, books, and/or discussions.
  • Language. Pretty self-explanatory. English is the default.
  • Region. This refers to country. “Any region” is the default.
  • How many. Your choices are “only the best results” or “all results.” The default is “only the best results,” but you can tweak this later if you’re not getting enough results.

If you are logged into your Google alert, you’ll also be able to choose whether notification emails are sent to your Google email account, or to a RSS feed associated with your email account.

If you’re logged into your Google account, once you select “Create Alert,” you will be taken to a list of the alerts you’ve already created. If you click on the “pencil” icon, you can modify the options related to that alert (i.e., change your settings).

Once you set up your alerts, you’ll receive emails (or RSS Feed notifications) when results are found that match your criteria. At the bottom of the email, Google will also give you links to Delete, Create, and Manage your alerts.

Read the Google Search tips page to learn how to refine your search even further:

You may find that you have to tweak and/or test your alerts for a little while before they work the way that you want them to, but the results are worth it the first time you receive an email notification about something that you didn’t know was out there.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Write Great Resumes Faster By Mastering Microsoft Word

I was talking with a resume writer recently who uses a software package to write her resumes. But one of the best things you can do to learn how to "Write Great Resumes Faster" is to become a master of Microsoft Word.

Learning how to use Microsoft Word more efficiently can help you complete routine functions faster. Learning how to use Word's "Style" function can simplify the formatting process. Learning how to use "track changes" can speed up the client approval process. Even something as simple as changing the default font when you open a new Word document can save you time -- time that adds up in every resume you write.

One "power" Word tip is to create a couple of "standardized" formats and layouts. Develop five or six formats you can use to guide your resume development. Starting a resume from a "template" (and by that, I mean a template YOU design, not one of the standard Microsoft Word resume templates) will help you structure your document creation because you're not starting entirely from a blank page. Think of them as "structured outlines" instead of templates.

Even if you've been using Word for more than 20 years like I have, you can always learn new tricks. Look for Microsoft Word training online. There are lots of free and paid courses on Udemy. Look for ones with good reviews and a healthy number (50+) of students who have taken the course. You can even look for free YouTube video trainings.

Looking for more ways to improve your speed and increase the effectiveness of the resumes you write? Check out "Write Great Resumes Faster."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Q&A: Designing an ATS-Friendly Resume

Yesterday's blog post focused on the content of an ATS-friendly resume. Today's post tackles design considerations for resume writers when creating a resume that is likely to go through an Applicant Tracking System.

Q. How do I design an Applicant Tracking System-friendly resume?
A. The easiest way to ensure the client's resume will be accepted by an ATS is to design a resume that is both ATS-friendly and human-reader ready. 

The two are not mutually exclusive; however, ATS-friendly resumes are formatted much more simply, while human-reader resumes may contain graphic elements that make the document easier to read and more attractive to the reader.

Because the ultimate goal is to have the resume reviewed by a human, even an ATS-friendly resume needs to be readable — and attractive — to human eyes. (Be sure to tell clients: If they are given the choice to copy-and-paste the resume or upload a file, choose the upload option. This will ensure the human-read resume retains the formatting in your original design.)

Some applicant tracking systems can manage graphics (or simply ignore them), but since many systems can’t handle graphics of any type, it is best to omit them if you suspect an applicant tracking system may be used to handle the application.

The format of the main body of the resume is critical — some ATS software cannot read header/footer information, so if you include contact information in those sections, it may not be read. (And remember, geographic location can be used as a filter.)

Does an ATS-friendly resume have to be boring? Not necessarily — although formatting has to be carefully considered.

Format is extremely important. The employer name must appear before the date.

Work experience — the client's current and previous jobs — should appear in this format:
Company Name Date

The date should always appear to the right of the company name for optimum reading by the applicant tracking system. Dates can be included in almost any standard format — for example: November 2014, 11/2014, or Nov. 2014.

Work experience sections should also include the skills used in the role (including computer software and hardware, if relevant).

One nice thing about applicant tracking systems is that they are not sensitive to the length of the resume, so two or more pages are fine. However, they are sensitive to formatting issues.

Formatting a Resume For ATS Compliance:
  1. Open the file in Microsoft Word. Under the “File” menu, choose “Save As.” Rename the file (recommended format: LastNameJobTitle.txt) and save as “Text Only” (.txt) format. 
  2. Close the Microsoft Word window. Open the .txt file in Microsoft Word. 
  3. Fix any obvious formatting issues. 
  4. List the client's contact information at the top of the document, with each piece of information on a new line. Label the phone number with “Phone:” and email address with “Email:.” 
  5. Create section headings (if they did not previously exist in the resume). These can include “Summary,” “Work Experience,” and “Education.” Use one heading per section (do not combine “Education and Training,” for example), and include an extra return (an extra line) between sections. 
  6. Use simple bullets (•) or keyboard characters (*, -, or >). Do not use dingbats or other special characters, as these will not be read properly by the ATS. 
  7. Highlight the text and choose a more appealing font than Courier. (Suggested fonts are Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, or Verdana.) 
  8. Re-save the file as a .doc. (Under the “File” menu, chose “Save As.” Make sure you choose “Word Document” under the “Format” option.) 

Here's a checklist for an ATS-Friendly Resume:
  • Is saved in an approved format — resume is submitted as a .doc, .docx, or .txt (PDF, RTF, and JPG formats are not ATS-friendly)
  • Does not use fancy templates, borders, or shading.
  • Is in a single column format (no tables, multiple columns, or text boxes)
  • Uses simply formatted text of a reasonable size (10 point size or above)
  • Includes standard fonts (Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, Trebuchet, and Verdana are all “safe” choices)
  • Does not contain complex formatting (condensed or expanded text) — that is, don’t use extra spaces between letters, because the ATS can’t “read” it.
  • Include a few, clearly defined sections: Summary, Work Experience, and Education.
  • Does not contain images or graphics — or, if they do appear, they do not affect the single-column formatting (Be warned, however, that the simple inclusion of any graphics may be enough to “choke” some applicant tracking systems.)
  • Does not include any information in the headers or footers of the document (if saved in Microsoft Word format)
  • Has been thoroughly edited and spellchecked and there are no errors. (The ATS will not recognize misspelled words).
  • Does not include any special characters or accented words.
  • Contains proper capitalization and punctuation. Both of these can affect how information is parsed and assigned within the ATS database.
  • Uses the full, spelled-out version of a term in addition to abbreviations and acronyms — i.e., Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Incorporates relevant, targeted keywords and phrases for the type of position being sought — i.e., “Photoshop” instead of “image-editing software”
  • Has been customized for the position being sought. “One-size-fits-all” does not work with applicant tracking systems.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Q&A: Writing Applicant Tracking System-Friendly Resumes

Got this question in the mailbag today!

Q. How do I make sure the resumes I write are ATS compatible?

A. Great question! "ATS" stands for "Applicant Tracking Systems," for those who are unfamiliar with the term. (And if you're a resume writer today, you should be familiar with it!!)

Applicant tracking systems fulfill two purposes: to manage applications for positions (especially where there is a high volume of applicants), and to screen out candidates who lack the required skills for the job.

Applicant tracking systems allow companies to determine which candidates may be a match for a particular position, based on a scan of the candidate's resume by a computer program that analyzes the content of the resume and determines how well it "fits" against the description of the position, including keywords.

Some applicant tracking systems also facilitate internal communication among hiring professionals — allowing those with access to the system to share applicant resumes and notes.

The goal of the ATS is to help hiring managers and recruiters more easily identify candidates with the skills, education, and experience that are most desired of candidates. Just like you want the most relevant search results returned when you type a query into Google, the hiring manager doesn’t want to sift through hundreds or thousands of resumes to find the handful of people he or she really wants to talk to.

When there are a large number of applicants for a position, the ATS allows the hiring manager to screen out low-ranking resumes, saving valuable time. In this instance, the applicant tracking system works a bit like your email spam filter. It separates out resumes it doesn’t feel would be relevant for the position being filled. Like a spam filter, it recognizes content that might not be important.

There are no clear statistics about the number of companies using applicant tracking systems; however, it’s clear that those numbers will continue to grow as the software’s cost comes down.

You might not know if the resume you're writing is going to go through an ATS, but the chances are that it probably will, so it's wise to keep that in mind when writing the resume UNLESS you know the candidate is only going to be submitting his resume to companies with fewer than 20 employees OR she is going to be giving the resume directly to the hiring manager and won't be subject to "resume screening."

It helps to have an understanding of how the ATS works so you can ensure you're writing resumes that will work seamlessly with a wide variety of systems and software.

Note: This post will discuss resume content; I'll write another one tomorrow that talks about resume formatting for the ATS.

There are numerous different ATS software programs on the market — including a few new ones that operate “in the cloud” — and all applicant tracking systems are slightly different. However, they all work in a similar way, by allowing for filtering, management, and analysis of candidates for a particular job opening.

Applicant tracking systems “parse” the information in the resumes submitted, pulling them apart and placing information in specific fields within the ATS database, such as work experience, education, contact data, etc. The system then analyzes the extracted information for criteria relevant to the position being filled — such as number of years of experience or particular skills. Then, it assigns each resume a score, giving the candidate a ranking compared to other applicants so recruiters and hiring managers can identify candidates who are the “best fit” for the job.

Criteria used by the applicant tracking system to determine a match includes:
  • Appearance of a keyword or phrase — this can be measured by its presence in the document at all — as well as the number of times the keyword or phrase appears. 
  • Relevance of the keyword within context. (Does the keyword or phrase appear with other keywords you would expect?) 

The higher the resume ranking, the more likely the application will end up being reviewed by a human reader.

Success in navigating an applicant tracking system isn’t simply about the volume of keywords and phrases — it’s the right keywords — and, in particular, how unique those keywords are. Most jobseekers include the “obvious” keywords, but many applicant tracking systems put value on related keywords, not those specific terms.

Applicant tracking systems see some keywords and phrases as more “valuable” than others. Many systems also allow the hiring manager or recruiter to “weight” criteria — applying greater significance to certain terms or qualifications. Hiring managers can also apply filters to further refine the candidate pool — for example, geographic or educational criteria. They can also specify keywords as either “desired” or “required,” which affects rankings.

In many cases, however, the system itself determines the most relevant keywords and phrases, as outlined in the job posting.

Resume effectiveness goes beyond the ATS, however. Once your client's resume pops up in the ATS search results, it needs to reflect what the recruiter or hiring manager expects from a candidate with the qualifications they desire.

Think about when you’re conducting a search on Google. You type in your search criteria, and a list of results appears. You begin clicking on results and can tell within a matter of seconds if the item fits what you were looking for. If it does, you’ll read further. If it doesn’t, you’ll click onto the next result. The same is true with the ATS.

For resumes analyzed by an ATS, it is important to include as much relevant information as possible. Inadvertent omission of key data can be the difference between having your client's resume appear in a list of candidates meeting search criteria — and not making the cut.

For example, if the client is pursuing a degree or certification, it should be included in the client's resume (labeling it as “in progress” or “pending completion”), because a hiring manager may search for a specific type of degree or keywords contained in an area of study.

If the missing information is keyword-rich (i.e., a relevant job, educational credential, or certification), that can negatively impact the resume's rating — and, therefore, the likelihood of him or her being selected for an interview.

Keywords can be nouns, adjectives, or short phrases — and describe unique skills, abilities, knowledge/education/training, and/or experience.

How can you find the keywords or search terms that are likely going to be used to query the ATS?

Also look for synonyms to the keywords you identify.

In tomorrow's blog post, I'll address the importance of formatting the resume correctly to comply with the ATS software.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Are You Ready for "Dead Week"?

If you're friends with me on Facebook, you know that I have many nieces and nephews. So today's blog post references a topic that was discussed quite heavily over the past few weeks among my high school-aged nieces.

If you remember back to high school -- and college -- you'll remember that the week before Finals was referred to as "dead week." That was the week when teachers were supposed to "lighten the load," allowing students to cram in extra studying for the upcoming semester-ending tests, rather than focusing on daily homework assignments or short projects.

Taking the cue from school, then, I want to extend an invitation (challenge?) to resume writers as we approach what is often the busiest month of the year for us. (In the Resume Writers' Digest Annual Industry Survey, January consistently ranked as the top choice for busiest month for resume writers.)

Before January 1 rolls around, why not take the week leading up to the New Year and focus on preparing your business for your best year yet? From Christmas until New Year's Day is often a slow time for resume writers -- either because you've intentionally closed your business, or because prospective clients are focused on their own families and festivities.

Here are three possible projects for you to focus on during this time:

1. Create an irresistible opt-in. 
One of the best ways to attract prospects, turn browsers into buyers, and/or thank clients is to give them valuable content that will help them in their job search. That can be an ebook or special report, video or teleseminar recording or even a short course. Creating your opt-in can take as little as an hour, if you start with Pass-Along Materials content.

Some of my favorites for creating opt-ins:
Jobseeker's Guide to Salary Negotiation
Jobseeker's Guide to Leaving Your Job
Brag About It! Accomplishments Guide (see how this was turned into a Kindle book)
Jobseeker's Guide to Virtual Interviews
Your 2014 Career Roadmap

Watch this video to see how easy it is!

2. Launch that membership site you've been thinking about. 
Whether you've been thinking about a micro-continuity site (small monthly fee with ongoing resources), a fixed-term membership site (defined content that runs for a specific time period), or a recurring membership program, now's the time to get it going.

If you're thinking about a micro-continuity site, I recommend getting Kelly McCausey's "Little Monthly Payments" training program. She teaches you how to create a membership site that can generate several hundred (or thousand) dollars a month from subscriptions as low as $5/member per month. (Buy through my affiliate link and send me an email to get my "Membership Site Ideas for Resume Writers" special report as a bonus!)

It's easy to set up a membership site using Wild Apricot. It's what I use for BeAResumeWriter.com, and it offers WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) setup, with no programming skills required. Try it for 30 days for free using my affiliate link. (And let me know if you have any questions! I'm happy to help!)

3. Schedule your social media. 
Social media sites -- like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn -- can be a great way to cultivate prospective clients. But it can be tough to find the time to create content to post on social media when you're busy serving clients. I suggest pre-scheduling your content using a site like Hootsuite (free for up to 3 social media accounts) -- with or without the help of a virtual assistant.

Looking for ready-to-go social media content? Purchase my "Tweetable Tips" bundle, which includes "Job Search Advice: 365+ Ready-To-Go Tweets and Facebook Posts," "Career Checklists: 100 Tips for Success In Your Job Search" and "Positive Encouragement for Jobseekers."

Available for a limited time at the sale price of $17 (regularly $27; a $60 value), this bundle offers enough social media content for a full year.

You know what they say: "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." With that in mind, although I know you've got a lot to do holiday-wise in the next nine days, I'd still urge you to see if you can cross one of these three tasks off your list before the new year rolls around. Share a comment below if you'll take the challenge!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Yes, You Can Eat That Elephant -- One Bite At a Time

Have you ever looked at your to-do list and thought, “I don’t even know where to begin”?

We all have. But here’s something you may not know: We get overwhelmed not because there are too many things on that list, but because what’s on your list is not actionable.

For example, if your to-do list says something like, “New website,” you’re setting yourself up for failure. A new website is not something you can just do. A new website is a project, not a “to-do.” It requires several steps to complete, and likely several days or weeks of time. When it appears on your to-do list, it’s destined to be the thing that gets pushed back to tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. Because it’s just not doable.

The key to getting more done? Recognize those overwhelming projects and turn them into doable tasks instead.

Here’s how to quickly tell the difference:

A task begins with a verb. “Buy a domain” is a task. “Install WordPress” is a task. “Order a logo” is even a task. And when you put them all together (with some others) they equal “New website.”

A project or a goal is a set of related tasks that cannot be completed all at one time. You probably can’t sit down and build a new website in an afternoon. You can’t write a book in a day or two.

So when your goal is big, such as developing a new website or writing a book or creating a new ecourse, it helps to break those projects down into small, actionable tasks before adding them to your to-do list.

Think about the actual steps that need to happen to reach your goal. Do you need to order a book cover or outline the content or contact someone for an interview? Those are all things that fit on your to-do list. Put them together in the correct order, and you’ve got a project. Complete them one at a time, on time, and you’ve completed your goal by your deadline.

To map out your plan for achieving your goal, follow these steps:

1. List out all the tasks that must be completed before you can say you’ve reached your goal or finished your project.

2. Consider how long it might take to complete each task. Some will take minutes, others might take several hours or even a whole day, but you should be able to “ballpark it” to figure out just how long your goal will take to reach.

3. Grab your calendar and start making notes about what task will be completed by which dates. This will help you set a realistic goal for the entire project.

4. Add only the actionable steps to your current to-do list. Tasks that you can’t do yet don’t belong on your list, just as the goal itself doesn’t. These things aren’t actionable (yet) so don’t clutter up your space and head with them.

Breaking a big goal down into bite-sized chunks is a great way to get focused and get more done. When you’re only worried about the next small step, it’s much easier to continue on the path than when you’re constantly looking at the horizon and not seeing much progress.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Meeting Deadlines For Non-Resume Projects

As resume writers, we're used to meeting deadlines for client resume projects. But how do we do when it comes to our own projects — especially our marketing projects?

In your resume writing business, your clients are depending on you to get things done in a timely manner, and if you don’t perform, you won’t be in business long.

But when it comes to non client-related tasks, deadlines are a bit more flexible. 

Sure, you can put on your calendar that you’ll have that new ebook written by Friday, but with no real consequence to face if you don’t finish, what’s to keep you motivated? Try these tricks to help turn those arbitrary dates into non-negotiable time limits.

1. Share with others. Tell your blog readers and social media followers about your upcoming ebook. Let them know when it will be available for sale. Now if you don’t get it done, you’ll have to answer to your fans.

2. Get an accountability partner. Much like a client, an accountability partner helps you set deadlines and demands results. Find another resume writer to partner up with.

3. Reward yourself for a job well done. Did you get that ebook written and released on time? Treat yourself to a well-deserved dinner out, that sweater you’ve had your eye on, or just a day off. But here’s the thing: if you don’t get the work done—no reward. You have to have self-discipline to pull this one off.

4. Make smaller deadlines. Rather than committing to writing an entire ebook by Friday, commit to a chapter by tomorrow. Then another the day after that. By breaking down your big goal into much smaller chunks, you’ll not only be more likely to complete the big task, but it will be much easier to meet the individual deadlines.

5. Get help. If you consistently have trouble meeting your own deadlines, then it might be time to bring in outside help. A ghostwriter or virtual assistant can help you create that ebook in no time.

6. Try negative reinforcement. Make missing your deadlines painful, and you’ll find it much easier to stay motivated. You might try vowing to donate $100 to a charity for every day you’re late, or offer to pay 10 friends $20 each if your project isn’t done on time.

The ability to get things done on time is a valuable skill, and one that all successful resume writers have cultivated. But it’s not something that comes naturally to most of us. By using some—or all—of these tips, you’ll find that deadlines are much easier to meet. Not only that, but the added productivity will help grow your resume writing business as well.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

There's Got To Be a Better Way

If there’s one most common mistake that holds many resume writers back, it’s this: they try to do too much.

I don’t mean that they try to grow too fast or expand too far. I mean that they try to do too much on their own.

They write the resumes. They update their website. They post their own social media updates. They handle the customer service problems.

The list goes on (and on and on) and while at first glance it might seem like the DIY approach makes good fiscal sense, the truth is, it’s killing your productivity.

Here’s why: You’re spending more time “figuring out” how to do all those things, and not enough time where you really shine.

If writing resumes is where your talents lie, then video editing is a waste of your time. If you’re a top-notch LinkedIn profile writer, then updating your own website is taking you away from that important money-making task.

Others can do those things more efficiently (and for less money) than you can.

Here’s another problem with trying to do everything yourself—you will hate it. And that which we hate, we avoid. Suddenly, things are slipping through the cracks. You don't write your ebook because you don't know how to design a cover or format it. You don't start an email list because you don't have a landing page.

There’s got to be a better way.

The key to really getting things done in your resume writing business is to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and to only do those things that you are good at and enjoy. Everything else can be handled by someone else.

Start by making a list of all the tasks that you find yourself procrastinating on. Those are the top candidates for outsourcing. Prioritize your list according to just how much you dislike the task, as well as how easy it would be to turn over to someone else.

For example, you might really hate to update Quickbooks, so that might be something to outsource.

You don’t have to outsource everything in your resume writing business, but you’ll find that when you concentrate on what you do well and let go of the things you struggle with, you’ll love your business a lot more, and be naturally more productive, too.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What is Holding You Back?

Want to know what’s really holding you back from achieving your goals? Clutter.

I’m not talking about piles of paper on your desk or stacks of business cards you never got around to organizing — although that can be a problem, too. In this case, though, we’re talking about the clutter in your head. You know, that endless list of things that scrolls through your mind continually, and that distracts you just when you’re trying to focus.

That’s the kind of clutter that’s really holding you back, and we all have it. But the good news is, it’s easier to clean up than those piles of paper are. And the way we’re going to do it is with a brain dump.

Here’s how it works:
  1. Set aside 30 to 60 minutes of uninterrupted time. It’s important that you have a quiet place with no distractions—either internal or external—to derail the process, so plan a time when the kids are at school and you don’t have clients calling you. 
  2. Grab your list-writing tool of choice. This can be digital or physical, so whether you prefer Evernote, a Moleskine notebook, or a stack of index cards, it’s entirely up to you. Make sure you have pencils and/or pens, too. 
  3. Just write. Make a big list of everything that’s on your mind, from getting the dog groomed to building a new website. Whatever you’re keeping on that big to-do list in your head goes in your brain dump. No task is too big or too small, but don’t worry about the details yet. Rather than listing all the subjects you want to blog about, simply write “Create a blog editorial calendar.” 
  4. Organize. Once you’ve got everything out of your head and down on paper, it’s time to bring some order to the chaos. Reorganize your list according to project, then order your projects by priority, and finally order the tasks within your projects in their logical order. Fill in the blanks where necessary. 
  5. Transfer to a trusted system. Your brain dump will do you no good at all if you still feel the need to keep stuff in your head, so this step is critical to your success. Whether your to-do lists are on paper or electronic, you must transfer your newly organized brain dump into a system you trust and use. I use Evernote and Wunderlist. Use whatever system works best for you.

Finally, it’s time to get to work. And if you find yourself struggling again or not getting things done, that means it’s time to schedule another brain dump. Doing so regularly will help you continue to move forward toward your goals and get the work done.