How to Read a Job Description

ID-100111821Looking for a job is a challenging and competitive process.  To stand out, you need to make use of every tool at your disposal.  When used effectively, the job description can be a valuable source of information.  Here are some tips to help you use the job description to present yourself as the best possible candidate:

Review the requirements.  To be competitive in this job market, you should have most, if not all, of the requirements for the positions that you are applying for.  You might be able to get away with missing one or two of the lower priority items or anything that is listed as an asset.  Make sure that you highlight all of the requirements that you do possess prominently in both your resume and your cover letter.

Look at the responsibilities.  There may be things listed in the responsibilities that you haven’t done or that you don’t even understand.  Don’t let that scare you.  Decide if the position looks like something that you could do (and would want to do).  If you have done any of these tasks in previous positions, be sure to highlight it on your resume.

Identify any requests. Employers are often quite specific about how they want to receive applications.  They may request that you download your resume through their online application system or they may ask you to include a reference number or salary expectations in your cover letter.  It is important that you follow these directions because it makes it more likely that the employer will see your resume and it also shows that you have read the job description.

Pay attention to the details.  Before submitting an application, review the details  of the job, such as the days and hours that you will be expected to work, working conditions, location, working hours, and salary.  Usually the employers mean what they say, so if there are any deal breakers here, don’t apply.

Everything else.  Most job descriptions will include a lot of information about the company and about the soft skills that are required for the job.  While some people view this stuff as ‘fluff’, there is valuable information here.  The company information can tell you about the organization’s values and where it is headed.  The soft skills that are listed can give you a clue about what it would be like to work in that organization.  For example, if they are looking for a ‘team player’ then it probably means that you would be required to work and compromise quite a bit with your coworkers.  If they are looking for someone who is ‘customer focused’, then it is likely a position where the customers will be placing a lot of demands on you.  The key is to learn to read between the lines.


(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of Basketman at


Resume Deal Breakers


You invest so much time into your resume.  You spend hours writing it and customizing it for each position and once it’s ready, you spend a lot of time finding places to send it.  If there are problems with your resume, all of this time will be wasted because your resume will be quickly discarded.  Here is a list of common mistakes that job seekers make with their resumes.  By eliminating these errors on your resume, you can make sure that it gets the consideration that it deserves:

Proofreading errors.  Spelling and grammar errors on your resume are a big problem.  Many employers will immediately discard any resume with those types of mistakes.  They may view mistakes on your resume as a lack of professionalism or they may make the assumption that your work is sloppy.  If you have a few people proofread your resume, you can avoid this problem and keep the employer focused on your skills and experience.

Being vague.  Resumes that are overly general and lack specifics are weak.  You can make your resume a lot more impressive to potential employers just by including a few more details.  The statement “Served customers in a professional manner” is vague.  Instead say something like, “Improved customer satisfaction ratings by 30%”.  Try to remember the feedback that you received from your previous jobs and add in details whenever possible.

Not customizing.  If you are submitting the same resume to every employer, you are probably not getting the results you should be.  When you customize your resume you use language that resonates with each individual employer and you are able to show how your skills and experience make you a great fit for each specific job.  Since a lot of job seekers don’t do it, customizing is a way that you can stand out from your competition.

Not visually appealing.  It’s gotta be pretty!  Since your resume will probably be in a pile of a lot of other resumes, it needs to be pleasing to the eye.  If it looks good, the hiring manager will give it a little more time.  The layout should be attractive and you need to have enough white space.  Also, make sure that the headings and the formatting look good.  It may be worth having an employment counselor or someone in your network review your resume and give you some feedback.

If you have been sending out your resume for a while without much response, that is a good sign that you need to make a change.  You may find that it only takes a few small adjustments to your resume to get your phone ringing again!  Good luck!

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of iosphere at

How Employers Choose a Candidate


After sending out resume after resume with no response, you might start to wonder “WHY ISN’T ANYBODY CALLING ME????”  The truth is that it is a competitive market.  With so many people looking for a job, it can be tough to stand out.  It might help to try to see it from the employer’s point of view.  How does an employer choose one candidate above the rest:

Required Skills.  It’s no surprise that the employer will be looking at your skills and experience when assessing you for a particular job.  It is a good idea for you to be as detailed as possible when outlining your qualifications for the position.  List the programs and processes you worked with by name and be sure to be particularly detailed about any of your skills and experience that directly relate to the job.

Proven Track Record.  In today’s competitive market, employers are going to be most drawn to candidates who are able to get things done.  List your quantifiable accomplishments on your resume in such a way that the employers can see for themselves that you are amazing.  Managers always feel like they are taking a risk when they are hiring, but you can make them feel better about selecting you by showing them what you can achieve.

Great Personality.  Your personality is just as important as your skills when it comes to impressing an employer.  The interviewer is wondering how you would be to work with and how you would fit in with the organizational culture.  All employers are looking for hard working candidates with a positive attitude who are easy to work with.  Each individual organization has it’s own unique culture so the employer will also be assessing how you will fit in with it.  Your job is to develop an understanding of the organizational culture and to communicate that you would be a good fit through your resume, cover letter and in your interview.

Well Connected.  At the end of the day, it always comes back to networking.  When looking for a new employee, managers will always start with people they know.  By making connections and developing lots of relationships within your industry, you open yourself up to a lot of potential opportunities.

Professional Behaviour.  Professionalism is like icing on the cake for a strong candidate.  Even if you do everything else perfectly, if you aren’t professional, you probably won’t get the offer.  However, there is no stopping a strong candidate who looks and appears professional.  Take special care with your appearance and strive for professionalism in every interaction with the employer.  Remember that when you are being assessed for a job, you are always under the microscope!


(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of 89Studio at

Customize Your Resume to Get that Job


When you are looking for a job, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd.  You submit your resume and it seems to get lost somewhere in the huge pile of applications that they receive.  Is there a way to set your application apart so that it at least gets read by the employer?  The good news is; there is.  Customizing your resume and cover letter significantly increases your chances of getting a response:

It gets you through the applicant tracking system.  When you consider that most employers use automated screeners, it is absolutely critical that your resume passes the keyword test.   Otherwise the employer won’t even see it.  The employer will select a few keywords that represent essential requirements for the position.  Applications that contain those keywords will be pulled out and applications that don’t will be left behind.  When you customize your resume you identify those keywords and add them in, which significantly increases your chances of getting an interview.

It impresses the employer.  Now that you have managed to get someone to actually see your resume, it’s time to make a positive impression and a customized resume and cover letter will help you do just that.  The employer will be able to tell that you took the time to customize it for the specific position.  That alone communicates professionalism and enthusiasm for the job.  Also, when you customize your resume you are better able to draw the connection between your skills and the requirements of the position.

Some people are reluctant to customize their resume because they fear that it is too time consuming. However once you have a system in place, it doesn’t take much time at all.  Here are the steps to effectively customizing your resume and cover letter:

Carefully review the job description.  As you review the job description, pay special attention to statements or words that are repeated or emphasized.  This is the language that you definitely want to include in your resume and cover letter.

Modify your objective, skills summary, and work experience section.  Wherever possible, try to match the exact words that are in the job description.  This is how you can show the employer that you are the perfect fit for this position.

Personalize your cover letter.  Your cover letter is an amazing opportunity to convey passion for your work, make the connection between your skills and the position requirements, and address any questions or concerns that the employer may have about you.  By customizing your cover letter, you can maximize the effectiveness of this tool.

Yes, customizing is a little extra work, but in the long run it will actually save you time because you will receive a much higher response rate from your applications.

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Is Your Attitude More Important than Technical Skills?

ID-100138558For most jobs, a good attitude is crucial to your success.  Since almost every position requires that you work with others in some capacity, your ability to make connections and build those relationships will determine how effective you are at doing your job.  Also, employees with a positive attitude are a lot easier to manage and are a lot better at managing themselves.  If you feel like a more positive attitude at work could help you in your career, here are some tips that may help:

Treat everyone you meet with respect.  It is important to always maintain your professionalism at work, even when you are dealing with someone who you don’t like and even if other people are not behaving professionally.  If you establish your own standards of professionalism and never deviate from them, it will set you apart from the crowd.

Manage your stress.  People who are under a lot of stress may appear to have a bad attitude.  Stress brings out the worst in all of us.  If you aware that your stress level is high, then it is important that you take steps to manage that.  Take care of your body by eating properly and getting enough sleep.  Consider mindfulness, meditation, or yoga to help you alleviate some of the daily stressors that you face.  If a particular problem is stressing you out, find a way to address it.  If your stress persists, see your doctor or a counsellor.

Establish career goals.  If you don’t know where you are headed in terms of your career, the daily grind of going to work can be painful.  However, if you have written down your career goals and you know how your current job fits in with those goals, you will feel more motivated and fulfilled.  Refer to your career goals often and do something each day that will bring you one step closer to that dream job.

Make an effort to be positive.  When you are not consciously thinking about it, it can be easy for negative thoughts to settle into your mind and sour your outlook.  You need to be vigilant.  Whenever you think about a problem or something that annoys you, try to think of a solution to that problem.  Complainers are a dime a dozen, but if you can train yourself to be a problem solver, you will never have a problem getting (and keeping) a job.

Not only is a positive attitude an asset in your career, but it can help you succeed in all areas of your life.

“The voyage of discovery is not in looking for new landscapes, but in looking with new eyes.” —Anonymous



(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of pakorn at

Make Your Email Cover Letter Count


When was the last time that you printed out your resume and cover letter and put it in the mail?  If you are like most job seekers, it might have been a while ago.  The truth is that these days most job search activities take place online.  While an email cover letter is similar to a traditional one, there are some differences.  Here are some tips that will make your email cover letter more effective:

Be strategic with your subject line:  Try to picture the hiring manager’s inbox.  Imagine that long list of emails displaying the sender names and subject lines.  If the employer doesn’t know your name, the best way to grab their attention is through your subject line.  Be direct and specific about the position that you are seeking.  An example could be, “CHRP Professional Seeks HR Coordinator Position”.

Cut to the chase.  Cover letters always need to be brief but email cover letters have to be even shorter.  If possible, keep it to 150 words and never let it go longer than 200 words.  Use the first paragraph to introduce yourself and the purpose of the email (to apply for the HR Coordinator position).  Use the second paragraph to briefly introduce your skills as they relate to the role.  Use the third paragraph to outline next steps (your contact information and when you will follow up).  Keep your letter focused and make every sentence short and sweet.

Follow directions.  Often for online applications, employers will have a multitude of very specific requirements.  This could include reference numbers, salary expectations, requirements on resume or cover letter format, or anything else that specifies how they would like to receive your information.  If the employer has taken the time to communicate a requirement, it is important that you, as an applicant, respect it.  Otherwise, your resume may not even be considered.

Use keywords.  You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again; it is absolutely essential to use keywords strategically on your resume and cover letter.  When you are applying by email, it is even more important.  Since employers often use applicant tracking systems to screen online applications, the resumes and cover letters that effectively use keywords will always be more visible than the ones that don’t.

Show your personality.  When reviewing online applications, it can be hard to imagine the person behind the resume.  Your cover letter can help you to overcome that barrier.  Use first person in your cover letter.  Keep it professional, but when you are writing it, imagine that you are actually talking to the hiring manager.  A well-written cover letter can make you stand out from the crowd.

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles at

How to Make Them Pick Your Resume


Have you ever seen a giant stack of resumes?  It can be daunting, particular to a job seeker who is hoping to find a way to get their resume to the top of that pile.  For a moment, try to think about it from the perspective of a hiring manager.  How do you think they feel about getting through that HUGE pile of paper?  More importantly, what can a job seeker do to make sure that their resume makes it to the top of the interview pile?

Make it specific.  When you consider that employers usually receive a lot of resumes for open positions, it is understandable that they can’t spend too much time on each one.  Make it easy for them to pick your resume by using the language that they used in the job advertisement and by highlighting the skills that are important for this specific job.

Make it pretty.  People will be a lot more willing to spend time reading your resume if it looks attractive.  When a a resume is formatted nicely and has a professional layout, the important information just jumps off the page.  Ask someone to review your resume and to give you feedback on how it looks.  You might even want to visit an employment centre such as Tropicana Employment Centre to get advice on how to improve the look of your resume.

Use keywords.  When employers screen resumes, they usually use keywords to narrow the search.  For example, if they were hiring an office administrator, they may set aside all resumes with the term “Microsoft Excel” for closer review.  If your resume doesn’t include the keywords that the employer is using in their search, it is basically invisible.  The best way to identify keywords that the employer might be using is to review the job advertisement and to make note of any words that are highlighted or repeated.

Use your network.  The easiest way to bring your resume to the top of a pile is to have someone within the organization refer you.  Talk to the people in your network and ask them if they know of any available jobs.  If you behave professionally and you have maintained positive relationships, you will likely find that your contacts are happy to go to bat for you.

Follow up.  Many job seekers submit their resume and forget about it, but the problem is that often you will never hear back from the employer.  About a week after you submit your application, call the employer to follow up.  This approach won’t always be effective, but it can get the manager’s attention which is a great start.


(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of scottchan at