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Astonishment filled the room.

“You mean I’m… prejudiced?”

There were about 35 of us. It was a resume writer’s conference on the East Coast. Tons of us sat in high school desks, the kind where the seat is attached to the desk part. (There was something wrong with the real room we were supposed to be in. Maybe it helped: feeling like cavalier high school students who thought they knew everything.)

Two women of color stood at the front of the room, blocking a map of the world. One of them had a headband on, her hair poofing up and spilling over it like a fountain. The other had a shaved head with large hoop earrings.

“Surprising isn’t it?” the hoop-earringed one said.

“Don’t hate yourself,” the other instructed.

The exercise worked. We were all prejudiced. Biased. Racist. Whatever you want to call it. Didn’t matter our color, our age, our gender. We all played favorites.

It’s a tough moment: recognizing that you’re not innocent, that you’re part of the problem, even though in the conscious world you are typically and emphatically part of the solution.

The exercise? Simple.

A list of first names with blank space next to them. We were to write down the first thing we thought of as we came to each name, just take a moment to crystalize what formed.

Giggles filled the room. Smiles. Not the good ones, the nervous ones, the coverups. Hands raised, calling over the facilitators to ask questions. From what I could overhear, they were looking for some nuance, an angle to insert into the exercise, to lever their way out of the discomfort.

I knew they were uncomfortable. Because I was uncomfortable.

I’d been writing resumes for years. I love my clients. I want the best for them.

And just like a hiring manager, I look at the resume before I see the person. Indeed, I prefer it this way. I enjoy figuring out who they’re perceived as before I actually get to know them for real. I didn’t realize I was doing some perceiving of my own.

There I was, reading a simple list of names, counting some out and counting others in. I could tell who I’d hire just by my comments in the right column, that and the ease with which those comments came to me. We didn’t need a discussion about it. It was all internal. Our brains were guilty.

Selective focus photography of two women s white and black tops

A woman at the front of the room asked what we were all thinking: “So what do we do now that we know we’re all racists?”

The room laughed but we couldn’t have been more attentive in that moment. Everyone wanted to know.

The facilitators beamed. This was the whole point of the exercise: to bring us here, to let us dig our own holes, to show us we’d been digging for years, so they could tell us how to get out.

“You can’t pretend you’re not biased,” one of them said. “Life has made you biased.”

The other one piped in: “It’s a survival instinct. Don’t hate yourself.”

“Right.” They looked at each other. Then back at us.

“Instead of fighting the fact that you’re biased, accept it, be aware of it, sit with it, and, most important, try to stop the action that wants to come out next.”

“You might even say ‘stop’ out loud.” She held up her hand.

“Exactly. Whatever it takes. Pause.”

I raised my hand.

“How do you know when you’re in the clear?” I asked. “To act, I mean.”

“Awareness is a powerful thing.” The one with the headband took a step toward me. “Awareness opens the door to empathy. Once you’re aware of what you’re doing and the impact you’re having, your conscience will call on you.”

The other instructor smiled so broadly her earrings moved. “And I’m sure everyone in this room would agree…” Her teeth glowed like the fluorescent lights overhead. “No one wants to be a racist.”

top 11 June 2020 | Equity, Recruiters & HR

Everybody knows tech companies struggle with diversity. But don’t we all? Even companies with the best intentions seem to become colorless as they grow.

In particular, I’m talking to white people, the ones, by the math of it all, who are doing most of the hiring. It’s hard when intention doesn’t lead to the outcomes we seek. It’s hard to be called a racist when your heart is in the right place.

If you truly want a spectrum of America in your company, you have to be very pragmatic about it, you have to do some things that may go against your grain, that just don’t feel right, at least at first.

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Take Yourself Out of the Equation.
You may be a great at hiring. You may have great ideas, but it’s likely you don’t know Continue reading this entry »

top 4 June 2020 | Equity, Recruiters & HR

Everybody’s doing it.

Even before COVID-19 struck the world, employers have been relying on virtual interviewing to screen out candidates. It’s inexpensive and way less time-consuming. There are several types of video interviews employers use. Make sure you’re savvy in all 4 of these formats. Continue reading this entry »

top 28 May 2020 | COVID-19, Interviewing, Job Hunting in a Recession, Job Market, Uncategorized

As a former recruiter and professional resume writer, I’ve looked at a lot of resumes. I can tell you this: people seem to struggle with knowing how, where, and to what extent to include Responsibilities and Accomplishment on their resumes.

Most people have one or the other, the coffee or the cookie. Some have both, a 2-course delivery. Neither of these strategies is optimal.

To show you why Continue reading this entry »

top 21 May 2020 | Executives, Job Hunting in a Recession, Resumes

Most interviews start with the same question (which, actually, isn’t even a question):

“Tell me about yourself.”

Why?

Because open-ended questions are the best way to get to know someone. And, they’re the easiest way to allow someone to reveal themselves.

The question is simple enough, yet most people answer it incorrectly. Continue reading this entry »

top 14 May 2020 | Career Transition, Executives, Interviewing, Job Hunting in a Recession, Recent Graduates

What is it about resumes that they’re still around? Aren’t we well past the era of using 1- to 2-page documents to represent ourselves?

I’m a professional resume writer and I’ve been ready for the traditional resume to die for a while now, like a king in his castle looking down onto the battlefield at his battered and bruised knight, so proud but bracing for the inevitable.

But the knight just won’t go down. Despite all the swords blazing and shots being fired, the trusty-rusty resume keeps swinging.

There have been numerous attempts to take down the resume, to relieve it of its decades-long tyranny over the job search, but nothing has been victorious.

Here are some of the more modern sharpshooters that have promised to dethrone the chivalrous resume: Continue reading this entry »

top 7 May 2020 | Recruiters & HR, Resumes, Uncategorized

There is a common misconception that the only purpose of the resume is to get you an interview. You’re short-changing yourself if you believe this.

I’ve watched resumes do many more things for job seekers, time and time again. Here are some of those things. Continue reading this entry »

top 30 April 2020 | Job Hunting in a Recession, Resumes

Is anyone hiring?

Not really. There are, indeed, industries and companies that are going strong, but they’re not necessarily adding to their headcount right now. Everyone’s in waiting. HR departments are in an Arctic freeze. People with jobs are clinging to them like driftwood in the cold open sea. Unemployment numbers are rising, which means the competition for life rafts is growing.

It’s hard to be cooped up in your house, knowing all of this is going, feeling like you should be “out there” looking for work.

Still, it’s always better to take action during a crisis. Action delivers a sense of progress. It fans the flame of hope in the night while we pray for the sun to come back over the horizon.

Here are some ways to stay productive and generate your own warmth in this time of uncertainty: Continue reading this entry »

top 16 April 2020 | Career Transition, Interviewing, Job Hunting in a Recession, Networking, Resumes

I had the privilege of engaging an HR panel who took the time to share what they wanted to see (and did not want to see) on a job candidate’s resume. Here’s what they had to say: Continue reading this entry »

top 9 April 2020 | Career Transition, Recruiters & HR, Resumes

Recessions tend to push hardworking people into two groups. On the one hand, is the layoff survivor handling the load of multiple former employees. On the other is the hyperqualified, abruptly laid-off job seeker who needs to explain the abrupt ending to their tenure. Different destinies but both types tend to struggle with how to present these career changes on their resumes.

Here are some tips: Continue reading this entry »

top 2 April 2020 | Career Transition, Job Hunting in a Recession, Job Market, Resumes

People always ask for a list like this so here is some age-old advice to help you prepare for your interview. These are extremely basic tenets that apply to almost everyone looking for work. Continue reading this entry »

top 26 March 2020 | Interviewing

Had to dig this one out of the archives…

KQED called me up to be the San Francisco Bay Area career hero on the California Report with Scott Shafer. Scott let me use his own career as an example for how to use seemingly irrelevant work experience as an asset, not a liability. We also discussed taking a different approach to networking, and some of the things that employers look for in job candidates.

Check out the podcast; they even included the original take which has plenty more advice for people looking to beat a tough job market. Continue reading this entry »

top 19 March 2020 | Career Transition, Job Market, Networking, Resumes

Here’s an interview I did for a blogger, asking me some popular resume questions on behalf of her fellow graduates-to-be.

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Let’s start with the most common Resume question: Continue reading this entry »

top 12 March 2020 | Recent Graduates, Resumes

I admit I’ve had a couple of challenging clients recently. It’s easy to write them off but it’s always best to look inward before casting blame.

So, what’s really going on? Continue reading this entry »

top 5 March 2020 | Career Transition, Job Hunting in a Recession, Job Market, Resumes

As a seasoned professional, you have much to offer but remember to make room for new experiences as well.

An effective resume will balance your strengths (i.e. what you can teach) with your areas for growth (i.e. what you can learn). In regards to the latter, I’m certainly not suggesting you claim ignorance. Rather, consider showing a recently developed interest in a new industry or field.

This is best done by illustrating how you’ve already Continue reading this entry »

top 27 February 2020 | Career Transition, Job Market, Mature Workers, Resumes

Recently, a resume client of mine forwarded a newsletter article from a job board discussing ways to overcome “job gaps” of 3-6 months.

Here’s a snippet from the article, and my subsequent retort as to why we should redefine the criteria for a job gap: Continue reading this entry »

top 20 February 2020 | Career Transition, Interviewing, Job Hunting in a Recession, Job Market, Resumes

One of the best kept secrets in job-hunting: The government has offered to pay part of your expenses!

You read correctly: Career expenses, including fees incurred for career counseling, professional resume writing, and job-search coaching, are tax-deductible for everyone with only a few exceptions: Continue reading this entry »

top 13 February 2020 | Career Transition, Interviewing, Job Hunting in a Recession, Job Market, Mature Workers, Resumes

What does one have to do to be deemed the World’s Best Resume Writer? lol

Here’s a press release explaining how Cliff won the title: Continue reading this entry »

top 6 February 2020 | Press, Resumes

Truth be told, some hiring managers will never read your cover letter.

I know screeners who delete the cover letter immediately, some who forward it on to others but never read it themselves, and others who print it out only to staple it behind the resume.

But you know what else they tell me? Continue reading this entry »

top 30 January 2020 | Career Transition, Cover Letters, Recruiters & HR

Networking doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Here are a few pieces of advice to keep the conversations interesting:

Don’t lead with your job title.
Good public speakers never lead with their name or credentials. Similarly, a savvy job-seeker should never lead with her job title. Continue reading this entry »

top 30 January 2020 | Networking