Find Your Dream Job, Episode 299:
Job Search Advice You Need to Ignore, with Kamara Toffolo
Airdate: June 9, 2021
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
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You’ll likely get a lot of advice when you look for work. And not every tip you get is a good one.
How do you tell the difference between good and bad advice? Kamara Toffolo is here to talk about job search advice you need to ignore.
Kamara is a resume writer, LinkedIn consultant, and job search strategist. She helps her clients dare to do work differently.
She joins us from Ottawa, Ontario in Canada.
Well, Kamara, let’s jump right into it, what do you mean exactly by job search advice that you need to ignore, bad job search advice?
Great question, Mac. Well, there’s just so much job search advice out there and it’s just very hard, as you said, to differentiate between what’s good, what’s bad, what’s misleading, or what’s actually accurate. And I’m noticing just a proliferation on the internet of really bad advice, and when we dig into itm we can see that a lot of this advice is coming from marketing and people trying to market certain services. And we can certainly get into that in more detail in a bit, but that’s what I’ve been noticing, and so, it’s important for job seekers to really scrutinize the information that’s out there and use what works best for them.
I know we’re going to talk about specific examples of advice that you should ignore, but how do you, in general, distinguish between bad advice and legitimate disagreement?
Great question. So, the bad advice often comes from, say, where I see it the most is coming from career coaches who may have not had any experiences in hiring or who don’t hang out with people who do hiring. That is where I get most of my information, is I spend a lot of time engaging with recruiters and keeping up with what is current in hiring. And so, when people aren’t doing that legwork, aren’t doing that homework, sometimes they’re depending on either old information or information that has started as a rumor or a marketing tactic, and so it’s just very challenging for job seekers to distinguish between what’s good, what’s bad. But I would say that in order to do the best possible process in terms of eliminating what works and what doesn’t, I would say to check, to almost background check the people who are offering the advice, and see if they have done hiring themselves, and if they have, at least their advice is rooted in that experience. And if they haven’t done hiring, if they hang out a lot with hiring folks, hiring professionals, then their advice can be, it gives them more credibility when they are validating it through people who are in hiring.
In addition to hiring, are there other experiences that you think can add credibility and authority to advice that people should look out for when they’re looking at the background of the person who offered the advice?
Certainly, so in my case, I don’t come from…I’ll use me as an example. I don’t come from a traditional hiring background and so, in my case, what I’ve done is, in my resume writing career, I have actually apprenticed under other established resume writers, and so, that’s how I really learned my craft, rather than getting a certification. Not to knock certifications but I felt that the real-world application of resume writing, LinkedIn writing, and job search strategy is what gives me the credibility in what I do. And that’s something that I would also favor, as well, in terms of whether I’m validating or verifying information that someone’s offering, or advice that someone is offering from a career perspective.
Another way to…or other valuable experience would be something like if someone has already been in the role that a job seeker wants to target, themselves. They can really speak from a great place of experience and offer some really sound advice that way as well. That would probably be the two areas where I think experiences would really lend themselves well to giving good job search advice.
I want to get into the specific examples but one last question: why does this advice hang on, year after year? Some of the examples that we’re going to talk about, I’ve been hearing about for many years.
I think…yeah, we’ll definitely get into the examples, and I think…when we think about the examples we’re going to talk about, they hang on because they’re easy stories, and they also almost relinquish or relieve job seekers from taking control of their job search. So, there’s external factors that they can blame if they were to use this particular bad job search advice that we’re going to talk about later. But it relieves them of some element of accountability, which I can understand that they need or want because job searching is tough, there’s nothing easy about job searching. But what I want job seekers to know is that you are so much more in control than you think, and by giving your control over to certain other factors, you are disempowering yourself in your job search. And that’s why I really want to demystify some of the advice that’s out there and debunk that some of that bad job search advice as well.
Alright, well, let’s get to your list. Number one of job search advice to ignore is to cram your application with keywords. What do you mean by this, Kamara? And why isn’t this a good idea?
Yeah, so there’s a lot of talk about really using and prioritizing keywords in our resumes. So, keywords being words that represent skills or strengths or responsibilities that we find in job postings. So, a lot of times, we’ll see resumes where the keywords are just stuffed into the resume with no sense, no sense of how these strengths or skills have actually been applied or demonstrated. And so, the problem with keywords and why we don’t want to rely on keywords exclusively is because it doesn’t give the reader any context or idea of how you actually demonstrate and apply the strengths or skills that you’re claiming via keywords.
That’s why we want to, instead, emphasize accomplishments, and that will give the reader an idea of how we’ve demonstrated our strengths and skills, and it also allows them to almost create a picture or a visual in their own minds of how you can step into the role that you’re applying for and make a great difference, add value, and it gives the reader an idea of how you’re qualified when you show that you’ve actually done the work already.
Was there a time when keyword cramming worked? How did this idea get started?
I think it started with the ATS, the Applicant Tracking System, and it was such a mystery to everyone. It’s still somewhat of a mystery in some cases, and we know a lot more than we used to, and I think the idea of parsing, which is where the ATS can extract some information for record-keeping from our resume. I think that people ran with that concept and thought, “Well, if we insert a bunch of keywords, the parsing is really going to see that we have an abundance of them and so that’s going to make us rank higher in the system.” But that’s just not how the ATS really works and that’s certainly not how hiring works.
Number two on your list is to limit your resume to one page and why is this advice wrong? Because I hear this a lot.
It’s not necessarily wrong for some job seekers. So, job seekers that I would expect to see on a one page most likely would be really early professionals or recent grads. But the problem is that everyone believes that they should be on a one page resume, or many people believe that they should be on a one page resume, which leaves people with 20+ years of work expertise trying to cram 20 years onto one page and that just doesn’t work.
It doesn’t make for a readable document and it means that you are cutting a lot of important information, so we don’t want that to happen. What we want to see is a resume being as long as it needs to be to tell your stories the right way, to show that you are qualified for the roles for which you are applying, for the roles that you’re targeting.
When we get into a rule about a one page resume, we’re forcing this kind of convention universally and that just doesn’t work when we’re dealing with human beings, right? And so, we really want to allow ourselves to create a document that is easy to read, and properly exhibits and properly shares our career stories, and the best way to do that is to use the space that you need, and to not feel confined to such a small amount of resume real estate.
Well, let’s take a break, and when we come back, I do have a follow up question about resume length, and I also want to get to the other items on your list as well.
Stay with us. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Kamara Toffolo about job search advice that you need to ignore.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Kamara Toffolo.
She’s a resume writer, LinkedIn consultant, and job search strategist. She helps her clients dare to do work differently.
She joins us from Ottawa, Ontario in Canada.
Kamara, before the break we were talking about resume length, and I’m just thinking about the listener out there who’s wondering, “Okay, you need as much space as necessary to tell your story, but how do I figure that out? What if I’m on the fence?”
Do you have an easy tip for someone who’s trying to sort that out?
Sure, so I have, for my own resume writing practice, I have general rules of thumb that I usually adhere to but I am flexible depending on certain factors. But my general rule of thumb is that if you have less than 5 years of work experience in your target profession, I would think that you would be on a one-page resume. Anyone beyond that, with 5 or more years of work experience, I would expect to be on a two-page resume, maybe on a three-page resume as you’re getting to more senior levels. And speaking of senior-level, someone who is at an executive level or a senior leadership, I would expect you to be a three-page resume, possibly even onto a four-page resume.
That’s very helpful. The third item on your list of job search advice to ignore is that you’ve got to beat the Applicant Tracking System, which often goes by the acronym ATS. What do people mean when they say this, beating the ATS?
Well, I really think that this goes back to our conversation around keywords, and I think the tactic of jmming keywords or stuffing your resume with keywords is something that some job seekers think is a tactic that you can use to beat the ATS. And when we say, “Beat the ATS,” the concept is get past it, so get past this ATS, which is misperceived as a robot or artificial intelligence, to get your resujme into the hands of a human. I think that’s generally what the concept of, “Beat the ATS,” is.
What kinds of things do you see job seekers do to try to do that…to try to get past the ATS?
Certainly we’ve got the keyword stuffing, and a variation of the keyword stuffing is something called the “tiny white font trick,” and this has seen a resurgence on TikTok because there was a viral TikTok quite recently, actually, that was suggesting that job seekers copy and paste an entire job posting into the bottom, or another page on their resume in a super tiny font and make it white so it’s invisible to the reader. Most people know that this isn’t going to be fully invisible and also this tactic doesn’t work. It can be detected on the other side, and once that’s seen by someone in hiring, they’re just going to think that the job seeker was trying to manipulate the system and they will question whether they’re even qualified or not.
If you’re not trying to trick the ATS, what is the better approach?
The ATS is something that you want to be in. So, I’m going to give credit to Amy Miller for this, and she really opened my eyes to the ATS and continues to do. So, she says that the ATS is something that you want to be in, and the reason that you want to be in the ATS is because you want to be in the files, you want to be in the system, so that you can actually be hired. So, the ATS is kind of an important part of the hiring ecosystem, so to speak. So, you want to be able to apply online, which will put your resume and put you as a job seeker, as an applicant, into the ATS, so that a recruiter can go in, read your resume, and then continue along with your file through the interviewing or hiring process. It’s important that you be in the ATS because that’s how hiring happens, and that’s how the people in hiring, “project manage” your actual application.
What would you say to a listener who says, “Well, that sounds good, but I don’t just want to be in an online filing cabinet, I want the recruiter to look at my resume and see what I can do for the company. Is there something I can do when preparing my application to make that happen?”
Write a great resume. Make sure that your resume is emphasizing accomplishments as they relate to serving the business needs of the company to which you’re applying. So, really, have a good grasp on what solution you’re providing, what value you’re providing, what business problems that you’re solving, and make sure that your competence in that respect, as well as your strengths and your qualifications, are properly reflected in your actual resume, and that’s what will make all the difference.
Number four on your list of job search advice to ignore is an idea that you either…that applying online alone or networking by itself will get you a job. Tell us more about this.
I think that job seekers see networking and applying online as two separate job searching strategies when, in actuality, they are two tactics in job searching that should coexist in a sound job search strategy. Oftentimes, we’ll see people just applying online and going for quantity of applications over quality, which isn’t good, or we’ll see the flip side where job seekers are just networking; so sending out messages to people at the companies for which they want to work and leaving it at that. You need to do both.
Applying online and networking are not mutually exclusive. They both need to happen and they both need to happen at the same time. So, if you are applying online for something, that’s the time when you’d want to see if you could follow up with someone internally. And in terms of networking, you would always want to be networking. So, you want to be focused on, when it comes to networking, you want to be focused on building long-term relationships, so we don’t want to just start networking when we’re job searching, we want to be doing it all the time.
But back to the applying online as the one job search strategy versus networking, in kind of a silo type of approach, we really want to merge those two concepts, because if you are networking with someone and you do get in touch with someone on the inside of a company, and you want to see if you can network your way into that company, you want to tell them that you’ve already actually applied to an open position if there is one online, so that they can easily refer to your open application.
If you are networking inside an organization, won’t you hear through word of mouth alone that positions are opening up, or do you also need to pay attention to websites and the online postings?
I think that you definitely need to keep your thumb on the pulse using job search postings. Certainly, if you have a good relationship with someone on the inside of your target company, who is also tapped into the hiring process or tapped into what’s coming or opening up, then that’s great as well, but I would not rely on someone to get in touch with me to tell me there’s an open role. Moreso, I would make sure that I’m keeping track of what’s coming onto job boards, and then also making sure that I’m keeping my relationships warm and engaged, and then asking my contacts and my network, specifically, if they’ve seen any particular roles or are aware of any particular roles that I’m targeting that may be opening up shortly.
Many people are uncomfortable with networking and that may be the reason that they focus on applying online alone. What do you say to someone who says, “Well, it’s a numbers game, and if I send out enough online applications, eventually, I’ll get an interview and I’ll get an offer.”
It’s not a numbers game, so that really hurts my heart when I see people saying, “I’ve applied for 100 jobs and I haven’t received a single invitation for an interview.” That tells me that there’s something amiss. So, most likely what’s happening there is that their resume is not targeted enough, and/or they haven’t taken the time to identify a target role for themselves. That is the step that has to be taken before any of the resume writing happens, before any of the job searching happens. You have to identify what you’re going after, and so, that’s really what I think the problem is when job seekers are trying to treat the job search as a numbers game. They think that if they just apply to anything and everything that something will work itself out at some point but a targeted job search, with a targeted resume, will always be a more effective job search strategy.
It’s been a terrific conversation, tell us, Kamara, what’s next for you?
Yeah, so for me, I wanted to tell the listeners about a cover letter guide that I created not long ago that is something that I think is really helpful because cover letters can be a pretty confusing part of job searching. So, I wanted to mention that that’s on my website under the menu, item free stuff. And my website is kamaratoffolo.com and just look for the menu item, free stuff, and then you can find my cover letter guide there.
I know that in addition to your website, you also host a terrific YouTube channel and that people can learn more about you and your work by watching your YouTubes, and that URL is http://youtube.com/kamaratoffolocareers.
Now, Kamara, given all of the great advice that you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about job search advice you need to ignore?
If the job search advice implies anything other than writing a resume that appeals to a human reader, I would get suspicious. So, we always want to make sure that our resume is written towards the human reader and not written to manipulate some sort of system, because humans hire humans, and so, that’s ultimately what we want to make sure that we’re embracing as well as adhering to, to make sure that we’re standing out with our resumes.
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Next week, our guest will be Sonal Bahl.
She’s a career strategist and founder of Supercharge, a career advisory firm. She’s also the host of the How I Got Hired podcast.
It can be tough to return to the workplace after a long absence.
Whether you’ve taken a break to care for family, or you’ve been out of work through no choice of your own, you may find recruiters reluctant to talk to you.
Join us next week when Sonal Bahl and I talk about how to deal with long-term unemployment.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.