Getting Clarity in Your Job Search

When you were a child, you probably were asked this question quite often: What do you want to be whSerene businessman sitting at table feels satisfied accomplishing worken you grow up?

When you were a child, you probably were asked this question quite often: What do you want to be when you grow up? Once you got older, you probably thought you had the answer. But, with the number of career changes in the average job seeker’s life, you might find yourself wondering again: What does the future hold for me?

In one study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, younger baby boomers held an average of 11.7 jobs from ages 18 to 48. During this same time, these individuals experienced an average of 5.6 periods of unemployment. With re-employment, some job seekers made minor or major career changes. A construction worker may decide to start his own home remodeling business, a newspaper reporter may become a TV news anchor, or a physician may quit, becoming a comedian.

Having “career clarity” about where you are going will help you identify what type of job you want to pursue. It can also give you insight into the specific skills and qualifications you need to be a candidate for the role, and it may even help you identify who is hiring for the type of position you are seeking. Once you’re ready to apply for a job (or contact an organization about an unadvertised opportunity), your professional résumé writer will need your clarity about your future career direction to help you create useful career documents to secure job interviews and offers.

Your résumé and LinkedIn profile are not a “career obituary” of where you’ve been. They should be a forward-looking marketing document that showcases your skills, education, and experience. A professional résumé writer can also take a diverse work history and create a cohesive, compelling career story showcasing your qualifications.

Finding the thread to sew together an eclectic work history, or seeing a pattern in your previous positions, can set you and your career documents apart. Assisting a prospective employer to understand who you are and what you can do for them is the key. So deciding what you want to be “when you grow up” or even just “next” is critical.

How often have you been talking to a colleague about their job search, and they say, “I’m not picky. I want a job that pays more.” It’s not about being picky — or not being picky — it’s about being focused.

If you wanted a different car, and you were asked, “What kind of car do you want?” you would benefit from being specific with your description. Two doors, or four? Sedan or SUV? Cloth seats or leather? New or used? What color? What make and model?

If you know what you want (whether a car or a career), it is much easier to find it. When you have achieved clarity about the job you’re seeking, you (or your résumé writer) can tailor your résumé and cover letter to showcase how you are the ideal candidate for the position — cutting through the clutter of hundreds of other applicants.

There are two paths to achieving “career clarity” — otherwise known as a crystal clear job target.

The first is through self-exploration. There are numerous online resources you can use to identify what you want in your next job — or your future career. The second is to enlist the assistance of a professional. You can hire a career coach to help you work through the process.

The Self-Help Route

The federal government has several excellent, free resources to help guide your research. These include:

The Occupational Outlook Handbook:

The OOH provides career information on job responsibilities, education and training, pay, and the outlook for hundreds of occupations.

O*NET Online:

O*NET Online provides detailed descriptions of the world of work, including the daily aspects of a particular job and the qualifications and interests of the typical worker in that field.

My Next Move:

My Next Move is a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. It is an interactive tool for job seekers to learn more about their career options. The website identifies tasks, skills, salary information, and more for over 900 different careers. It also integrates the O*NET Interest Profiler, which offers personalized career suggestions based on a person’s interests and level of work experience.

CareerOneStop Toolkit (Formerly America’s Career InfoNet)

The Toolkit is a “one-stop-shop” to find information about careers, training, skills, jobs, wages, state and local resources, and more.

You can also take a variety of online assessments and career inventories to discern your career path. Keep in mind, however, that these may not be scientifically valid. However, they may help remind you of areas of interest that could potentially lead you in a new career direction.

Getting Professional Help

If you want to go beyond your research, consider engaging a professional to help you identify your career direction.

Career coaches (also sometimes referred to as “career counselors”) can help you assess your interests, skills, and values, investigate career options, and define a career path. Some states require individuals to be licensed to call themselves a career counselor. Career coaches may have a counseling degree, certified in life coaching, or certified through professional organizations. The key is finding a fit for your particular needs — ask people you know for recommendations. Talk to several coaches and make sure it’s the right fit.

Your career coach may use a variety of tools and methods to help guide you through the career exploration process. These can include career testing, conducted assessments and exercises, and interviews.

You can find career coaches in university alumni centers, community agencies, in private practice, and potentially in your state’s Department of Labor. The cost may range from nothing (when seeking assistance from your state’s Department of Labor) to several thousand dollars to work with a clinically trained professional in private practice throughout several weeks or months.



You’ve never had a résumé before. Maybe you’ve never needed one. But now you do and you don’t know where to start.Man with resume paper

The primary purpose of the résumé is to get you the opportunity to interview for the job. Everything you do — and include — should focus on this goal.

Your résumé should be targeted to be effective. If you don’t know what you want, it’s going to be difficult for the reader to understand. The first step is to determine what skills, experience, and education you will need for your target job.

The late résumé guru Yana Parker used to say, “A résumé without a job target is like a book without a title.”

Understand that your résumé is not a “career obituary.” It will not — and should not — include everything you’ve ever done in your career.

It still needs to be accurate, but you don’t need to list every job you’ve ever held. Nor do you have to list every aspect of the responsibilities of the position.

Your résumé is not a legal document, unlike a job application that asks you to list all your career experience and that you sign, acknowledging that the information is accurate and complete.

Instead, your résumé is a marketing document.

The most important thing to remember is: The résumé is not about what you want — it’s what you can offer to an employer.

In her book, “Résumé Magic,” author Susan Britton Whitcomb explains there are ten main reasons that motivate employers to hire. These include your ability to help the company:

  • Make money
  • Save money
  • Save time
  • Make work easier
  • Solve a specific problem
  • Be more competitive
  • Build relationships/an image
  • Expand business
  • Attract new customers
  • Retain existing customers

Everything you put in the résumé — or don’t put in the résumé — should relate to the job that you’re seeking, demonstrating to the person with authority to hire you for that job what you can do for the company in that position. When trying to decide whether or not something is relevant, think about the hiring manager.

Technology has changed the hiring process in some ways, but the essence is still the same: How can you attract the attention of the person who has the power to hire you and get the opportunity to get in front of him or her and demonstrate you’re the right fit for the job?

If you are submitting your résumé online, your résumé may go into an applicant tracking system, which is software that helps to hire managers track applications and select which candidates to interview.

Applicant tracking systems — and the integration of technology into the application process — underscore the importance of tailoring your résumé and cover letter for the role you’re seeking. If there are specific words and phrases used in the job announcement, make sure to include them in your résumé. You can’t merely create a résumé and use it to apply to 100 different jobs. Not only is that inefficient, but it’s ineffective.

Résumés are not “one size fits all.” You can’t expect a résumé focused on one type of role to open doors for you in another career field. A résumé written for a job as a middle school principal is not likely to generate interviews for a role as a sales professional. Nor is a résumé written for a social media specialist going to work for someone applying as an executive assistant. There may be aspects of the résumé that you can use in both versions of the résumé, but you can’t use the same document.

Nor can you copy someone else’s résumé — even if it’s incredible — and expect it to work for you in landing your dream job. If the résumé does land you an interview, you need to be able to speak to the experience and accomplishments described. You not only have to walk the walk, but you also have to talk the talk.

Tell a story with your résumé. How did what you’ve done in the past lead you to the right combination of skills, experience, and education for the job you want? Who are you? What sets you apart? What can you do for the company that no one else does?

If you are a recent graduate with little to no work experience in the field you’ve studied and are targeting, your most robust qualifications are your just-completed education and any internships, projects, or relevant volunteer experience.

A few tips for your first résumé:

  • Have a clear job target in mind. If you’re applying for similar positions within a career field, the body of your résumé won’t change too much. But you will want to customize it with keywords and specific phrases that tie into the position as well as the culture of the company you are targeting. Don’t have a particular company in mind? Find job postings for 3-5 positions you’d be interested in and use these to inform the content you include.
  • Make sure the résumé is visually appealing. The résumé should be designed to appeal to a human reader, even if it initially will be electronically submitted (and likely will go through applicant tracking system software).
  • Focus on accomplishments. “Past performance is the best predictor of future results.” Hiring managers can get a sense of what you can do for them by what you’ve accomplished in your previous jobs. Employers want to hire people who can generate results for them. Outlining the challenges, you tackled, the actions you took to solve the problem, and the results you produced can be a powerful way to attract the attention of a hiring manager. Quantify the results in terms of numbers (money and percentages are particularly powerful).
  • Follow the conventional style. Résumés use a unique style of writing that emphasizes brevity. Résumés use a version of the first-person style, but omit the subject (“I,” “me,” and “my”) and most articles (“a,” “an,” “the,” “my,” etc.), except when doing so would negatively impact the readability of the sentence. Use present tense for activities currently being performed, and past tense for past activities and achievements. Emphasize action verbs (“direct,” “manage,” “develop,” etc.”) instead of passive descriptions of your activity (“responsible for,” etc.).
  • Remember to emphasize what makes you valuable to your next employer, not what you want. Go back to the employer buying motivators list and look for opportunities to showcase how you can be an asset to your employer in one or more of these areas. The résumé should include everything the hiring manager needs to know about you to decide to interview you. It should ignite the interest of the hiring manager, making you appear desirable and potentially valuable to the organization.
  • Experience is experience, even if you didn’t get paid for it. If some of your best accomplishments and most impressive experience comes from volunteer work, include it! Where have you gained experience through projects, internships, leadership roles, and community service?
  • Proofread it, then proofread it again. Print it out, set it aside for at least a day, and then come back and read it with a fresh set of eyes. Look for misspellings, inaccuracies in job titles and dates of employment, and grammatical errors.
  • Don’t go it alone. If you are overwhelmed by the idea of how to put these principles into action, consult with a professional résumé writer. The time and money you invest in having your résumé prepared professionally prepared may not only shorten your job search and help you land the interview, but it can give you confidence by arming you with a powerful job search tool that can help guide the interviewer to discover you’re precisely what the company needs!


A Job Seeker’s Guide – Employment Applications

Know The Rules

Get the job by knowing the employment rules…

You’ve spent hours writing your résumé — or may have invested hundreds of dollars hiring a professional résumé writer — and maybe even drafted a cover letter to accompany it. You now have all you need to apply for a job opportunity that caught your attention — or do you? At some point in the process, you’ll be required to complete a job application, which may seem redundant. After all, doesn’t the résumé cover everything the employer needs to know?

Employment Application Basics

Despite all the changes in résumé content and style — as well as how one looks for work and applies for jobs — one constant remain: The employment application is an essential part of the hiring process. From the employer’s perspective, the form serves some purposes that are not addressed in a résumé (and optional cover letter). These may vary, depending on the nature of the job and the preferences of the company; however, the following always applies:

  • An application is a legal document. Unlike a résumé, you are required to sign a form, confirming that all the information you included is accurate and that you have not omitted anything.
  • An application becomes part of your permanent file once you are hired. Both state and federal employment laws require employers to retain employment applications for at least one year.
  • At a minimum, an application requires you to provide information sufficient to demonstrate that you are legally permitted to be employed. Furthermore, an application enables an employer to request information you would not typically include on your résumés, such as contact information for immediate supervisors, reasons for leaving, or professional references.

The employment application is not a standardized form so every company may create its own as long as it adheres to regulations set by the government. 

Current Regulations

  • In earlier decades, almost any question was acceptable. It was not unusual to ask the applicant’s date of birth, marital status, or citizenship. Things that were once okay are now prohibited by numerous federal laws that turned the tables in the applicant’s favor. Under these laws, employment applications/employers cannot inquire about the following:
  • That last point is quite complex, sparking debates about what are — and are not — lawful questions, and leaving jobseekers confused and anxious.
  • Race, religion, gender, and national origin: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits direct — as well as indirect — questions that allude to race, gender, and
  • The employment application is not a standardized form so every company may create its own as long as it adheres to regulations set by the government.

That last point is quite complex, sparking debates about what are — and are not — lawful questions, and leaving jobseekers confused and anxious.

Current Regulations

In earlier decades, almost any question was acceptable. It was not unusual to ask the applicant’s date of birth, marital status, or citizenship. Things that were once okay are now prohibited by numerous federal laws that turned the tables in the applicant’s favor. Under these laws, employment applications/employers cannot inquire about the following:

  • Race, religion, gender, and national origin: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits direct — as well as indirect — questions that allude to race, gender, and ethnicity. Inquiries into the color of eyes/hair; whether the applicant is married, single, divorced, or separated; number and ages of dependent children; requiring a prefix (Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Mrs.); or questions about the observance of religious holidays are all unlawful. The anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act prohibits employers from discriminating against an applicant because he or she is not a U.S. citizen. The Form I-9, rather than an employment application, is the appropriate forum to determine an applicant’s citizenship status.
  • Age: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects employees 40 years of age and above. It is permissible to ask an applicant if he or she is under 18 and, if so, to state his or her age (to ensure the applicant meets minimum age requirements of the job and/or to ensure the employer does not accidentally violate state law regarding the employment of minors regarding hours worked or specific work responsibilities). However, it is unlawful to request a date of birth or include the specific question, “How old are you?” Unfortunately, one can roughly calculate an applicant’s age by asking when he or she graduated from high school.
  • Disabilities and medical conditions: The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits any inquiries about past or current health problems and medical conditions, disabilities, or on-the-job injuries. Even asking for the applicant’s height and weight is considered unlawful, as it may discriminate against certain demographic groups.

As you can see, it’s been more than 25 years since any significant regulations were put in place to protect job applicants from discrimination. Other employment application practices that are still in place include inquiries about an applicant’s criminal history, credit standing, and salary history, all of which can negatively impact a job seeker. Fortunately, there are grassroots initiatives taking hold, and new regulations being adopted at the federal, state, and municipal level all across the country.

Applicant Credit Checks

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA) is a federal law that governs how a credit reporting agency handles your credit information. It is designed to protect the integrity and privacy of your credit information. The FRCA permits employers to request credit reports on job applicants. A 2010 study from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimated that 60 percent of companies checked some (or all) job applicants’ credit reports.

Federal law permits employers to use credit history as a basis for denying employment and even rejecting any applicant who refuses a credit check. When applying for jobs, it is essential to know your legal rights regarding credit checks.

Employers using credit reports to screen job applicants must do the following:

  • Obtain your written permission to request a credit report. The FCRA requires the notice to be “clear and conspicuous” and not mixed with another language. Read each application carefully and pay attention to what you are signing.
  • Notify you before they take “adverse action” (in this case, failing to hire) based in whole or in part on any information in the credit report.
  • Give you a copy of the credit report and a written summary of your rights.
  • Provide you with an opportunity to dispute the information contained in the report (typically three to five business days) before making a final decision.

Potential employers see a modified version of your credit report. Information that might violate equal employment regulations — such as birth year and marital status is omitted, as is your credit score and account numbers.

As of February 2013, eight states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) have passed legislation to restrict the use of credit checks in employment, and dozens of additional cities and states have introduced bills to do so.

At the same time, however, these laws include numerous exemptions that allow certain employers to continue conducting credit checks — even when there is no evidence that credit history is relevant to job performance. Check your state’s labor department or your city government to find if you are covered by any applicable laws.

The Equal Employment for All Act, introduced to Congress in 2013, would amend the FCRA to prohibit employers from considering credit reports in the hiring process, except for jobs that require a security clearance, are in the public sector, or are related to financial services. As of November 2018, that bill continues to languish in the House Financial Services Committee.

In the meantime, there are things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Check your credit report before you begin applying for jobs. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Order online from, the only authorized website for free credit reports, or call 1-877-322-8228. You will need to provide your name, address, social security number, and date of birth to verify your identity.
  • Flag negative-yet-accurate information by contacting the credit bureau and asking to attach a 100-word explanation to your report of the extenuating circumstances that led to the negative situation.
  • Give your permission, when requested, to access your credit report. Unless you live in one of the states mentioned (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) and are in an exempt category, you have a higher shot of being shown the door if you refuse the employer access.
  • Don’t panic. Even if your credit report contains some negative information, you’re not necessarily out of the running. Only 10 percent of employers reported on an SHRM survey that a clean credit history was the most crucial variable in deciding whether to hire someone and 80 percent of companies still hired candidates with damaging information on their credit reports.