Whether we like it or not, regardless of whether it’s legal, discrimination is alive and well in the workplace. Taunee Besson, career transitions expert and President and Principal Consultant at Dallas-based Career Dimensions offers some strategies that allow minority job seekers to remain true to themselves and put their best feet forward. — Maurice Gilbert
Should minority resumes be any different from those of Anglo job seekers? “That’s a silly question. Of course not.” says Warren Osby, a Placement Specialist with Career Information and Placement Services at Richland College. “Experience, the most important component of your resume, isn’t black, white or brown. It has no face.”
Charly Johnson, a Senior Technical Recruiter for Alcatel, a global telecommunications company, tends to agree. “Experience is experience. However, if minorities feel it may be beneficial to reveal their ethnic heritage, they can list activities such as the NAACP or the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or spotlight their degree from Howard University or Prairie View A&M.
Before they do, though, it’s a good idea to research the company via its employees, fellow minorities, and the Internet to determine if the organization walks its equal opportunity talk. If it does, the job seeker can proudly display his ethnic activities. If it doesn’t and he still wants an interview, it’s best to leave the Association of Black MBAs off his resume.”
Many job seekers’ names reveal their minority status. Unless they are willing to change it (which I certainly wouldn’t advocate), their name broadcasts their ethnicity immediately because it’s the first thing an employer sees on the resume. For them it’s best to assume the potential employer is either in tune with the benefits of diversity or at least open-minded. Giving the recruiter the benefit of the doubt is much healthier than anticipating a hidden agenda.
When asked if it makes sense for a minority job seeker to pursue a company with a poor track record for hiring and promoting minorities, Johnson said, “The name of the game is getting through the door. If you don’t get in the door, you can’t get up to bat and take a crack at the position. I’ve been in situations like that. If I go in knowing I need to make an extra effort to sell myself, I’ll be ready to do it. And I’ve found I can turn attitudes around, if I put my mind to it.”
Johnson also points out that companies often have no history of hiring minorities. “They may be open to it but just haven’t been very proactive. Before you cross them off your list, give them a chance to give you a chance.”
Both Osby and Johnson agree that a good resume works for anyone. Let’s take a look at some resume guidelines that will help you get interviews, whatever your origin.
Before You Start Writing…
- According to Warren Osby, “You should only go after positions that fit your experience, skills and interests.” It wastes everyone’s time when you compose and send in a resume for a job you aren’t qualified to do. Don’t apply for one you won’t enjoy, either. Time is a very important commodity. It doesn’t make sense to squander it by either pursuing or taking a position that’s a poor match for your skills or personality.
- Both Osby and Johnson agree you should research a company before your prepare your resume and cover letter. Find out about the organization’s products, services, culture, community involvement, affirmative action program, plans for the future and buzz words. Then use your knowledge to compose a targeted resume and cover letter.
If you want to grab a recruiter’s attention in 10 to 30 seconds, tailor your resume to a specific position. Most job seekers agonize over creating one perfect resume that will be all things to all employers. When they get few responses, they are surprised and puzzled. They don’t understand that recruiters are ruthlessly efficient in looking for the best potential matches for their opening and doggedly determined to focus on achievements and experience that parallel what their company needs. Unless your resume concentrates on your relevant qualifications and eliminates other extraneous information, you are wasting their time and sabotaging your chance for an interview.
- To do yourself justice, formulate a clear picture of the job description, pull accomplishments from your background that mesh with it and choose a chronological, functional or hybrid format which showcases your achievements to their greatest advantage. A chronological resume is structured by job title and generally puts the last job first. This format is excellent for individuals who have few gaps in their employment, haven’t job hopped and want to stay in the same career. A functional format concentrates on activities rather than jobs and has a lot more flexibility than its chronological counterpart. Because it often doesn’t list job titles and have dates marching smartly down the page, recruiters often dislike it. The hybrid format generally starts with a function/activities section, then lists jobs and dates under a separate section called Employment History. It’s a good compromise between the other two formats.There is no best format for college students. Your experience, personality and audience will determine which one is best for you. You may even use different formats depending on the jobs you are pursuing.
- Keep both humans and computer readers in mind when you are creating the text and format of your resume. Your hard copy should be on high rag content paper with an easily read typeface, a good deal of white space, no typos and a number of key or buzz words that indicate you are familiar with the job and its environment. Your electronic copy should use a typeface with serifs in regular or bold letters, lots of white space, no typos, no italics, no underlines and a keyword summary. If you are sending your resume via email, it’s safer to use a text format than rely on the reader having word processing software that matches yours. Pasting your resume to your email can make it easier to access and print than sending an attached file.
- When you are considering places to send your resume, take advantage of your college career center and networking contacts. About 80 to 90 percent of jobs are filled through people who know people. Scanning newspaper and internet ads can also be useful, but you are a lot more likely to hear of an opening through a personal referral.
- Before you start writing your resume, put together an accomplishments history. This document should include a detailed outline of all your achievements, whether you’ve been paid for them or not. Then, when you have a specific job in mind, you can select the most relevant items from your history and combine them to form a targeted resume.
- For years job seekers have put their name, address and phone number at the top of their resume. It was a simple no-brainer. In the last few years, telling recruiters where they can find you has become much more complicated. Depending upon where you are most easily reached, you may also want to include your cell phone and your e-mail address. Whatever you decide to use, be sure all the pages of your cover letter and resume have your name and fastest contact point prominently displayed at the top.
- Your objective comes next. It should be as specific as possible. Saying you want ABC job with XYZ company helps the recruiter know exactly what you want. Many people will tell you a specific objective cuts your chances of being considered for other positions. This is bogus advice. If you want to go after more than one job, compose and send more than one resume. When it comes to being selected for an interview, you need to focus on and qualify for the job the recruiter is working on at that moment.
- The professional qualifications brief or summary usually follows the objective. Incorporate keywords in this section so that humans and applicant tracking systems recognize your experience with competencies and technologies specific to the field. Of course, you’ll need to show in your experience section why you deserve to claim this expertise.Example for a Human Resources professional:
Compensation and Benefits, Organizational Development, Technical Training, Recruiting, Change Management, Affirmative Action, OSHA Requirements, Mentoring Programs
A professional qualifications brief can include experience, skills, personality traits and philosophical statements that illustrate who you are and what you have to offer. These summary statements should be a unique personal description which relates to the job you want. Bland qualifications briefs that talk very generally about being a results-oriented, hands-on, people person waste resume space and recruiter time.
Example for an International Business Professional:
- Extensive understanding of global socioeconomics.
- A transcultural individual who is comfortable with people and settings around the world.
- Skilled at bringing a diversity of people together to pursue a common goal.
- Willing to relocate abroad.
- Your experience section generally comes next. You can frame it according to jobs or activities/functions. If you choose a chronological format, you’ll list your most important and relevant achievements under each job title. If you work by function, you’ll put each accomplishment under its corresponding functional title such as Project Management or Accounting/Finance Experience. Rather than describing your responsibilities, which does little to set you apart from your competition, spotlight the specific contributions you’ve made in the position or activity.Example
Use “Developed and coordinated the first annual Basketball Hoopathon, which raised $10,000 for the local family shelter.”
Instead of “Responsible for raising money for charity.”
- Start your accomplishment statements with action verbs. They have a lot more sizzle than “duties included.”
- Quantify whenever you can. Talk about amount of money earned or saved, percent of improvement, day or hour reductions per process and number of employees or participants you managed, coached or trained.
- Sprinkle jargonal terms favored by your career or industry liberally throughout. Using the right buzz words is like speaking French in Paris. It captures your reader’s attention and elicits her respect.
- Include your volunteer or extracurricular activities in this section, if you have little paid experience or your non-paid work is relevant to the position you seek. As meshing these activities can be confusing in a strict chronological format, you may choose to list your activities by name and leave out the dates, or go with a functional format.
- Speaking of dates: they can be your friends or enemies. If you are worried about how they fit together in your resume, use number of years or months instead, or delete them.
- Your education goes either below your experience or above it, depending upon which you think is more important. For many recent college graduates, their education is more relevant to their job objective than their stints at Burger King or Kroger. If, however, your paid or unpaid positions reflect what you can do for a potential employer better than your degree in Anthropology, slip education under your experience section.
- As noted above, you may discuss professional organization and community activities in your experience. Or you may choose to put them in an Activities/Organizations group below either education or experience. Be sure to list your awards, offices and memberships, putting the most important, prestigious ones toward the top.
- Finally, don’t list salary history or requirements, reasons for leaving or references in the body of your resume. Salary history can be addressed in an application or on a separate page, as can references.
Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979, which works with individual and corporate clients in career change; job search; executive, small business and life coaching; college major selection and talent management.
“One of the smartest minds in the career field,” according to Tony Lee (VP of CareerCast Operations at Adicio and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal’s Online Vertical Network), Besson began writing for the Dallas Times Herald in the early 80s. Having read several of her columns, Lee asked her to contribute regular articles to the Journal’s National Business Employment Weekly (NBEW) as well. Since then, she has been a triple award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and Senior Columnist for CareerCast.com, as well as WorkingWoman.com and Oxygen.com. At Lee’s request, Besson authored five editions of NBEW’s Premier Guide to Resumes and three of its Premier Guide to Cover Letters. She has also written articles and/or been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money and Yahoo among others.
Taunee has worked on community nonprofit boards and committees for over 30 years including Girls Inc., Women’s Center of Dallas, Girl Scouts and Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Volunteers of America and Mortarboard, among others. She was a member of the Leadership Dallas in 1987 and Leadership America in 2003.
In 1994, the Dallas Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development chose her as its “Professional of the Year”. Her NBEW columns were selected for the “Ten Best Article Award” in 1990, 1994 and 1997. In 1999, Alpha Gamma Delta, a 200,000 member fraternal organization, named her as one of three “Distinguished Citizens” at its biannual international convention.