Ask an Authority: Brian Brandt, Resume Writer

Vladimir Popovic
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Today I’ve got something extra-special for you. This interview is something like holding the bull’s horns and trying to recite Charles Baudelaire at the same time while thinking about the esoteric aspect of Nietzsche’s Will to Power. Absolute madness!

I really enjoyed it. Hope you will, too.

Ladies and gentleman, I present you the great Brian Brandt!!!

Q: Tell me something about you and your business. How did you start?

Brian Brandt

A: I pride myself on being the only resume writer with my broad array of skills. I offer 15+ years as a hiring manager; 12 years of highly accountable business experience in sales, supply chain, banking, hospital administration and startups; and 10 years in recruiting. My positions and history involve HR and organizational development leadership; real writing experience, a technical writing certificate, and 99th percentile verbal skills; resume expertise and LinkedIn profile development. Ice that cake with a background in e-strategy and encrypted websites, and you have a guy who knows how to find people and places for his clients.

I thrived during the tumultuous 1990’s decade of M&As in Boston (MA, USA). In less than 50 square miles, there were dozens of M&As going on at any time. I was lucky. I bounced along as things changed at my desk. I followed my banking colleagues to a Cambridge startup towards the end of all of this. It was ultimately bought by IBM. I coordinated the project staffing side of the IT outsourcing transition for IBM at John Hancock after that. This involved 30 IT / IS competencies across 200 ongoing development projects!

From there, I almost pursued my Ph.D. in Psychology at Boston University, but academia was not for me. Still, the psychology education really helps me through my process with clients. While looking for work to supplement what would have been my academic stipend, I called a work-at-home ad that ended up being from a medical recruiting company I would contract to for 4 years. I partnered with someone else for about the same amount of time after that. All along the way, I was always my own entity, though. I can’t believe that I have been working for myself for 12 years now!

All of my skills came together in what I do now as a resume writer, LinkedIn profile developer and career e-strategist when I decided I had had it with recruiting. I’d been doing resumes all along, and this just naturally became my main focus. It’s less lucrative, but I am doing what I love and helping people at the same time. I have yet to find a resume writer with my level of business experience, knowledge specific to a myriad of industries, literary capabilities and online strategic expertise. I’m very proud of this.

Brian E. Brandt

VenatiQuest on LinkedIn

Brian’s page

Q: What are the three most common mistakes applicants make in their resumes?

A: The first one has two parts. The first is “Wasting valuable space by featuring uninteresting and vague information and fluff under headings like Core Competencies.” I do not want you to be competent to the core. I want you to be someone who excels.

Telling me you are a strategic thinker, highly accountable and results oriented tells me you are stupid. These are qualities expected in every employee, and used in so many resumes that they pack no punch in representing you. They simply provide a cold, clammy, fey handshake.

Worst statement to include on a resume? Excellent written and verbal communication skills. Verbal includes the written. The whole statement is redundant and grammatically incorrect, while also being false. You do not have exceptional verbal skills if you choose to include written and communication in a statement where verbal encompasses them both.

This all ties in to the second facet of the first tip: “Misunderstanding how to use the top third of the first page.” Lazy resume writers compose windy summaries and core competency lists in order to shorten their work. They speak of the quick scan as if it all occurs there. Let’s remember, most resume writers have never hired or even screened resumes. The top third of page one should include relevant hot points for the industry or job sought. A nice summary is vital, so long as it avoids fluff. After that, I will put everything from lists of programming languages or types of trucks used in mining work. This is not the place to tell me you are detail oriented. If you were, you would share the details, not meaningless statements. And remember, that scan hits the whole document. Grab them at the top, and they will come back to read in further detail top-to-bottom.

Second biggest mistake? Not including a Custom URL to one’s LinkedIn profile. This can also be achieved with a LinkedIn hyperlink button, otherwise known as an icon. Do not put your candidate evaluator to work. No one wants to look you up. Link them in!

I save the best for last. The worst resume offender of all is describing your duties and responsibilities instead of highlighting accomplishments and achievements. This is more important in the United States and Western Europe, and some countries are not trending towards this for CVs. CVs overall tend to be more descriptive. This leads to evaluating candidates based on anything but the data. After all, if everyone has similar qualifications, things like portrait photos, nationality, ethnicity, religion and gender weigh more heavily. All of these are still widely shared in many near, middle and far Eastern states; the Maghreb region; and developing Southern Hemisphere countries.

Q: How much time do you spend on one resume at first glance after you receive it?

A: 5-7 seconds. A lot of people think that this is unfair. It’s not enough time, they say. You’d be amazed what you can see with a trained eye within this timeframe.

But fret not! The 5-7 second scan is simply a way to determine whether the resume warrants a further read.

I’m at a point in my career where I can give a voicemail three seconds before listening on. I can certainly tell if a document warrants my time in six. Compare this to Facebook’s technical recruiter. Very young, she reports needing 25 seconds to see what I see in five.

Q: What is the first thing you look for in a resume?

A: Well, I’d frame it as looking at the initial impression. The presentation, as it were. Is this resume slapping me in the face or is it inviting me in? One or two typos or punctuation oddities are fine, but misspellings and grammatical errors numbering more than three start telling a bigger story. I catch these like a fox on hare, so they are part of the presentation. When I see a resume that is laborious to read, I know what is coming. I often find myself on the phone with a long-winded, annoying, time wasting boor of a person. This is someone I would never hire. As a resume writer, if s/he proves educable, I will take the case on. After all, I’m here to fix things.

Q: What are the three main eliminating factors of resumes you review?

A: Track record of short tenure. History repeats itself.

Off the rails, as I call it. A steady career with the last few to five years spent in short term positions or in roles that don’t really match up with the overall career. Something is going on with this person.

Risky resume behaviors like first person narratives? This person might be a renegade.

I have a cumulative 15 years as a hiring manager. I have hired some people off of godawful resumes. I was not hiring for a resume writing position! A banker isn’t supposed to be adept at such a production. This is why I get paid the big bucks. What gets you tossed more than anything is applying for jobs for which you are not qualified. Alienating and renegade behaviors get you tossed in the trash can. Don’t listen to the one or two “gurus” supported as Influencers by LinkedIn that tell you to tell ‘em to shove it or get wild and weird with your resume. They are beyond well off. You need to eat. Don’t let them take your plate.

Q: What are the three main attributes in a resume of a candidate that will be called for an interview?

A: Three main attributes in a resume of a candidate that will be called for an interview are that it demonstrates this person to be qualified, qualified, and qualified.

Of course, as discussed above, there are some things taken together that can throw a shadow over qualifications and cause worry or wonder.

Q: What do you think of graphic and video resumes?

A: Graphic resumes are just godawful. I don’t need a chart showing the quantifiable data you shared in a bullet. It’s gimmicky. Video resumes are great for certain roles. You wouldn’t need one for a news anchor role because you’d have footage available to share by link. I certainly wouldn’t want one from a radio host. I feel that every situation is different. In working with creative types, I have used links to video content for sure. A video resume is too, too much. A filmed elevator pitch is too little. If you feel a video makes sense, it should be a summary presentation somewhere in between. As I always say, and will repeat here even—every situation is different. Beware of rules.

If a video makes sense, make a video that makes sense.

Q: What do you think of a functional resume format?

A: I love it. I’ve had to rely upon it in rare cases, but it serves the candidate well when it is really called for.

Q: Can you share up to five quick tips for applicants in order to pass ATS screening?

A: (1) Avoid non-universal fonts. (2) Keep headers simple for online applications. If you are using Sales Management as a summary section header above some key driver points, that is just great for resumes sent by email or posted to job boards. ATS systems, though, have certain sensitivities. Stick with Summary, Professional Experience, Education and the like. (3) Don’t fret over keywords. The resume writers that work off of fear mongering speak of black holes. Avoid these writers. I have purchased, implemented, programmed and received results from ATS. I have audited ATSs to see what was not spit out based on my criteria sets.

ATS is your friend. If you do not have the right key words on your resume, you are not qualified.

Hiring managers who demand experience with a certain program or business function do not want to hear pouty applicants claiming to be qualified despite not having a critical skill to succeed in the job. Get real. Stay realistic. And avoid those who tell you what you want to hear. (4) Write out acronyms and other abbreviations. If you offer DaaS, write it as “Desktop as a Service (DaaS).” It’s funny that this point is pressed home so much, because most hiring managers are going to use the acronym for keyword search. Still, play it safe. (5) Avoid unusual formatting, graphics, and page borders (these can block the entire scan for some ATSs). Bonus: (6) Never, ever use headers or footers. No one needs page numbers. Files are viewed on screen.

Q: What is your position on photos on resumes?

A: Not having one on your resume is customary in my nation, the United States. I work in eight countries. This is customary in half of them. I like the photo. This is moot now, though. LinkedIn best practices include having a professional portrait. We’re going to see your ugly mug either way.

Q: Why is professional resume writing service worth a couple of hundreds of dollars?

A: A couple of hundred? Not on your life. Not here in the States. Californians live very outsourced lives. They are the most appreciative, cooperative and high paying clients. They always refer business with no expectation. They come back and pay what you ask. They open doors for you if you serve them well. I find this extends all the way up through Vancouver, Canada. Sue, I have billed as low as a couple of hundred. It is usually a new grad in need of some light help. You’d be amazed how many people only need to spend a few hundred with me. The ROI is insane. Here is a post about my results. They sure seem worth the investment.

Q: What is your opinion regarding resume length?

A: Resume length is situation dependent. I have seen academic CVs of 30 pages and scientific ones that number six or seven pages. CEO resumes and very senior executive tend to be three pages. Most people are two. New grad and early career should be about one page. Again, it depends on the situation. In healthcare, four pages was a big number for nursing leadership with rich clinical histories. 

Some application processes make demands such as “one page,” “no more than two pages” and “full list of publications and presentations.” Follow orders!

Q: What are the three main points undergraduates or recent graduates need to present in their resume?

A: It’s not about three main points, or two or five. They need to distinguish themselves from their peers, full stop.

Project work, tutoring, appointments, leadership, volunteering and other extracurricular activities are great places to start finding points to achieve this. Speaking of a couple of hundred bucks, I will take $250.00USD from a new grad in certain fields if this candidate merits the help. If I have a biomedical engineering star student on the phone, I am going to help. A new grad qualified for an entry level position posting at SpaceX? I’m all in. The work is exciting, and new grads from 12 years ago are still using me to this day—not to mention the referrals.

Q: What do you advice to your clients regarding references?

A: Write job references yourself and have them edited or approved from there. Do this at every turn in your career. Don’t wait until job application time. Collect references all along your path. Prep references that will get calls. Before leaving any job, ask for an honest assessment of what you should improve in your next job. And then do it. Calling back former managers for references goes so much better when you can speak of improvements based on their advisements.

If you tell me you cannot give me a reference because your old boss no longer works there, you’re a fool I want to slap silly. Did you not stay in touch? Do you not have her name? Do you not have Google or LinkedIn to find this person? If you tell me that HR does not give references, I know you have something to hide. I have never failed to get a manager by cell phone from a good candidate, despite even the strictest no reference policies. Plus why are you mentioning HR? Trouble at work? Thought so.

Q: And what about cover letters?

A: Always include a cover letter. Avoid format guides and templates. Open strong, close stronger. Clear up anything like relo issues or work limitations right away. Expand on your opening claims with facts and figures. Follow these with qualitative elements of your work and of you as a candidate. See this post for more:

Q: What is your advice on making employment gaps less prominent on a resume?

A: Less prominent is deceit. Reasons for gaps can be covered in the first bullet or any blurb under a position. Some folks have situations that require a nice italicized line. Something akin to: Took two years off to handle estate planning and elder care issues.

For some clients, I put a few words right next to the title – or under it: 20% RIF June 2012

For others, it might be a first bullet: Left Wachovia Asset Management to follow Wachovia VP to WAMU for VP lending position in Asset Based Finance.

Q: What would you like to see in resumes more often?

A: Peer comparisons and other measurements given with respect to targets and standards are woefully amiss in resumes and CVs. Give me context!

It’s great that you increased sales by 20%, but how good is that really? Is this as compared to a peer average of 12%? Was it expected of you? Increased sales by 20% against a target of 10%. Taking the first step to provide quantitative data is not enough. There are three steps. The second is to state the goal. Next, check to see if you can further compare yourself against peers or the market. Increased sales by 20% against a goal of 10% and a peer average of 12%. If you do not work alongside peers, you can use industry metrics.

Q: What are the most irrelevant parts of a resume for you?

A: Home address, activities, high school. Anything that takes up space that could be better utilized.

Q: Do you check online presence of a candidate exclusively through links provided on a resume or you dig deeper?

A: I dig deeper. I dig really deep. My hacking skills allow me to peel back three more layers than so-called social media experts. If I am hiring someone — which now would be a contractor, not a direct employee – I am going to scour down. 

Q: In the end, please add a couple of sentences about resumes for our readers.

A: Yours stinks. Hire me. Or Vlad!

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