The Thing You Did Wrong in College

I heard the absolutely worst story you could possibly imagine. Well, to a recruiter like myself and someone that cares about people’s careers, it’s the worst kind of story.

A teacher friend of mine had a really exceptional student who was looking for an internship. They were ending their junior year in college, heading into the summer. This is prime summer internship season for those looking to land permanent jobs after they graduate. This teacher knew a business owner in her field that was offering summer internships, and contacted them in hopes of getting this student an interview. This business owner interviewed the candidate twice and ultimately offered them the job! A dream scenario for the student.

The student turned it down.

Turned. It. Down. I couldn’t believe this!

Hearing this story made me more angry than I’ve been in a while. How could you possibly turn down an opportunity like this that would help you get your foot in the door to your industry?

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Here were the reasons given:

• I just don’t feel ready
• The drive is too far (45-60mins)


Internships are exceedingly hard to come by. A paid internship, even more so. You have to seize opportunities like that no matter the cost. The drive or inconvenience can be worked out later. Focus on your inner Grant Cardone and commit, then figure out the details later. When you have no experience and someone is willing to give you experience, the first thing you say is absolutely yes, and fill in the blanks later.

Grant Cardone 10x - Why Artists are Starving - Episode 50 ...

When you are young and coming out of college, you don’t really understand how things work in the professional world. (You actually need to de-program yourself after college and start self-teaching right away.) Professionally, you aren’t aware of what it means when somebody puts their professional reputation at stake on your behalf. More than that, you aren’t aware of what time means to professionals. Remember, this was two interviews with a business owner, the person with the least amount of time. The fact that you have turned this opportunity down reflects poorly not just on you, but also on the teacher who referred you. It’s very unlikely this person will vouch for you again moving forward.

Stick your neck out | Adventist Record


I think the reasons this whole transaction derailed so terribly are:

  • No expectations were set from the beginning (blame teacher)
  • No context was given for what this internship would mean down the line (blame teacher)
  • Possible issues with travel were not brought up at the beginning (blame student)
  • Being uncomfortable as a reason to turn down a once in a lifetime opportunity (blame student)
Setting Clear Expectations: Leadership Essentials

Everyone involved will (hopefully) learn that if this situation happens again, the best solution is to get out in front of the problems before they arise by setting proper expectations at the forefront.

For other content related to the job search, resumes, and MBTI, please check out my other terrific articles.

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How to Properly Do Your References

References are an essential part of locking down a job offer. The higher up the corporate ladder the reference is, the better the chance you will be taken seriously as a candidate. There are some pitfalls I’ve observed as a staffing recruiter that will help as you move through the hiring process. Anybody that is working with me will get this same advice.

In today’s litigious society, most companies will not give a thorough reference. Instead, they will simply confirm the dates of employment. The reason for this is that companies fear a lawsuit for defamation if there is an assumption that a “bad reference” led to someone not getting a job. It’s all to avoid a lawsuit. References are harder than ever to come by, and can be increasingly disingenuous.

Reference Pitfalls

The first pitfall is your reference not being a previous/current manager. I see a lot of candidates using their co-workers as a reference; this is not going to play well. Best practice is to get at least 2 superiors that you directly reported to. Listing a colleague can come off as lazy, but even worse, can come off as suspicious. Questions start to percolate that the reason you are looking for a new job/left your last job has to do with why you are not listing your manager. Managerial references will speak to your work ethic and your character, along with your culture fit. A colleague or “equal” will likely say whatever you coach them to say, thus giving your potential employer no solid information.

The second major pitfall is not giving your references a heads-up that they will be contacted. I can’t tell you how many goose chases I’ve been on attempting to track down a reference who was not aware they were a reference. Furthermore, best practice is always to inform your reference that somebody will be calling them soon. Management tend to screen their calls and are thus difficult to connect with. On the same train of thought here, is verifying that this person is an appropriate reference. It might sound shocking, but I have had references remove themselves as a reference due to hardly knowing the candidate (or worse, having a bad relationship with them).


The final thought on references is that some people prefer to write at the bottom of their resume. “References available upon request”. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but it’s unnecessary filler. Everyone should have references no matter what, and the fact that its not explicit that you have them won’t stop a company from demanding them. From my experience, you are better off either listing them at the end, or not at all.

For the time being, references are still checked, albeit with more legal restrictions. Always let people know you are listing them as a reference, inform them when they will be called, and always list those who were truly your manager.

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Resume Aesthetics

The 80/20 rule is also known as the Pareto principle, which states that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In certain fields, its easy to see how this plays out. In a sales organization, 20% of your team will account for 80% of your sales. In a class science project, 20% of your team will do 80% of the work. You can easily list many examples within your day to day that fit this principle. Similarly, though not quite as applicable, is the relationship between content and aesthetics contained in a resume.

80% of your resume should be content, while the other 20% should be aesthetics. While there is no consensus on the correct format or aesthetic, I want to share some tried and true methods that can help avoid potential pitfalls.

Structured format, clean layout, tight spacing, no fancy design

This resume is the format I use professionally. I have formatted and submitted 100’s of resumes to clients using this format and it has not done me wrong. The spacing is set to Single and the Before and After are also at 0. This helps save space as an added bonus to the tight formatting. The header replaces the typical objective statement and instead summarizes your job roles and skillset without needing a whole paragraph. This method is much appreciated by the hiring manager and the ATS. Font is size 12 with Bookman Old Style looking classically noble.

Multi-colored, confused format, non-linear

This resume looks creative–that can’t be denied. The issue is its distracting and overly intricate. The color scheme is pleasing, but the format is non-linear which should be the top goal of a resume. Readability and flow should always be top of mind when formatting your resume.

It’s clear what the goal of the profile picture is trying to do (convey motherly wholesomeness), but its violating a huge no-no in resume writing which is putting a picture on your resume. There are managers who will simply throw resumes away or delete from their email if they see one with a picture. Lawsuits and claims of discrimination result from considering candidates with pictures are a main driver for this. Don’t do it. Furthermore, the picture isn’t you, so there is no added value to the content.

The header with the arching background graphic is more style without substance. The only time this is going to be to your advantage is when you are applying to a graphic design type role where resume creativity is a deciding factor. Other than that, it comes across as attempting to distract from the content. What is notable is that this resume does have great content in the job duties, so that already speaks for itself without the fancy design.

I guess that is the essential crux of all resume writing– content is king and should be 80% of your resume. The spacing, readability, and concise-ness should be the other 20%.

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The Concept of the Resume

A resume is designed to capture the attention of 2 different people; the Skimmer and the Scrutinizer. The perfect resume will cater to both their review styles and satisfy their internal check-boxes.

The Skimmer is somebody who is looking for keywords to judge whether or not you deserve an interview. This type is the person you want if you are a word salad writer and want to pass this filter. Specifically when a role has a must-have qualification, this is the resume reviewer that you want. The Skimmer’s downside can be quite embarrassing to you as the candidate. Say you get to the interview based on having the right keywords jammed in your resume. You are asked during the interview to explain your experience with, let’s say, Adobe Illustrator. Yes, you’ve used it, but it was one time, and it was really just Adobe Photoshop, but really it was MS Paint. And now you are backtracking and looking like a clown. This is an instant fail; much like driving on the sidewalk during your Driving Exam.

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The Scrutinizer is the guy who nitpicks your resume line-by-line just looking for a reason to reject you. The benefit of this type is that if you do manager to pass their filter, you are likely already a top candidate for the position. The downside is that this type will often reject those who are very qualified, but missed 1 or 2 crucial bullet points that would have sealed the deal.

You can make a resume that satisfies both types without exaggerating, stretching, or adding fancy graphics. Here is what is needed:

  • Include the specifics of the tool, project, application, or the final result ($$$ saved, quota achieved etc) to each bullet point. Don’t say something like, “Administered database to ensure data continuity.” Tell us it was SQL or Mongo or whatever, but make it clear what the tool was. Too many candidates get rejected by The Scrutinizer when they leave these small details out.
  • Make it obvious that your job title is in line with the standard duties of that role. If you are a Project Manager, you need direct reports, budgets specifics, and clients if applicable. The most common mistake I see is people label themselves a manager without actually having direct reports. This is where you can pass the filter of the Skimmer, and lose bigly in the interview.
  • Keep in mind that words mean things. But some words don’t have value because they are too vague or, even worse, misrepresent you. Instead of words that can be left up to interpretation like, “helped, assisted, and managed”, words like “architected, designed, and implemented” are more concrete.

At the heart of the resume is the 3 C’s: Clear, Concise, and Cnot Lying. If you stick to these, you will get more interviews and offers than you know what to do with.

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