Continuing to strengthen jobseekers in peculiar times

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On April 30, 55 jobseekers with disabilities gathered for a resume-building session with some of the top HR specialists in St. Louis. Although current circumstances dictated that this year’s Spring Resume Roundtable be held virtually for the first time, participants still came away with the same valuable feedback for strengthening and fine-tuning their resumes.

This year’s panel included a mix of familiar and new faces. Jeff Parker (Senior Talent Acquisition Manager at Centene), Erica May (Talent Acquisition Manager at Panera), and Rita McMillan (Diversity and Community Engagement Consultant at St. Louis University) took part in the discussion, each having participated in spring clean-up and fall forum events previously. First-time panelists included Rena Peterson (Global Talent Acquisition Partner with Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals) and Kim Morgan (Recruiter at Thompson Coburn).

Participants submitted their resume questions before and during the event, and panelists took turns addressing each item. One of the questions that generated the most discussion involved how to handle considerable gaps in work history. The consensus seemed to be that explaining gaps honestly within a cover letter is the best strategy.

“Don’t exaggerate or simply lie about your dates in order to stretch out the time periods and lessen the gaps. We do background checks, and if you’re not being 100-percent accurate on that, it could come back to get you,” Jeff warns. “Just because you were out of work for eight months doesn’t mean you weren’t bettering yourself. Maybe you were taking a computer course during that time, or maybe volunteering at a local organization, or maybe you were caring for a family member… you can work that into a cover letter to explain some gaps in there.”

Jobseekers were also curious about the most effective ways of tailoring resumes to ensure they are not lost in the shuffle of the application process. The panel offered plenty of useful suggestions.

“Get to know the job description and the qualifications. There’s going to be certain keywords within both those areas,” Jeff explains. “You would certainly want to inject those keywords or phrases within your resume.”

Facts and figures that illustrate your best skills are also good for grabbing the attention of a recruiter.

“If you say something on your resume, then back it up with some type of data or some type of example of why you said that,” Rita suggests. “If you say you are detail-oriented, then give an example of an achievement that shows this on your resume. That really gets a hiring manager’s eye.”

According to Rena, simply rearranging the sequence of information on a resume is often enough to get it noticed by a recruiter.

“You’re not changing your content necessarily; you’re just moving it around,” Renae says. “So for instance, if you know project management is important and you have that skill, be sure to move that up to the top so that it stands out and it’s captured early in your resume.”

The proper length of a resume frequently sparks debate in the HR realm, with some experts even claiming that anything over a page will be automatically discarded. Kim summarized the prevailing opinion of SDI’s panel.

“Having a resume that’s longer than a page is not a deal-breaker. If you have several years of experience to back it up and you need that page-and-a-half, that’s not a deal-breaker for me…” Kim acknowledges. “I’d rather you do that than try to squeeze everything onto one page and do like an eight-point font or something that’s hard to read.”

Other factors can earn your resume an express trip to the trash, as Kim goes on to explain.

“One of the more important things for me is that a resume really needs to be very clean. It’s like a first impression the recruiter is getting of you, so it needs to be free of typographical errors and spelling errors. It needs to be clear and concise,” Kim urges. “No matter how qualified somebody is, if their resume is full of typographical errors or spelling errors, it’s an indicator that they don’t pay attention to detail.”

As Erica points out, sometimes less is more when it comes to designing the perfect resume.

“A lot of people will have a colorful band at the top and fancy bar graphs with colors, but it can be very distracting,” Erica admits. “The simpler the better. Black and white, easy to read, bullet points so I know what you did and how long you were at each job. That’s really what I’m paying attention to.”

Despite being held remotely, the discussion flowed freely and covered various aspects of resume writing. In some ways, the virtual setting allowed even more job seekers to attend this year’s Spring Resume Roundtable. Jason Hartsfield, SDI’s Adult Career Services Coordinator, was pleased with the results.

“This event was a huge success, thanks in large part to our wonderful panelists who shared a wealth of information,” Jason remarks. “I think the format also let us open the discussion up to a lot more people who would have been unable to participate.”

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