Resume Tips from the Professionals
(Originally posted 11/28/12)
Lord, and when I get the paper I read it through and through
I, my girl never fail to see if there is any work for me
I got to go back to the house, hear that woman's mouth
Preachin' and a cryin' tell me that I'm lyin' about a job
That I never could find
Neil Young -- "Get A Job"
I frequently get asked by students to read their resumes and provide feedback. I have my own biases as to what a good resume contains (which I will interject below), but I thought this was a topic worthy of getting some professional advice to pass along. Without further ado, here's your all star cast of resume advisors:
Joe Bean, Human Resources Manager, Teichert Construction
Sue Dyson, Human Resources Manager, Swinerton Incorporated
Nicole Sunseri, Human Resources Manager, Rosendin Electric
Each of these people have extensive experience hiring CM students for full-time positions and internships, so they know what they're talking about. I called each of them to get their feedback regarding the good, bad, and ugly issues with resumes. Ignore their advice at your own peril.
First things first, all of the all stars agreed on this: your resume is a tool to get you an interview, not a job. Don't think your resume alone will get you a job. That won't happen nor is that the point. Use your resume and cover letter to get a job interview.
If you're thinking "what's a cover letter?", it's the letter that accompanies your resume. It's a narrative that explains who you are, why you're interested in a career in construction, and why the company you sent your cover letter and resume to should hire you. Both should be brief and to the point. The resume is bullet points that lay out your professional experience while the cover letter is the narrative. The two should complement each other. However, the cover letter plays an additional role: it shows how well you can communicate with the written word. You don't need to be Shakespeare, but your cover letter should demonstrate your written communication skills. For both the resume and cover letter (cover letter on top), typos, grammatical errors, and misspellings are detrimental to your job acquisition effort. Let me repeat that: TYPOS, GRAMMATICAL ERRORS, AND MISSPELLINGS PRETTY MUCH KILL YOUR CHANCES OF GAINING EMPLOYMENT. Have someone proofread your cover letter and resume. I have never turned down this request, assuming you give me enough time and I'm not slammed with other work.
Another important point: tailor your cover letter and resume to each company you send it to. You might be thinking "Wow, I have to print out different cover letters and resumes for each company I meet with, which means I will have to research each company and tailor how my experience will benefit them? That sounds like a lot of work." Yes, it is, but that's part of the process. Nothing worth having comes easy, so prepare to put the work into this process.
There's one other document you need to consider. If you are fortunate to get an interview, send a note thanking the interviewer for their time. This serves three purposes: 1) it shows you're considerate and that you were raised with good manners; 2) it's a chance to reiterate what your strengths are and how you would be a good hire for the company you interviewed with; and 3) it shows that you want the job. This last point can be amplified. 99% of the time, people want an offer after an interview (or series of interviews). That's a given, assuming you like the company. But how you thank someone shows how much you want the job. Anyone can send an e-mail. That's the minimum that's expected. Now, if you send a hand-written letter, that show's you really want the job. It takes effort to write a sincere letter, address it, and put it in the mailbox (compared to writing an e-mail). And that's exactly the point. Writing letters is not a quaint practice from a foregone era, it's a show of respect and desire. Former students of the CM department told me that they have done this, and guess what? They got the dream jobs they wanted.
There is one way to screw the thank you note: sending a text. First, texting is social, not professional. Secondly, if you send a text like "Thx for the interview. Ur company seems like a g8 place 2 work" you will never get a job that isn't located in a mall and pays minimum wage. To become a professional, act like a professional.
Ok, now for some resume-specific advice:
Going in order of how your resume will be read (top to bottom), let's start with your contact info. PUT YOUR CONTACT INFO ON YOUR RESUME! One of the all stars told me it's very common for people to forget this. Don't be the person that doesn't get an interview because it was impossible to get a hold of you! Also, get a normal email address that contains your name. if your email is firstname.lastname@example.org, you will look like a tool to HR professionals. It's fine to use an address like that with your homies, but take the 5 minutes to set up an address like email@example.com.
Next, have a objective statement, but it should be one sentence and be customized for the company you're going to give your resume to (nothing kills your chances like handing a resume to someone at Turner that says you're trying to get a job at DPR...). This sentence doesn't have to sound like it was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it does need to express if you're looking for a full-time position or an internship with the specific company you're handing your resume to. If you're looking for a specific non-PE or intern job (e.g. scheduler, BIM engineer, etc.), then you want to make that clear, but be brief.
What comes next depends on what your strengths are, but whatever your strengths are, put them near the top of the resume (don't make people hunt for the reasons that set you apart!). When listing your strong suits, use more bullet points and fewer (preferably no) paragraphs. For those of you with construction work experience, start with this and put it in chronological order with the most recent experience first. Make sure you list the dates of your employment (one all star stated that the right side of the resume is best). In terms of describing your experience, one all start said "be accurate, brief, and clear." In other words, describe what you DID, don't describe the project. Clearly describe the actions you took, the impacts of those actions, and the ultimate results. Use numbers to tell the story. Even if all you did as part of an internship was process RFI's, say "I processed 10,000 RFI's in a ten-week period, ensuring that all were received and processed by the appropriate party on time." Showing that you performed specific tasks well, no matter how mundane, is important. (BTW, most HR pros know that some internships can be mundane exercises in pushing paper or other menial tasks. Just show that you did whatever tasks you were given well. There's no need to convince them your job was sexier than it really was.)
If you don't have any work experience in the construction industry, then lead with your education. Hopefully, you can draw some attention to academic achievement (Dean's list, scholarships received, etc.). Some of you likely have work experience that's outside of the construction industry and want to highlight that. I hate to rain on your parade, but it was pretty unanimous that such experience matters very little to construction HR managers. It's not that it's bad, it just has very little relevance. A lot of people like to list non-construction experience to show that they worked while carrying a full load of classes at Sac State. Well, that lumps you in with pretty much everyone else on campus, so it's not much of a differentiator. However, in the absence of any construction experience, if you put non-construction experience on your resume, the same rules above apply. Use numbers to show that your actions led to measurable results. If you were in a management position, definitely state that. Use that experience to show you have the skills that can translate to construction. Resist every effort to state that you worked at Jamba Juice for 6 months if you don't have anything really good to say about that experience.
Regardless of where you put your education experience (before or after your work experience), include a graduation date or expected graduation date.
Next, list your accomplishments and activities. Again, be specific and show actions and results. List only the important accomplishments and activities and the time of your involvement/accomplishment. If you are/were on a Reno team, state what your role was. If you are an officer in a club, describe that role and your accomplishments. Listing that you were a member of CMSA or a Reno team does not help your cause (it probably hurts it--everyone is a member of CMSA and 100 students are a part of Reno teams, so if you list those simply as accomplishments, you look pretty unaccomplished). If you are an alternate on a Reno team, describe the position you were a backup for:
Don't list hobbies. This was considered normal when I was a student, but the all stars said this is no longer very relevant (one emphatically said to not include them!). Unless your hobbies include pouring concrete or digging holes with backhoes. But if that's the case, you really need psychiatric help.
One thing I asked each of the HR all stars about was including a picture (head shot) on your resume. I thought this was a good idea, as your resume will likely end up in a pile with hundreds others and the picture will remind interviewers as to who you are. Well, it turns out it's a bad idea. The HR all stars like it in concept, but unfortunately, pictures can trigger biases and prejudices, so they ask that students not include pictures of themselves on resumes. It's a legal issue, so don't put a potential employer in a bad position.
One last issue that needs to be discussed in depth: the proper length of a resume. Two of the all stars were pretty firm on the one-page limit (and I wholeheartedly agree with them). The three of us separately came to the conclusion that if a PX can summarize his/her experience on one page for a project proposal, so can you. The other all star said two pages is ok, but only if your experience is worthy of two pages. Content is key. If the second page is random job experience or accomplishments that have no bearing on your ability to work in construction management, it's hurting your cause as opposed to helping it.
So let's summarize the basic resume tips:
So how do you really make your resume stand out? Here are some hints:
What I Learned From My Grandfather
(Originally posted 12/7/2012)
Today is Pearl Harbor Day. I always remember this day because it's the day after my grandfather's birthday. He would have been 89 this year. I spent every summer of my childhood working on his ranch and learned some valuable lessons that I try to carry forward. There was one lesson in particular that I will share with you, but first some background.
My grandfather was a cattle rancher from Klamath Falls, OR. It was originally a dairy ranch, but over time, the amount of cows decreased and were replaced with steers. However, he always had at least two cows around to provide milk for calves. This means very little to urban folk, but what having cows means is that every day of your life is a 12-hour work day. Cows need to be milked on a regular schedule in order to remain productive. And you cannot just decide not to milk them for one cycle, as that creates all sorts of problems that I don't need to get into. But seriously, every day of his life was at least a 12-hour day. Up at 4:00 am, working by 4:30. Re-milking at 4:30 pm, and by the time all the cattle had been fed, it was close to 6:00 pm, which really means he worked 13.5 hours per day, with time off for lunch and to read the paper at 3:00.
The summers were longer. After feeding the cattle, we went back into the fields to change the irrigations lines. That was another hour or more. In between the milking and the feeding were long days of cutting, baling, and stack bales of hay. For hours, my grandfather would throw 90 pound bales of hay around, stacking them as high as three stories. He did this well into his 60's. He finally retired after his hip started failing, which was primarily caused by sleeping on the same crappy mattress for 30 years. He seemed superhuman to me. Spending time with him was like working with John Henry, a man with an incredible work ethic. That's what I knew about him.
As I got older, I found out other things about him. My great aunt would tell me about how he fought in World War II. I'm a history buff, so I would ask him questions. He would just deflect the questions and describe his time in the Army as his European vacation because he never wanted anyone to get the impression that he felt put out by his duty to his country. I also learned even later that my dad had a brother that had died when he was very young. The loss of a son deeply affected my grandfather.
So why am I writing about all of this and how is it related to anything? Through everything my grandfather experienced, he never complained. Not once. Never about the hard work he was required to put in EVERY day, not about the weather, taxes, the price of oil, immigration, not about dying, or any other trivial or non-trivial matter. He taught me a lot about the value of a hard day's work, but he also taught me, through his actions, that there's no value in being a complainer and that no matter how bad you have it, there's someone somewhere that has it worse off that you do.
I would like to think that I follow his actions, but I know I don't. I have my own regular complaints. But when I really start feeling sorry for myself, I think about my grandfather, and how he worked hard his whole life in quiet dignity and went about his business knowing that each day is what you make of it. We have the choice to be happy or to be miserable. Complaining about your work or your life is making the conscious decision to be miserable.
Right now, many of you are preparing for final exams while also balancing a multitude of other commitments. Your life probably feels stressful and difficult to manage. I feel for you, as I'm in the same boat. But let's count our blessings and agree not to complain about it. Given everything we will go through in our lives, this will be easy and we'll come out fine in the end. Let's agree that these are good times and act accordingly. Happy holidays.
(Originally posted 10/4/2013)
I should be busy grading right now, but this was too good not to write right now. I just finished a conversation with a student who plans on "leveling" the job offers received over the next few months. I think this is brilliant! Much like leveling subcontractor bids on bid day, you should be trying to figure out who is offering you the best "bid" in terms of value and scope coverage. I was recently a part of a committee that selected a general contractor for a local project. All of the GCs proposing on the project were of the highest quality and all were capable of performing the work. We needed to "level" their proposals to determine who was the absolute best. We looked at several factors, including base bid, fee, schedule, etc. to see who could perform the work the best in terms of the owner's goals. You can use similar tactics to determine which job offer (full time or internship) is the best for you. You are the owner of you career, so evaluate contractors like you're an owner.
Base Bid: When looking at contractors, of course one of the first things owners are going to look at is how much the contractors think the cost of work is going to be. When contemplating a job offer, you should as well. The base bid a company offers you is your base salary. This is important, but it's not the only factor you should look at. Also, add any medical insurance offerings to the base bid. Most companies provide health insurance, so I would consider that part of the base bid.
Fee: As owners, we we're particularly interested in how much each GC was charging to perform the project. This would be the money they hoped to take home when the project was complete, after all the costs were paid. In the job search, I would equate fee to any sort of bonus system a potential employer offers, whether it's the opportunity for cash bonuses or stock grants (many contractors are employee-owned businesses that issue stock to employees). This is the gravy on top of the base salary.
General Conditions: This is the cost to perform the work. Owners like to see general conditions broken out in a bid to see if a contractor is larding up their bid with unnecessary overhead but also to see if there is adequate resources to manage the project. For you in your job search, what is a company offering you to ensure you can adequately perform your job? Common items include company vehicles (for full-time offers), gas allowances, cell phones, laptops, relocation expenses, housing stipends (if you are being asked to move temporarily to an out-of-town location), support for training and continuing education, etc. Each of these are common items that many contractors offer and they're all likely negotiable.
Schedule: Obviously, as owners we want to know how long a contractor plans to take to build a structure. Similarly, you need to know how long it will take to build your career with each contractor that gives you a job offer. I think schedule needs to be assessed from two angles:
Short duration: How long does my employer expect me to work per day? Is normal 8 hour days typical or is overtime expected (or mandatory! Remember, once you're a salaried employee, laws regarding overtime go out the door.). Do I get weekends off or is it expected that I'll be on call? You need to ask each potential employer these questions. A well known and successful general contractor told me in an info session that they expect PEs to be on call 24/7 and to expect to work 60 hours/week minimum. Other contractors are much more relaxed. You want to know these things before accepting a position.
Long duration: How long will it take for you to grow into your next position, which should be a promotion? Some contractors have formal requirements for promotion ("you must be a project engineer for six years before moving to Assistant PM/super") while others let you progress at your own pace ("you become a PM when you prove you're ready"). If you have had a few years of internship experience and think you're hot stuff, you may have your own timeline as to when you want to get promoted. And there is a time/cost tradeoff. The faster you can make it to PM, the more money you can potentially make.
The X Factor: This goes by many different names. On the committee I just sat on, we called it the "Charlie Factor" for reasons I don't know. But at the heart of it, it covers the intangibles and the qualitative stuff a company brings. For owners, we assess the team primarily (do we want to work with these guys?) You should do the same thing. What sense do you have that the people you will be working with are fun and have your best interests in mind? Remember, you will probably spend a lot of the interview process with HR people, but you won't be working with them. Ask to meet the project team you will work with. Ask to meet with you supervisor and your supervisor's supervisor. I can assure you, all the money in the world is not worth it if your boss is a jerk. On the flip side, less money may be worth it if your boss has your back. Construction is project-based. You want to make sure you are constantly a part of a project team or else you put yourself at risk for being laid off.
There you have it: base bid, fee, general conditions, schedule, X factor. These are the basic metrics owners use to value a bid from a contractor and you should use them evaluate a job offer. Some owners put different weights on each of these metrics (e.g. base bid is 50%, fee 10%, GCs 5%, schedule 20%, X factor 15%). You can do this as well. Just as I say in class, cost always matters, so I suspect many of you will put most (all?) weight on the base job offer. It's natural to do so, but just like an owner or general contractor making a selection based solely on price, it's ripe with problems.
Last thing: this advice applies AFTER you have received offers. You cannot compare and contrast offers until you actually have them. Don't start negotiating salary, company vehicles, etc. until after you have received an offer. Spoiler alert: if you get an offer, they like you. Probably a lot. That's the time to negotiate.
(Originally posted 11/17/2013)
I'm still getting some questions regarding bid leveling your job offers (see below of click here), So I've decided to provide an example. This is an example only and I didn't come up with this leveling sheet (although you should be glad that its author was willing to share it). This is a good template that you can put into Excel and customize to meet your own needs.
Let's start with the basic template:
This is set up for comparing job offers from three companies. You can easily add more columns if you get more job offers or differing offers from the same company (it's happened before). You'll notice that it contains many common items (salary, vacation time, medical/dental/vision, retirement, etc.). But it also contains rows to compare intangibles (culture, relocation, etc.). The whole point of this exercise is that your salary should not be the only item you use to determine your next job. Don't be short term greedy but long term miserable! You want to accept the offer that best balances finance and well being. All the money in the world is not worth it if you're a) miserable and/or b) too busy to spend it.
Now, let's look at a fictional example of a completed leveling sheet:
Keep in mind that this is just an example. But it shows that opening salary is not the only variable to look at. Particularly your 2014 salary. If you're reading this, there's a decent chance you won't even be full time in 2014 until you graduate in May. But that's why you need to evaluate other items (interning until May will likely improve your financial situation). Fore example, the salary plus bonus for Company 2 is much better that Company 1 ($62k vs. $56k). But living in San Jose is a lot more than Sacramento, so that increased salary is probably a wash. I cannot over emphasize that you need to look at the big picture. Do you like the people you work with? Do you like the career path they want from you (field vs. office; commercial vs. heavy-civil; GC vs. sub). Do you like the vibe? Go deep on your due diligence. If you love to travel, then maybe Company 2 is the only offer you entertain because it provides the most vacation time. If you have kids, maybe medical and the offer closest to the best school district matter most. Use the variables that work best for your lifestyle.
One last note: this process can be used for internships and positions AFTER your first full-time position. A lot of people talk to me questioning their current job trajectory. If your current job isn't satisfying you, refer back to this leveling sheet and use it to help you decide to move on or stay.
I know this makes a lot of you nervous, but try to have fun with it and stay relaxed. You're about to enter a very lucrative business. Happy job hunting!
Proofread Your Damn Work!
There are plenty of things you can do to screw up a job interview: being obnoxious, showing up late, not wearing a shirt are a few that I can think of off the top of my head. But the sure way to guarantee that you don't even get an interview is to look like a dumb ass by having misspellings in your resume. Consider an e-mail I received from an alum recently that included this nugget:
"As for some constructive feedback, we saw some resumes with misspellings, submitted as a Word doc, with logos on them, running longer that 1 page, or graduation dates that didn’t reflect the actual ones. I think some QC could be always be used, and I can understand the issue with having one last lingering class prior to graduation - though for a company that has not taken a student in as an intern prior to hiring them as a new-hire, it is not usually the risk [Big Time GC] would want to take. Though all-in-all, there were some very impressive resumes in the group – not surprising coming out of Sac State!!"
SERIOUSLY?!?! C'mon people, Sac State CM is better than this. Here's the thing: I'm busy as hell but I take my role in helping you find a job very seriously. I know Mike and Gareth feel similarly. Cici has dedicated her life to it. You have ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to not let us look at your resume before you send it out. Make an appointment with us or stop by during office hours. We will provide QC.
Read some of my older posts in this section on resumes. Spelling and grammatical errors are deal breakers and absolutely preventable. No one currently enrolled at Sac State is baller enough to have a resume that is longer than a page. If you cannot explain to someone why they should hire you in a page or less, you're doing it wrong.
Stats Don't Lie
(Originally posted 12/1/14)
I recently came across a resume from someone looking for a senior project engineer position. The resume has some great info on it; the companies and projects this person worked on are impressive. The skill sets gained from this experience could be very valuable, but there's one issue: the experience is vague. A resume should, in one short page, leave the reader completely assured that your experience is legitimate and valuable. Being vague can make it very difficult to get that coveted interview.
Let Steve Largent and Jerry Rice Help You With Your Resume
Steve Largent was my favorite football player when I was growing up. He was, during his playing career, considered the best receiver not just playing, but of all time. He achieved this lofty status despite his lack of height and speed.
Largent was a flawless pass route runner. He was fearless running routes across the middle. His hands were soft--he rarely dropped passes. Anyone who watched football in the 1980s knew this. Yet, take a look at the back of his football card:
Notice it says nothing about his hands, his route running or his toughness? It's because while those were known, the only way to really show how good you are is with numbers. And Steve Largent has numbers. Each of the numbers on his card gives strong proof that Largent was the best receiver of his era. "Soft hands" and "toughness" are debatable. 10k receiving yards and 78 touchdowns are not.
By now you should be thinking "I get it...put numbers on my resume to show how good I am at my job." Bingo! Some of you might be saying, "Of course Steve Largent has great numbers. He was in the league for 10 years before he had those numbers." True, so let's consider a rookie.
Many of you reading this probably have no idea Steve Largent is, and that's likely because you grew up in the Jerry Rice era. Jerry Rice supplanted Steve Largent as the greatest pro wide receiver in the history of the NFL. But in 1985, Jerry Rice was a lowly rookie. Let's look at his card to see the lack of stats:
Whoops! Even Jerry Rice's rookie card is jammed full of stats. Most importantly, the space on his card that doesn't contain stats is used to state how important his stats are (49er rookie record; not bad for a team with Joe Montana as the QB). His card covers some of his college years, but again, it is the stats that jump out. No space is allocated for subjective descriptions (blazing speed, excellent on the fly route) even if they were considered by most to be true.
The Bottom Line: Use Stats to Demonstrate Your Skills and Experience
Let's bring this back to resumes. There are two points I want to make: 1) you should be able to paint a clear picture of what skills and experience you bring to an employer in one page. If Steve Largent's first ballot Hall of Fame career can be summarized on a single football card, you should be able to describe your experience on a single sheet of paper. 2) the stats tell the story. Don't tell someone you worked on a hospital project. Tell them you worked on a $____ million hospital project with a ___-month duration that required ____ hours of craft labor to complete. State how many square feet or number of stories the building has. Don't write that you have experience writing RFIs. State that you have written ___ RFIs for ___ different trades whose packages were worth $____. Same thing for submittal packages, change orders, payment applications, etc. Provide numbers! You get bonus points if you can demonstrate how your actions resulting in cost and/or time savings. Provide the facts that matter and the stats to back them up.
I teach people who will be building our country's infrastructure.