This is my first post as part of new online initiative of over 20 career experts called the Career Collective. Through the Collective, career professionals share their individual perspectives on a common question. We will do this once a month. (Many thanks to Miriam Salpeter and Jacqui Poindexter for starting this initiative). Today's question:


     Are you a ‘cookie-cutter’ job seeker? Do you find that you...

a) Are you witnessing job seekers who try to mimic everyone else in their job-search tactics (i.e., resumes that all say the same thing, job search action steps that mimic what everyone else is doing, etc.)?

b) Are seeing unfocused and/or fearful attitudes (I don’t want to limit my possibilities so I’m throwing out a very big net) derailing job seeker efforts?

    What advice would you give to help job seekers differentiate in this tough market?

In a marketplace filled with advice on how to differentiate yourself, I'm going to advocate for the importance of covering the basics. As my friends have shared with me in the past, "common sense isn't all that common."

Recently, I had dinner with my friend, "Julie," a very senior recruiter. Julie has survived three rounds of layoffs in her New York firm--she's the only executive recruiter left standing for her industry sector. I asked her how she looks at resumes, and she told me how much she loves a traditional format: she looks first for job titles, and then she looks for key performance indicators. Summaries, she said, can be helpful, but only if they highlight and present essential information.

As a resume writer and career coach, I focus on helping my clients differentiate themselves in the market. I like using summaries, alternate forms of organization, and taking a fresh approach to presenting information. But, I think it's also important to note that the essentials are equally important--after all, employers always have key questions in mind when they browse your materials. After all, this is what Julie and her peers look for:

How did you find out about a position?

How do your skills and experience fit the job?

Why are you interested in this job, and in this opportunity--at this organization?

When I worked as a recruiter, less than 30% of the cover letters I received answered all of these questions in a concise and comprehensive way. The ones that did received the strongest consideration. The candidate who applied for every position we listed was never seriously placed under consideration.

As a job seeker, it's important to answer the essential questions first and foremost. Once you've covered these basic ingredients, you can add the other elements that enhance interest: a demonstrated understanding of employer needs, information to show you've researched the organizational culture, a concise summary that showcases your writing ability and unique skills, a unique format that demonstrates your individual style....These are the "value adds" that can push you over the top--but don't ever forget the basics that get your resume read in the first place. Bottom line: You can include your own spin and creativity in the process, but make sure you've got all the basic ingredients as well! Show that you know how to follow the recipe first!

Want to see how other members of the Career Collective have answered this question? Check it out, and let me know your favorite "recipes" for a non-traditional approach!

Career By Choice's Expat Success Tips -Ongoing Career management is No Longer Optional for the Expat in Today's New World of Work 

Gayle Howard: Sabotaging Your Prospects: Cookie-cutter Style

CAREEREALISM: Cookie Cutters are for Baking...Not Job Searching!

Sterling Career Concepts: Job seekers: Break out of the mold!

Dawn Bugni, The Write Solution: Is your job search "cookie-cutter" or "hand-dropped"?

Rosa Vargas, Creating Prints Resume-Writing Blog: Being a Cookie-Cutter Job Seeker is a Misfortune

Heather Mundell, life@work: How Not to Be a Cookie Cutter Job Seeker

Sweet Careers: Passive Job Seeker=Cookie Cutter Job Seeker

Barbara Safani Career Solvers Blog: Cookie Cutter Resumes Can Leave a Bad Taste in the Hiring Manager's Mouth

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, Career Trend Blog: Eating Bananas Doesn't Make You an Ape

Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers: How Can a Job Seeker Stand Out?

Quintessential Resumes and Cover Letters Blog:Avoiding Being a Cookie-Cutter Job-seeker In Your Resume and Throughout Your Job Search

Heather R. Huhman, Break the Mold: Don't Be a Cookie Cutter

Rosalind Joffe, Forget the cookies! Start with vision

Career Sherpa, Hannah Morgan: Are You a Cookie Cutter Job Seeker?