One of the hardest things to realize in a career is that at some point, 99.9% of us will be a piece of paper, in a stack of many pieces of paper, many of which look and read exactly the same. If that sounds bleak, it sort of is, but that is the nature of the employment market. In reality, everyone is much more than just a piece of paper. However, as everyone knows, the hiring and selection process is not always reality based. In fact, it is seldom reality based.

So, if you are going to be a piece of paper, be the best piece of paper you can be.  Here are some of the things I have done that have worked for me:

Hire an industry specific career/resume coach

It’s relatively easy to find someone to help you with your resume and career search strategy. Find one that works in your industry, is well networked—and check references. Make sure you hear from the people you speak to that this coach views your relationship with them as one that doesn’t just end when the fee gets paid, and you achieve your immediate goal. I hired a fantastic career coach (if you are interested in learning who it is, please don’t hesitate to email me) and the results were immediate. The resume she crafted for me greatly increased the number of callbacks I received and the number of recruiters that contacted me.

Hire a professional in your industry, check their references, and listen to themmanager-462553_640

Not every industry has relevant certifications that are issued by a respected association or standard setting body. But if your industry does, invest in getting it. The letters after your name might feel a little ridiculous at times, and you can overdo it, but in addition to demonstrating expertise, certifications serve as a form of insurance for hiring managers. Hiring is about finding the best person, but it is also about mitigating the risk of finding the wrong person. If a manager hires someone who is certified, and it doesn’t work out, there is less chance of it reflecting poorly on the hiring manager

Show your expertise, that you are invested in your industry, and mitigate some of the risk of hiring you. You can achieve those things with the right certification.

Use social media to position yourself as an expert.

Up until last July I thought of social media as something I used to communicate with my family and friends, and my LinkedIn page as something that was necessary in today’s market. Then, on something of a whim, I started publishing here on LinkedIn. The effect on my career has been tremendous. My network, inside of my industry and outside of my industry, has exploded. I can’t say enough about what it has done for me.

This suggestion isn’t really a tool to improve your “piece of paper”. This is a tool that can give you opportunities to bypass the need to send in a piece of paper. If you have something insightful to say, say it. Write well, and thoughtfully, but don’t worry about trying to be Hemmingway. You are demonstrating your thought process more than anything else.icons-419200_640
Pay it forward.

It’s tempting to view every opportunity as a potential way to put some money in the bank account. You may be in a position to really need that money. And it’s easy to get taken advantage of. Still, some opportunities may be more valuable if they are treated as a way to make a great contact. One of my favorite movie quotes of all time comes from Christian Bale’s character in American Hustle: “I believe that you should treat people the way you want to be treated, didn’t Jesus say that? Also, always take a favor over money. ( Jesus said that as well).

It may not always be true, but it’s true enough to take into consideration. Plus, just because the hiring process can be dehumanizing, doesn’t mean you have to lose your humanity. People do favors for each other. Pieces of paper do not.

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