Talent Development Centre

All posts by Jennifer Farrell

Synonyms for Resumes & Cover Letters

Jennifer Farrell By Jennifer Farrell,
Proposal Team Lead at Eagle

Are you struggling to find words to describe your experience? We can help. After looking at thousands of resumes and cover letters, we compiled the most frequently used words and generated a list of common synonyms you can use in their place.  Take a look at this infographic:

Infographic: Resume Synonyms - Your Resume Thesaurus

How to Get More Call-Backs!

Jennifer Farrell By Jennifer Farrell,
Proposal Team Lead at Eagle

You’ve worked hard on your resume. It’s an amazing document. You are flushed with pride and so you submit to a staffing agency. You are confident that this time you will get the call back. But you don’t. So what went wrong? There’s a strong possibility that what you think you’re saying and what is being read are completely different.  Does your resume fit into some of these categories?

What you write: What you think it says.  Why we don’t call you back. What you can do about it
A resume that closely follows the same format as a thesis. You are an intellectual and we’d be silly not to call you. We don’t understand how to read your resume to be able to match your experience to an open role. Dumb it down. Keep your sentences short, sweet and to the point.
The same descriptor words for each bullet point, like the word “expert” or “utilized”. You are an “expert” at every single task listed. You have “utilized” everything, so you are the best person to hire. There are hundreds of other candidates that know how to sell themselves better. Use a thesaurus. Pick your most used descriptor word and change it up.
Your life story, how you became unemployed, why you didn’t like your last placement, a personal appeal about your finances. Hiring Managers will make an emotional connection and will call you back because you “deserve a break”. We have concerns that you have the potential to be an HR nightmare to our clients. Separate your personal life from your business life and focus on selling yourself based exclusively on your abilities.
Five different roles under the same client placement. You are a Project Manager… no a Business Analyst… no a Risk Specialist. Your professional abilities are limitless.  You can easily transition from role to role and are flexible and adaptable. We don’t know how to classify your skill set. We have doubts about whether you can perform all the different roles you claim. Create 2 or 3 different resumes to highlight your different skill sets. One resume for Project Management, one resume for Business Analysis and one resume for Risk.
References available upon request. That you have references lined up and are therefore trustworthy. Other candidates make it easier for us by providing three solid professional references. Obtain blanket permission from your references to use them and then provide us with the information we need to make an informed decision about your hiring potential.


All things being equal, the real reason you aren’t getting called-back might be because your resume is confusing, dense, or too personal.  If you want to fix that, ask a couple of friends to read your resume and provide honest advice.  Too often, we don’t even realize the impact of the written word — so get help and feedback to improve your resume. If you have a resume-related question I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and I’ll write you back personally.

How to Stalk Your Potential Client Online

Jennifer Farrell By Jennifer Farrell,
Proposal Team Lead at Eagle

We are often surprised by the number of contractors who attend a client interview unprepared. Reading and understanding the Job Description is important and its a good starting point. But let’s not stop there. If you really want to win the contract and land the perfect role, you need to understand the client better than your contractor competition. What you need to win is a basic understanding of your potential client.

The easiest way to start is with a Google search and a visit to the company’s website.  Look up their press releases, review their service offerings, and read their entire management page. [Tip: If you’re serious about this contract, read their entire website. If you don’t, someone else will and that gives them a serious competitive advantage over you.] While you are reading, take lots of notes and make sure to answer the following questions:

  • What do they do?
  • Where are they located?
  • Are they publicly traded and, if so, how is their stock doing?
  • Have they been in the news lately?
  • Who is the Executive Team?
  • What are their Vision, Mission and Core Values?

Next, find the company on LinkedIn, join their main page, and then read the five most LinkedInrecent articles they have published to get a ‘flavor’ for what the company is doing.  Search their employees and find the interviewer.  Click through to the Hiring Manager’s LinkedIn page and review their professional background. Don’t be nervous that they will know you checked them out. It is very gratifying to see a potential contractor conducting their due diligence and we’ve never met a client who was offended that a candidate prepared in this way.  [Tip: Prior to clicking through to the Hiring Manager, make sure your own LinkedIn page is flawless.  Copy your own page content into Word and run a complete spelling and grammar check. Read it again. Then print it off and read it again. Most mistakes are caught faster on paper than on screen. Once you’re happy with it, go ahead and update it.] While you are on the page of the person who is interviewing you, find something that you both have in common and write it down in your notebook. If you can, find a way to bring up your common interest during the interview.  This trick will help you connect on a personal level, which ensures you stand out from your competition.  [Tip: Don’t force the conversation about the personal interest. It is more important to keep up with the real-time pace and topics of the interview.]

Remember, while you are conducting all of this research you should be taking lots of notes in a notebook – a key tool to interview success. This is the same notebook you’ll use to brainstorm questions for the client and the same notebook you’ll bring to the interview.

The client’s website, Google, and LinkedIn are the three easiest online sources for researching a company before an interview.  There are, of course, many other great sites across the Internet.  Do you have any favourite websites you use to prepare for an interview?  Add to our list by leaving us a comment.

The Purpose of a Cover Letter

Jennifer Farrell By Jennifer Farrell,
Proposal Team Lead at Eagle

A well-known rule in sales is that you must make it easy for the buyer to buy.  No one wants to sift through an 18 page resume to find the gold among the sand. This is why the cover letter is such an important tool for selling yourself.  Your cover letter does the job of highlighting – for the client – the most important pieces of information in your resume.  The cover letter makes it easy for the client to quickly figure out what makes you a better candidate than the 10 others they are considering. Using this simple formula, you can write a compelling cover letter that grabs their attention and holds it.

  • Paragraph 1: Introduce yourself. Reference the position you are applying. It’s fine Contractor Writing Cover Lettersthat this section is only 1 or 2 sentences (maximum.)
  • Paragraph 2: Sell yourself and say “I can offer you XX years of XX experience within the XX industry” and end the sentence describing why you are the ideal candidate like “XX is a company well known for XX and those XX map well to my own personal philosophy of XX.”
  • Paragraph 3: Close it up. “I welcome the chance to speak with you about XX and have enclosed my resume for your review. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to read this.”
  • Close Properly:  Use a considerate and professional valediction: Best regards, With thanks, Sincerely, and Looking forward to hearing from you, are all excellent choices for a strong close.

A solid cover letter is most effective when it is short, simple, and properly mapped to the exact role for which the candidate is applying. When done correctly, it often becomes the summary email that staffing agencies use to sell your services to the end client. Tell us, what is the best cover letter you’ve ever seen?

Ace Your Next Interview by Interviewing the Client!

Jennifer Farrell By Jennifer Farrell,
Proposal Team Lead at Eagle

Your main objective in a job interview (whether it’s with an agency or a client) is to set yourself apart from your competition.  So what is the best and most underutilized technique interviews?  It is so simple you won’t believe you didn’t give it more weight and it might be the reason you didn’t land your last dream job!  The answer? You need to have some questions ready to ask the interviewer.  That’s it! That’s the highest determining factor in successfully moving onto the next round of interviews in a highly competitive interview process.  Every good Manager worth his or her weight is going to ask you the question “Do you have any questions for me?” and we’ll help you find a good way to answer it.

So how do you answer this open ended question?

In your notebook, on a fresh page – and it is very important to use a fresh page – create three to five smart questions.  Between the questions, leave yourself five or more blank lines. This will help you be able to quickly see the questions to read them and allow you to write down the answers provided so that you can refer back to them after the interview.  They should be well thought out questions that are important to you personally and contain topics that show you are  serious and interested in the role. [Tip: Use Post-It document tabs to flag the section of your note book that contains the company information and your questions. This way you won’t fumble to find the page you need in the middle of your interview. It will also give the impression that you mean business: because you do!]

Here are some example questions you can ask either the client or your Recruiter:

  • What is the single largest problem the Manager (Leader/CEO/President) is facing andPerson with question mark over head how would I be in a position to help?
  • What are the three most important skills required to succeed in this role?
  • How does the client prefer to communicate with contractors?
  • What is the invoicing and payment process?

Most people think a contract is a contract. But it’s not. It is a partnership between a company and a professional.  Everyone wants to land the contract for their own reasons (prestige, income, responsibilities, industry, etc.), and asking questions will help you determine if the role is a good match for you personally. This is especially important if it has potential to be a long-term contract.  In a situation where you are interviewing with more than one client, these answers will help you decide which client is the best fit.  If you don’t get answers that you like, it would be a professional mistake to move forward in the hiring process. However, if the answers to your questions are positive, they speak to you personally, and they line up with what you are looking for professionally, then go ahead and let yourself get excited!

What questions do you ask your clients and recruiters to get the best information?  Do you have a standard set or do you build them based on the specific project?  Leave a comment and share your advice with the rest of the contractor community.

Body Language Techniques to Ace Interviews

Jennifer Farrell By Jennifer Farrell,
Proposal Team Lead at Eagle

A firm handshake with a bright smile is a great way to start an interview. To keep the positive momentum moving forward, try out some of these body language gestures. Used properly, they are guaranteed to give the impression that you are relaxed and confident.

When you first sit down, keep your hands on the top of the desk and lightly fold your fingers. This keeps you from fidgeting with your hands, which can be very distracting.

Sit straight with your legs together and cross your feet at the ankles. This posture grounds your hips and forces your body to tilt forward slightly. Leaning toward the interviewer gives the signal that you are interested in what they have to say.

Begin mirroring the interviewer because copying another person’s gestures garners acceptance.  Be careful with this technique though, it needs to be handled delicately and it’s not always appropriate. For example, smiling when someone smiles at you is a great mirroring technique; fake sneezing after they sneeze is not.

Use “interested” head gesture positioning.  Tilting your head down automatically hunches up your shoulders, which makes you look insecure or defensive.  Tilting your head too far back forces your nose up in the air, which gives the impression you are over confident or egotistical. The best head gesture to gain acceptance is to tilt the head slightly to one side.  With your head tilted, relax your face and jaw muscles too. Try this head position in front of a mirror before you use it in an interview.

Keep your hands away from your face. Touching your face a lot belies insecurity. It also makes it appear as though you are being dishonest. If you can’t keep your hands clasped lightly in front of you (and we’ve all been so nervous that this is a challenge) then ask for a glass of water and sip from it often, or keep a pen in your hand and hold it lightly. Some people swear by a paperclip.

Pay attention to your palm positioning throughout the interview. Locking your fingers together is an aggressive gesture, as is pointing at someone (or drilling a piece of paper with your finger to drive home a point), whatever you do, don’t hold your hands palm down against the desk.  The best position if your hands are free is to open your hand, letting it rest palm up. This gesture non-threatening and submissive.

handshakesFinally, some advice about hand-shakes: When you are just meeting someone it is appropriate to shake hands up and down with 2 or 3 pumps. Handshakes to avoid include the Glove (other hand clasping the outside of the shakers hand), and Wrist (other hand clasping the wrist of the shakers hand), the Elbow (other hand clasping the elbow of the shakers hand) and the Shoulder Hold (other hand patting the shoulder of the shakers hand). These are all handshakes that are overly familiar and leave the receiver feeling somewhat violated and suspicious by their over familiarity.

Let your body language do the talking and you won’t have to! Tell us, what are your favourite tricks to use during an interview?

5 Techniques to Write Your Best Resume Ever!

Jennifer Farrell By Jennifer Farrell,
Proposal Team Lead at Eagle

Let’s be real, it’s easy to find resume templates.  It’s simple to locate profile header generators and programs that automate resume content.  While it might be tempting to use these tools to craft your resume, staffing agencies aren’t looking for catchy buzz words and superficial jargon. What we are looking for is an authentic version of you – on paper.

  1. Start off with Personal Contact Details.

It is surprising how many people submit their resume without their basic contact information. In the header include your name, email address and phone number. In the footer, number your pages.

  1. Catchy Profiles generate Interest.

Write your profile in the 3rd person. Your sentences should be short and summarize the number of years of experience you have, along with your education and any formal training that is relevant. The key here is short sentences.  The recommendation for overall length is one or two small paragraphs maximum. Remember, the profile needs to highlight your unique experience at a very high level.

Example:  Mr. John Doe is a Senior Project Manager with over 20 years of experience managing high profile projects for the public and private sector.  He gained his PMP at the Project Management Institute (1994) and was ITIL Certified in 1999. Etc.

  1. Structure your Projects in Reverse.

Hiring manager reviewing resumesOrganize your projects in reverse.  As a contractor with multiple projects, this tip will make updating your resume easier.  Start with the most recent experience (at the beginning of your resume), and work your way backwards numbering your projects in reverse. For example, the first project from 1998 would be Project 1 and your most recent project (that just wrapped up in May 2014) would be Project 32.

  1. Include more detail than you think you should.

Key Words: Throw away the belief that your resume needs to be short and sweet. This is just simply not true. Your resume needs to be long and detailed.  When we upload your resume into our database and run a key word search, your resume will jump to the top of the list if you have enough of the key words we are looking for.

Technology Environments: Always include the technologies you used and dig deep to list them all. If you used MS Office Suite in your last Finance and Accounting position, include Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, etc. and list everything down to Windows 2008. This is the best way to get a lot of hits in our database.

Project Description: Give us lots of details. How many people were on the team? What was the overall project budget/value? What was the business need driving the project forward? What were the challenges? List the critical success factors.  Did you deliver the project on time? Was the project within budget?

Project Deliverables: What were your specific tasks? How did you contribute? What soft skills did you use? Were you responsible for more than you signed up for?  Was your contract extended? Try to answer the Journalism questions: Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?

  1. Education/Certification and Training – they all need dates too!

Close your resume with your professional qualifications and provide the dates you graduated along with the Institution. No need to provide the city and province unless your education was gained outside of Canada.  Include any specific and relevant courses completed.

These five techniques will help bring your resume from good to great, but they are by no means exhaustive. We’d love to hear from you – what do you include in your resume to bring it from good to great? Please leave us a comment below and share your expertise!

A Proposal Writer’s Perspective on Resume Blunders

Jennifer Farrell By Jennifer Farrell,
Proposal Team Lead at Eagle

Ask anyone in the staffing industry about the worst resume they’ve seen and you’ll find yourself listening to a very entertaining story about embedded personal pictures, lists of “interesting” hobbies, and the use of proprietary graphics. You’ll laugh right along with them until that awkward moment when they mention a technique you use on your own resume. Suddenly it’s not so funny.

Hiring manager explaining to applicant that his resume is terrible.With thousands of resumes pouring in every month, we really have seen it all. Following these techniques will guarantee your resume hits the “terrible” pile:

  1. Insert a table into your document.
    Put all of your experience into the table with multiple rows and cells. Then lock the table. This is a nightmare for staffing agencies because while we don’t change the content, we do reformat your resume using our own template so the client knows exactly where to look on every resume they receive from us. Imagine how much work goes into cutting and pasting all of the content from a table into a clean document. And of course, all the cutting and pasting means there is also plenty of opportunities to make mistakes.
  2. Overlap all of the months and years of your project experience. 
    Or, better yet, include the start date of each of your projects and choose a date that falls in the middle of the month (ex: June 15, 2010 to May 28, 2012). This is an excellent way to ensure you will receive personalized attention from Recruiters – we are guaranteed to call you back and ask you to remove all of the overlaps. Many of our clients have specific requirements so when we are proving to our client that you’ve been a Project Manager for 10 years, it’s hard when we have to try to count days instead of months. Government contractors know exactly what I’m talking about!
  3. Embed a personal picture or a graphic. 
    There really is no time throughout your career that this is a good idea. We don’t choose to interview people based on their appearance. When we look at your resume, we are interested in your skills, professional experience, education/training and certifications. All of the pictures and graphics that are used to carefully decorate your resume will get stripped out during the reformatting process if they have not already been stripped out by the system where you uploaded your resume.
  4. List all of your hobbies. 
    Especially the ones that have absolutely nothing to do with your professional experience. The key here is to ask: is this relevant to the role? If the answer is no then it’s better not to include them. Don’t get us wrong, we find your hobbies highly entertaining! 20 years ago when you were trying to get a job in a Pub and your favourite hobby was Beer Pong, it made sense to put it on your resume. However, at this stage of your career, your professional experience is what matters.
  5. PDF your resume. 
    While a PDF of your resume ensures that it does not get altered, it also causes headaches when agencies put the resume into their format (see number 1 above). If you are hesitant to provide a Word copy, keep one available and offer it up when you are serious about a particular job. Asking to review the formatted version before it is submitted to a client will ensure that no unauthorized changes have been made.
  6. Don’t include any detail, about your professional experience, at all. 
    This is my personal favourite. Without details it is impossible to figure out if you are a good fit for a contract. I know that we were all taught “resumes should not exceed one or two pages” but this was when we were teenagers looking for part-time jobs or new grads with no experience looking for our first job. This is even more important to the Independent Contractor. Clients want to know the details about all relevant experience.
  7. Copy/paste all of your experience into every single project you’ve ever had. 
    This is a big red flag for industry professionals. We see thousands of role descriptions in a year. We know that every role is different, as is every client, every environment, and every deliverable. Customization is key if you want your resume to stand out from the crowd. The more you write about the role and the project, from your own experience, the higher your chances your resume will be selected to move onto the next round of qualification.

What has your experience taught you? What other resume blunders should contractors avoid? Leave a comment!