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Career Makeover

A tuned-up resume and other adjustments bring goal into focus

By Cindy Atoji Keene
Globe Correspondent / May 9, 2010

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Chris Burke is focusing his job search on one goal: to be an executive director of a nonprofit. His resume even spells it out: “Objective: A position that employs my talent for strategic development projects, and uses my varied fund-raising and interpersonal skills.’’

Burke has a track record of achievement — his last job was gathering underwriters for an Albany, N.Y., public radio station, and he had a short stint raising capital for a Berkshire school — and he’s a member of several nonprofit boards. Three years ago, Burke married and quit his job to move in with his wife in West Roxbury. Ever since, Burke, 58, has been knocking on corporate doors with little success: He’s had a few interviews, but no permanent fund-raising roles have panned out. In the meantime, he does carpentry work to make ends meet.

Burke agreed to sit down with a career counselor and go over his job search techniques as part of a Boston Globe Career Makeover, saying he didn’t understand why his carefully crafted cover letters and eclectic resume didn’t draw more responses. He wonders if his age is a factor and worries that he’s spent too much time and energy working as a carpenter and construction supervisor when his heart — and abilities — are motivating people to give, creative fund-raising projects, and building relationships with donors.

“I’ve had it said about me, ‘Chris Burke could sell shoes to a snake,’ ’’ said Burke, who graduated from Pratt Institute in New York City with a degree in filmmaking. Since then, he’s been a sloop singer with folk artist Pete Seeger, restored an 1830 Unitarian meetinghouse on the Mohawk Trail, and been a tree surgeon and fine arts sculpture finisher, among other pursuits.

“I have a whole range of things I’m interested in. I’m an impressionist, and that’s the way I’ve treated my working life,’’ said Burke, who acknowledges, though, that his many interests may be off-putting to potential employers. “Other people can find that difficult to absorb.’’

When Burke sat down with career consultant Patricia Hunt Sinacole, the president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton, he found that his exuberance and storytelling abilities and his hodgepodge resume all needed to be reined in. The main issue, said Sinacole, was Burke’s cluttered resume, a dense one-page listing of his colorful endeavors and projects.

“Chris is a classic candidate; he needs to streamline his resume,’’ Sinacole said.

She provided some resume building tips:

■Consider a functional versus chronological resume. A functional resume tends to downplay gaps in employment, Sinacole said, which would allow Burke to take out his construction and landscaping jobs, currently listed in his work experience.

“These jobs would be fine to list, though, if you were tailoring your resume for a horticultural preservation society, for example,’’ she said.

Burke even includes on his resume “the successful enterprise of baking bread, age 12, selling hundreds of loaves.’’

“I thought this showed entrepreneurial spirit at a young age,’’ Burke said.

But Sinacole responded: “That’s a great story for a second interview, but it shouldn’t be on your resume.’’

■Use certain key words. In large organizations, resumes and cover letter sorting is automated, with documents scanned for key words. “You want your resume to rise to the top, rather than get lost in the crowd. Your resume is an advertisement for yourself and should be crisp and clean,’’ said Sinacole. Using bullet points, as well as certain keywords such as “development,’’ “fund-raising,’’ and “corporate relations’’ make resumes easier for the eye and help a candidate stand out from the crowd.

■Provide metrics. No fund-raising resume is complete without outcomes, whether they’re measures, benchmarks, capacity assessments, evaluations, or social return on investments. “I want to see how much money you raised,’’ said Sinacole, pointing to the capital campaign he created for a national historic estate foundation.

The resume is just one modification Sinacole suggested Burke make in his job search. Sinacole also suggests that Burke create an “elevator speech,’’ in which he can sell his skills to potential employers.

Burke was interested in the elevator speech that Sinacole mentioned. “I have plenty of material for that,’’ he said. “Yes, but too much,’’ said Sinacole. “You need to be able to put it on a 3x5 card and deliver it so quickly that you could say it in five flights going up an elevator.’’

With the revamped resume and elevator speech together, Sinacole suggests that Burke continue volunteering and use his role on multiple boards — including the Brookline Arts Center, Chesterwood Historic Preservation, and the Amherst Chamber of Commerce — to network. She also suggests that he use the website LinkedIn to connect to as many current contacts as possible.

Sinacole had other tips for when Burke lands job interviews. Because Burke is nearing 60 and concerned that his age might be a hindrance in his job search, Sinacole advised him to be aware of “nonverbals.’’

“There are misperceptions and biases around age: that older people are slugs, inflexible, and have no fresh ideas,’’ Sinacole said. So how best to handle Burke’s ratty old cellphone in its navy blue case? “Keep that in your pocket. That’s like pulling out a dirty tissue,’’ she said.

Sinacole also suggests ways Burke can give off a more youthful image. For example, if he has a nice car or a gadget, he should “pull out your Saab or Mini Cooper keys and iPhone and lay them on the table as a sign that you’re still hip and cool,’’ she said.

When the makeover session ended, Burke was energized to focus his resume on pertinent work experience and trim off superfluous tangents while homing in on the results of his fund-raising accomplishments.

He also crafted his elevator speech and went out and bought that iPhone, something his wife has been asking him to do for some time.

To be considered for a Career Makeover, fill out the application at the Job Doc section of boston.com/business.

CHRIS BURKE
Goal: Executive director of small nonprofit or corporate relations officer.

Problem: Having conducted a job search in the nonprofit fund-raising area for three years, Burke wanted to know why he was getting little response from job boards and e-mail inquiries.

Recommendations from career adviser Patricia Hunt Sinacole:

• Revamp resume, focusing only on pertinent accomplishments.
• Use keywords on resume to stand out from the crowd
• Use image control, accessorizing and dressing properly to convey a youthful persona.
• Use social networks such as LinkedIn to develop connections.
• Continue volunteering on boards as a way of ramping up fund-raising abilities and establishing relationships.
• Develop and practice a brief "elevator speech."