Friday, August 20, 2010

The exact point at which her specialty retail dream came true is a little sketchy, with all the exciting opportunities it has afforded her since April 1997. But Marci remembers that first early-morning trip to her new "headquarters on wheels." The cart in which she invested everything sat bare in the White Marsh Mall in Abingdon, MD. She remembers the fresh smell of polished oak, the echo from the desolate hallways, and the butterflies that fluttered in her stomach just before the doors of the mall were to open.

"I was so nervous the first day that I was reluctant to leave the cart at all," Marci recalls. "I remember asking a person to watch my purse every time I had to leave." But the purse held little that day: she had invested all she had—$2,000—into the business.

"That was not a lot of money, and some people would say they couldn't get started with that. But you can if you're willing to work, reinvest your income, and realize the great opportunity carts provide in getting your work out there."

Inspired with a zeal to succeed that had her working 80 hours a week, Marci continuously looked for ways to improve the marketability of her product, from folding T-shirts in a way that highlighted the imprinted designs, to capitalizing on her color scheme. "Black-and-white makes a big statement when you're in a colorful mall, and it allows me to merchandise differently for every holiday... If I wanted to use red packaging and red tissue, it coordinated well... If I wanted to use green, that worked as well."

Now she uses some high-tech strategies to market the cart, such as her website. "I don't sell through the site. It's set up to be informative and provide the consumer with more information on where to buy my products." For 12 years before 1997, Marci Struzinski (she no longer uses her surname) earned a modest income hand-painting floral designs on women's apparel. But the self-taught artist says she received some divine guidance encouraging her to do more with her talent—designing simple figures in black ink on white backgrounds, with brief messages of acceptance and inspiration about "basic family values and beliefs that many people are looking for," she explains.

Selling from a cart gives her daily contact with her market, allowing her to capture the thoughts and feelings she shares with them. "From the perspective of an artist and a designer, to be able to bring my work right out to the public and get first-hand reaction is priceless," she says. "I get as much inspiration from customers as I give to them, because they constantly reinforce what I'm doing and thank me for what I create. And when you're working hard, you need that."

Specialty retailing has also given her mobility. In 1998, she moved to the Harford Mall, which offered more space and opportunity. "I made the move, first, to be closer to home, and second, to get the sales figures that would be paid attention to," she explains. "There are consumers with more money to spend at the mall I chose to move to."

The move translated into a $100,000 annual income. "I'm still not in a killer mall. I'm sure there are probably 100 other malls in the country where I could do twice that amount with my cart."

Within two years of opening her cart, Marci signed with a licensing agent (Art Impressions of Canoga Park, CA), who introduced her to several manufacturers. Papel Giftware (Cranbury, NJ) produces a line of key chains, mugs and ceramic picture frames with Children of the Inner Light design. And Stephen Lawrence, also in New Jersey, is interested in licensing gift bags and wrapping paper. Marci says licensing will help continue her dream of developing a more diverse line of merchandise, such as dolls, gold and silver jewelry, and the licensed apparel concept that already generates significant sales. "I'm selling a $47 hand-painted Children of the Inner Light denim shirt that I can't keep in stock."

Her cart program also catapulted her T-shirt line into the national spotlight. "I've recently partnered with Coed Sportswear, Inc. (Newfields, NH) to distribute my T-shirts nationally. We'll be making our debut at the Atlanta Gift Show in January." And as if all of this weren't keeping her busy enough, she's also working toward publishing a book of daily inspirational thoughts.

As in any business, Marci has had some surprises during her entrepreneurial career, starting with her first drawing of a newborn. She targeted the drawing to children because she thought adults would not identify with the concept. Much to her surprise, adults began requesting her designs for products geared toward the mature market.

What started as 26 greeting cards has grown to include a portfolio of T-shirts, matted frames and wall hangings depicting licensed Children of the Inner Light designs. She is also recognized as a point of contact for other would-be specialty retailers. "So many people come through the mall, see my set-up and say 'Can you tell me how to do it?' In fact, I think my cart program has tremendous potential for being a nationwide entity with franchise potential."

She says her next step in specialty retail is to move from a cart to a kiosk. "I have so many products now, that I'm looking to develop a great holiday and Christmas program." As for the time commitment, she says, "You really only need to work eight weeks a year to make tons of money. It's common for carts to do $60,000 to $80,000 in eight weeks. So I can continue my cart program in addition to having my products in gift stores all over the country throughout the year."

According to Scott MacHardy, owner and licensing director of Coed Sportswear, Marci's cart program is what catalyzed the company's interest. "On a tip from a good source, I happened to be in her area, and her entire cart really helped me understand what she was trying to accomplish. That's how I got excited about doing the apparel end of it." MacHardy attests that he's "a big fan of carts and kiosks anyway, and I liked the way she was using a lot of wicker fixtures, tables... It really worked for me. Everything really hung together nicely."

Born of her experience and success, Marci has advice for rookie specialty merchants:

  • Be there. Be willing to work a lot of hours yourself—especially if you're testing a new product—because what you learn first-hand from customers is invaluable.
  • Put together a cohesive collection of product, and show it in a neat, attractive way, so customers have variety.
  • Let the mall help you with merchandising and promotional tips.
  • Have literature available to give to customers. "It's an extra expense, but putting together a fold-over brochure explaining my history and my concept is the best investment I've made." Many times people will stop and look but won't buy, so give them something to remember you with.
  • Make the customer happy, no matter what.

Marci takes customer happiness seriously. She even altered her identity, just to make things easier for them. "I found that my last name—Struzinski—was so difficult for people to write on the check, that I opened my business account under the name 'Marci,'" she says. "Being an artist, I just sign everything with my first name." She even set up her telephone account that way. The phone company representative said, "What? Like Cher?" And with that same independence, talent and moxie, she said, "Yeah! Marci."

Tom R. Arterburn is Executive Director of The Resume Institute.

Be Your Own Boss: Blog Four

A self-proclaimed pioneer of cart commerce in the New England area, Gary Bliss Garabedian, Aah! La Cart's president and CEO, began his entrepreneurial career at a time when pushcarts were still identified with corner peddlers and street vendors. But he recognized intuitively the profitability of making direct contact with large groups of customers in a mall environment.

Back in 1981 when he was traveling in Boston, he saw his first retail cart in a local marketplace. "When I got back to Warwick [RI], I approached my grandfather, who is a partner in the Warwick Mall, and talked to him about placing one in his mall. Well, he called my father and told him he thought I was a little out of it." Despite that skepticism, however, Garabedian and his girlfriend (now his wife), Laurie, got the $2,600 he needed to get started with his first pushcart, purchased from Peckham Woodworking in Hollister, MA. "They were one of the only companies that made carts back then," he recalls.

Garabedian's string of success started with printed shoelaces. "At the time, it was a very big fad to have whales, teddy bears and other images printed on shoelaces. So I just hung them around the cart like salamis, and it turned into a phenomenal success. My first Christmas season I did $40,000 in gross sales. For a kid just out of college, there was a lot of profit in that, because back then the mall rent was much less, and I had very little payroll." With this financial momentum, he started a second cart at another mall, where his program ended up being "the only cart in town"—a niche that benefited from the empty hallways that seemed to funnel shoppers directly to him.

But the 39-year-old admits that besides timing and good luck, personal traits like intuition and assertiveness spawned his accomplishments. In his younger days, Garabedian was known for pushing boundaries. "When I was a rookie, if I saw more people at one end of the mall, I would wheel the cart to that end," he laughed. "The mall manager would come and scold me: 'Why are you moving the cart all around the mall? Everyone is going to get to you eventually,' he would say."

Nonetheless, Garabedian continued with his aggressive approach, a technique he formulated at age 13. "When I was a youngster, I was always interested in making money, whether it was waxing cars in the neighborhood at 13, or selling fruit-and-nut products at flea markets when I was in college," he recalls. With this level of enthusiasm and self-determination, Aah! La Cart's business strategy has focused on product diversity, with lines that capitalized on a number of lucrative fads over the years, including Rubik's Cube in 1983 and Cabbage Patch Dolls in 1987.

Proving to himself that sales didn't always depend solely on the product's popularity but on hard work and a sound business strategy as well, Garabedian embarked on a philosophy of expansion and diversification. "We found we were very capable of doing 12 different concepts at once and doing them at various malls," he says. The key to the success of that approach was thoroughly researching the products as well as his competition: continual visits to other malls in the region to examine their specialty retail programs. He watches traffic flow, demographics, and competitive marketing strategies to determine what he can duplicate or what he can do better.

In the early '90s, the company expanded into more extensive holiday programs, which included temporary in-line novelty stores operated under the name Land of Aahs. "We did pretty well with them," Garabedian says, "but we found that being open year-round led to much greater overhead, and that our cart and kiosk locations, operating simultaneously, were much more profitable." So three years ago, they sold the stores "to concentrate 100 percent on any type of temporary retail—store, kiosk or cart. For the last three years, we've done a 5,000-square-foot temporary in-line Halloween Superstore [contiguous to the mall], a Halloween Headquarters for Kids kiosk, and a costume rental shop, all in the Warwick Mall."

He admits, however, that the temporary in-line strategy includes more risk. "The mall always allots space strictly for Christmas tenants, but Halloween is a different situation," he says. "If a major retailer is interested in space, the mall is going to lease that space. So if they don't have any available space, we can be shut out." On the upside, he says that if you can find space, you'll pay much less for it during the Halloween season than you will during Christmas. "For instance, this year our Halloween season was 35 percent over what we did last year," he explains. "And we had more competition than we've ever had in the past. We had three other retailers within a five-mile radius, and saw all the major retailers starting to capitalize more on the season, which proved the success of our formula: having a lot of customer service, a lot of employees on the floor, and a lot of personalized service." He says that's critical, because people don't have time to spend with mass merchandisers where they get little assistance, see products poorly displayed (or worse), and learn that the products they want are sold out.

And since employees are a crucial part of the success of his promotions, Garabedian motivates and retains good employees by means of incentive programs. "We award our sales associates with [Aah! La Carte] 'Boo Bucks' in different denominations that they can apply towards purchases at any of our seasonal kiosks."

Garabedian also competes by using unique promotional concepts—like the huge, illuminated pumpkin that helps tout his Halloween superstore. "It's pretty much a trademark for us," he says. To keep the creative marketing momentum going, this year he hired a promotional director, whose job is to promote the Halloween business through costume fashion shows, costumed employees and other in-store promotions. "We also do a Web site that gets a lot of hits."

Aah! La Cart takes the conglomerates to task at Christmastime, as well. This year the company introduced Aah! La Cart Sports, which marketed numerous licensed sports-related gifts, novelties and memorabilia in a kiosk environment. Year-round, the company markets Fun Feet slippers and Lipink, in addition to helping others get into the specialty retail business. "I work as a consultant, helping those interested in opening a cart but who don't know what to do."

What about the challenges of specialty retailing? Rather than dwell on negatives, Garabedian prefers to focus on the positive. "In my opinion, the products we sell are fairly recession-proof, because when the economy is bad, people look for fun things." However, he does pay attention to economic trends, prompting him to respond with appropriate marketing strategies. "When the economy is good, we've found that people tend to purchase high-ticket items: jewelry, cars, vacations, rather than lower-priced impulse items. Therefore, this year I joined with a partner and sold rotisserie ovens at $170 per unit, and they sold like crazy."

The company's expansion plans for the rest of this year include licensing the Halloween Headquarters concept to "hauntrepreneurs," expanding cart operations into other malls in the New England area, and pushing more limits, breaking more rules.

Tom R. Arterburn is Executive Director of The Resume Institute.

Be Your Own Boss: Blog Three

Take a look inside outlet centers. Defined as properties in which 50 percent or more of the tenants are manufacturer's outlets, these centers are another viable option for setting up shop. Dayne Sieling of Retail Ventures, Inc. in Minneapolis says 12 to 15 percent of his expansive specialty retail programs, which focus on marketing demonstration-oriented products, are located in factory outlet centers. "And if there were more of them, we would do more," he says. "They tend to provide a strong market segment for us because when someone goes to a factory outlet center, they are not browsing—it's an event. They're going there with their wallets full [and] their credit cards loose. [The centers] typically have music and videos going... they're decorated in a festive way, and it's a fun experience centered on that 'stack 'em high and let 'em fly' philosophy. And we like that type of shopper," Seiling explains, "because they tend to be more impulse-oriented and impetuous." As a result, "if we compare our factory outlet center sales to traditional malls, our average monthly sales at Christmas would certainly be higher."

Yet according to Linda Humphers, editor of Value Retail News, the growth in outlet center development has recently waned. "It has slowed down quite a bit from the late '80s and early '90s. Now we have only about four or five outlet centers opening in a year, and only a million square feet being added, due to the retail demand and the fact that there are only so many places they can go, due to the sensitivity of competitors," she says. "If they locate too close to metropolitan areas, their wholesale accounts get mad."

But here's the good news: Humphers says that although sales volumes in the outlet sector have been down in the last year, sales per square foot do exceed regional malls. According to data her organization collected:

  • Average outlet sales per square foot increased from $211 in 1995 to $232 in 1998.
  • Estimated total outlet sales jumped from $10.7 billion in 1995 to $13.3 billion in 1998.
  • In the last ten years, the number of newly-opened outlet chains grew from 308 in 1988 to a high of 543 in 1995, but have since dropped off annually to 492 in 1998.

Prime Retail, LP (Baltimore) started building its outlet segment in 1996 at their open-air, village-style and strip centers. Ted Kaminski, director of specialty leasing, says, "We placed some small-cart programs at some of the centers in the warmer climates like California, Texas and Florida that we maintain year-round." As for trends, he says, "We've increased the number of clearance events held at outlet centers by coordinating with manufacturers like Tommy Hilfiger and Samsonite, and hold those [events] either in the parking lots or in unrented space." Kaminski says they do that in Arizona, too, "but there, we also have carts and kiosks that give the local craftsmen and entrepreneurs a chance to do business."

Mirroring the malls

The stereotype that outlet centers are best suited for outdated products or close-out merchandise is a myth, Kaminski says. "We're mirroring what's happening in the retail malls—the carts in the outlet centers are handling a lot of the same trendy merchandise like Beanie Babies™, yo-yos and Pokémon™ products. But the difference," he says, "is that the cart programs in the outlet centers are required to hold sales or discount the merchandise." For instance, Prime Retail has a deal with Calendar Club, a national seasonal tenant, that stipulates offering a discount. So from the day Calendar Club opens in November, their calendars are marked 10 percent off.

Heidi A. Maybruck, director of specialty leasing with Glimcher Realty Trust (which handles 23 mall properties that include three outlet centers), sees no difference between a "value center" and regional mall when it comes to specialty leasing. "I see the same types of leases and the same types of trends. I think the only difference is that they have to show value just like the centers where they are located. When customers enter a value center, they're thinking discounts and best buys, so retailers have to enforce that in order to survive." Kaminski agrees. "If customers travel 45 minutes to an outlet center, they expect to get some type of discount. That's what sets us apart from the regional malls."

Kaminski says Prime Retail's specialty-retail leasing rates vary with each center because the sales volume and traffic vary from location to location. "The foot traffic is different from that of an enclosed mall," he says. "We start doing our holiday volume in early November through mid-December, and then the outlet centers quiet down when the regional malls pick up. "If you're a temporary tenant coming in for the holiday season and you're looking to do a Christmas deal, the rate may be more affordable than the mall." But he stresses that the temporary tenant in that case should "open as soon as possible in October, because you want to take advantage of the heavier foot traffic in early November through December." As Christmas gets closer, shoppers are less likely to drive an hour. Most of their shopping will be done at their local community shopping centers or regional malls.

A different slant on value

Mills Corporation, which has value centers in enclosed malls, believes strongly in specialty retailing as well, but offers a different mix of tenants. "We have manufacturer and retail outlet centers, discounters, category killers, as well as theme restaurants and entertainment complexes," explains Ned Katzman, VP, Main Street Retail (a subsidiary of Mills). "We have Nike, Ralph Lauren, Nautica and Ann Taylor outlets, as well as Dave & Buster's, Rain Forest Café, Bed Bath & Beyond, Bass Pro... all mixed throughout the mall in a dynamic fashion. We like to think that we have it all." And that includes a strong cart program.

"We recognized early that we could have a cart and kiosk program in our malls, and that segment is just phenomenal," says Katzman. "They continue to grow and generate a good revenue stream for the company, and often incubate into in-line merchants. We generally incubate a dozen or so merchants each year."

Katzman is optimistic about the future of specialty retailing in his sector. "The demand for kiosks and pushcarts is growing dramatically," he says. "The common-area opportunities are able to deliver revenues that help make up shortfalls from other revenue centers. We found that, with our traffic patterns, cart programs can be sustained easily because of our high levels of tourism."

As to rates, he says, "We would charge on the high end, comparable to what an upscale mall would charge... We are very competitive on rent for what we offer, which is a higher level of tourism and more traffic."

Another assumption about outlet malls is that they are short on staff and short on time, due to their high-volume atmosphere. Not so, according to Denise Hammer, programs and services manager with Main Street Retail, which operates nine outlet centers throughout the country. The support her company offers is comparable to that of a traditional mall. "We actually hire a professional visual merchandiser who comes in and conducts the initial meeting with the tenant," Hammer says. At that meeting they devise a shopping list of things that will attract attention, enhance marketability, and help the specialty retailer shine in the fast-paced, high-energy environment these centers create. The visual merchandiser also assists with setting up.

Programmed for growth

Main Street Retail reports traffic flows at their busiest centers to be two to three times greater than that of regional malls in the area. "With all the centers we have currently operating in the United States, we attract more than 150 million shoppers per year," Hammer says. The lucrative business has also led to an increase in cart and kiosk operations over the past few years. "We currently have within each center forty to fifty carts and kiosks. We typically open with thirty carts," she says. "But next year we are looking to open with forty, and each year we add five to ten carts at least."

Tanger Factory Outlet Centers (Greensboro, NC), with 32 properties in 22 states, has identified the potential for specialty retailing in their centers as well—so much so, that they recently hired Wendy Johnson, CSM, CMD, as specialty leasing representative. Her role is to develop a specialty retailing program.

"Most of our centers are outdoor, so the opportunities at our northern locations would definitely be seasonal," says Johnson. "But many more are located in tourist destinations close to major cities. For instance, we have a center in Casa Grande, Arizona, where they have the international O'Odam Tash, a Native American festival, which brings in hundreds of thousands of people on an annual basis." Johnson says these are excellent opportunities for all types of specialty merchants. "I wouldn't say no to anything until we looked at it."

Johnson says highlights of Tanger's program will include:

  • Cart rental, "unless someone owns their own."
  • Captain's chairs, "so everything looks consistent and organized."
  • Merchandising assistance.

Like most developers, Johnson doesn't discuss statistical averages on traffic flow and sales volumes. But she does say that "most of our centers usually attract more than 700,000 cars per year, with several [centers] that are over a million."

Overall, opportunity for specialty retail in outlet centers is growing. According to those in the know, cart and kiosk entrepreneurs in outlet centers can be every bit as successful as those in traditional malls. And the strategy for success is virtually the same: research, negotiate and sell a killer product. The only difference? Stack 'em high and let 'em fly.

Tom R. Arterburn is Executive Director of The Resume Institute.

Be Your Own Boss: Blog Two

Some people might think all teenaged "cart jockeys" are flighty, unfocused clock-watchers with a 'zine in one hand, a snack in the other and the radio blaring—kids whose goals and plans barely push beyond scoring pizza for dinner and tracking down the next gotta-have-it CD. But those people are wrong. Jon Scheerz is proof.

Seven years ago, Scheerz was just 17 and working a retail job. But unlike the so-called slacker teen, Jon had aspirations, and more. He had the willingness to invest the time and hard work it takes to forge a long-term career in specialty retail—a career that started, ironically enough, with typical teenage trials and tribulations.

Jon began his career selling golf equipment and specialty items part-time at an in-line golf store in Burnsville, MN. One Saturday during the Christmas season, the owner of Retail Ventures dropped by after lunch and found a large group of potential customers peering angrily into the store through the metal gate. Obviously the store was closed.

"The owner thought I had just decided to close up shop and grab lunch or go shopping," Scheerz says. "But I told him we were having a record day—more than $3,000 by noon—and I had to get more change for the register." So the owner stayed and worked alongside Scheerz for the rest of the day.

Within a month (and still just 17), Scheerz was promoted to store manager. As such, he also started traveling with the owner to the company's 40 direct retail stores and pushcarts, as well as supplying more than 20 owner-operators at the same time. Scheerz stayed with Retail Ventures and helped the company grow into a diversified corporation that specializes in, as he puts it, "making specialty retail marriages."

Some background: When Retail Ventures started in 1994, the cart industry had taken off and was expanding. At the time, specialty retailers believed their particular cart program/product, whatever it was, would last forever. Contradicting that belief was a prominent mall developer who said that cart owners who think this is an ongoing career "couldn't be more wrong." The contrarian was right: The specialty retail industry and the mood and tastes of the buying public move too fast for anyone to sell exactly the same product year after year. And so the industry and the retailers have to evolve.

Retail Ventures found that evolving—and therefore surviving—meant that they had to find new products, sign on more owner-operators, and help malls establish more cart programs. At the same time, malls were growing at enormous rates without enough product diversity to support their growth. They needed and wanted help finding new concepts for their owner-operators. As a result, a great demand rose for someone to develop and market new lines for manufacturers who were new to specialty retail and didn't know how to distribute their products to the increasing number of cart owners.

Retail Ventures saw their opportunity. They could rely not only on their expertise in manufacturing products in the past, but on the experience gleaned from the mistakes of their corporate and owner-operator locations throughout 15 states. They did the research. And Scheerz was there.

Today, the company offers turnkey opportunities in which entrepreneurs can inexpensively and conveniently open their own business. More than that, they are involved in a program in which the product concept is proven through different malls and other test markets—a way to avoid the risky "stock and rock" approach.

"You really only have a few weeks to learn your product line," Scheerz says. "A lot of operators, mall developers and manufacturers still don't understand how difficult it is to physically go out to the merchandise and trade markets—to find, source out and create their own line of products for a cart operation. And then be successful with that product line within a 60-day window during the Christmas season."

Retail Ventures knew how to package a product line so that an owner-operator could run the business successfully, without having to worry about testing the product and the market first. They took away the guesswork, and catapulted themselves into the business.

Being the first representative company in the specialty retail industry as well as the largest has meant years of work for Scheerz and the Retail Ventures staff. "The reason we have been able to locate new products and open successful owner-operator programs is that we understand the industry," he says. "We're retailers ourselves. This allows us to focus on and understand the operator's needs more than anybody else in the industry."

Within the past six years, Scheerz and Retail Ventures have represented 30 different product lines, and brought more than $1.5 million in wholesale to more than one manufacturer during the first year of representation. Scheerz says they focus on between just nine or twelve a year so that they don't lose sight of the best product lines. "[This] allows us to offer the owner-operators and malls a chance to rotate in and out of product lines through the year," he says.

Retail Ventures has opened more than 800 owner-operator programs, with the majority of owner-operators active within the specialty retail industry. The company employs six people in the office, and will hire as many as 30 seasonal workers to manage their direct retail programs.

Today, at age 25, Scheerz has an impressive resume with considerable retail experience, including visual merchandising and retail manager of Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, as well as district and regional manager of other large retail chains throughout the country.

In addition to operating some of his own retail carts, he recently purchased the company that generates more than $2 million a year for their manufacturers, and projects more than $3.5 million this year. On the direct retail side, he projects more than $250,000 in sales during Christmas, and more than $500,000 in 2001.

Keys to being successful, he says, include choosing the right products and maximizing efficiency. "We have always been a big supporter of operating multiple units within one mall, versus operating one cart in ten different malls at the same time," he says. He finds that it's much easier for owner-operators to expand within the same mall with different product lines, due to their knowledge of the mall, mall procedures, sales figures, demographics, and past product successes. And placing a second cart next to a proven one can significantly cut some expenses in payroll, rent, shipping, storage, telephone and more. "It's much more productive to buy for two than just one," he says. "And as most operators know, on a Monday morning the mall's not the busiest place in town, so it's very easy... to operate two carts side by side."

Retail Ventures is in the business of growing specialty retail businesses. The company's key strategy, Scheerz says, is to stay in the forefront and make sure they assist in bringing the industry to the next level by finding new products... working with malls to locate qualified owner-operators... and helping those owner-operators succeed. And Scheerz, retail's Whiz Kid, is leading the way.

Tom R. Arterburn is Executive Director of The Resume Institute.

Be Your Own Boss: Blog One

"Swiping" saloon souvenirs—surreptitiously helping oneself to coasters, napkins, and even those nifty lighted beer signs—is almost de rigueur among college bar-hoppers.

Tom Wenger first caught the bug while traveling in Britain a number of years ago. Unlike American bars, British pubs featured bar towels sporting logos from unique breweries around the world. He won't say how he came by a supply of the towels—whether he and his friends spilled a lot of lager overseas or just managed to charm a number of generous servers—but one way or another, Wenger came home with enough of them to mop up after the rowdiest of keggers.

Wenger the college kid thought the towels, like most promotional items, were cool. But instead of haphazardly thumb-tacking them on the walls of his room, as a less inspired collegian might have done, he asked his mother to sew the towels together into a sort of beer banner or, as he prefers, beach towel. Whatever, it became a one-of-a-kind, must-have item among his fellow sudsers. "Everyone wanted to buy it, or wanted me to get them one," he says.

The old college try

But he had things to do after college, such as making a living. So for the next ten years, he toiled in the field of commercial real estate sales. In November of 1998, after tiring of a world he felt confining, Wenger decided to pursue a more free-flowing career. He looked to trends—particularly social drinking, the resurgent interest in fine wines, and the revival of the Martini and cocktails in general.

Then he remembered his British bar-towel creation and its popularity. Putting the pieces together, he decided to put his entrepreneurial efforts into his favorite college pastime. And he revived many of his college survival strategies to do it.

Friends: Wenger enlisted friends to help him load his car with a $1,000 worth of modular shelving, stained wood and track lighting, all of which was fashioned into a U-shaped kiosk at the Harrisburg (PA) East Mall.

Mom: Wenger's mother designed and sewed the black skirting around the kiosk, and then assisted with merchandising and customer service.

Haggling: Creative bargaining got him down to a $40,000 initial investment for rent and merchandise.

Spontaneity: High energy and decisiveness meant foregoing a costly period of unpaid research and preparation. In one month, he was up and running on the road to financial independence.
While that sounds freewheeling and easy—he calls it his "stock and rock" philosophy—his advice to profit-minded college kids or any would-be entrepreneur is rock-solid: "Do your homework. But definitely get into it."

Wenger's homework led him to a company that manufactures what turned out to be popular British pub wear. So he had product to sell.

He found that cart negotiation and placement was a complex process, one he learned through trial and error. "I had been in commercial real estate, so I knew something about negotiating rent. But it really ended up focusing on what was available... We jumped in with both feet." The center-court location he thought would be an excellent spot for convergent traffic turned out to be the proverbial half-full/half-empty beer mug: the Mixology kiosk was directly across from a giant sand castle, the talk of the town that drew considerable interest and lots of traffic. But much of that traffic would get to his kiosk and then turn away from it to look at the castle.

As for traffic counts, he expected more during weekdays in November. Despite busy weekends, it was the last two weeks of December that were his real money-making period. "You hear stories about how half your money is made before December 15th, and the other half is made after December 15th. It really did seem to be true in my case."

Adding to the mix

Despite ups and downs, and within just two months, his first season generated enough revenue—and weight with creditors—to help finance an in-line location in Camp Hill. And last year he expanded into Camp Hill's Capital City Mall with RMUs featuring Yuengling Beer glassware, T-shirts, sweatshirts and collectibles. "[These items] were popular offerings from my first cart and were marketed at each mall." He also operated an RMU at both malls, featuring Christmas ornaments and hand-made jigsaw puzzles from England. These in addition to his anchor, the Mixology cart at Capital City Mall.

Through the pilot expansion, he found he could locate two RMUs close together and have one employee operate both of them. "It definitely saved me a lot of money in labor, and allowed me to use the same credit-card terminal and the same phone line," he says.

At the height of business, he now employs 12 people. And after two years, he finds little direct competition. "There's still no one here doing quite the same thing."

Wenger credits a great deal of his success to the kiosk concept, which provided an admitted rookie entrepreneur an opportunity for manageable forecasting, start-up and risk. "I was never really interested in traditional retail—more mail order and the Internet," he says. "But now, as a result of starting the kiosk, I've found myself growing a successful retail business. Even if the business had failed, it would not have been as devastating as if I had started right off the bat with a store."

As for hot products, he says cocktail shakers are popular right now, "but we carry it all—everything from bottle stoppers on up," he says. "We'll even build a full wine rack in someone's house." Not that Wenger is unaware of the dangers of drinking and driving, nor is he promoting it. He feels people are drinking more responsibly, and that his products encourage that. "More people are drinking at home and want products for in-home use," he says. "It's made it the right time for this business."

While he admits to always having enjoyed a good drink or two, Wenger insists that Mom and Dad's money didn't go to waste. He did graduate (with a bachelor's degree in Business Management from Juniata College)... and has since advanced to "master of Mixology."

As for the future, his long-term strategy for the business includes the Mixology website and maybe franchising, as well. "Once you're in business other doors will open up for you," he says. Although his former boss extended an open invitation to return to real estate, Wenger took a shot at success, and never looked back.

Tom R. Arterburn is Executive Director of The Resume Institute.


At one time, turning to a secretarial service, or local print shop for assistance in preparing an effective résumé was an innovative approach to getting a leg up on the job-search competition.

But today, high quality print technology can be found in many households, personal computers are abundant, desktop publishing has become a household word and computer software can do everything but seal the envelopes for a job-seeker wishing to conduct their own direct-mail campaign from the kitchen table. In order to stack up on top, a candidate's résumé must reflect originality, professionalism, capability, intuition and above all sincerity.

Although desktop publishing systems, word processors, professional résumé writers and even some secretarial services should be able to assist in preparing a professional-looking document, only candidates, themselves, can demonstrate sincerity.

Whether you choose to write your own résumé or hire a professional, the following myths and misconceptions along with the facts about résumés will help you make more informed decisions regarding how best to present your qualifications and abilities to a potential employer.

Fiction: Plagiarizing the content of a successful colleagues résumé, or a sample from a résumé guide is a convenient, economical and productive technique.

Fact: Job-seeking is a demanding competition not a leisurely activity. In today's ultra-competitive job market, in which hundreds of candidates vie for a single position, job-seekers who strive to be "as good as" anyone else, will surely be defeated by the “competitor” who can prove they are the best.

Myth: Résumé content should be generic so that it appeals to a variety of employment markets.

Fact: The relationship between a résumé reader and a résumé writer is much like that of a couple planning a future together. Who would you consider as a partner? The person interested in you or anyone else? Or the person specifically and sincerely interested in you?

"Of the résumés we receive, a high percentage are generic. If you leave it to my imagination as to what position you're applying for or where you best fit in our organization, it's not going to get the consideration as if you applied for a specific position," says Beth Marguardt, staff personnel manager at Southland Corporation in Dallas, Texas.

Another corporate personnel manager, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke candidly about her take.

"When I give people advice, I tell them not to send a generic résumé to 'personnel' ," the manager says. "I tell them to send a specific résumé to the manager of the position that they would like to have. [Department] managers don't get 10,000 résumés per year, in response to 100 positions that are available." She added that at her company, less than 5 percent of all jobs are filled by way of unsolicited résumé submissions.

A corporate staffing manager with Honeywell, Inc. in Minneapolis, Minn., views résumés differently, however. The paper, how it's folded, how it's printed, even the formatting and language makes very little difference to him. "What matters to me most is that I can get to the meat of the content quickly, and make a decision on it."

If you pay a high price to have your résumé prepared, make certain that cost includes disk storage, and updating, which will allow you to tailor your résumé to specific companies and their specific needs, or at least a particular field.

Beware of printing and secretarial firms, as well as professional résumé writing services which try to sell you hundreds of copies of your résumé' If you get a job after sending out one résumé, you will have wasted your money on 99 copies.

Hype: If the résumé gets you the job it's worth the high price tag.

Hypothesis: With more and more articles about guarding against false information on résumés turning up in human resource and personnel journals, it's obvious no candidate will ever be hired on the sole basis of their résumé. ­"It's only the initial screening tool," says Ms. Marquardt.

'There are a lot of other factors that enter into the hiring process; personal interviews, other candidates..."

Antiquated Advice: Résumés should consist of no more than one page of information.

Contemporary Conclusion: Robert Schramm and R. Neil Dortch of the University of Wisconsin in Whitewater, Wis. polled 142 corporate recruiters for a research paper published in The Bulletin for the Association of Business Communication and found that two thirds preferred a maximum résumé length of two pages while 60 percent thought they should only accept one page of information.

Before you switch your typewriter or word processor from "pica" to "elite" type in order to get all your information on one page, remember like Scheulen and Aron Heirnbnrg - every individual has their own biases.

"Most of the research on résumé appearance has been conducted using questionnaire or survey research asking personnel managers about their opinions," says Mr. Bird. "From a psychological standpoint, what people believe is affecting their decisions and what they are actually reacting to is not always the same thing.

What this means is that you can read every résumé survey, study every guide, send a handwritten, three-page résumé to a person who hasn't read the same material as you and still get called for an interview.

Conjecture: You need a professional résumé writer to make you sound good on paper.

Rebuttal: Like political speech writers and corporate communications specialists, a good résumé writer might be able to spin your qualifications into an irresistible job query, but like most good journalists, corporate interviewers are relentless pursuers of honesty.

"A lot of people today choose professional résumé writers and that's all well and good, but the information has to be truthful." says Stephanie sancino of IBM in Armonk, Ny.

"I've received résumés that will knock your socks off, and after calling the person in, realized they had a professional write their résumé, because they couldn't back up the verbiage in the interview." If you're worried about translating your "PR man's" magic into tangible and demonstrated capabilities, remember: there are no teleprompters in job interviews.

Concoction: A good résumé is all it takes to get a good job.

Truth: Again, job hunting is a competition. The best résumé in the world will barely get you out of the starting block, while those who've prepared themselves with self-evaluations, strong interviewing skills, targeted cover letters and extensive corporate research wilt easily lead the pack to the finish


Delusion: Sending résumés is a good way to test the job rnarket... "to see what's out there for you."

week,! says von Heimburg.

"And our department is one of 20 staffing areas for Honeywell."

With the "outplaced" pool growing more and more each day, very few employers are offering jobs; they are merely auctioning them to the best bidder. If a position exists, with a little research, along with a specific résumé of qualifications related to the criteria of the position you are applying for, you

should easily be able to outbid your competitors. And with assertive follow-up and a sincere interest in the position as a career, you should be an unbeatable candidate.

Tom R. Arterburn is Executive Director of The Resume Institute.

SCAMMING THE RESUME SCANNER: Developing a Scanner-Friendly Resume

Having difficulty navigating the "resumaze"? Pulling your hair out trying to figure out what kinds of information to include, how to format the document, what type of paper to print it on, and how to send it to employers? Well, if your favorite places file is bulging with bookmarks on resume preparation, you better check the dates on the material, because the rules have changed.

Now, more and more companies are turning to resume scanning equipment and software to weed through their stacks of resumes, and if you thought impressing finicky personnel people was difficult, wait till your resume passes under the eye of their computer counterparts. These cold, calculating cartons of automated components pick through your carefully prepared qualifications like computerized cats, sifting out all the garbage, and going right to the "meat." So beating this system requires some cunning and quite a bit of in-depth research to match a hiring manager's specific criteria for an available job.

After hearing about this latest high-tech threat to humanity, some are already scheming ways to "beat the system." "Andy," a communications specialist with the government, who wishes to remain anonymous, divulged his comical, yet surprisingly practical technique for scamming the scanner. "It searches for key words and phrases in the document, right?" he said with a giggle. "Why not just list:"


"Plan to pursue doctoral degree at Harvard University."


"Never promoted to higher level positions."

"Too stupid to master programming in C language."

"Rarely receive awards or honors for outstanding work performance."

Andy's cynical strategy is obviously absurd given the fact that the human element will certainly enter into the hiring process at some point. Consequently his creative prank may get a few laughs around the HR water cooler, but it certainly won't get him any phone calls from serious hiring managers who busted the departmental bank investing in optical character recognition technology. However, his strategy does have some merit.

Because the scanning process is based on key words or phrases that the user asks the software to scan for, employment candidates can hypothesize as to the hiring criteria for the job they are interested in, and then "pad" their resume with those terms. If the job-seeker's actual experience lacks relevant skills, they can rely on the "spin doctoring" approach used by politicians who are adept at being all things to all people. For instance, using a resume subhead such as "ABILITIES" will allow you to list not only those things you have done, but also those things you are confident you can do based on education or other life experiences. Use this strategy with caution, though. You'll obviously be expected to backup your claims in a personal interview, where too much embellishment might have you sweatin' like a con at a parole board hearing. They can't slap you in jail for resume fraud before you're hired, but be warned, outright resume lies can come back to haunt you.

A savvy candidate ready to go toe to toe with an electronic screener will also want to consider document aesthetics. In their book, Electronic Resume Revolution, J.L. Kennedy and T.J. Morrow, offer the following Tips for Writing a Scannable" Resume:

- Use simple fonts, such as Helvetica, Universe and Optima at point sizes of between 10 and 14.

- Avoid italics, script, and underlining of words.

- Use bold face type sparingly.

- Use an ink jet or laser printer for optimal printing quality.

- Avoid abbreviations.

- Always use white paper.

- Do not fold your resume in order to send it. Use a 9 x 12 envelope.

If you have a Kaczynskiesque philosophy, however, and the thought of catering to a box of high tech bells and whistles unnerves you, take heed. You have sympathizers in the hiring world. "I resent any program that pinpoints phrases not the overall person, says Harriet Cohen, a human resources consultant and President of Cohen Training Solutions in Agoura Hills, Calif. "[Scanning] is easier than actually reading the resume, but there are a lot of issues to consider when hiring: resumes only tell a minor part of the picture. They tell what the person has done and how well they can match the advertisement or scanning criteria, but what they don't tell is the person's capabilities. I have worked with head hunters in my own job-search who would say 'you were perfect for a job, but you didn't get past round one because you were missing the magic phrase.' Unfortunately, no one would tell me what it was."

Whether it's a grinning personnel manager or a stoic computer system suggesting you don't measure up, rejection can be hell. But fight fire with fire, and keep shooting those sincere, focused resumes to carefully targeted companies, and you'll eventually find someone or "something" that will recognize your ability and worth. Remember: developing employment leads is a lot like cultivating personal relationships. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before your marry a prince or princess. In employment, I guess it's stroke a lot of Pentiums before you press flesh with the personnel manager.

Tom R. Arterburn is an award-winning job-search journalist and director of The Resume Institute.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Research: The Key to Interview Success

Leading the competition—that’s what it takes to succeed in a capitalistic society, as well as a competitive job market.

People in business do it through marketing research. High-tech industrialists (and politicians) go as far as corporate espionage to stay one step ahead of the competition. Unfortunately, many graduating students and entry-level job-seekers call it quits when it comes to preparing for employment interviews.

What’s more, according to corporate recruiters, some candidates not only quit, they never even reach the competitive stage.

In order to be a strong career opportunity competitor, start by focusing on the position you’re sincerely interested in, and the organizations that are offering them.

In order to prove to the interviewer that you are the right person for the job (the right fit), you have to know what the job is. Many people make the mistake of waiting until the interview (if they get that far at all) to start thinking about the job, and whether they can really do it or not. This makes them totally unprepared to expound on their capabilities, feelings, questions, achievements, etc. related to the position and organization.

It’s important to realize why many times the first question an interviewer will ask a candidate is either: “Why did you choose our organization?” or “What type of position are you interested in?” They do this to get a handle on how serious you are about the company. If you recognize that an answer such as “I don’t know… the ad looked good in the paper,” or worse, is telling the interviewer nothing, you’re only half right.

To a skilled and sophisticated interviewer, an inappropriate or insincere response can mean a lot: “She’s only interested in the money.” “He’ll leave us in a moment’s notice, if another offer comes along,” etc.

Researching an employment position or a company can be fairly easy work. However, the more effort you put into your work, the more recognition you are apt to receive from the interviewer.

There should be a variety of books regarding careers in the library, and these should give you a basic description of the position you are interested in. But again, to get ahead of the competition, take the research process as far as you can. For example, to gain inside information about specific jobs, as the librarian for the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media. This cross-reference directory (usually available to librarians only) will contain entries for almost every magazine and trade journal published in the United States and Canada. Once you have found several periodicals dealing with your field, ask the librarian if they are on hand. If they are not, don’t be discouraged—be excited—this means the possibility of competitors accessing the same publications will be slight. Some hints on how to acquire the trade journals would be to call or write the publisher (the address and phone number) will be listed in the Gale Directory).

Another source for job or industry information in the St. Louis area is Sorkin’s Directory of Business and Government (found in most libraries). This four-volume cross-reference guide describes most St. Louis businesses, what they do, who runs them, how to contact them, etc.

When you know who you want to contact, then it’s time to learn how your specific qualifications and capabilities meet their needs. These questions can be answered by reading the company’s annual report.

The annual report is an excellent research source. It will usually include information about the philosophy of the company, all the products and services that they provide, as well as financial data. The reports can be acquired at many campus and public libraries, or by writing to the company and requesting one.

Because most of the information is statistical, and targeted towards stock holders, it won’t be an easy read, but interviewers don’t expect you to be a statistical guru, just a dedicated and resourceful employee. Most of the information you will need should be included in the firs few pages of the annual report in a section titled “Letter to Shareholders.” This letter, usually written by the company’s CEO will concisely describe many of the most current highlights of the company, such as new products, innovative programs, future goals, etc.

If you sincere goal is gaining employment with a reputable corporation, use your research in order to:

1. Know your field and your capabilities related to it.

2. Be prepared to demonstrate your knowledge of the company.

3. Ask specific and meaningful questions about the available position, as well as the company.

4. Make the research process fun and innovative. Try to come up with a piece of information related to your field.

You may think company research is demanding, time consuming and takes a lot of effort. If you do, you’re right. And that’s why employers usually hire the hard-working candidates willing to do it.

Tom R. Arterburn is an award-winning job-search journalist and director of The Resume Institute.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


By Tom R. Arterburn Copyright 2010

Okay, maybe you're not "a high-tech whiz kid" any more. Maybe you're not the "techno-guru" you once were. And now upper management is suggesting you may not be "the right fit" for the company's future projects.

Sound familiar? You may be "a prime candidate" for an age discrimination suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. But before you pursue a claim, prepare for a legal system that can at times be as discriminatory as any public or private sector organization, as one former government employee in St. Louis, Missouri found out.

Armed with a three-ring binder, a few sheets of poster board scrawled with makeshift diagrams, and a couple of well-wishers, accounting technician Albert Blicharski tried to do what many attorneys refuse to do: take on a government agency in an age discrimination case.

As a result, Blicharski, a 58-year-old Polish immigrant and retired USAF Master Sergeant, once again ended up in foreign territory the hearing room of the Merit Systems Protection Board in St. Louis, Missouri, where he encountered a language (legalese) he couldn't interpret, a culture he wasn't comfortable with, and a group of people that considered him an adversary. These opponents were the same supervisors and co-workers he had worked with for many years at the Farmers Home Administration in St. Louis, before they proposed to remove him from his job because of an inability to meet a higher productivity standard instituted two years ago. Blicharski was forced into the hearing unrepresented after calling 15 attorneys in the St. Louis area, all of whom refused to take his case.

Blicharski's story exemplifies how difficult it is for government employees in particular to fight age-discrimination in the current public-sector court system, due to the red tape and continuously changing regulations.

Cathy Ventrell-Monsees, manager of worker equity with the American Association of Retired Persons in Washington, D.C., said similar dilemmas confront anyone claiming wrongful discharge due to age.

"That's a tough claim," said Monsees, a former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) representative, "because you have to show that the motivation for the discharge was to get rid of older employees, and that's a tough motivation to show."

Christine Godsil Cooper, professor of law at Loyola Law School in Chicago, advises her students to look at four areas before deciding to take an age-discrimination case. According to Cooper, to increase your chances of attracting a lawyer to take your case, make sure your claim includes the following components:

1.Make sure the plaintiff (you) is a credible and articulate person who can foster sympathy from a jury.

2.Ensure that you have enough evidence to prove that what happened was due to age.

3.Back up claims with documentation.

4.Look for discriminatory policies on the part of the employer.

Monsees added these situations:

5.A sudden or dramatic change in an employment evaluation.

6.Supervisors threatening older employees with Reduction In Force (RIF) actions or downsizing. According to Monsees, if an RIF or downsizing was under consideration, you should ask the agency to produce documentation pertaining to it and ask which employees were covered by it, etc.

7.Discriminatory hiring processes. "Applicants being told they're 'over-qualified' is now considered a buzz-word for age discrimination." Albert Blicharski was lucky enough to get old, but was not lucky enough to have a salary high enough to attract a lawyer's attention. As a result, and as expected, his administrative hearing was anything but smooth sailing. The proceedings were riddled with relevancy objections from the agency representative, many of which were sustained by the judge. "It's always a mistake to represent yourself," said Cooper. "Judges never treat [self-represented] litigants as well as those with attorneys." This fact is evidenced in the decision against Blicharski, who is a pro se ("lawyerless") litigant. Now he's convinced more than ever that although old dogs can indeed hunt, there's no guarantee they'll catch their prey. "I've called three more attorneys since I received the decision and haven't even received their opinion on my case," Blicharski said.

Tom R. Arterburn is an independent investigative journalist and Director of the Resume Institute He has contributed articles to the Wall Street Journal National Business Employment Weekly, the American Bar Association's Student Lawyer magazine, and regional newspapers.


By Tom R. Arterburn

cur·ric·u·lum vi·tae: A short account of one's career and qualifications prepared typically by an applicant for a position. Etymology: Latin, course of (one's) life.

ré·su·mé: A brief account of one's professional or work experience and qualifications, often submitted with an employment application. Etymology: French résumé, from past participle of résumer to resume, summarize, from Middle French resumer.

Do you know the difference between a curriculum vitae (CV) and a resume? And why it’s important to have both up-to-date and readily available?

For some, a resume, by definition, is a “summary” – a synopsis of your CV, let’s say. If you’ve ever tried to copy and paste your CV into a job board field with a 500 word limit, or watched a recruiter’s cold stare as he/she lifted your professional opus up and down mockingly as if curling a dumbbell, you get the idea.

For others, a resume is the lengthy narrative and the CV is the summarized version. So if you’re confused, obviously, you’re not alone.

While there are no universal standards regarding exactly what to list in a resume and what to include in a CV, the following is a guide to the basics:

A curriculum vitae often includes a summary of one’s educational and academic backgrounds, as well as teaching and research experience, grants, publications, presentations, awards, honors, affiliations and other details. A document that’s length is only limited by the endeavors of the professional it refers to. It’s the document of choice for a physician recruiter with Cedars Sinai Medical Center, which employs over 2,000 physicians and recruits up to 30 each year. Because it is a research and teaching hospital, says the recruiter, who wishes to remain anonymous, we don’t want to see a two-page resume. We prefer to look at a full CV to see if a person has had any research grants, what kinds of studies they’ve worked on… something much more in-depth. You’ll probably find the same preference among speakers bureaus, organizations recruiting for higher-level positions and journal editors. “We prefer CVs to resumes,” confirms Pam Miller, Assistant to the Editor - Special Projects, New England Journal of Medicine, Boston, Mass. “They provide much more detail and if we are using the CV for any type of evaluation, it usually provides all the details necessary to determine the person's body of work.”

It’s the gold standard for traditional clinical roles, says Ivo Drury, MD MBA, President of Career Consulting for Physicians in Ann Arbor, Mich, who also serves as Adjunct Professor of Neurology, University of Michigan Medical School. “But résumés are of increasing importance given that more physicians consider pursuing non-clinical careers.”

While a CV is likely to be a lengthy and comprehensive chronology of a person’s career, he says a résumé should be weighted to more recent professional activities and to one's accomplishments in the role most relevant to the position they seek. “The résumé, not the CV, gives a dynamic picture of a candidate’s activities in a particular role.”

As for content, the resume should always include a brief biographical summary, work history and educational background. Let the position requirements dictate the rest. “We don’t need to see all the articles you’ve written,” adds Dennis Settles, primary care manager with Kendall-Davis in St. Louis, Mo. “We’re looking for certifications, schooling and work history. That’s it.”

Karen Zeller, president of the National Association of Physician Recruiters has a more traditional take. “I believe there is a difference [between a resume and a CV]. I see a resume as being more of a narrative of objectives and experience. And in ten years, I don’t think I’ve seen more than two or three resumes. They tend to be used more for medical director or administrative positions. I think the standard in the industry is a CV with concise statements about educational background, work history, publications and that sort of thing. If it’s a graduating resident, I tend to receive two-page CVs. If it’s a practicing physician, who has spent some time in an academic setting, that physician will typically have two CVs—one that is abbreviated and shows his/her primary focus… maybe six pages. And then his/her full CV that may be 25 pages.”

When asked about tailoring the CV to one’s career objective, Zeller says she prefers a cover letter “that lists their objective, outlines their strengths and highlights whatever they think makes them a good fit for a particular opportunity.”

Because hiring professionals seem to lack consensus when it comes to CVs and resumes, do as much as you can to discover your target’s preference. When the U.S. Government hires, for instance, it provides a very specific job announcement, which details the required submission materials. Send more and it will be disregarded. Send less and you will probably be looked over. “Here [at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Birmingham, Ala.], the terms resume and CV are used interchangeably. We really don’t make an issue of it,” says Carolyn Watts, resource specialist. Semantics aside, she adds that the most common problem for candidates applying to the VA is failing to provide enough information, which suggests a job seeker with a meticulous CV will fare better than one who submits a terse resume.

The final caveat? No person has ever been hired based solely on their CV or resume. In the ultra-competitive world of hiring, the aforementioned documents are primarily used for screening candidates out. So take advice from recruiters and hiring professionals with a grain of salt, don’t let your resume do all the talking and follow-up on every application in order to identify necessary changes in content, style and format.

Tom R. Arterburn is an award-winning job-search journalist and Executive Director of the Resume Institute