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Resumes – How to get them “just right”

Posted by | October 30, 2012 | Job Search

How to craft the right resume for each job

Recruiters are like Goldilocks —they know the “just right” resume when it lands in their inbox.

Getting up to resume speed

Especially if the information within the resume matches the job description they crafted (or at least posted).

The golden rule for your technical communication job search is “Each job application = a customized resume.”

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? (well, from theoretical point of view anyway).

So, if you’re going to follow the golden rule and make Goldilocks happy, first take a look at all your various resumes.  When you look over them you will probably realize they (a) they don’t reflect all your years of technical communication experience and (b) aren’t customized by specific roles.  Now what?

Like when Goldilocks started her journey, she started on a path, one that would take her to the Three Bears house (although she didn’t know that when she began).  You will need to take the same approach to craft the right resume – a path that has a beginning middle and end. And keep in mind that the end of the journey will have many different variations.

Start the Journey…

By writing out ever job that you have had.  Include company name, location (city, state and country) when you worked there (month and year), title/s and your salary (include the currency if you have worked overseas and any bonuses you received).  If you’re, not sure of the dates, go back to old resumes for a memory refresh. Or, talk to friends and family if you can’t remember all the jobs you have had.

Once you have the outline you have the framework to build your long resume upon. The long resume is a complete list of all the jobs you have had, roles and responsibilities and accomplishments.

Describe what your role was at each of the companies (don’t worry if your description is grammatically correct, you’ll work on that later). Jot down all aspects of your role and what you were responsible for.

Now outline your accomplishments. Include any metrics you have for example, did your work on implementing a new online help guide decrease the call and email volume by 50 percent.  Attaching a metric to the accomplish helps demonstrate the value you provided to the company. In other words, Goldilocks likes numbers to build a complete picture of you.

Can’t remember everything? A good idea is to talk to former work colleagues, friends and family or review job performance appraisals to gather the information.

Pause and survey the surroundings

In the story, Goldilocks had been walking along the path for a while before she came across the Three Bears house.  Before she entered she paused.

This is your time to pause and congratulate yourself. You are half way to completing a long resume, ready to be individually customized for each role.

The document you have created should be rather lengthy, multiple pages of hand-written or typed notes.  Before you continue, make a copy, email it to yourself or save this document in the cloud. This is not a document you want to lose.

Spend a couple of hours reviewing your long resume.  Now is the time to review every word thoroughly. Ensure the job descriptions are accurate, check the grammar, double check the metrics (remember you are going to have to explain them in an interview) and you have used the correct industry terminology.

Remember to add resume keywords.  “Accomplished,” “identified,” “launched,” “scheduled,” and “transformed” are all action-oriented keywords used by Recruiters when using resume screening software tools designed to scan resumes. Here is a good list of words. Also include keywords for the industry you’re aiming for.

Time to Enter the Three Bears House (aka customize your resume)

When Goldilocks entered the Three Bears house she was hungry and ate two different bowls of porridge (oatmeal) before she found the one that was “just right”.

Your resume must be “just right” before that hungry recruiter will become interested and take a bite. Recruiters take an ever more sophisticated approach to reviewing resumes, wanting them to be “just right” before physically reviewing them and sending them forward in the process.  . They use the resume screening tool to ensure no resume will be moved forward without the right keywords

How do you work out what is “just right” for this role’s resume?

Start by reading the job description and highlighting particular words, skill sets and qualifications. Use your long resume to extract and highlight those same words and skills and build out the custom resume for this role.

Finish by reviewing the job description and your carefully customized resume. Do the “white glove” proofread, and definitely ask a friend or family member to be an extra set of eyes.  Now, your resume is “just right” and ready to submit.

Lastly submit your “just right” resume and head home from the Three Bears house before the inhabitants come back.

Once you have landed the informational interview, it’s time to prepare to make the most of it in your job search.

Informational Interview

Our last post focused on using personal and professional networking to set up informational interviews.

If you’ve secured an informational interview, congratulations! Now you need to prepare so you can make the most of this valuable contact. Remember, this informational interview is a tremendous opportunity to develop specific technical communication industry knowledge, build relationships with key industry experts, and acquire key information on types of jobs, salary, key locations and  companies that are hiring.



If you haven’t already done so, finalize the details of the format—telephone, online or in-person—with your contact when confirming the date and time. Think about whether you would like to record the interview (using a tape recorder or your smart phone) to ensure you have a way to check back on your notes. If you want to record, you must be sure to ask your contact for permission to record, keeping in mind that some people are very uncomfortable with recording. If you are meeting in person, pick somewhere quiet where you can hear each other, and can take notes without distractions.  If you have planned for your conversation to occur over the phone or online via Skype or Google + Hangout , check out the sound levels in advance, and consider using headphones to help with sound quality.  You can always move where you are seated if the area is too loud.


Do some research on the person who you are meeting with.  The technical communications field is relatively small, so reach out to a couple of contacts to find out if they know this person and can offer background on their personality, job history, projects they have worked on, and work ethic. Use Google and LinkedIn to assist in your research. Find out they are members of professional associations such as the STC , or if they have spoken at or attended industry conferences (such as LavaCon or WritersUA ).  Having this kind of background prior to the informational interview gives you the opportunity to create common ground, and break the ice.  For example, if you attended LavaCon last year and know they also went, you can ask them who their favorite speaker or their opinion on the trends that were discussed.

Set Objectives

Before undertaking any worthwhile activity, you need to set objectives, and the informational interview is no different.  Ask yourself a basic question: Why are you having this conversation with this person? Set a simple and direct objective for what you want to achieve in the course of the conversation. For example,  if you are a technical writer looking to move into the training field and you are speaking to a technical trainer on their background and current duties, you could set your objective: “To develop an in depth understanding of a technical trainers written and unwritten roles and responsibilities.”


You have a lot of questions for this person, and you want to make the most of the time you have.  So it’s useful to group those questions into three types:

  1. Job Specific: These are the basic questions, who do they  work for, their role; what their responsibilities are; what a typical day looks like; key challenges; types of services the organization provides; and types of projects they get involved with.
  2. Industry Specific:  Delve into the industry. who the major companies in this industry are; what do you think their strengths and weakness are, trends in the industry; and how the industry has changed since they started.
  3. Experience:  questions on their unique perspective. Why they enjoy their role; How long they have been working in the industry in this role; how they secured their current role; qualifications needed to perform this role; specific any skills, knowledge, or degree they believe professionals in this role should have; recommendations for continuing education;  and the career path for this role.

Make sure to include one or to wrap-up questions such as recommendations on other people to speak with, books to read, or websites to visit. Be conscience of the amount of time you have and front load your questions to ensure you don’t miss out on the key question you wanted asked. Think about the best way to capture the answers to the questions.  One suggestion is to create a template such as an MS Word document with a table listing the questions on one side and blanks on the other.


The day before your informational interview, reach out to your contact either by phone or email to confirm your informational interview with all the essentials: time, date, and location, plus your contact details in case they are running late, have gotten lost, or have something come up at the last minute and are unable to make it.

Final Check

Before you leave for your interview (or head over to the computer):

  • Make sure you have your questions (print them out , or have the document open for you to fill in answers)
  • Dress appropriately (even if the conversation is online you can still be seen).
  • Test your technology
  • Have a map, directions or GPS along with parking information.

Showtime: the Informational Interview

You’ve prepared your questions, confirmed the details, and brought along the tools to capture answers. Now you ready for the actual informational interview part of your networking job search. finally If you are meeting your interviewee in person, make sure you get there earlier than the scheduled appointment, set up the table for taking notes and recording the conversation (if you have confirmed that the interview can be recorded) When your contact arrives greet them and engage in a short bit of small talk to make you both feel at ease. Thank the individual for their time and outline what you are looking to achieve through this conversation (your objective). Start asking your questions and remember to capture your contact’s answers.  Most conversations won’t flow according to the order of your questions, so be flexible in the order of your questions.  As long as you are able to ask your key questions the order doesn’t matter. Remember the time!  Be conscience of your contact’s time, and make sure you wrap up questions in enough time.  Thank your contact again as you finish up your conversation.

Follow up

Follow up the next day with a thank you email or physical note.  Personalize the communication by including a point you that intrigued you.  If you agreed to any kind of action items, make sure you complete them. It reinforces your image as a professional individual. With each informational interview you will gain more data that help refine your job search and expand your network.  Set a target on the number of informational interviews you would like to undertake a month.  By following the structure outlined above you will be able to gather enough information and contacts to assist in your job search or transition into a new job.  Good luck!

In your job search, leverage your network for informational interviews to scout out companies and new industries.

Networking during your job search can involve a variety of activities, and one critical technique that canpay big dividends is the informational

Networking and your job search over coffee

Networking over coffee.

interview. The informational interview allows you to collect information on an industry or a company rather than directly seeking employment. If you want to enter the technical communications field, the informational interview gives you the opportunity to learn more about the key industry experts, types of jobs, salary, key locations and the companies. At the same time you’ll sharpen the interview skills you’ll need to tackle those subject matter experts after you land the job.

You can expand your network with an informational interview, no matter what stage your in on your  job search. It gives you a chance to share your background and skills set without the pressure of trying to “land a job”. And you may  even have a chance to help your contact with a dilemma they may be having!

Setting Up the Informational Interview Process

Like other phases of your job search, setting up an informational interview starts with identifying the industry (technical communication), the company, and the role you would like to understand more about.  For example, you may be a technical writer working on user manuals, but  want to transition to working in a role where you can do instructional design, usability or training.

When you have an industry, company and role identified, you’re ready to start taking advantage of your networks. There are two types of networks you can access in your job search: professional and personal.

Professional Network

You have contact with all sorts of professionals  every day in your current technical communication job, and now is the time to capitalize on those contacts and expand your professional network to the areas you want to get into.

Brainstorm about those people who you would be interested in meeting for coffee, lunch or a drink after work.  Odds are that there are quite a few, so it is good idea to track your networking activities by creating your own spreadsheet detailing name, job title, contact details, company, when you made reached out, when you plan to follow up and anything else you would like to track.

Choose your method of making contact carefully. You have worked with these individuals, so you  should have a pretty good idea of how they like to interact: some people are good at responding to email, others by phone, and some you can’t seem attract a response  unless you’re standing right in front of them.  The goal is to grab their attention,  so customize your contact methods to secure your opportunity for the informational interview.

As a technical writer, you will probably cross paths with people who work as instructional designers, usability experts, analysts and trainers.  Reach out to them and find out if they would be interested in chatting about their company and the specific industry they work in.  Let them know you’re aware their time is valuable.  If they respond about how busy they are, suggest having a brief conversation over the phone, by Google+, IM or you could email them your questions. Accomodate their styles and their schedules by customizing the informational interview during your job search.

Don’t limit yourself to coworkers or acquaintances made during professional meetings. Is  there is someone who is a leader within the industry whose brain you’d like to pick? Why not reach out to them?   LinkedIn is a great networking source, and you request an introduction through a common contact, send them an InMail, or send them a direct connection request. For example if you’re interested in becoming a content strategist, you could introduce yourself to one via LinkedIn and request a few minutes to learn about the industry.

Personal Network

Family, friends and friends of friends have the potential to be great resources when you hunt for more about an industry or company!

Start by asking them who they know who works at that company, or who works in the industry with the job title you want to learn about. Our personal networks are full of people from all kinds of industry, and their networks just might have some contacts  in the technical communication. You won’t know until you ask them. Keep in mind that when you ask for an introduction, you should assure that  family member or friend you are just looking to undertake an informational interview, nothing more.

Take a similar approach to organizing the informational interview as your professional network with a decrease of sensitivity as these are personal contacts and they should be handled with the utmost care. You don’t want to frustrate your friend or family member by being ungrateful for their introduction and help.

Utilize your professional and personal networks to gather data on the industry, company or role you are interested in. Remember, during something as important as your job search, there is no such thing as a wasted conversation. You can learn about something you are interested in and move yourself further along towards landing that new job.

Coming Up: Preparing for the Informational Interview

Even though it’s more casual than the job interview, you still need to prepare for your informational interview.  You want to come across as technical communications professional and competent individual. The next post will outline how to prepare informational interview during your job search,  including figuring out what to ask, and the correct way to follow up after your conversation.

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Job Alert: Save Time In Your Technical Communication Job Search

Posted by | September 6, 2012 | Job Search

Create Customized Technical Communication Job Alerts

Undertaking a job search in the technical communication industry often means managing a delicate balance between time spent on the current job and with family and friends,  and looking for a new job.

One tool to help manage the time balancing act is  job alerts.  You can use them to keep up with new opportunities from online vendors such job sites, technical communication recruiters/head hunters and company web sites. Each online vendor allows you to customize searches based upon the specific job criteria you provide and email you the results on a regular basis.

Plus, you will save time wading through notices that don’t really match your skills and interests, since only jobs matching your criteria are emailed to you.

Here are five easy steps to creating your own job alerts:

1. Outline your Job Search Criteria

Before you start creating your job alerts, put together between two and five different job searches.  Make sure you create easy-to-remember names for each search to avoid confusion when you receive results.  For example you could name your search “Technical Writer New York” or “Senior TW  Software.”

For each search, list out all the criteria that make that particular search unique. The job search criteria should include the job title, specific key words, skills, location (consider how wide you want to make the radius of your search), employment type (full-time, contract, etc.), industry and salary.  Depending upon the site you using, you may be able to include all or only some of these criteria when you create your alerts.

So if you’re a technical writer wanting a job in San Francisco, CA with a salary of $80,000, this would make up the core of your job search criteria. You might want to add keywords such as software, agile, or usability if those areas are your specialty. Then, based upon the frequency of emails you select you would be emailed a list of job openings for technical writers with experience in agile development environments in the San Francisco area with a minimum salary of $80,000.

2. Target relevant web sites

In my last post I talked about targeting your job search using the three different online vendor sources: job sites, recruiters/head hunters and company web sites. Make a list of the sites that are most relevant to your career goals. Perhaps you’re more interested in technical writing for proposals, or in the manufacturing world. may not be as relevant to you as websites for professional associations or specific manufacturing companies.

3. Input Your Job Search Criteria (aka Data Entry)

Now comes the repetitive part—doing the data entry to set up job searches on each of your selected web sites.  Unfortunately, since each online vendor has its own way of collecting and displaying job listings, there’s no consistent data entry process. Yes, you will need to type in Technical Writer a number of times, so be patient, and use the type ahead capabilities of your browser where you can.

So for example, if you use you will need to login to your MyDice account, go to Search Jobs and run a search with job title, keywords, etc.  (e.g. Technical Writer New York).  After you run the search and get the results you want, click on Save Search as Agent. Then name the agent, select the format and frequency, and save it.

4. Review and Tweak Job Alerts

Schedule specific times to perform your job search, and use some of that time to review the quality and quantity of your job alerts.  This helps reduce the distractions of reading descriptions for technical writers in Austin when what you’re really looking for is a Business Analyst/TW position in New York.

If the job alerts aren’t producing the results you are looking for, it’s time to go into the relevant job alert and alter your search criteria. Remember, you can modify your  job search criteria as frequently as necessary to get the results you want. .

5. Apply for the Job

You have found the perfect job. What’s next? Well, that’s pretty obvious—you apply for the job, taking care to read the requirements for resumes, cover letters, samples and so forth. And you keep applying to jobs using your now established job alerts.

Manage your technical communications job search wisely by using job alerts. Good luck in your job search.

Top Job Sites and Recruiters to Focus In On for Technical Writers

A successful job search, like the actual work, depends on two key factors: targeting the search and using your resources wisely.

Your time is a valuable and limited resource, whether you’re currently employed and just passively looking or actively seeking your next contract or full-time role.  So it is crucial to target your online job search and also be selective about who you talk to.

Think of your technical writer job search as  putting a RFP (Request For Proposal) out to bid.  The RFP scopes out the project (what kind of job you want, with which companies, and where, etc.) and you have to select the vendors mostly likely to have the qualifications to do what you propose.

As you may already know, you can use three types of online vendor resources in the technical writer job search:

  • Job sites
  • Recruiters/head hunters
  • Company web sites

Choose your vendors wisely, because your search is not a cookie cutter of every other technical writer’s search. Your interests, skills, experience and priorities make you unique, and the right vendor choices will help you use them to your advantage.  Here’s  list of top resources to help you find and grab the technical writer position that fits you.

1.       Job Sites

Job sites, also known as job boards, are great places to search for jobs and all of them make the process easier with job alerts that you customize.  Target your job site search to only a couple. Select from:

  • Dice – Tech Jobs central. A must have on any technical communication job seeker’s list.
  • Indeed – Simple, easy-to-use and free. Create your job alerts to have all new jobs matching your interests sent to your inbox.
  • Simply Hired – Customizable job search with salary comparison.
  • LinkedIn –Groups, companies and individuals post jobs on LinkedIn. Use the Job tab at the top of your dashboard to set up searches for particular job titles( e.g., Technical Writer or Information Designer).  Follow companies you interested in working  for to get alerts when a new job is posted.
  • TechWhirl Jobs – Targeted job listings for Technical Writers and editors, as well as designers, developers and managers in technical communications and related fields.
  • Monster – The big monster of job sites. Focus your search carefully to avoid being overwhelmed.
  • LinkUp – Jobs direct from company web sites. Owned by JobDig,  this site is growing rapidly.
  • Career Builder – Search by job title, industry or company.
  • The Ladders – Specifically targets jobs with salaries over $100,000. You may need to pay for subscription.

2.       Recruiters/ Head Hunters

You can’t afford to have recruiters waste your valuable time, and let’s be honest, some do. Every industry has at least a few recruiters or head hunters who specialize in that industry, and technical communication is no different.  Research and get to know those companies that target the vertical industry, sector, job and area you want to work in.  Here are several that specialize in technical communications:

3.       Company web sites

Chances are you have a short list of companies that would be the “perfect” place to work. Great culture, good benefits, innovative products, flexible work hours are just a few of the characteristics that every technical writer looks at when building their A list.  Take the initiative and register yourself on their sites.  There is no harm, and potentially an awful lot of good,  in indicating to the company you are interested in working for them. After all, it is better to be in the system as an interested candidate when HR starts searching their database to fill a new requisition for the perfect technical writer.

Many company sites also allow you to set up job alerts. In fact, a last piece of advice is to to set up job alerts with all the sites you can target among these three online vendors.  Then watch, review and respond when your inbox starts filling up.

Target your job search and manage your resources.  Good luck on your search.

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The Technical Writer Job Search Dilemma – What Is Next?

Posted by | August 20, 2012 | Job Search

As a technical writer do you know what your next job search looks like? The job opportunities are endless within the technical communications industry.  Do you stay documentation creation, shift into content management, or is the pull of informational design too strong?

If a hiring manager were to ask these questions, could you answer accurately and honestly? Do you even know what you are looking for in your job search?

Ideally, you can rattle off a short, straightforward answer with confidence and conviction. If you’re prone to stumble over your answer, blurting out some cliche about leading a larger team, making more money or wanting to wear jeans throughout the week, will make look unprofessional, demonstrating you lack conviction about your job search and professional credentials.

Since the technical communication profession spans so many industries and roles, you need to focus on the essentials of what you want your next position to be.  Don’t wander along the job search path mindlessly—you’ll waste your time and others’ as well.

Kick Off Your Technical Writer Job Search Right

Invest a couple of hours and creating your ideal job profile.  Once you have created your ideal future technical communications job profile, you can easily answer the “what’s my next job” question. What is more, a competent answer to this question can and will help you get the technical writer in their  job search or a new contact.

We suggest you consider the following five areas to uncover and get your ideal job.

1.  Your Objective

What is your objective of a getting a new job? Do you want more money, to change industry, to work on a particular product, or to manage more people?

Run towards a new job rather than away from the old one.  As a technical writer, you have the skills to ferret out exactly what you don’t like about your current job and use it to craft what you want in your next job. For example, if you love content creation but are sick of working in the aviation industry, use this to shift your focus, highlighting your content creation skills and your enthusiasm for digging into a new industry.  Or, if  you’re sick of managing people and dealing with office politics, your objective should be on an individual contributor level.

  • Draw up two columns and create two headings: “What I like about my job,”  and “What I don’t like about my job”. Then start writing. Don’t stop until it covers all your likes and dislikes for your current job.
  • Be honest with yourself.
  • The more you try and pursued yourself there is nothing wrong with your current job your response will affect what your true objective is.

Review your answers, sort them and group them to work out what your objective is for your technical writer job search.

2.  Compensation

It is not all about the money. Or rather it’s not just the money,  it’s about the whole package.  Medical, dental, vacation time, sick time, work hours, work-from-home, available 401(k), 401(k) match, flexible benefits, life insurance, disability coverage, group legal plans, dedicated training or education funds, and yes, the actual financial compensation or salary are all just as important.

Every company has its own compensation mix, and every searcher his own priorities for what’s important. So you need to determine your answer to the question of what is right for you.  Is it a 401(k) match, more vacation time or a good medical/dental package as the family is going to be needing these benefits over next couple of years?

Remember, working in some industries, such as the government, often requires licenses or certifications, individual training and special clearance levels.  Are you required to pay for them or does your employer cover these expenses as part of your package?

Discuss your options and your preferences with  your significant other, including how you both think  the next couple of years should unfold, and determine your ideal compensation package.  Remember to think about the minimum requirements as well.  Be realistic on what’s the minimum salary and package you will settle for.  Maybe the matching of the 401(k) isn’t a deal breaker for your new job, but the medical and dental coverage for your family are.

3.  What motivates you?

Simple question but do you know the answer?

Before you start going down the rabbit hole trying to psychoanalyze when the last time you were motivated and why, take a test on The 5 Love Languages®.  The results will also benefit you in creating the right working environment as well as help in your job search.

Once you have determined if you respond to “Words of Affirmation,” “Gifts,” “Acts of Service,” “Quality Time,” or “Physical Touch,” you have your motivational answer.  For example, if you’re one of those individuals motivated by “Words of Affirmation,” you crave the accolades you receive when as a technical communicator when you roll out the new informational architecture across the company—on time and on budget.

Understanding how and what motivates you allows you to create your motivational framework and determine where you concentrate your job search. Do you select a role with a bonus, educational opportunities, or the chance to be “on stage” or publicly praised when the project goes well. If you hate being mentioned publicly, you should look for other motivators on a more subtle level.

4.  Ideal Company Culture

The culture of an organization has a significant impact upon your role, especially in technical communication.  If you have ever worked in an environment where backstabbing, second guessing and people screaming at each other is the norm you understand how your respond to this environment.  Some people may thrive and others want to go and hide underneath their desks or in the bathroom. Navigating the political landscape may mean avoiding confidential conversations with a fellow technical writer, or trusting only the members of your team. Refer back to your lists of  what you like and don’t like about your current job to honestly assess what kind of corporate culture will allow you to thrive.

Think about the attire of the office.  Is it strictly suits, smart/casual or jeans, and T-shirts? What clothes do you prefer to work in?  Are you more productive if you have a pair of jeans on with flip flops or does the formal nature of a suit jar you into a particular thought process?

Your ideal attire for the office aligns closely with the answer to the next question:  where are you working?  Are you working at home on your own hours;  in the office with an unusual shift (6am until 3pm); or working in the office whenever you want just as long as the work gets done? You know when you are most productive in your job (yes this can mean you need your three cups of coffee before anyone can talk to you) and when you should be in an office environment.

What other company traditions and perks would you prefer to have in your working world? Do you feel it is necessary to have company get-together with the family, free meals, holiday celebrations, access to coffee, Happy Hours, a company endorsed charity, a gym, access to a child care facility, on-site hair dresser, or a company song sung daily?

Have you finished compiling this list yet for your new job?  (Don’t you wish you put this information together for your current role?)


5.       Self Development

Some individuals are content to undertake the same tasks ever day, over and over again.

Many individuals are not content with routine and become bored quickly. And being bored means you become frustrated with your role, leading to a loss in job productivity and ultimately an unsatisfactory relationship with your job.

One way around this is to continually develop your skill base.  Because a company’s ethos towards career development impact the culture of the organization, you need to determine if your new job should be with a company with high employee engagement levels. Many top companies offer employee development programs, such as  having a university, a mentoring scheme, or a training program where funds are allocated on a per employee bases.  This simple investment in employee engagement can transform the company and create extraordinary satisfaction for employees.

Congratulations, after answering these questions you have devised the long version of your idea role profile. This information will be useful for your next round of job negotiations. Plus by finalizing your answers you can articulate what your next role looks like.

The final step is to summarize your answers into a 60 second speech.  Write a simple set of bullet points and then time how long it takes to say them.  Most important items go first (along with the reason why they are important). Practice a couple of times by yourself and then with friends and family.

Now, when you are next asked what your next job looks like you can answer with confidence and take the first step towards landing that new job!