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Overcoming Employment Barriers with a Winning Résumé

Career coach, Alison Foo, MSc, PMP, shares key job search strategies for clinical professionals

Photo portrait of Alison Foo, MSc, PMP
Alison Foo, MSc, PMP
Photo portrait of Alison Foo, MSc, PMP

Alison Foo is a career, communication and leadership coach. She’s passionate about changing lives through teaching professional skills. She has worked with graduate students, newcomers, marginalized groups, and professionals from various industries. Her specialty is the clinical and research sectors. Alison is also a clinical research professor. She teaches at Seneca College, McMaster University Continuing Education, and ACCES Employment. Previously, she worked on all phases of clinical trials and specialized in clinical trial management, clinical data management, clinical monitoring, and stakeholder management. When she’s not working or volunteering, she’s spending time with her rescue dog, watching Asian TV, and saving recipes she’ll never use.

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Published:Nov 13, 2023
|3 min read
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I’ve changed many lives by helping people overcome barriers to charting career paths, obtaining work, and changing or restarting their careers. I’ve worked with students, marginalized communities, newcomers, and professionals across various industries. 

One day, while sharing a client’s success story with my mother, she asked, “How did you get so good at this?”

 “By failing first,” I said.

Here’s how I started to develop some of the job search and networking strategies shared in my webinars.

1. Incorporate psychology in résumé writing

I started looking for work at a young age and applied for every part-time job I could find in my city only to receive a total of zero interview offers. If I hadn’t been the overachieving student that I was, I would have questioned my self-worth. I knew I’d make a great employee, but why wasn’t that showing through my résumé?

First, I imagined what a stranger might think of me based on my résumé. I tried different structuring, formatting, writing styles, and combinations of skills and traits to portray myself. I noticed the difference these slight changes made to my first impression. I also noticed my eyes glazing over after reading my résumé countless times. I pictured employers becoming bored and losing focus too, so I started using very concise wording and listing the most impactful statements first. 

But despite having a résumé that gave the best first impression, I wasn’t getting any interviews.

2. Tailor your résumés to job descriptions

The next step I took was to analyze job descriptions and interpret what employers were looking for. Having no experience, I didn’t meet their requirements, so I focused on demonstrating my competency and personality in hopes of convincing them that I could do any job well while being likable. I considered everything I had done or achieved (in school and extracurricular activities), every interest I had, every skill I possessed, and the personality traits I was proud of. I highlighted the ones that were most relevant to the job by listing them first. I focused on transferable skills and presented my achievements as evidence that I could perform the required tasks. 

Again, despite tailoring my résumé to every job that I applied for, I still did not receive any interviews.

3. Leverage stepping-stones toward a goal

Confident that my résumé was no longer a barrier, I focused on acquiring experience. I applied to volunteer for a retirement home, since I had always had an affinity for older people. They called me soon after I dropped off my résumé, and in the end, I won a volunteering award for my willingness to contribute beyond my assigned tasks. With that achievement on my résumé, I applied for work again.

4. Connect with employers on a personal level

Within a few months, I received my first interview and job offer from Taco Bell. The interviewer mentioned my volunteer award and asked questions about my experience working with the elderly. I suspect she had an aging parent, because she was relating to my stories and asking follow-up questions that weren’t relevant to the job. In that moment, I realized the impact of storytelling and personal connection with employers. 

I transferred that lesson to résumé writing and have since helped many people leverage the value of their meaningful encounters, volunteer experience, and personal achievements.

In my webinar, Résumés for Clinical Research Professionals: A Unique Approach, I teach you how to make the best first impression by incorporating psychology into résumé writing. You’ll learn about the advantages and disadvantages of various formats, different approaches to highlighting your strengths, unique strategies to résumé writing, and mistakes to avoid when transitioning from academia to industry.