Posts Tagged interview

Reason #1 for resume rejection

When interacting with people looking for jobs over the years, frustration with the entire process always comes up in the conversation. Usually, those getting zero to minimal response rate on their job applications are understandably the most irritated. Some seem mystified and oblivious to potential causes and others automatically assume they know exactly why they aren’t getting called.

While there are always multiple factors in play, one of the most obvious culprits of lack of positive attention is a flawed resume. Despite numerous reports suggesting resumes are dead, they still tend to be almost universally required as a first step in applying for a job across the majority of the business world.

Rejected Image Credit

I’ve often stated that approximately 95% of the resumes I’ve seen could benefit from some form of improvement. Perhaps that figure sounds extreme, but the reason it is so high is that I truly believe (as do many others) that a resume is intended to serve as the best possible first impression a person can make to a prospective employer.

Some people have told me that my standards are too harsh and that it is unfair to judge someone’s entire career from a single document. That opinion may seem reasonable on the surface, but delve into what it represents from a business standpoint to see if it holds true. Let’s consider that a person applying for a professional level job is expected to demonstrate the following in order to be eligible for an interview:

  • Ability to communicate professionally both verbally and in writing with one’s target audience
  • Attention to detail and concern for quality in work-related physical documents or electronic content
  • Comprehension of proper word usage, verb tense, grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting when producing business-oriented correspondence

The above is an extremely limited list and doesn’t even get into actual hard skills, technical abilities and specific job related experience, training and education. Unfortunately, if lacking, the components listed are precisely the items that will undermine otherwise qualified candidates’ ability to convey their competence in their field.

The reality is, even if not explicitly expressed in the above manner, most occupations require a person to have a reasonable grasp of basic communication skills. If there is any doubt created in a person’s best first impression introduction message such as their resume, cover letter or even online profile, they will miss more opportunities than they will ever know.

Stubborn job seekers prefer to make assumptions about all sorts of possible reasons they aren’t getting any calls. Of course, in some rare cases, there could be some room for blame beyond a badly constructed resume.

But many people just prefer making excuses and speculating about how evil applicant tracking systems, discriminatory HR representatives and biased recruiters are at fault and show no willingness to hold themselves accountable for presenting a positive image. Instead of taking an objective view at how it is perceived when they fail to submit something worthy of being considered for their target job, these job seekers are the primary source of their own aggravation.

Article by Kelly Blokdijk – As a Talent Optimization Coach & Consultant with TalentTalks, Kelly thrives on “Creating a Voice for Talent” by partnering with business professionals and job seekers to build competitive career marketing strategies and compelling, customized communication materials to create a lasting positive impression. TalentTalks consults with the business community on innovative, leading-edge human resource and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs. TalentTalks routinely posts employment market and job search related content on Facebook and Twitter – fans and followers welcome!

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net 

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Follow this advice to knock yourself out of consideration for a job

While a best-selling author with a history of 35 years in career management is clearly not an easy target for critique, I feel I must call out the obvious negative reaction this blog’s advice could bring if followed. From what I gather, the intent of this information is to aid experienced job applicants  in addressing presumed ageist perceptions or alleged age-bias in interviews.

However, it appears to be coming from a very misguided and perhaps out-of-touch with a real life recruiting and selection mentality of our modern, global, diversity-centered world of work. Have a look: http://blog.knockemdead.com/2013/01/age-discriminationhow-to-fight-age-bias.html

Of course any and all of us will readily acknowledge the unfortunate existence of biased and exclusionary hiring practices that still persist despite the dominance of a more evolved population in the workforce. Aside from isolated anecdotal incidents, most of can only speculate and guess about the extent to which discriminatory decision making is taking place on any scale.

I personally find focus on assumptive accusations of this happening to be overblown and exaggerated. The reason I say that is I believe (and have plenty of objective external evidence to support) that most companies strive to attract and retain top talent regardless of any demographic factors related to discrimination that get publicized by the media and perpetuated by the general public.

As I read through these recommendations, I recoiled in horror at how obnoxious a candidate would sound if they actually expressed the sentiments suggested here. The first thing that stands out is the setting for these recommendations is at the end of a face-to-face interview. Or, if you read to the end of the article, the author recommends interspersing these golden gems throughout the interview conversation.

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An initial problem I see with this is approach is: why after passing through a resume review, initial phone screen or other preliminary candidate evaluation and eventually making it to the in-person interview phase with a hiring manager, would the candidate assume the company or its representatives has any intention of discriminating against said candidate? Talk about having a chip on your shoulder!

The next problem that stands out is the unfortunate choice of vocabulary the candidate is advised to use to point out their age, seasoning, years of experience and other non job-related characteristics. If the goal is to emphasize one’s exceptional qualifications, relevant achievements and drive for successful job performance, why in the world is the author suggesting the candidate call attention to anything distracting or detracting from that message?

Under no circumstances can I imagine it being well-received for a candidate to announce: “I just turned ___ (years old).”  When I saw this it made me think of a toddler holding up the number of fingers equivalent to their age, not a business person I would want to hire – for ANY job!

A remark along the lines of: “That gives me ___ years experience in the profession and ___ years experience doing exactly what needs to be done in the job”  is more likely to come off as condescending and arrogant than confident and accomplished.

If you tell me you have ___ years experience tying your shoes does that make you more qualified than anyone that has 1, 2, 5, 20 fewer years doing the same? No. It just makes you sound pompous, clueless and set in your ways of doing whatever task for however long – most likely the same exact way for that entire duration of time without any examples of incentive to keep improving.

Moving along after a few additional reinforcements of the above, the candidate is told to say: “hire another thirty-something and you know that she will constantly be haggling for promotions and possibly your job, and will probably be gone in four years… even if I retired at 65 you’d still have me ___ times as long as someone younger.” The extreme wrongness of this entire concept shouldn’t need any further explanation or interpretation.  Holy inappropriate comment, Batman!

It continues full speed downhill from that atrocious abomination with: “Experience has given me the maturity and understanding to know that when I do my job well, I make my boss’s job easier. Most younger candidates don’t know this…” Curious, at what point does one arrive at this mature, experienced conclusive understanding? Sixteen, 23, 38, 57…?

Finally, let’s drag out a few more wisdom filled clichés, shall we?: “I will bring balance to the team, if all your customers/clients are in their twenties, most will be reassured by my maturity, plus I naturally resonate with older customers because of the experience and maturity I offer.” Apparently, maturity is the magic mojo for all customer needs! Who knew?

Whether I was interviewing this person as a recruiter, HR person, hiring manager or innocent bystander, I can assure you I would be anything but reassured or feeling resonated with after hearing any proclamations of this sort. Not only would person fail at impressing me as a candidate, they would succeed at insulting and offending every possible category of coworker or customer they may encounter.

For someone to take the tactic of positioning him/herself as superior to other candidates by reinforcing the age-based depictions they claim to be avoiding is pathetic and frankly could be construed as that person harboring their own discriminatory attitudes. Not a good strategy and not a way to influence a hiring decision in your favor.

Article by Kelly Blokdijk ~ As a Talent Optimization Coach & Consultant with TalentTalks, Kelly thrives on “Creating a Voice for Talent” by partnering with business professionals and job seekers to build competitive career marketing strategies, compelling, customized communication materials to create a lasting positive impression. TalentTalks consults with the business community on innovative, leading-edge human resource and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs. TalentTalks routinely posts employment market and job search related content on Facebook and Twitter – fans and followers welcome!

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Forget fancy, focus on the fundamentals in your job search

If you’ve ever conducted a job search, no doubt you’ve encountered plenty of information that looked or sounded super slick. There’s a ton of advice on the topic and each day more and more experts pop up to share their version of the latest and greatest way to find a job. It all sounds fantastic, fun and fancy until you realize much of it is just a bunch of fluff.

When interacting with job seekers, I almost always spot the ones who have a tendency to go to extremes. On one side, you have the people who meander their way around, never really giving their job search their full attention or taking it as seriously as they say they do. At the other end of the spectrum are the people who latch on to every single piece of advice as if doing so will magically produce multiple dream job offers. Unfortunately, neither type of job seeker really makes the right kind of progress.

Even if you are an exceptional performer in your field, that doesn’t mean you are an expert in preparing an effective campaign related to pursuing a new opportunity. Sometimes, it makes sense to outsource things beyond your ability to someone with more specialized knowledge. It’s far less painful to seek legitimate help than to embarrass yourself through trial and error or getting caught up in habits that hurt your image.

The people who do “get it” usually skip the shiny shenanigans and buckle down for the old-fashioned basics. Here are few job search concepts that I try to help people keep in mind regardless of their career level.

Tip 1: Take the process seriously and allocate proper time, effort, energy and financial resource investments accordingly

There are no short-cuts, nor should you short-change yourself by expecting something for nothing. Getting the basics right from the start will make the job search process much more tolerable and productive. For example, despite countless catchy articles proclaiming the “death of the resume” they are still the most widely accepted and expected tool to convey information to prospective employers. Having a relevant, concisely written, error-free, achievement-focused resume is crucial to communicate one’s professional credibility and credentials.

Tip 2: Research, assess and understand your target audience and adapt your strategy, approach and customized communications (online, on paper & in person) to create the best possible impression

The most obvious sign of a person who naively follows rudimentary job search advice is that their resume, LinkedIn profile, business bio or verbal introduction looks, reads and sounds like everyone else’s. Stale, cliché phrases and repetitive, redundant vocabulary is evident from the first syllable and generously deposited throughout their career marketing communications, making the recipient feel as if they’ve seen the same message over and over. That’s because they probably have already viewed plenty of professional positioning statements describing a results-oriented, team-player with a successful track-record of expertise as a seasoned professional with 17+ years experience as an experienced, expert superstar professional. Trust me, unless you are trying to convey blah, bland and boring, your content needs to compelling and pertinent to get and keep someone’s attention.

Tip 3: Scrutinize each and every available source of information, search technique and piece of advice to ensure it makes sense for your unique situation versus following generic practices that might cause more harm than good

When I have more in depth conversations with people, they often share with me what they’ve been doing, what ideas they’ve tried and what they think is or isn’t working. Right away, it is evident when someone has been steered down the wrong path for their specific needs. They often react to my guidance and clarification with “wow, I hadn’t thought of that” or “that is a great idea and it makes perfect sense” or “thanks for letting me know how that might work against me, I won’t let that happen again.”

If you or someone you know is struggling in your job search, think about whether making some changes might help. Many job search service providers offer no cost, no pressure, no obligation initial consultations to prospective clients and those researching various support options. Put those external resources to use and learn how to decode the right blend of intelligent job search methodology for your unique circumstances.

Article by Kelly Blokdijk ~ As a Talent Optimization Coach & Consultant with TalentTalks, Kelly thrives on “Creating a Voice for Talent” by partnering with business professionals and job seekers to build competitive career marketing strategies, customized communication materials and compelling personal branding campaigns to create a lasting positive impression. TalentTalks consults with the business community on innovative, leading-edge human resource and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs. TalentTalks routinely posts employment market and job search related content on Facebook and Twitter – fans and followers welcome!

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Respect the urge and resist the cheesecake

Every now and then I see a bumper sticker that makes me giggle. One of the silly trends I remember from my youth was when people would remove a couple letters from their In-N-Out Burger bumper sticker so it read in-n-out urge. It was harmless humor, possibly referring to craving a chocolate shake in a palm tree decorated cup or perhaps an innuendo with a more risqué interpretation.

Either way, I’ve always admired the simplicity of In-N-Out Burger’s business model. Their reputation is built on cleanliness, quality and value. One of the reasons they’ve successfully grown and retained their favored position amidst a very competitive fast food industry is their streamlined menu and consistent focus on doing what they do best.

Instead of inventing and offering new items that confuse customers and complicate their service structure, they keep it easy to understand and quick to process. Obviously, it makes perfect sense for this concept to be reinforced in their jingle: “That’s what a hamburger is all about!”

Over the years as I’ve coached job seekers from various backgrounds, I’ve come across professionals who resemble the specialized In-N-Out way and others who follow a more diverse smorgasbord approach to describing what they do. When translating that idea to building a resume, I recommend and prefer being very targeted even if that means creating multiple versions.

Most people don’t like to hear that type of suggestion and many stubbornly resist that advice. They think it is best to keep their options open by covering the gamut of work experience, even the parts that have nothing in common with their future career goals. Imagine your auto mechanic doing dental work or a web designer being an airline pilot and a hairdresser. Even if someone happens to be simultaneously qualified for multiple professions, most of us can’t comprehend a logical way that those things might fit together in our workplaces.

Unfortunately, people who try to include everything they’ve ever done or every skill, duty and responsibility they’ve mastered tend to appear scattered. As the recipient of (probably thousands of) resumes, I can confirm that these are the first to be added to thanks, but no thanks pile. Of course being unfocused isn’t as embarrassing or detrimental as having a resumes full of typographical errors, grammatical issues, punctuation problems, improper word usage or freaky formatting, but it doesn’t exactly equal a stellar first impression.

When you see someone dining at The Cheesecake Factory for the first time, you notice how overwhelmed they get and how long it takes them to place an order because they have to review so many pages of information in the spiral bound menu book. Even though all of the entrees are beautifully pictured and described, they are also drastically different types of cuisine that aren’t usually blended in one place.

That is what a generic “I’ve got a little of everything and I can do it all” resume looks like. Each individual item might be delightful in the right context, but displaying the entire collection all at once is burdensome to the reader.

Contrast the distraction-filled half inch thick Cheesecake Factory novella to the jumbo menu board at In-N-Out where main choices are clearly illustrated and highlighted so you know exactly what’s available in one glance. It makes decision making much more efficient when everything fits in a sequential and orderly manner.

The trouble with too much information is that if I’m hungry for a tasty #2 cheeseburger with grilled onions, no tomato, fries and large diet coke, I don’t expect to see shrimp scampi, teriyaki pizza, jambalaya, eggplant pasta, pulled-pork ciabatta, barbequed chicken chopped salad, lemon chiffon cheesecake and cinnamon iced latte. That stuff all sounds delicious, but I bet plenty of people still select one of the burgers if that is what they are in the mood for…

While composing their customized messages, job seekers should consider their audience and just point out the critical pieces and ingredients related to their target position. That way their unmistakable theme song can say: That’s what (my specialized expertise) is all about!

Article by Kelly Blokdijk ~ As a Talent Optimization Coach & Consultant with TalentTalks, Kelly thrives on “Creating a Voice for Talent” by partnering with business professionals and job seekers to build competitive career marketing strategies, customized communication materials and compelling personal branding campaigns to create a lasting positive impression. TalentTalks consults with the business community on innovative, leading-edge human resource and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs. TalentTalks routinely posts employment market and job search related content on Facebook and Twitter – fans and followers welcome!

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Never underestimate the importance of your companions

No, I don’t mean that four-legged, leash-pulling, running partner of yours… Or, your fellow job seekers at the local coffee house.

The often neglected companions I’m referring to are your cover letters, post interview thank-you notes and networking introduction messages. These are the most important career marketing companions your resume has. Without them, you miss an opportunity to bolster your professional image and further differentiate yourself from the competition.

When it comes to cover letters, I often hear people say they have simply chosen to skip writing one and only submit their resume by itself. Well, I’ve written plenty on this topic in the past, so I won’t go into all of the reasons that I think that is not the best course of action. Instead, I will share a couple of examples of how a cover letter made the difference for others.

Julie was called by a hiring manager who was so impressed by her customized letter that she “had to meet her.” What Julie did to produce that strong reaction was to tailor her letter so that the hiring manager recognized an exact match for her position. Not only that, but Julie’s letter was creative, interesting and clearly showed that she researched the company’s culture and linked several of her previous accomplishments to their mission and values. Not only did Julie get interviewed, but she got an offer.

Kate applied online for a position through an employer’s applicant tracking system (ATS). While she remembers uploading her MS Word resume in the appropriate step, the cover letter portion only allowed a cut and paste process. Apparently, a technical glitch prevented the resume from being received by the employer. But, what was receieved (by Kate) was a personal call from the recruiter handling that search.

Kate’s cover letter effectively communicated her qualifications for the position of interest, so the recruiter took the time to place a call to request her resume. She even provided her email address so Kate could send it directly to her attention. That call and evaluation of Kate’s resume later resulted in a phone interview. Without the cover letter, Kate’s application likely would have been skipped over entirely due to being “incomplete.”

Hailey was one of those “do without a cover letter” job seekers, until one day when she noticed quite a few employers were requiring them. Suddenly, she decided that her chances of attracting attention would be improved if she followed the application instructions by submitting a comprehensive cover letter. The letter she started with could have been used by any other job seeker. There was nothing unique or original about its content.

After we finished building a compelling, focused summary of her experience, there was no mistaking just how qualified Hailey was for her target opportunities. She immediately noticed a better response rate.

So, maybe now you are convinced that a resume can be enhanced with a well-written companion communication piece in the form of a cover letter. Once both of those documents serve their main purpose – to get you invited to interview, it is time to send a thank-you note. I won’t bother discussing the timing or the method (snail mail or email) of sending a thank-you note, but the sooner the better.

In fact, you might want to start writing a thank-you note as soon as you have an interviewe scheduled. You can add the custom touches after your meeting. That is when you take the time to recap the critical skills you bring and reemphasize any pertinent discussion points. Don’t delay building the foundation of your thank-you note until after you’ve interviewed. Here’s why…

A couple of weeks ago someone referred a job seeker, Maria to me for help. Unfortunately, her timing was not ideal. By the time Maria and I spoke, it was already a full day and a half after her interview. She called me in a panic about how to write a thank-you note for a job she really wanted.

The problem was not just that I had no prior background about her or her situation, but I also had a full project load of other commitments. I wasn’t able to offer much assistance beyond some basic recommendations. The next day – now two full days post interview – I received a frantic call from Maria that she was having severe writer’s block.

Again, due to other obligations I was only able to provide minimal advice and support, including correcting major typos, fragmented wording and unfocused thought patterns. Needless to say, I had some major concerns about Maria’s lack of preparation and even worse the probability that her hastily written and tardy letter was not going to reflect well on her communication and follow-up abilities.

As we all know, referrals are the preferred way to get introduced to potential employment opportunities. Martin a job seeker who was already getting plenty of attention from his professional quality resume and powerful cover letter, began been seeking introduction requests from networking contacts to reach niche recruiters and search firms.

In this case, Martin and I discussed using a different, consolidated version of his “employer audience” cover letter. Knowing that third party recruiters are usually most concerned with resume content, a brief introductory note contained in the body of an email was the best way to go for this particular correspondence.

I ended up crafting a customizable template that Martin could use to send to multiple referral resources as needed. It worked well to simplify some of the best features of his original cover letter, but in a more condensed presentation of that information.

Another application for a networking message is to help your professional contacts properly introduce you to someone in their network. When a job seeker is able to provide key information about their background in advance, the networking contact or professional reference has an easier time understanding what to share with the new connection. Likewise, even without a “middle-person” the job seeker him/herself can simply send a professional introduction to a key influencer.

The point of this article was to highlight the importance of preparation, planning and professionalism throughout the entire job search process. As the job seekers in the above examples illustrated, you only have one chance to make a great first impression. If done well there will be several opportunities along the way to make new impressions and you want them all to be positive and memorable.

Article by Kelly Blokdijk of TalentTalks –
TalentTalks partners with job seekers to build competitive career marketing strategies and compelling professional branding materials to create a lasting positive impression. TalentTalks consults with the business community on innovative and customized human resource and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs. TalentTalks routinely posts job market and job search related content on Facebook and Twitter – fans and followers welcome!

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Haunted by nightmarish resumes and cover letters?

Trick or Treat? Job Seekers often inadvertently haunt prospective employers with nightmarish resumes, cover letters and online profiles. Here are few Halloween-themed reminders of how to come out of the shadows and put some life back into a ghostly professional brand or ghastly career-marketing documents.

 Beware of vague, unfocused and costumed communication which fails to align and emphasize buzz-words connected with the target opportunity or audience

 Make sure your key competencies are clearly presented and not masked by irrelevant, outdated filler, fluff and tired clichés

 Steer clear of vocabulary vampires that suck the interest, variety and appeal out of your message

 Don’t disguise your talent or distract the recipient by using an unattractive or inconsistent layout

 Watch out for inadvertent scary style or structure issues that might chase off potential employers

 Be cautious of freaky formatting and frightening font problems

 Don’t get trapped in a prolonged job search because of terrifying typos and ghoulish grammar

 Maintain a multi-faceted search strategy to stay in-the-know and well-networked to avoid the horrifying black-hole of the online job boards

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Is your resume like a home with a view of a toxic waste dump?

If you are in a job search rut, try picturing yourself as a house for sale… I’m a dedicated viewer of HGTV’s decorating, redesign, remodeling, staging, buying and selling shows. As I was watching one of these programs the other day, it got me thinking how similar the activities involved with selling a home are to the job search process.

On this particular show there was a homeowner struggling for months to sell her property. Hmmm, I bet that sounds familiar to many job seekers… The real estate expert suggested some adjustments to make her home more appealing – one was to make some upgrades and cosmetic changes. The other recommendation was to lower the price.

The idea was that if the house showed better and was more in line with buyer expectations, it would sell faster. Just like homeowners trying to sell during a downturn, the familiar themes of a tough economy, tight market and lots of competition for job seekers mean the best strategies make the difference in results happening sooner versus later.

Homesellers usually take several steps when preparing their home for display. It could be simple or complex depending on the home’s condition. Either way, real estate transactions involve matters of financial significance just like many areas related to career management. One of the most obvious starting points of a job search is the creation of a visually appealing, impeccably edited and professional quality resume. The goal here is to generate the potential to be considered for as many applicable opportunities as possible.

A resume’s overall appearance is like the curb appeal of a piece of property. If it looks messy, poorly maintained and outdated, the buyer will pass it by. If it is well-landscaped and has a nice look and feel, people will want to take a look around inside. Likewise, if at first glance the reader sees a visually appealing resume, they will be more likely to keep reading.

The resume’s content is like the architecture and layout of a home. If it has all of the right features in place for the current market, chances are it will get the right kind of attention. On the other hand, if the style or floor plan does not flow well, the buyer will have hard time picturing a fit and won’t necessarily have the patience or imagination to do so. While there may be a select group of homebuyers looking for a “needs some work” bargain, most employers aren’t in the market for fixer-uppers.

Next, the décor, fixtures, accessories and finishing details make the property unique and interesting. On a resume, this is where targeted and relevant action and result experience statements build a compelling story to help the screener recognize a match. Home buyers create dream home wish lists just like hiring managers create job posting wish lists. Whether that means they want a fireplace, a pool or 10 years of software development experience, they know it when they see it.

Finally, just like upgrades and special features are added bonuses to a home, the same concept applies to a resume. Here is where the precise editing and flawless quality come in to the picture. If a home buyer looks at several homes and starts the compare and contrast process, usually there are certain factors that weigh in their decision making. It could be the new roof, fresh paint or location. With resumes, the review process is far more accelerated. In fact, any flaw at all could mean instant elimination. There is no tolerance for errors, no room to compromise on quality and no time to waste by not getting it right the first time.

To put this into property perspective: Imagine typos equaling a severe mold problem. Spelling and grammar mistakes would be on the level of a termite-infested leaky roof. Funky fonts and formatting issues would be like having a view of a toxic waste dump. Improper word usage and inconsistent tense compares to a cracked and sinking foundation. Inability to concisely communicate value-added qualifications is the equivalent of a home needing all new electrical and plumbing in order to meet code requirements.

Obviously, many, if not most of these items would be deal-breakers for a home buyer. Don’t let the same concept apply to your resume. Just like the homeowner being advised to make some improvements to sell her home, job seekers should consider a similar approach for faster and better results. Keep in mind the famous slogan: “Image is everything!”

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