Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Getting your resume noticed. (A quick tutorial for anyone in a leadership role.)

Back in the days after the dot com crash and 9/11, I moderated a little support group of sorts on Yahoo for unemployed and under-employed executives. After getting to know many of the members, one common theme started to stand out.  Most of them had never had to look for jobs before.  Job offers had already come to them.  When time came for them to prepare their resumes, many of them were simply finding the old resumes they used when they were fresh out of school, complete with bachelor's degrees listed at the very top, and inserting their most recent employment down below.  Thus began a journey for me that has involved years of one-on-one resume critiques.

A lot has happened in the ensuing 8 years or so.  Many people are a lot more sophisticated with respect to the way that they network and manage their careers.  Yet, many of the resumes I see today aren't all that different from the ones I was reviewing back then.

The challenge for job seekers today is that the must differentiate themselves from the countless other applicants against whom they are competing.  I heard on the news the other day that there are six job seekers in the US right now for every open position.  My experience as a corporate recruiter is that there are hundred of people applying for just about every open position that gets posted online.  Shake out the many desperate or indiscriminate individuals who apply for every opening they see, and you still are facing really slim odds.

Here are a few things I see commonly which, in my opinion, do little or nothing to help you in this respect:

Listing Competencies:

Many leadership resumes will begin with a laundry list of competencies which the candidate hopes to use to define himself or herself.  Typically this list appears just under the objective or summary statement.  In resume terms, this is prime real estate.  This is the section of the resume that you're using to entice the reader to go further down the page - to get into the meat of your resume.  Common phrases will include things like Visionary Leadership, Profit and Loss Responsibility, Mentoring, Vendor Management, and Change Management.  Somewhere, I'm sure that someone has compiled a list of the catch phrases.  I'd imagine that there are at least fifty or so that are commonly used.

The problem is that I doubt if anyone really reads these.  Even if they do, do you think it really matters?  Can you imagine a CEO reading over a resume and thinking, "I see that Susan listed mentoring on her resume and Bob didn't, so I'm going to put Susan's resume in the keeper stack."  Of course not.  Because all of the phrases start to sound the same, and if someone is reading the 20th resume in a stack of 50 resumes, and they all take that approach, none of the stand out.

Focusing On Responsibilities

Let me be clear that you have to explain in some detail what you did.  However, talking about your responsibilities doesn't answer the "So what?" question.
  • Responsible for $2 million annual budget (So what?  That proves you know how to spend money.)
  • Led application development team.  (So what?  What did you and your team accomplish of significance?)
  • Met daily with company CEO.  (OK, you get the idea.  It doesn't matter who you met with or what you did unless it resulted in some accomplishments that you can point to that brought value to the organization.)
Trying to tell EVERYTHING about yourself

People try to accomplish this by either filling up their resumes with huge paragraphs that essentially become walls of words that are too much for the reader to easily process.  Alternately, they offer a page full of bullet points, implying that everything that's bulleted is of critical importance.  The problem is that if you stress everything, you have effectively not stressed anything.  The eye won't naturally fall on any of the bullet points as the reader tries to scan down the document.

Something Different...

An approach that I have been recommending for years, which I feel will help anyone stand out who has served in a leadership role is to focus on accomplishments.

What I'd recommend would look something like this:

John Q Public

In this paragraph, you want an objective or summary statement.  It's three, no more than four lines about who you are, and what you bring to the table, or what kind of position you're seeking.  I gravitate more toward a summary, rather than an objective, but am fine with either.  The main purpose of this is just to make sure that your resume ends up in the hands of the right person, or is considered for the right openings.

Selected Accomplishments
  • Proposed, designed, and implemented new XYZ system, resulting in $500,000 in annual savings per year.
  • Brought about world peace.
  • Responsible for $25 million annual budget
(I actually would like to see more space between each bullet point, but this blog editor isn't cooperating.  Two of these accomplishments are poorly written for a resume.  World peace isn't quantified in terms of revenue generated, cost savings, or any other quantifiable measurement communicating value to the organization so, while commendable, shouldn't be listed.  As mentioned above, being responsible for a large annual budget isn't really an accomplishment, though many people think it is.  It simply means you know how to spend money.  It doesn't answer the "So what?" question? ... What did you do for the organization with that 25 million?)


XYXCorp.com                                                                                                 2006 to Present
Director of Really Important Things
What I'd like to see here would be a short paragraph, or no more than four lines, that lists your responsibilities.  Be sure to use action verbs.  The Ladders, a website with a completely preposterous premise, has a good article on the subject here: Resume Action Verbs Article  You never want your experience summaries to go more than 4 lines.
  • Under each position (and you can align them all the way left) include a couple of slightly more detailed accomplishments.  They can go up to 2 1/2 lines apiece.
  • Remember that good accomplishments are quantifiable.  Here in the meat of your resume, you can include some details regarding how you achieved the accomplishments.  Up above, you just want to focus on the results. 
GreatBigCorp, Inc                                                                                          2004 to 2006
Manager of Pretty Important Things
Follow the same pattern as above.  List your responsibilities.  Note that it's not important that the person who's reviewing your resume actually read these details on the first pass.  Instead, your hope is that he/she will scan down your resume, noting your position titles, and accomplishments. 
  • If your accomplishments are compelling enough, then the person will want to go back and read your resume again in greater detail.
  • What you're doing is communicating a story, that wherever you go, you make a very positive impact.  It's implicit that you can do the same for this potential employer.

Writing a resume is much more of an art than a science.  If you speak with 99 other recruiters, you'll hear 99 other opinions regarding what makes a good resume.  At least you will until this blog gets popular.  ;-)
I think if you follow this approach though, you'll accomplish two important things:
  • Your resume will be easy to read and process.  What's important will stand out.
  • Your "value proposition" will be clearly communicated.
I hope that you find this to be helpful and would love to hear from you if you do.  I also welcome ideas regarding other creative approaches that have worked for you.