Killer Resumes for the 21st Century
There it is, your ideal job, hanging in the air like some unattainable brass ring. One problem. You have to dust off your resume, and oh yeah, you have no idea how to write one. You ascend into your attic stepping over family albums until you find what you are looking for, a square, burgundy briefcase with rusted brass hinges. After shooing away a family of spiders and carefully moving the digits to 000, you open Al Capone’s vault. There it sits in all of its former glory, 6 pages long, complete with cover letter and 2 appendices. Add your new job, and you’re pretty much done, right?
What Is A Resume?
Let’s start with a what a resume is not. A resume is not a job description or a job history. A resume is not a transcript. A resume is an objective selling document. That means it is a factual document devoid of opinions or pesky adverbs about how you bravely led the troops. You are in competition with other people. It stands to reason that bullets which will give you a competitive advantage should be added, and bullets that include repetitive and boring minutiae that is true for everyone who holds your job should be removed. Competitive advantage bullets include accomplishments, increased revenue, decreased costs, saved time, changed lives, customer relationships, market share. You get the idea.
Writing a solid tight resume with substantial selling points is the preparation you need to deliver these points in an interview. Ever notice that the best resumes are frequently the best interviewers?
How To Sell
Human nature is to focus on our own wants and needs. This is how we survived as a race of people avoiding sabre-toothed tigers and such. Your success in the 21st century, however, is predicated on solving other people’s problems. Make no mistake, companies don’t hire because they have an opening. Companies hire because they have a problem.
Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes, and solve her problem. Think about the struggles she likely faces such as competition, internal politics, goals, staffing, legacy and customers. How will you lighten her load and solve her problems? How could you over-deliver beyond her expectations?
How Not To Sell
If selling is about solving other people’s problems, then what’s the opposite? That would be focusing on your own problems. I need. I’m looking for. What I want is….If this is all you think about, you’re going to struggle. Don’t get me wrong, this might work for the run-of-the-mill mediocre jobs, but if you want to win that brass ring, you must start thinking like a winner.
The Last Ten Years
Your resume should build like a majestic crescendo into your current role. It shouldn’t peak fifteen years ago with a steady decline since then. This is the problem with the briefcase resume. It’s lazy. In some cases, it is acceptable to delete all positions over ten years old. If you are in a profession where pedigree matters (like an accountant working for Big 4), simply list job title and company without any description for positions over ten years old.
People put a lot of time into cover letters. Only one problem, nobody reads them. That’s right. For the most part, cover letters are inauthentic and canned. Instead of a cover letter, try to find an authentic way to connect to your hiring authority. Be sophisticated. Use the internet and social media, and find a way to creatively connect. Google is your friend.
Objectives are on the endangered species list. You’ll hear strong arguments about this. The problem is that objectives highlight what you want and not what they want. See “How Not To Sell”.
Paragraph format is a major no-no. We do bullets now, brief power statements beginning with a verb. The giant list of skills is also a major turn-off, because employers have no means to weigh how long you used them.
Fancy resume formats are mildly useful if you are trying to get a creative job. My rule is that any format that distracts from the content looks amateurish. When it comes to format, nobody cares, so don’t waste time on it. Find one you like and move on.
Cut all “ly” words from your resume. Nothing annoys a manager like cheap sales talk in the form of exaggerated adverbs. It is also assumed that everything on your resume is done by you. Please don’t start your bullets with “I”. “I prepared, I presented, I am responsible for” turn into “Prepared, Presented, Responsible for.”
My goal in writing this piece is to affect people in a very measurable way. Remember, when it comes to resumes, most people aren’t experts. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King. Do me a favor, if you got something out of this article, let me know. Now go get that brass ring!
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Jeremy Bennett has been interviewed by Crain's and the Houston Chronicle. He is the CEO of J Bennett Recruiting, a boutique Retained Executive Search Firm that specializes in Healthcare. He is a father of two and connoisseur of West Coast IPA’s.