On resumes--stupid and not
I’m pretty good at writing and reviewing resumes, and when someone points a friend in my direction, I give them pretty much the same speech. So to save us all time, here’s what I say:
When I was a hiring manager, I thought that most of the resumes that came across my desk were stupid.
I’m looking for a challenging job working with a high-performing team where I can leverage my skills to make an impact and advance my career as a …whatever
Great. That will make you stand out from the other resumes I get. The ones that say stuff like:
I’m looking for an easy job working with a bunch of slackers, a job for which I am entirely unqualified, and that will cause no discernable results and retard my career as…whatever
What? I don’t get that kind of resume?
What do the other resumes look like?
Exactly the same as yours.
Full of buzzwords.
Challenging. High performing. Leverage. Impact. Advance.
You’ve got to differentiate. Your resume won’t help you if it sounds like everyone else’s. It won’t help me understand who you are if it’s full of stupid cliches—unless you are a stupid cliche. In that case, perfect.
But no one is a cliche. We’ve all got unique strengths. Your resume is an advertisement. It’s a sales pitch for you. And it’s got to include what they call in the marketing biz, your “Unique Selling Proposition.”
Your USP is what makes you different from everyone else who’s looking for that same job.
A typical resume starts with an objective. Here’s where you say what you are looking for.
Seriously? As a hiring manager, I know what you’re looking for. And I don’t care that much. I know you are looking for a job. My job. That’s what you want.
I don’t care about what you want. I care about what I want. And what I want is to know: “Why should I hire you?”
Scratch that. What I want to know first is: why should I even bother talking to you.
When you’re in sales, you develop an Elevator Pitch for your product. It’s in Wikipedia: “…a short description of an idea, product or company that explains the concept in a way such that any listener can understand it in a short period of time.”
So your resume should start with your elevator pitch for you.
If I was looking for a job in technical sales, say, I might write something like this:
Executives, managers, and software engineers speak different languages. I speak those languages fluently. I’ve used those skills to close multi-million-dollar software and services sales.
I’ve succeeded by understanding the objectives of decision-makers in each group, helping them see how what I sold will meet their needs, and by translating the needs of the other groups, so they understand one another better. That’s let me establish relationships of trust that have helped develop business after the initial sale.
Think that’s better than “A challenging job leveraging….zzzzz?”I think so.
But as good as that is, I would never send that out. Instead, I’d adapt it for a particular company. Like this:
Executives, managers, and software engineers speak different languages. I speak those languages fluently. I’ve used those skills to close multi-million-dollar software and services sales, and I can use them to sell Acme Widgets and Services
I’ve succeeded by understanding the objectives of decision-makers in each group, helping them see how products and services like the ones that Acme sells will meet their needs, and by translating the needs of the other groups, so they understand one another better. That’s let me establish relationships of trust that have helped develop business after the initial sale.
Of course, I wouldn’t put the bolded parts in bold. That’s just to highlight the changes I would make.
And I’d probably tweak more depending on how I viewed the situation.
A hiring decision is a big sale
Suppose, to make the math easy, you’re going to make $50,000 a year. I know you make more but follow the math and multiply to get your actual deal size.
With benefits, taxes, and overhead, you’re going to cost most companies about 2x your salary. So $100,000.
Say they expect you’ll be there for five years before moving on.
That’s a half-million-dollar sale.
When I’ve created sales collateral for a half-million-dollar deals (and I have), I start with the best content I can find and adapt it for that deal. I would never pull a wrinkled flyer that I’d written for some other deal out of my bag and expect it to do anything but get me disqualified.
As it should.
Customize, customize, customize
Even for a $50,000 sale, I’d work to customize it.
Your resume is a piece of collateral that speaks for you and speaks to the job (sales) opportunity that you’re facing.
The summary at the top of your resume is usually the second most important bit of collateral that you’ll use.
The first most important is a cover letter, customized for that opportunity, and the person to whom you are sending it.
My rule for cover letters is the same: use it to help you stand out from the crowd.
Avoid cliches like the plague.
Copy pasting a good summary from your resume isn’t a bad idea if you don’t have a better one.
The goal of the cover letter, after all, is to get them to read the resume. The goal of the resume is to get them to talk to you.
Telling them in the cover letter that you’re applying for the job as whatever that they’ve posted on their website is usually dumb. Do you think they can’t figure that out if you don’t tell them?
Maybe you’re sending it to the HR department, and you want to make clear what job you have in mind. Sending stuff to the HR department is another category of dumb. Find the hiring manager and send it to them.
Hard to find the hiring manager? You’re making a half-million-dollar sale. Do a little work!
Telling them that you’ve enclosed (or attached) a resume likewise. Do you think they won’t find it if you don’t tell them?
Tell them something that improves the odds that they’ll read your resume.
“Tom Brown, your classmate at Brown and a friend of mine gave me your name and said that he thought we should talk.”
There’s more to writing a resume than just crafting the summary.
Choose the highlights in your job history for impact and pick the ones that will help you land the job you’re after.
One last point.
Proofread, and spell check and grammar check and then have someone who you know is careful, read your cover letter, and resume.
One stupid error in a resume tells me that however bright you might think you are, you’re an idiot.