The resume plays a critical role in your career as your primary marketing communication vehicle. However, its only purpose is to generate live contact. Once you are talking to someone, your personal interaction will dominate your paper self in their mind. So your resume needs to be good enough to create interest. End of story.
As a hiring manager who has literally seen thousands of resumes in consulting, marketing and general management, I have some strong opinions about resumes. The biggest mistakes I see people make are in the content they include (both what they talk about and how they describe it) as well as the time & effort put into developing their resume.
Having said that the resume is a MarComm piece above, it’s important that it be a good one. Here are suggestions on how to focus and avoid pitfalls.
1. Make a point(s) – Have 3-5 themes you are trying to convey and make sure you have adequate detail to do it. For example: “I’m a leader”, “I am a good fit”, “I can manage complex operations” are all important ideas depending on the job in question. Whatever the themes are, pick a few and stick to them with your examples.
2. Be strategic – Don’t get lost in the tactical details of your experience. Be able to frame things so they demonstrate understanding beyond your job role. For example. “Led cross functional team of 10 that identified savings of $xx MM in support of XX corporate initiative and presented findings to executive committee” is better than “Led cross functional team to significant savings”.
3. Be specific – Describe what you actually did and be as quantitative as possible. “Managed sales team of 12 that exceeded plan of $10MM by 20%” is better than “Managed sales team”. This isn’t always easy/possible, but do it where you can.
4. Project yourself – Describe things in a way that relates them to what you are trying to go into. This is particularly important for career switching. Project yourself into what you are applying for. If you are an IT person looking for a marketing job, pull out and emphasize the examples where you worked on marketing related IT projects. Give your reader a way to see you in the role.
5. Tailor – Clearly connect your resume to position you are applying for. The person who submits the same resume to 57 jobs is playing pin the tail on the donkey. You can’t do 1-3 above generically. They have to apply to a particular position. Having said that, this doesn’t mean completely different resumes, just tailored ones. 2-4 versions may suffice. I always have had a “consulting”, a “marketing” and a “general management” version of my resume. One strategy is to have a long “master” resume with everything on it and “save as” when doing a new version. Then delete the irrelevant content.
6. Be interesting – Have at least 1 or 2 things on your resume that make you stand out. I tend to do this at the end in an “honors & activities” section. I list things like marathons completed, teaching awards etc. You could list skills as a juggler, the non-profit board you belong to etc. The point is to pick something that conveys one or more of your key themes and include it. No one wants to just see a candidate’s work experience.
7. Have more than 1 other person review and give you feedback. There is all kinds of resume writing literature. My advice is to get real feedback from a few people whose judgment you respect.
1. Puff/Overstate – You never want to get trapped in a fudge. If you have to make things up to get the job, you’re not qualified. In my experience, people who do this often didn’t need to and in the end disqualify themselves for positions they would otherwise have been considered for.
2. Be repetitive – You are trying to make a number of critical points about why you are a good choice for a position, but don’t need to belabor it. Don’t have the same point re-iterated in multiple ways if not absolutely required. For example, if you have an advanced science degree on your resume, as well as a technical job and are applying for a marketing job. Listing your publications or patents is just repetitive. As a hiring manager I hopefully have deduced that you are smart and technical, spend a few more lines telling me about what you’ve done relative to marketing. I may be having a harder time connecting those dots.
3. Be vague/generic – Don’t make me figure out what you did. This is the inverse of my “be specific” point above.
4. Be jargony/use internal corporate speak – Make your resume understandable to someone who isn’t from your organization. I don’t know or care about your company’s acronyms and initiatives. I will understand “Led Six Sigma project to…”, I won’t understand “Led 5×5 improvement effort”.
5. List too many activities – List enough to show you are interesting and engaged, but don’t over do it. Experience should be the vast majority of lines.
6. Include controversial/potentially off putting associations – This is conditional. If you applying for work at a faith-based organization then by all means include your religious associations and activities if you believe they will help. As a general rule, however, I would “neutralize” your resume of obvious political or religious overtones. You never know who is reading and what their reaction will be.
The goldilocks principle applies here; you want to get it just right. Too little time and you won’t craft it well enough to generate the impact you want. Too much and you’re procrastinating.
Not spending enough time to build a quality resume is simply dumb. You control this. If you’re not great at it, get help. Whatever you do, take the time to adequately describe your experience in a compelling way. As a hiring manager I will assume that if you can’t prepare a decent resume when you’re trying to win a position, then your performance once you potentially have the position will be even worse.
Too many people I see agonize over their resume and put off actual networking to keep tuning. Always remember GEMO (good enough, move on). It needs to be good, it doesn’t need to be a Pulitzer prize winner. DO NOT let this be the obstacle to getting going on chatting with people.
In summary then, resumes are important but do not need to be works or art. It is important to pick a few themes, stick to them at the appropriate level of detail and avoid common traps.