I've just run across an article by John Sullivan, a "well known thought leader in recruiting and retention of employees", and someone I've come to respect over the years. He always delivers a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to what he writes. This is one of the best articles I've ever read on the subject of "how to write a resume", and I've read scores of them. Before this article, I would send interested parties to my website to read an article entitled "Prove Value". I'll add this article from now on! It's a bit long, but covers every base in detail!
If you are wondering why you aren’t called in to interview for great job opportunities, it’s undoubtedly because your resume is not “powerful,” and significantly undersells your abilities and experience. Having worked with major corporations on the design of their hiring and resume screening processes, I can attest that nearly all applicants fail to adequately highlight themselves in a way that increases their chances of being selected for further evaluation. While you may actually be a very good fit for the roles and the organizations to which you have applied, chances are that your boring resume doesn’t instill that perception in the 15-20 seconds that those charged with screening resumes typically spend per applicant.
Even if you are not currently seeking a new role, failing to adequately highlight your achievements is a weakness that can impact you throughout your career. When it comes to performance appraisal, promotion consideration, and even day-to-day work assignment, learning how to influence the perception of you as a performer is key to ensuring that your career reaches the heights you desire.
Over a decade ago, Fast Company magazine dubbed me the “Michael Jordan of hiring,” so if you want to have a resume as powerful and effective as Michael Jordan’s actually is, consider each of the checklist items that follow.
Bolster the Content of Your Resume
While an unusual format may garner a few seconds more of attention, it may also prevent your resume from making it through electronic sorting and filtering tools used by larger corporations, so it is best to focus on what your resume says about you, versus the font, layout, and embellishment used. (This is true for online profiles as well; spending hours adjusting the color pallet and background and only minutes on the content doesn’t facilitate stronger networking.) To maximize your appeal, focus on powerful “selling” points that cover your results, your impact on the organization, your skills and your ability to manage and lead.
For each of the items on the checklist, mentally review your working life, as well as other outside work responsibilities, for experiences/activities that relate to the item. For example, if you are seeking a role that calls for leadership skills, ask yourself how many times you were a leader of a project, a subproject, a team, or even a meeting/event. It does not matter if you were never formally appointed a leader or given a leadership title; if you have successfully led others, you should reference leadership as one of your attributes. Feature leadership terms throughout the content that comprises your resume, including sections covering your experience, education, and extracurricular activities.
Continue through the checklist until each of the factors appears at least once in your resume. When you have reached the end of the checklist, step back and admire all that you have done and accomplished, and can do again in your next job, ad then raise your career goals and expectations!
Thirty “Power Factors” to Bolster the Content of Your Resume
- Result or accomplishment — everyone wants employees who produce results, so you need to find a way to list every significant result, output, or accomplishment. Your resume should include dozens of performance-related references. (Example: Achieved 100% of ___ rollout project milestones while being first to implement ___ within the division.)
- Quantify results in dollars — the language of businesses is dollars, so characterizing the dollar impact of your accomplishments on the organization can be a key differentiator. It’s OK to use estimates if you can explain your logic. (Example: implemented changes to the ___ process that resulted in a 32% increase output with no noticeable impact on quality).
- Skills used — listing the work you did but omitting the array of skills that you need to accomplish that work is a major omission in most resumes. You should never mention a task or accomplishment without highlighting both the technical and people skills required to accomplish it. Start with a list of all the skills that you can find in job descriptions of interest and try to mention each one. (Example: Used root cause analysis to track an emerging issue back to a change that had been overlooked many times and used strong Internet research skills to gather supporting information and build a business case to successfully convince a skeptical manager to address the issue.)
- Demonstrate the quality of the work — you need to clearly demonstrate that you do high-quality work and that you understand and deliver quality consistently. Whenever you mention the volume of your work, also mention indications of its quality. (Example: Consistently ranked top producer within the division while maintaining the lowest error rate and a 98% customer satisfaction rate.)
- Awards and honors — mention all recognitions received for outstanding work. Don’t forget shared and team awards, or informal awards created by local managers. Include awards received both in school and on the job. (Example: Awarded employee of the month six times.)
- Leadership — employees who can lead are always in demand. Mention cases where you led a team or project, even if informally. Highlight challenges addressed and leadership methods used. (Example: Assembled and led a team responsible for developing a plan to expand scope of services provided, overcoming resource limitations, personality conflicts, and communication breakdowns to successfully present the case to the executive committee).
- Management tools used — even if you were not a manager by title, show that you did use common management tools and processes during your assignments. (Example tools to highlight: team work, quality control, conflict resolution, CRM, time management, process reengineering.)
- Technology tools — few things are more important these days than the ability to use and understand technology. Look for work examples that demonstrate your ability to learn and leverage emerging technology. (Example: used online groupware to create a project management office providing a common document repository, shared calendar, alerts, and staff assignments for key projects within our division.)
- Worked with key people — individuals who have the opportunity to work with key people and executives are assumed to be among the best. If you worked for or with a famous individual, highlight them. Also include enough information so that the reader will know their importance. (Example: Was selected by my divisional vice president to serve on a committee led by our CEO to evaluate key customer satisfaction.)
Supplemental Convincing Factors
The following elements can and should be used within any resume point to make it stronger and more convincing.
A comparison number — numbers are powerful, but to an outsider, a single isolated number might not mean much. As a result, it is always a good idea to provide a comparison number to show context. Comparison numbers can include the very best in the industry, the best number inside the firm, the average number, last year’s number, the target number, or your competitor’s number (Example: Broke previous sales records by selling 13 additional units on average, per period, and producing revenue 146% above average in our industry.)
Quotes are included — a direct quote from an executive, supervisor, coworker, or even a customer can add credibility and perspective to any accomplishment. (Examples: Was highlighted in my manager’s annual departmental performance review to senior leaders and the “most valuable” team player).
Killer phrases are used — there are certain phrases in business that are universally accepted as signs of good work. Wherever possible include phrases like … “cut costs by xx%,” “completed the project under time and under budget,” “used technology to improve customer service,” “did more with less,” “increased market share by xx%,” “increased margins by xx %.”
A web link — resumes contain only words, and sometimes your actual work is your most powerful selling point. Wherever possible, provide a direct Internet link to your work or reference to your work. In other cases, mention where a sample or a video of it is available.
As both an adviser to talent managers and a business school professor, I get to see both sides of the job search picture. I understand how corporations screen resumes and what it takes to be consistently selected for an interview. Students and experienced professionals alike struggle to present themselves optimally because they rely on antiquated career guidance and assumptions about what others will value.
The one universal truth about resumes is that if it does little more than list your jobs, it provides little value to you or the organizations you apply to. A resume should be a comprehensive marketing document detailing your capabilities, skills, and accomplishments. It should be kept current and used not only when seeking employment, but also as a memory jogger when filing for an internal transfer, promotion, or completing a performance self-assessment. To ensure you are not underselling yourself, use the search feature in your word processing program to see how many times the factors highlighted in this checklist actually appear. If you find, as most do, that over half of these words are not present, kick yourself in the butt for underselling yourself for all these years!
Does this article give you ideas about how to improve your current resume? That's my goal!