Your résumé: meet your most faithful ambassador

Throughout my career in recruiting and career development, I have looked at and critiqued thousands of résumés. As an executive and career coach, I periodically help my clients build a résumé with impact, as part of our coaching partnership. The résumé is one more stepping stone towards landing that job that fits perfectly.

Before I share some insights about how to craft powerful résumés, here is a statistic: in and of itself, the act of sending out résumés to employers stands a mere 7% chance of success in getting you the position you want.

Think of a résumé as an extensive ‘business card’ – done well it is a savvy means that effectively supports your networking efforts. Now taken a step further, it becomes an integral element of your personal brand, which includes your network, experience and passions. In essence, your résumé becomes an essential truss in the bridge leading you where you want to be.

Having said this, here are some questions to ask yourself when crafting your résumé:

Who is my target audience?

The central purpose of a résumé is to get you invited to that interview.  In other words, a résumé is not a comprehensive summary of all your past accomplishments but rather a customized marketing tool intended to capture the attention of your target audience.  When writing it, ask yourself: ‘will this piece of information open the door?’

What makes my accomplishments unique and appealing?

Once you have decided what information you wish to share, put on your creative hat. If you do not have one, invite friends or peers to join you for a brainstorming session to see how you can best present your assets.

Make your information as specific as possible. Quantify your accomplishments. Show that you affect the bottom line: use percentages, figures, and statistics. Benchmark numbers so your audience understands both your absolute as well as your relative contributions vis-à-vis your peers. Be concise and use the active voice. Use action verbs like ‘spearheaded, managed, developed, led, created’ and others that imply positive action. Be resourceful and do not repeat any action verb. Use a thesaurus!

Think outside the box and take calculated risks when it comes to what we often call the ‘general interest section’. Looking from the outside in, what statement motivates you to learn more about a person: ‘travel, reading, hiking and cooking’ or ‘Fly-fishing in the Kootz River, anything by Kurt Vonnegut, hiking in Liguria, and preparing 8 course Cajun meals for good friends’.

How can I best visually present my information?

It takes a skilled Human Resources professional on average 30 seconds to scan a résumé and to decide whether to invite you to interview or not. Make sure your résumé is structured in a way that you make maximum use of your target audience’s limited attention span. Decide: are you in need of a functional, a chronological or a hybrid-modern resume? Use software that allows you to build visual ‘artistry’ and balance.

Limit your résumé to one page. The most powerful executive résumés, despite the long list of achievements they summarize, do not exceed one page. Reducing font size to fit everything on one page is not the solution – you want your target audience to be able to read what you are communicating. As a guideline, font size 11 Arial is as small as you want to go. Potential future employers appreciate both relevant and legible documents. Getting to one page is hard work, but who do you think is more likely to be willing to distill the relevant essence of what you have done: you or the reader?  In the case of an executive search consultant, the answer is probably “the reader” (hence a longer résumé works); as for that busy executive with whom you want to interview, the answer is almost certainly “you”.

What are the ‘rules of the game’ that I have to respect?

Rule number one: be truthful in what you share. According to employer statistics, up to 40% of résumés contain distortions.  While an employer is not asking you to reveal every detail of your professional past – make sure that what you state is accurate and does not exaggerate your assets. Imagine yourself being quizzed on your statements during the interview or being hired for a position that you do not have the qualifications for.

Rule number two: no grammar and spelling mistakes are permissible on your résumé. This is a marketing tool – both its visual presentation and content represent you. If you need help, consider investing in a professional editor or proofreader.

Some final thoughts:

Consider, in addition to mailing a digital copy via email (and this should always be a PDF rather than a Word document), sending a high quality paper version via mail.  If you are environmentally conscious, creative approaches such as featuring your career portfolio online or building your own web site are another option.

Once you have completed your résumé, I recommend that you share it with a couple of individuals that work in the industry or who occupy a similar position to the one you are interested in. Not only do multiple pairs of eyes see more than one, you also get an industry insider’s point of view.

If you wish to outsource this effort, make sure that you select a résumé writer carefully. While there are many sources on the net, this is not a protected profession and anyone can hang up their shingle and offer to help you with your résumé. One option is to ask peers whether they can suggest a trusted source.

If you wish to take on this effort yourself, Susan Britton Whitcomb’s “Resume Magic” is considered the ‘bible’ for resume writing by many in the career development industry.