My first encounter with prospective clients is typically through an email with their resume attached. Often, they’ve written their own resume and state upfront that they’re deeply embarrassed by how bad it is.
The majority of them have never needed a resume, as they progressed through their careers to the senior or c-level. They know the value they have to offer, but have no idea how to put that on paper so they’ll get the attention they deserve.
But here they are, suddenly needing a resume, so they scrambled to piece some kind of marketing document together. They were using their home-grown resume, but weren’t getting any action.
I reassure them that they’re not alone. Most people have trouble distancing themselves enough to objectively assess and strategically position themselves. And, because most also don’t understand resume strategy, they don’t know how it should look, what to include, what to exclude and what to highlight.
We discuss how job search has changed in just the past few years, and that these days their resume may not be their first introduction to the people they need to attract.
I explain that most recruiters and hiring decision-makers source and assess candidates by what they find in online searches of candidates’ names and relevant keywords that lead them to job seekers. These hiring professionals probably know about them well before a resume is exchanged, unless the candidate has little or no online presence and is basically invisible.
I also stress that, since these people search LinkedIn first, before using other search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) when they’re sourcing and vetting candidates, they’d better be there too, with a brand-solid profile.
I tell them that they’ll still need a resume as they’re networking, and at some point in the hiring process. As they pull together information for their resume, they should keep in mind that they’ll need to spread this information out across their other career marketing communications – biography, case studies, other documents, LinkedIn profile and other online branding.
Here are some of the biggest mistakes I see executives make when writing their own resumes:
1. They fail to position themselves as the best hiring choice for their target employers.
What I so often see are resumes with no clear target audience in mind. The mistake they make is trying to cover too many bases, showcasing every area of expertise and highlighting every career accomplishment. Often they end up with a 4 or 5 page “kitchen sink” resume, with way too much unfocused information, that they blindly use for every purpose. A generic resume like this will likely get them nowhere.
Step one, before any writing begins, is identifying your target audience, so you’ll know who you’re writing to, and identifying their needs, so you can align the best you have to offer to solve their problems.
Everything in your resume must powerfully position you as someone who is uniquely qualified to meet their challenges. Irrelevant and extraneous information misuses the limited space available.
Knowing your target companies and their needs will drive what you need to include in your resume. Do some research and gather as much information as possible about your target companies before crafting your resume. This post will help, Executive Job Search: Research Your Target Employers.
2. They don’t understand how personal branding will differentiate them and generate chemistry for them as a good-fit candidate.
Entice readers out of the gate by linking your pivotal leadership strengths and unique value proposition with personal attributes. Breathe life into an otherwise flat document and come alive on the paper, digital and web page.
Give yourself permission to boast about your relevant standout achievements, but back them up with monetized examples (Challenge – Actions – Results success stories) showcasing how you made things happen. Read my post, Storytelling Propels Executive Branding and Job Search.
Give an indication of who you are, in a colloquial way that speaks from your own voice. Generating chemistry is one of the goals you should be striving for when writing compelling career marketing communications. It helps you make an instant connection and lasting impression.
For more on defining your executive brand, see my 10-Step Personal Branding Worksheet.
3. They fail to capture attention above the fold.
You’ve probably heard many times that you only have about 10 seconds to win or lose the reader. That means taking advantage of the real estate at the top of your resume (or in the first screen view of your LinkedIn profile or any web page).
The mistake I see in the “profile” or “summary” section is vague information strung together through a series of keywords, with no specifics and no metrics.
The people assessing you through your resume want to see exactly how your actions have impacted bottom line, and built business and profitability. By all means, use the relevant keywords and phrases your targeted research has uncovered, but also show them the numbers!
4. They sacrifice readability to keep their resume to 2 pages.
The 2-page rule is a good one, but trying to jam in too much information, in a too-tiny font, without enough white space to soothe the eye, can turn readers off before they begin.
Remember that, at the senior and c-level, you should be getting your resume in front of human eyeballs and not just tossed into a database for scanning. Put yourself in the position of the people reading your resume (or LinkedIn profile).
Today’s resume is a sleek, to-the-point, value driven marketing document, impacted by the fact that so many people will be reading it on an iPad, Blackberry or other handheld. Keep the information on track and relevant to your target employers and the kind of position you’re seeking.
Break up densely packed, long paragraphs into shorter ones of only 2 to 4 lines. Use bullet points to keep readers engaged and draw their eyes down the page.
Don’t fret if, after ruthlessly editing, your resume spills over to a third page. It’s okay, as long as you’ve structured the first page to stand on its own, with the following one or two pages there to provide supporting evidence.
photo by Drew Coffman