Resumes are bait
I am not in HR, a recruiter, or even a super linkedin.com user. That said, I was on the recruiting team at a Big 4 consulting, and we looked through hundreds of resumes every year and 90% of them went into the trash. We probably spent less than 15 seconds on a cover letter and 30 seconds on a resume. Basically, the resume review was quick and violent.
Resumes = bait
The way I see it, the entire purpose of a resume is to get invited for an interview. Period. Getting an interview means the fish took a bite at the bait.
When you get to your late 20s, early 30s and beyond, you are not looking for jobs where a recruiter would hire you with a piece of paper. The entire goal is to get in front of the hiring manager and create a connection. Resume = bait.
Good resumes are rare
You can ask anyone in HR, MBA admissions or a recruiter and they will tell you that resumes come in all shapes and sizes. They are formatted differently, have varying lengths, but it quickly comes down to good ones and bad ones.
What’s a good resume?
My career coach friends might gasp, but here is my over-simplification of a good resume:
Achievements quantified and organized in a story
Clearly, your resume should have content. Can’t bake this resume cake without flour, eggs and water.
- What kind of work do you do? Where have your worked?
- How would you explain your accomplishments simply?
- Can you demonstrate commitment, focus, other admirably “worth hiring” characteristics?
If you don’t have achievements in your work history that you are proud of, that is a different problem. Time to buckle up, and get some good work done. Be so good they cannot ignore you. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Work like you give a damn.”
This is where most people fail. There should be numbers on your resume. If you improved throughput of a process, by how much? If you increased sales, what % off of what base in what amount of time? If you managed a team, how many headcount? Resume bullets without quantification are . . . weak. It shows a lack of accomplishment, or unwillingness to measure what you are trying to manage.
Employers want results. How will your contribution affect EBITDA? How effective have you been in your previous position? Are you thinking like an owner? Like a good acting teacher might say, “show, don’t tell.”
PAR or STAR
This is a super valuable thing I learned in MBA. Problem (P), Action (A), Result (R). Each bullet on your resume should describe what was the problem you are were faced with, what action you took, and what result you got. This simple algorithm forces you to be specific.
Too often people write vague things on their resume which, honestly, could apply to anyone. . .”I was responsible for ABC boring thing.” SO WHAT? No one cares. What did you do? What problems did you solve? Why were you awesome? Compare these two fictitious bullets about the same achievement:
- GOOD: Integrated disparate customer information from 3 databases into a master file which lead to a 12% increase in customer contacts and 8% increase in close rates for $450K in incremental margin
- BAD: Responsible for customer data and information and marketing projects
“What gets measured, gets managed.” — Peter Drucker
This has a few meanings. First, there needs to be formatting and it needs to look clean. No spelling errors (compliment, complement), typos, incorrect usage (their, there, they’re), or parallel structure problems (verb, verb, verb, noun). Second, organize your achievements from most important to least. Remember that people remember the first and last things in a list. Things in the middle get lost. Third, the content needs to be structured in a way that is both logical and sensible. Is there a progression of responsibility? Are the sizes of the assignments, roles, achievements appropriate to this new role?
Does this pass the sniff test?
- What kind of work do you do, and how good are you at it?
- Did you progress in your career, or did you continuously bop-around from place to place because you did not fit in.
- What does my resume say?
It’s common for large consulting firms to interview at a half dozen business schools on the same day. So you have dozens of senior managers and principles interviewing hundreds of candidates. At the end of the day, what do you want your recruiter (yes, the one who was sitting in front of you) to say about you? How will they advocate for you vs. the hundreds of other candidates at dozens of other schools?
What’s the elevator pitch you would LOVE for them to tell their colleagues? What’s the story?
Have more than one resume
If you are applying for consulting, marketing and strategic planning roles. . . don’t use the same resume. Treat the resume reader like a picky customer. They won’t buy what looks odd, or out of place. There are tons of resumes to choose from. Tailor your resume and your story for them. Work at it.
If a resume is bait, would you use the same bait to catch different kinds of fish?
At my MBA, they really beat this into our heads. Each bullet on the resume should be interesting enough for the recruiter to look at it as ask, “so tell me about that”. Each bullet is a teaser for the next question in the interview. Also, you better have a good story for each part of your resume. Don’t put on your resume anything you can’t talk about.
Be able to answer the question, So what?
Hone your resume
This is tough work. When I offer to help someone with a resume, I often “rev” it with them a few times. It is hard work. You need to be willing to (re)write it until it is close to perfect. If you want to see a bunch of MBA resumes just google the words “MBA resume book pdf” and you will have tons of examples.
As far as I can tell (and from my experience looking through dozens of resumes), the cover letter is bait to get you to look at the resume. Just like the resume is bait to get you an interview. Just like an interview is bait to get you an internship.