I was born at an early age and from that point forth I had a dream, a dream that would challenge...
Susie drops the letter and resume stapled thereto into the large gray wastebasket next to her desk, which bears the hand-lettered sign, "File 13: Preliminary processing."
The second response is housed in a black vinyl window binder with the phrase: "Nomination of J. Blokes Cranston to the position of Regional Marketing Director." Clank: Into File 13.
The third resume is headed: Objective: I want a challenging position in a progressive company that will provide me with career challenge, draw on my skills and experience, and allow me to contribute to the goals of the company." Clink: File 13 again.
Susie isn't some aberrant hard-hearted monster. She's a professional resume reader and is behaving in a way typical of the species. She's pressed for time, short on sympathy, perpetually suspicious and fully authorized to deep-six any response that bores, confuses, annoys, or seeks to con her. Megalarge thinks she performs her screening function extremely well.
Susie isn't unique; she's a composite of the way human nature works when confronted with a job seeker's marketing brochure. Resume reader's responses to your efforts are governed by four major principles:
- Address my needs and priorities, not your wishes and aspirations.
- Don't tax my patience.
- Don't tax my credulity.
- Give me the information I want - and only the information I want - in a sequence that lets me make the most accurate snap judgment about you.
Susie also notes that if there's nothing atop the resume that serves as a product description and you simply jump into "Professional Experience," she naturally will assume that you want to continue doing exactly what you did in your last job.
During Susie's first trip through the resume stack, she doesn't actually read them. She scans them at hyper speed, perhaps 20 or 30 seconds per resume. She weeds, sorts, and creates a pile that she'll go back to and really read (about a two-minute process, if you're lucky).
Accordingly, the most egregious sin the resume writer can commit is to submit something that's physically hard to read. You can’t make Susie’s job harder than it already is and expect to enjoy her favor. So no single-spacing or full declarative sentences (not, "I wrote the plan," but "wrote plan."). No eighth-inch margins. Nothing longer than two pages (unless the subsequent pages are labeled "Addendum" and contain non-crucial information).
Give Susie lots of air. Through the wonders of desktop publishing software, offer distinct formatting cues to aid her eyes in scanning the page (e.g. caps/bold, Caps/no bold, Bold upper and lower). Quality, 30 pound paper and ink that doesn't smudge onto her fingers. Create a resume that, upon Susie's first glance, triggers an involuntary little voice in her head: "Thank you, thank you, thank you for understanding how tedious resume screening can be."
Unless you're working in a creative profession (public relations, advertising, graphic arts or writing government budgets), avoid stunts like brightly colored paper, Olde Englishe type, diagonal formatting, tri-fold mailers, etc. They suggest to Susie that you're trying to stand out by artificial means rather than your own merits.
Remember, Susie wasn't born yesterday. She's read a lot of resumes and has seen a broader spectrum of lies, puffery, distortions, clever omissions, and creative historical interpretations than you can possibly imagine. Her hogwash meter has been fine tuned.
Susie won't automatically accept your unsupported praise as gospel. You say, "significantly enhanced productivity," and she thinks, "What do you mean by significant?" You say, "major program, " and she'll ask, "By whose standards?" Susie doesn't like adverbs and adjectives unless they describe something objectively measurable. At best, they simply don't register on her brain. They become "invisible words." At worst, they twang her hogwash meter and you're headed for File 13.
Susie loves numbers because she instinctively believes them. You say, "significantly increased sales, lowered costs and improved productivity," and Susie turns skeptical. You say, "increased division sales by 14% in seven months while decreasing costs 23%" and she'll believe it. After all, she thinks, these data can be objectively measured and checked. "You wouldn't dare lie to me about something I can easily verify."
Susie also has a fondness for past-tense verbs expressed in tight telegram-like phrases: "Managed department. Drafted five-year plan. Recruited all staff. Negotiated entire transaction." She likes past-tense verbs because they describe what's already happened. In her mind, there's no better proof of what you can do than the fact that you've done it before. "Negotiated sale of six multi-million dollar shopping centers in 14 months," not "able to negotiate high-ticket real estate transactions."
Incidentally, about 80% of Susie's time and effort is spent on the first page of the resume, the second page gets a fast glance, usually to check your educational background, find the year you graduated from college, subtract 21 from that year and get a rough idea of how old you are. That means if there's really hot information on page two, you'd better find some way to highlight it. Susie reports no particular interest in the personal section found on many resumes, and no interest whatever in whether you like to read, take long walks, or play chess.
Susie doesn't like controversial activities or memberships ("enjoy alligator wrestling and Bart Simpson fan club meetings"). Susie doesn’t need to see that your health is excellent or "references upon request," since everyone had better be healthy and have references.
Resume readers don't like being told what to think. They want information laid out for them in a sequence that allows them to use their own judgment to size you up. That's why many of them report on an almost fanatical distaste for functional resumes, in which the writer omits or downplays his career chronology and instead attempts to create a menu of marketable qualities.
A good resume reader can deduce a lot from your career path - where you started, how long you stayed, whether you shifted roles or settings, how fast and often you were promoted and, perhaps most important, who has seen fit to employ you. If we can eavesdrop on Susie's mental organizing process as she scans each resume, we'll find a mind set that sees almost everything in terms of trust, the risk to her if she guesses wrong about you, the stakes, the job's responsibilities and your previous accomplishments.
Automatically, she'll fire a series of questions at your resume focused on who has previously trusted you with what:
- What's the product statement here? (What do you claim to be in terms of level, roles/functions and prior work settings?) This information is found in the profile, summary statement or objective.
- Who trusted you before? (Oh, Exxon? Well, they're pretty demanding. If they thought you were worth hiring maybe I can, too. Joe & Eddy’s Fine Refinery and Travel Agency? That doesn't tell me much.")
- How long have they trusted you? (If it's more than about three years, you can’t be a complete screw-up or they would have fired you, right? Twenty years without a promotion? Not much ambition there.)
- What were the stakes? What was the biggest thing they trusted you with? This usually is reflected in your job title.
- What were your responsibilities? (Stop! Don't brag yet. Just give me a nice, objective job description to show me the nature and scope of your responsibilities.)
- Did you do anything with those responsibilities? ("Now, give me some examples - past tense- of all the marvelous things you've achieved.")
- Who trusted you before that? How long did they trust you? What were the stakes there? Responsibilities? Accomplishments? If there's a lot of jobs or you're going back more than 15 years, collapse the history into a category called "Earlier Experience."
- Where did you go to school?
- Anything else I need to get a full and accurate understanding of you and what you offer?
All this data should hang together, paint a picture and not raise alarming, unaddressed concerns (Why is the date of your college degree missing? Why is there a four year gap in your employment history?). Without an answer to these concerns, File 13 awaits.
If there really were a Susie, she'd emphasize one last point. The resume doesn't have to say everything. It's a screening tool, a brochure to help employers decide who's worth meeting in person. There will be time in the interview process to flesh out details, amplify strengths, and demonstrate your personal attributes. A resume is a suitcase; travel light and don't try to turn it into a steamer trunk. If you keep it lean, objective, orderly, and logical, it will be one of just a few resumes that Susie will welcome.