By: Irene McConnell
Having reviewed and written thousands of resumes over the years, first as a recruiter and now as a professional brand builder, I’ve noticed a significant gap between what most management resumes include, and what recruiters and hiring managers actually want to see.
With competition for top posts higher than ever, your goal in preparing your resume is to communicate a clearly defined brand promise, which leaves no doubt about the value you bring to the table.
If you’re a management professional, here are 7 resume tips which will set you apart from your competition.
1. Make me fall in like with you.
We’ve all met those people everyone wants to see succeed. Your resume’s job is to cement your position as that person, ensuring the recruiter, hiring manager, and everyone else is rooting for your success.
Think of your resume as your own diplomatic envoy, going forth into unknown organisations to lay the groundwork before your official visit. While your resume has to communicate the skills and competencies required for the job, it has an even bigger job which most candidates never consider: building a team of champions, and getting recruiters and hiring managers onside to support your candidacy above all others.
The key to doing this is being likeable, and while it takes time and practice to master the art of putting personality to paper, the best place to start is with a Professional Summary section.
Forget the “objectives” section from decades past, and tell me a story about who you are, what you do, and what makes you different. Write in the first person, using “I” language to make it relatable, and mix up the content with information about your story, relevant keywords, and your professional approach and leadership style.
2. Know your key messages.
Think of all the ways you’re communicating your personal brand on a daily basis:
- sending your resume and cover letter for a job;
- sharing your thoughts and experience via social media or blogs;
- networking at a conference;
- just chatting with other parents at your son or daughter’s swim class.
Now imagine how powerful it would be if you always said the same thing. Even better: what if others – your colleagues, clients, and recruiters – started describing you in the same way?
There’s not as much pressure on early career professionals to know their key value because it’s understood that they may still be discovering it. Management professionals, however, need to be able to communicate what makes them different. This is where key messaging comes in.
Skilful use of key messages is one of the most effective ways to launch you from candidate to thought leader, but it takes time and a concerted effort. If you’re just starting to build your professional brand, take the time to define your key messages before you write your resume, using the following questions to guide you:
- What drives you?
- What makes you different from other candidates or leaders in your industry?
- What’s your professional mantra?
- What are the underlying themes supporting your success?
Once you have a clear understanding of the value you add, communicate it throughout your resume and the other platforms that support your professional brand: cover letters, LinkedIn, social media posts, websites, and elevator pitches.
3. Less is more.
Most of the thousands of resumes I’ve reviewed over my career have taken a full meal deal approach to communicating experience, with details about day-to-day duties taking up most of the page.
This approach works for early and midcareer professionals who are expected to execute as part of their job. For management professionals, however, it distracts from what recruiters really want to know: role mandate, strategic priorities, and scope, as well as how you met your targets, contributed to organisational objectives, and applied strong commercial acumen to add value.
Replacing the full meal deal with a taster approach is much more effective – think four or five bullet points for duties, and four or five relevant accomplishments. This delivers a powerful, undiluted message showcasing your skills, experience, and ability to meet key performance indicators.
It’s also much harder to execute. When every word matters, use the first bullet point to describe the role mandate and strategic objectives, followed by several bullets that communicate role scope and remit, such as size of team and department, P&L or budget accountability, and reporting and business partnering relationships.
4. When in doubt, spell it out.
Whereas some recruiters specialise by industry or function, many are generalists particularly at the management and executive level.
A common complaint among candidates is that recruiters don’t have enough specialised knowledge about the role or industry, and to a large extent this is a fair observation.
Like journalists, non-specialist recruiters focus on building a knowledge base that’s an inch deep and a mile wide. In other words, they know just enough about a lot of different industries and functions.
For professionals at all career levels, it’s wise to stick to common business language rather than specialist jargon or acronyms. Don’t assume the recruiter will know you have particular skills, competencies, or knowledge simply by seeing your job titles and education. And don’t assume they’ll know what it is, even if you list a technology or process name.
For management professionals, it’s important to keep the main body of the resume at that 30,000foot level, focusing on role mandate, strategic priorities, and scope. Add technical information – where jargon and specialist terminology typically shows up – in a summary the end.
Take it one step further by listing skills in a functional group, such as programming languages or project management methodologies. This way, you communicate your qualifications without forcing the recruiter to do extra research, which may be a deciding factor in whether your resume moves forward.
5. Show me, don’t tell me.
There’s a fine line between including the SEO-friendly keywords you expect the recruiter to look for, and using hackneyed terms that are so overused, they’ve lost all meaning.
Resumes are notorious for being laden with clichés, and management professionals who operate at a high-level are often the worst offenders for relying upon stale, high-level terms like “driving success.”
When every word matters, you need to replace non-specific clichés with specific details, facts and figures, and examples. The best rule I’ve come up with is to apply this classic piece of writing advice: show, rather than tell.
In practice, this means expanding on phrases such as “worked to achieve positive commercial outcomes” by explaining what working and positive outcomes really meant in that context, as in this example:
“Allocated human, financial, and manufacturing assets to increase factory output and profitability, enabling the business to meet sales demand, improve customer satisfaction, and capture increased market share from key competitors.”
Be as specific as possible, and after you’ve completed your first draft, go back through each and every bullet point, asking yourself, “Did I really define what that means?”
6. Read between the lines.
The world’s best brands know that design, presentation, and experience matter as much as the product itself. While content is king, when it comes to your resume, the formatting, details, and overall experience often make up the “queen” and we all know that she often rules the household.
Consider this: I once had a candidate fax his resume to me. In 2013. For a tech role. His candidacy didn’t move forward, largely because his delivery was so out of touch with what the client needed: an early adopter comfortable with the latest technology.
In my experience, many management professionals are playing by the same rules that governed the hiring process during their early career years. Practices that were expected 15 years ago no longer apply, and can actually hurt your candidacy by making you look old fashioned, or open you up to silent age discrimination.
- Don’t send a physical resume, unless it’s specifically requested. Remember that old gem of advice to print your resume on heavy, cream paper and drop it off in person? It’s long dead. Most recruiters need an electronic version, which allows them to search for key words and share with their team and client.
- Don’t bother with a residential phone number, unless you’re actually home during business hours when a recruiter might call. List your mobile number, and change your message to indicate it’s a personal and confidential voicemail box so the recruiter can confidently leave a detailed message without worrying about prying ears.
- Choose your email address carefully. Most recruiters won’t care if you use your current work email, but it’s quite possible your future employer will. Skip straight past options like Gmail and invest in a personal domain name and email address, like firstname.lastname@example.org, which immediately increases your credibility as a modern, tech savvy manager.
- Cull your technology skills to include relevant, current software only, forgoing a laundry list of every technology you’ve ever used. Think long and hard before listing “Microsoft Office” as a skill, as it is a given that you know how to use word processing software. The exception is Microsoft Excel: if you have advanced Excel skills that allow you to manipulate and analyse large data sets, it’s worth listing.
- Use a modern font and design, staying far, far away from Microsoft Word templates. If you’re not confident with basic design principles, hire a designer, or better yet engage a personal branding agency to lead you through the end-to-end process.
7. Think beyond your resume.
The days of being good enough are long gone. Things that used to make management professionals stand out, like an MBA, professional designation, or experience in top tier organisations, often form the bare minimum today.
Conducting comprehensive internet searches for senior candidates is now standard practice, with recruiters looking for anything that detracts from or reaffirms what you said in your resume. If you don’t know what recruiters will find, it’s time to start paying attention.
A well executed personal brand strategy is your greatest opportunity to influence recruitment outcomes in 2015. Imagine how powerful it would be if a recruiter received your resume and Googled you, only to find:
- a personal, professionally designed website, with engaging copy that tells your story, and a blog that positions you as a thought leader;
- news results with trade and popular media mentions, both as an expert to journalists and a guest author in key publications;
- a robust social media presence that gives insight into who you are and what you do, positioning you in a way that aligns with the cultures of your target organisations;
- professional portraits that portray you as an approachable and competent leader. Fair or not, the candidates who have the most success in job search are the ones who are the best at marketing themselves.
While your resume is a critical tool in the job search toolbox, it’s only one of many tools you should be using to communicate your value as a management professional.