The Top 10 Resume Tips for Out-of-Work Leaders
One of our loyal readers sent us an email this week that included their resume. As has likely happened to someone you know, this manager got caught up in the current economic turmoil and their position was eliminated. No notice. No severance. No clear prospects.
Since it’s too late to council our reader to adopt the absolutely necessary survival trait known as networking, we thought we’d dissect his resume (confidentially) and deliver him (and you) our Top 10 Resume Tips:
1. Filename – Quick, take a look at the resume on your computer. Is it called “myresume.doc,” “SalesManagerResume.doc,” or simply “resume.doc?” Do you have any sense of your audience? I can guarantee that the hiring manager doesn’t want to download 50 resumes all titled “myresume.doc.” Believe it or not, it becomes hard to find the one you’re looking for when all the files are called the same thing. Additionally, when you name your resume file based on job title (like SalesManagerResume.doc), the hiring manager knows you’re probably fibbing a little because you likely have other versions that you send to other job openings (like OpsManagerResume.doc). There’s only one recommended filename structure for all resumes and here it is: Lastname.Firstname.Resume.doc. Your resume file will stand out because of its clarity to, and consideration for, the hiring manager.
2. Software – Two words: Microsoft Word. Okay folks? While using some cheap Word knockoff is probably fine for an entry-level salesperson resume, your manager resume will look absolutely bush league if it arrives via any format other than Word. If you simply cannot afford the money to buy Microsoft Word, then create your resume in Word Perfect or Open Office or whatever other word processing software you can get your hands on, and “print” the document as a PDF. There are literally thousands of free PDF creators available. Start by looking here.
3. Borrow Liberally – Why reinvent the wheel? Smart leaders are efficient and they don’t waste precious hours recreating what has already been invented elsewhere. Go online, search for resume samples, then start reading and lifting those phrases and sentences that best describe you and your abilities. Don’t lie – integrity matters – but certainly be smart enough to let someone else articulate what you really want to say about your experiences. Better yet, use your last $12 and buy a book with sample resumes and better resume tips than you’ll ever get from some crummy management blog. We highly recommend Jay Block’s 101 Best Resumes.
4. Cover Letter – Yes, you include one. Again, if you’re applying for an entry-level gig, this is less important. The higher up you go, however, the more critical it is to have a great cover letter. Use the same tips we delivered here for your resume that you use for your cover letter. And just like that great resume, we recommend if you want a great cover letter you should invest a few bucks in a good book. Not surprisingly, we recommend Block’s 101 Best Cover Letters. If your cover letter is included in the body of an email, please remember to avoid our common email typos detailed here.
5. Watch Your Formatting, and Check Spelling and Grammar – Yikes, we’re embarrassed to even have to write that, but we counted no less than four glaring typos and half a dozen grammatical errors in this manager’s resume. Ouch. Hard to hire someone to lead others when they appear to be unable to manage themselves. When we speak about formatting, we’re referring to how your resume lays out on a page. If you find yourself using tabs and spaces to format your paragraphs then STOP. While your resume might look great on your screen, it will likely open up as a jumbled mess on the other end. The reason this occurs is because you cannot guarantee that the hiring manager is using the same version of Word that you are using. Additionally, if you use an odd font because it looks cool, that font could be very well rendered as Courier on the other end, screwing up your beautiful formatting. The bottom line: format properly and use a standard font. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, hire a professional resume service. It might be the best $200 you ever invested.
6. Aim High – While it’s often true that companies who are hiring leaders want to get more than they pay for, it’s especially true in a down economy. If your resume aims too low, that’s where you’ll surely end up. If you aim high, both with your resume objectives (yes, you include these) and with your description of past duties, you stand a much better chance of landing high. Be sure to make yourself and your ambitions sound as important as possible – keeping everything accurate, of course.
7. Titles Matter More than Responsibilities – It’s sad, but true. If you were a VP at your last job, chances are you’ll be a VP on your next job. If your title was manager, you’ll likely be a manager when you land your next gig. We’re giving you this little piece of advice not to have you lie on your resume, but rather to make sure you clearly express your title in words that relay the importance of the position. Quick tip: Adding words like “division” can make a title seem more important, while allowing you to keep your integrity. For example, if you were a manager in the widgets group at ABC Company, you could list your title one of two ways: Manager, ABC Company or Widgets Division Manager, ABC Company. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather hire the latter than the former.
8. Quantify Your Accomplishments – You didn’t “grow sales” at your last job, you “improved operating revenue by 33%.” You didn’t “cut costs,” you “discovered and enacted operational efficiencies that led to a 17% decrease in year-over-year operating expenses.” Numbers are easy to understand and will help your accomplishments stand out.
9. Use Commanding Language – As you can read in Tip #8, there are both weak and strong ways to say anything. Use a thesaurus (quick tip: In Microsoft Word you can right-click on any word and see synonyms) to ensure you use the most powerful terms you can to describe your accomplishments. (We’re not going to bore you with a list of weak and strong words – you are a leader, after all.)
10. References Available Upon Request – Never, ever include references on your resume if you are vying for a leadership position. Lists of references unnecessarily lengthen your resume. Additionally, you stand the chance of alienating your audience if one of your references is disliked by the hiring manager. In case you do happen to know Jack Welch – and he wants to vouch for you – ask him to write a brief letter (or, better yet, you write a letter on his behalf and ask him to sign it). You can always include these letters with your cover letter and resume.
While there are thousands of other great resume tips we could share, too many of them are too granular for a site like AskTheManager. If you can get these Top 10 Resume Tips down, you’ll be well on your way toward finding a great new career.
While we don’t often ask for advice from our readers, we’d love for you to share your resume tips with others by posting a comment below.