As an executive recruiter I spend a significant portion of my time proactively meeting with potential candidates for my clients. Some of these people are “fee worthy” candidates – meaning they fall within my recruiting niche – and some are not, but almost all of them ask me for resume advice. And I’m glad they do because the majority of them could use it and I truly enjoy helping them, whether I get paid or not. But since it can take up a lot of my valuable time, I wanted to write this article for candidates I cross paths with so they can quickly gain a fundamental understanding of the key principles of writing a winning resume. There’s much more to it, of course, but this is a great place to start.
Principle #1: Get Inside the Head of Potential Employers
The first and most important principle is to get inside potential employers’ heads. How do you do that? Well, broadly speaking, companies hire people for only 3 reasons: (1) to make the company money (i.e., increase the bottom line); (2) to save the company money (i.e., increase the bottom line); or (3) to increase efficiency/save time, in order to free up resources to make more money for the company (i.e., increase the bottom line). So as you can see those three reasons are really all just one reason. Employers want to know that you clearly understand that your role falls into one of these 3 subcategories of driving profits. Therefore, when you’re writing your resume think in terms of not only responsibilities but the impact your efforts have made on the financial performance or efficiency of your employers.
To get inside employers’ heads for a specific job, read the job description. They are telling you exactly who they want. Tailor your resume accordingly. Use the same buzz words. Prioritize your experience to match what the employer appears to value most (if that is in fact the case). I’m not suggesting that you lie. Be truthful, but be selective. My guess is that once you’ve done this exercise – assuming that you are qualified for the job and that it really is a logical next step for your career – you’ll notice that your resume paints a more accurate and relevant picture of you as a professional.
Principle #2: Make your Resume Visually Accessible
If you’ve ever had to read more than 1 resume in a single sitting, you’ve probably discovered that you don’t actually read them. You scan them to determine if you want to read them. So imagine that it’s you sitting in the recruiter’s seat and staring a stack of 100 resumes and pretend that the first half of the first page is all you’re going to read. How can you sell yourself in such a short amount of space?
I recommend starting with a “Professional Profile” section that describes you in 1-2 sentences that are highly tailored to the job you’re chasing. For the accounting and finance professionals I work with, an example for someone going for an Accounting Manager or Controller job might be “CPA with 3 years of middle market public accounting audit experience, followed by 4 years of progressive corpoarate accounting operations experience at a growing $600M manufacturing company”. It’s concise, objective, and straight-forward.
I would follow up the “Professional Profile” section with a “Professional Qualifications and Skills” section. This section is very key because all those buzz words the internal recruiter (who, by the way, probably has no first-hand experience doing the job for which he or she is recruiting) is looking for from the job description are going to practically jump off the page. You do this by using 1 to 2 words per skill or qualification and listing them in either an imbedded table with rows or columns or in bullets arranged in 2 or 3 columns, depending on how many you’re listing. Using the accounting and finance example again, some buzz words might be “CPA, Big 4 Auditor, GAAP, Month-end Close, Financial Statements, Internal Controls, etc.”
By following these first 2 principles you should have the attention of recruiters and hiring managers and be well on your way to an interview.
Principle #3: Assume the Reader Knows Nothing
Now that you’ve gotten the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager, they’ll want to take a closer look at your experience, which you’ve listed in chronological order starting with the most recent. One common mistake I see it that resume authors assume everyone knows who their employer is and what they do. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies in any major US city that gross well over $100M/year. While that may seem like a lot of money, unless you’re working for a very famous and probably public company or a B2C business, chances are pretty good that the vast majority of people living in your city will know little more than the name of your employer. Unless they’re in sales working that market, they won’t know what the company does or how big it is. It needs to be explained so the reader knows you’ve been working for sizeable, legitimate operations. The best way to do this is by using objectively quantifiable descriptive terms.
Here’s an example: “ABC Company: A $200 million privately owned manufacturer of refrigerated vending machines headquartered in St. Louis with customers throughout Central and North America.”
After gaining an understanding of the company or companies where you’ve worked, the recruiter or hiring manager will want to know how you fit into that organization and exactly what you did there, both in terms of responsibilities and achievements. Ask yourself the following questions. How many people were in your department? Who did you report to? How many direct and indirect reports did you have? What were the scope of your responsibilities in terms of dollars? How big was the budget you were managing? What were the scope of your responsibilities from an operating standpoint? Were you at the corporate level or business unit level? Were there any major initiatives that you worked on that had a positive outcome? What were your biggest achievements and how did that impact the bottom line of your employer?
To summarize, if you incorporate these three principles into your resume you will effectively answer employers’ questions about whether or not you have the skills and qualifications they’re looking for without them even having to ask. The calls you receive will be to bring you in for interviews rather than to screen you with qualifying questions. Your first impression on a hiring manager or recruiter will be that you’re a candidate who “gets it” and are qualified for the job, which will be exciting to them after sifting through the resumes of 100 unqualified candidates. And that excitement will create momentum that will follow you throughout the interview process.
About The CSP Group
Based in St. Louis with offices in San Diego and searches performed nationwide on behalf of privately-held companies with between $20 and $500M typically, the CSP Group prides itself on uncovering the very best candidates for the most well defined positions, drawing upon their own personal experience as senior level Finance and Accounting professionals to uncover and convert passive potential hires into excited, motivated applicants. We represent our clients with commitment and integrity while also building and placing great value on our reputation amongst the strongest and most upwardly mobile candidates in every market segment and geographic region we serve.