Dodging Bullets on the Job Trail

Posted by Guest Contributor

11:00 AM

For a seasoned career veteran, a resume can look and feel like a chaotic jumble of marks.

By Don Sears

For a seasoned career veteran with multiple job titles, the resume can become a whiteboard of sorts. After awhile, a resume can look and feel like a chaotic jumble of marks you’ve made, rather than a refined, distilled presentation of what you offer a potential employer.

That’s the situation sales professional John Byrum found himself in when he retained TheLadders for a resume rewrite.

“As far as my old resume, I just kept shrinking the font, and shrinking the font -- to cram everything in there,” the Texas native said. “I thought the solution was to have two resumes: One for the public service and another one for the private.”

Earlier in his career, Byrum had worked in city government management for the San Antonio water system. Over the past 12 years, however, John had become a rising star in sales and business development of waste-water and potable-water piping systems and is now looking to expand his role in to other markets like health care or utilities.

But you wouldn’t have known that he had excelled in his jobs.

“We call it ‘Death by Bullets’ in the resume trade,” said professional resume writer for TheLadders Karen Bartell. “This resume was a classic case of that.”

“There was little quantification of sales-related data,” Bartell said. “Also, there was no explanation of how he had helped to advance the companies he worked for -- very little in the way of accomplishments. His former resume wasn’t really befitting an executive.”

Already a member of TheLadders, John decided to give the free resume critique service a try. After all, he’d never really had his resume critiqued by someone he didn’t know.

“I was very pleased with the outcome,” Byrum said. “Karen was really able to bring out and highlight the positive things I had done in my jobs. I was pretty impressed with the fact that she never used the same word twice.”

“She also kept both the private and public sector jobs in tact,” Byrum said. “Rather than have two separate resumes, she wrote two different cover-letter templates for me that could target different job markets. It was a great remedy.”

Capturing core competencies

Once Byrum had signed up for the resume-writing service, he had to fill out what he depicted as a “straightforward” questionnaire.

“The questionnaire allows us to find out a whole set of information that is usually not in the original resume,” Bartell said. “One of the main areas we find out about is what an individual’s core competencies have been with each job. … In John’s case, we discovered that he had a strong skill set in expanding market share for his last company, as well as a lot of experience in contract negotiations, municipal operations, market analysis, budget and project management, and new business development, to name a few.”

“The questionnaire was easy to complete,” Bynum said. “I had it done and back to them with all the info down in about 90 minutes. In three or four days, I had a new resume. It was a very easy and fast experience, and a reader could look at it and get a really good, well-highlighted overview of the positive things I had done in my career.”

Avoiding age screening

One of things Bartell frequently stresses to all clients with resumes going back more than 15 years is that some human-resources departments may screen by age. Despite the fact that age discrimination is illegal, it is also difficult to prove. Make no bones about it, Bartlett contends, age screening happens to everyone.

“When HR sees a resume that goes back too far, they are generally screened out for a position,” Bartell said. “And that means being put in the pile you don’t want to be in.

“Also something to know: People who have had equity positions in companies are generally viewed as less desirable because (there are) expectations around not being able to take direction from management compared to those who have never owned their own business.”

There are exceptions, of course: the most senior-level positions like CEO or CIO. In those cases, it is expected to see over 15 years of experience, but still on the standard two pages.

Bartell said she suggests staying within that 15-year timeframe and giving accomplishment-driven highlights of past experience. In Byrum’s case, Bartell was able to pare down his older public-administration experience and focus on the more recent areas of sales and business development without losing the trajectory of results he created in city government.

Another very important thing Bartell did was to “make sure we said the word ‘promoted’ ” in Byrum’s resume. While a hiring manager might infer a promotion by seeing “Sales Manager” above “Regional Sales Manager” at the same company, Bartell made it clear that the switch in title reflected Byrum’s rise in position and responsibility. After all, titles aren’t consistent from company to company, and the titles alone don’t tell the story.

“When they see the sentence ‘Promoted from Regional Sales Manager to National Sales Manager,’ there is nothing for a hiring manager to be confused about,” Bartell said. “Don’t leave anything to the imagination. Spell it out clearly and show its impact.”

Byrum is already seeing the results. He’s had one phone interview, and two more scheduled in the coming weeks.