Would You Hire You?
by Don Cornell

Of course you would - because you know all your terrific qualifications. But what if you only knew what your resume includes and nothing else? Does it present you in the best possible way? Does it effectively advertise your qualifications, or just document your career history? Is it better than 90% of resumes from candidates competing for the job you want?

Probably not. Based on 20 years of executive recruiting and evaluating at least 50,000 resumes, I know most resumes fail to hit their targets. Beyond the obvious shortcomings - typos, careless spelling, and simple formatting errors - most fail more fundamentally. They simply do not clearly and quickly communicate the candidates' best qualifications.

Terrible Odds

  • 100 Resumes

  • 10 Phone Screens

  • 5 Interviews

  • 1 Executive Hired

In the good old days of the late 1990's, resumes didn't matter so much. Recruiters searched diligently to find talent and created convincing qualifications summaries for less than ideal candidates. Growth in their clients' companies demanded more and more hiring. Qualifications mattered, but standards were relaxed and recruiters did not scrutinize resumes too diligently before inviting candidates to interview.

But now, with far too many executives chasing far too few attractive positions, the resume is critically important. Recruiters do not have to dig deep for good candidates. They are buried under stacks of unopened resumes, sorting through unsolicited email and phone calls as they try to avoid offending people they cannot help. When they do reach out to potential sources to find candidates, the response can be overwhelming as word spreads quickly through networks of contacts.

So what will a recruiter do with a typical avalanche of 100 resumes? He only wants to share a few with the client, maybe five of 100, so he will quickly go through the debris looking for bright shiny gems. Since he has no need to dig for diamonds-in-the-rough, each resume will get only ten to twenty seconds to hook his interest. Only quick hitters - resumes that clearly advertise on-target qualifications - will make the cut.

The recruiter will probably call no more than ten hot prospects to explore details and fully evaluate their qualifications. That group has a fighting chance to make the short list for interviews with the hiring company. But the other 90 candidates - who may have great qualifications buried in un-great resumes - are left to wait and wonder. Bottom line - your resume must be better than 90% of others just to merit a recruiter's phone call.

But I Don't Need a Resume

Maybe you feel ultra-secure and supremely satisfied in your current position. But can you honestly say a recruiter calling out of the blue about a bigger job in a better company wouldn't get your attention? He may call because you are well known for your success or because a respected source recommends you. No matter - he will still need to see your resume. And it better be great, because it will be shared with executives in the client company who will evaluate you - and the recruiter - on the basis of your resume.

Remember, too, that forces beyond your control may shake your world. Executives at Arthur Andersen and WorldCom and Lucent, who never needed a resume before 2002 and had no part in their companies' troubles, discovered they were only employable if their resumes were strong in a weak economy.

I recently rewrote the resume of an Andersen senior partner who endured six months of harsh reality in a frigid executive job market. His old resume looked like it was written by an accountant who had worked thirty years at one company and never had to write one before. And it was. Without professional resume assistance, I'm convinced he never would have recovered from the career disaster he endured.

Andrew Grove, retired CEO of Intel, titled his bestselling business book Only the Paranoid Survive. That advice applies equally well in business, national security, and, yes, career management. Complacency is the root of career decay. It can keep you from striving for greater success and jam your defensive radar that detects incoming career threats.

To survive and thrive, you must be prudently paranoid and armed with a strong resume. If you think yours is "good enough," your complacency could cost you dearly.

Improving the Odds

Executives are smart and resourceful people, normally brimming with self-confidence. Many have terrific communications skills and take pride in their ability to influence people, both inside and outside their own organizations. Naturally, they feel fully competent to write their own resumes and firmly believe the results are excellent.

But how can they be sure? Family members and trusted colleagues are often asked to review and comment on resumes. Many executives share their resumes with recruiters and sometimes ask for comments or suggestions. But such reviews are seldom rigorous or methodical, and are always influenced by relationships.

The obvious solution is to hire professional help, a resume writer who understands how recruiters operate and what will impress them. The writer must have the skill to summarize and effectively advertise your best qualifications. And he must be able to discuss your career objectives and experience in depth, drawing from his own business experience to draw out the needed information and attributes that may not be found in the original resume.

Type "executive resume writing" into Google and you will find at least fifty spiffy Web sites offering resumes for prices from under $100 to over $1,000. Some are businesses that farm out the writing to retired English teachers and secretaries on maternity leave, but you'd never learn that from the Web site. Many offer free resume critiques, as I do. The price is right, but too often the critique is a quickie of little value. Yet, buried in the Google results are some writers with excellent credentials who offer honest and comprehensive critiques and create superb resumes.

Paranoia Trumps Complacency

To win your next job you must motivate the recruiter to call you. But first your resume must convince him you are better than 90% of other candidates. Some of your competitors will have strong resumes - better than yours - because they hired professionals to give them an edge. They may, in fact, be less qualified than you, but their resumes will do a better job selling their qualifications.

Feeling paranoid yet? Good, because your "good enough" resume may not make the cut. If so, the recruiter will never realize how perfectly you fit that job you covet.

Winning the job starts with developing a winning resume.

Don Cornell is a former management consultant and an executive recruiter for 20 years, Don also develops resumes for executives and senior professionals through his Web site: www.executive-resume-writing-service.com and offers free resume critiques.

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Copyright 2003 by Don Cornell. All rights reserved.

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