This Simple Resume Format Will Sell You In 20 Seconds Flat

July 26, 2018

  By Jim Jonassen, founder of JJA Venture Search(opens in new tab)

In short:  

  • In the age of LinkedIn, corporate executives may think their online profile will suffice in place of a resume. This isn’t true, according to executive recruiter and talent acquisition expert Jim Jonassen.
  • As an exec, craft a single version of your resume in a format that lets readers discover your selling points in 20 seconds or less.
  • Hook your reader early with active verbs and descriptions of your impact in each role, not fluffy descriptions of “who you are” or your “objectives.”

Years ago, many of us headhunters made calls that elicited a response of, “How did you get my resume?” But I literally haven’t heard that one since LinkedIn became the shared repository of every business bio on the planet. These days, we get asked, “Do I really need to do a resume, or will my LinkedIn bio suffice?” 

The answer is a resounding YES. You DO need a resume, and you need to get it right.

You are — or soon will be — in a leadership role. Whether you’re a functional leader (VP Sales, Marketing or Engineering), a cross-functional general manager (CEO, President, COO, GM) or a team leader, the resume — like a public company’s prospectus, or a startup’s pitch deck — is your story. It’s your unique value proposition and your passport for the journey called your career. This calling card and leave-behind can open doors or trigger trap doors along that journey. So quit mailing it in. Get serious about the content, format and ad unit for the personal marketing campaign that will move you out in order to move up.

As an exec, do I need separate versions of my resume for each type of role I’m pursuing?

Do public corporations need three versions of their annual report? Hell no. There is one prospectus on a stock offering, one brand brief on an ad campaign and one functional spec on an app. Each of these evolve over multiple iterations, but there is one core document. With a resume, the goal is to represent yourself in that document and keep it current. All of the opportunity-specific positioning, hype and specialized bits should be included in your cover email and the pitch you deliver verbally in a call or initial phone interview.

What constitutes the “perfect” executive resume?

First things first: The basic resume format has been around for the better part of a century. It is incredibly utilitarian. Keep it simple and chronological so the professional resume reader can, in 20 seconds or less, ingest what they need in order to determine whether you warrant a much deeper 2-3 minute read-through.

That’s right: Your resume needs to convey, in 20 seconds, enough of your value to get that 24-year-old intern, talent acquisition coordinator or 67-year-old board member to make that next-level 2-3 minute investment of time and energy. Resume readers are lazy. They want a standardized format where the indents, italics, bolds and bullets let their eyes quickly land on key accomplishments, tease out the quality of your employers, customers and partners and reveal the trajectory and velocity of your career.

Is there a premade resume format I can use?

The Internet is full of resume templates and examples. The best free formatting resources are on Pinterest(opens in new tab) and SlideShare(opens in new tab). Start by shopping the styles to find one you like. Generally, the trademarks of a format include:

Offset the dates of employment in the left margin, or right-justify and surround them with enough white space so the reader can easily visualize your timeline. I recommend a large left margin with the dates, as it allows for the reader or interviewer to take notes (and that’s HUGE!).

The format should literally pull your eyes down the page and almost read itself. Use bold, italic, colored font and even logos to add impact and flow. Do the 20-second test, and determine if you saw enough highlights to make you want to read on.

As for length, the old one-page rule is malarkey. If you are a senior executive and your entire value fits on one page, then you haven’t accomplished much. The key, however, is to make certain that you are dishing up the highlights “above the fold” on the first page of the document. If you attended Harvard, feature it up top. If you went to Bob’s College, maybe the footer would be better. Remember, you’ve got 20 seconds!

Any tips as I write my resume?

1. Blow off the “objective” portion. 

Instead, give me an executive summary: a scintillating, brief mini-paragraph that seduces me into believing you can articulate a cogent thought. Make me see that you really understand your superpower, and potentially leave me thinking, “Hmm, we need a gal/guy like this!” Here’s an example:

An in-the-field Sales and Monetization executive, team builder and player-coach who owns and has consistently exceeded a quota and personally prospects, nurtures and closes major strategic deals while making subordinate sellers more effective, more successful and less likely to turnover. With a track record in both enterprise software and technology services, I bring a broad set of skills, experience and a network that will serve emerging growth as well as startup technology companies.

2. Skip the “meta content.”

Don’t use a bunch of management and leadership buzzwords in your header. Skip straight to the good stuff, wisely using the valuable real estate “above the fold” on page one of your resume. 

For example, you are a software coder three years out of school, then you may want to list every modern programming language, framework and open-source tool you know in order to get past the resume-parsers and machine-readers that most HR organizations employ. If you accurately describe your accomplishments in each job, the reader will understand your value proposition. 

3. Explain what your past employers DO! HR execs have no idea.

A descriptive one-liner about each employer is a great courtesy to the reader, because not every company is Apple or Procter & Gamble. For example:

Acme Grommets is a $25M, private equity-backed manufacturer of custom grommets for industrial, military and undersea applications. Backed by Twista Equity, Acme has 75 employees in two offices in North America.

That wasn’t hard, was it? Now I won’t get this outfit confused with Acme Discombobulator out of Scranton, PA!

4. Provide a “before” snapshot of what you inherited in a role. Then, highlight the specific results you delivered.

The descriptors around each role should be the accomplishments or “signature moves” you made in each assignment. These bullets stand out to a reader. Each bullet should answer the question, “...which resulted in what?” They must emphasize key business outcomes and metrics that matter, like: revenue growth, shareholder value, increased average order value (AOV) or market share, enhanced profitability, cost savings, speed to market, (real) consumer engagement, traffic or other performance criteria.

5. Don’t tell me who you are. Tell me what you did.

Stay away from vague or generic narrative like, “results-driven, outside-the-box thinker who enables teammates by being proactive…” Nothing is more aggravating. Don’t use self-descriptive terms that tell how you are “collaborative,” a “self-starter,” “creative,” “strategic,” “synergistic,” “knowledgeable,” a “team-player,” “passionate,” someone with a “good work ethic” or – God forbid – “visionary.” Instead, tell us what you DID. Let the results, awards and IPO’s speak for themselves.

Begin most bullets with active verbs that illustrate what you did. Use verbs like “delivered,” “designed,” “launched,” “increased,” “created,” “implemented,” “led,” “managed,” “owned,” “deployed,” “wrote” ... Got it?

6. Cheat.

You should read 50 or 60 resumes before you draft your own. If you don’t have email folders full of them, then Google them or ask CEOs, HR folks, hiring managers and headhunters. As a headhunter, I often share examples of the best resumes I’ve read with candidates. Don’t be shy! Take notes. Copy and paste. Steal descriptors. Lift formatting.

But hey, you’re more than just a resume. Stay tuned for my next post about running a “Career Diagnostic” on yourself, which will yield important direction for your career search.

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