The No-Frills Résumé

In a recent article, I talked about the tight job market, and I asked people to send me their résumés to see if the community of readers could help. What a response! Thanks to everyone who has offered to pass along a résumé or help in other meaningful ways.

As I pored over the emails, I became aware of a trend: Résumés don’t seem to receive the attention they deserve. So, in an effort to help anyone who is in a state of transition (i.e., everyone breathing), here are some ideas on how to create more effective résumés in the advertising and marketing fields.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Why would anyone hire a person with spelling errors in a document? Several résumés I’ve seen over the years have had spelling, grammar, and syntax errors that would make you either laugh or cry. Make sure someone else proofreads your cover letter and résumé. Just because you run spellcheck doesn’t mean that your word usage is correct.

You’re in sales. Does your résumé reflect it? It’s a dirty little secret, but it’s true: We are in the persuasion business. Does your résumé make the recipient want to run out of the office to meet you personally? No? Why not? If you don’t do a great job selling yourself, your résumé will never make it to the top of the pile.

Did you play bassoon in the fourth grade? I did, but it’s not on my résumé. Keep to relevant information, and you stand a much better chance of avoiding the circular file. You should know enough about the company to be able to target each résumé specifically to the company’s needs. You know how to cut and paste — do it. If a company is looking for a financial direct marketing copywriter, make sure the first thing the company sees is: “Five years as direct marketing copywriter.”

Job boards can be great, but… Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. Just because your résumé is out there doesn’t mean that it’s getting to the right person. If you really want a job, bypass the recruiting department. Most of the people who work in the recruiting department don’t understand creative and marketing anyway, so go to the decision maker. How do you find that person? Call the company. Ask who the creative director is. Simple, huh?

What can you do differently? Let’s say that Adweek runs an ad for a senior marketing manager for a hot account. You’re interested. So are 4,000 other people. Blathering on with a bulleted list of accomplishments might raise some attention, but you can do better. Make sure you position yourself as a problem solver. Use numbers to justify your existence at your present company. For example, which of the following is stronger?

  • Spent three years as head of the direct marketing division with eight direct reports

  • Led a group of eight direct reports, increased billables 56 percent, and won three pitches that resulted in $400,000 of new business

Those might be extreme differences, but you get the point. Including actual response rates and your responsibility for great results is what opens eyes.

Cookies. Get your hot cookies. A former associate of mine graduated from college with a liberal arts degree. She decided that she wanted to get into advertising in New York. She targeted 20 agencies that she wanted to work for, then baked 20-dozen chocolate chip cookies, put them in a cookie tin, tied a balloon to each tin, and hand-delivered the cookies to the 20 agencies. Corny, huh? Guess what? Even in hard-bitten New York City, every creative director called her back to thank her. She got seven interviews and chose between two excellent jobs. What can you do to get noticed?

It’s not the Gettysburg Address. That was only a few hundred words. Does your résumé look more like a phone book than a concise, well-crafted sales tool? If so, start cutting. The first thing most people should get rid of is: “References available upon request.” Look, even Charles Manson could get a few people to say something good about him. If people want to know who to talk to about you, they’ll ask.

So let’s all tighten up our résumés and create strong, no-frills documents that will help you get that next job. Oh, and if you make great chocolate chip cookies, my address is: 9702 Gayton Rd., PMB 219, Richmond, VA 23233.

On another note: Even if you’re not a sports fan, pick up the March 5 issue of Sports Illustrated and read an article called “Higher Education.” It’s about a black man coaching a Mennonite basketball team. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but if you don’t shed some healthy tears, you need to check into a clinic. This is a story about one person’s impact on a community that will restore your faith in humankind.

Next week: You’ve got the interview! Now get the job.

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