Thursday, March 12, 2009

Resumes That Rock

Originally Posted 2.11.09

Are you looking for work? If so, I’ve got a few suggestions. Let’s start with your resume. Most resumes stink. The worst are horrible. The best are boring.

As a hiring authority looking at your resume, it's got to jump. It’s got to stand out. It’s got to make me want to interview you. Does it?

I haven’t put together a resume in nearly 10 years, yet I bet my old resume beats your new one. Don’t worry, with a little work yours will easily beat mine.

To start, take a look at my old resume.

The last time I was in the middle of a job search, I got several calls from people who weren’t in a position to hire me, but liked my resume so much they called to complement me. One was the president of a manufacturing company who has a reputation for rarely complementing anyone on anything.


The first thing people comment on is the graphic. Few people include any type of visual support on a resume despite the fact we’re visual people. Come on! We’ve got computers today. We aren’t limited by our IBM Selectrics.

If you want, select a graphic that reinforces the benefits of hiring you. I selected the upward moving sales chart because that’s been my track record.

The selection of a graphic should be done carefully. Most of the resumes I’ve seen that include a graphic, include a goofy one. That works against you, not for you.

Show a version with a graphic and one without a graphic to family and friends. Ask which gets their attention and which attracts them. If in doubt, leave it off.


Testimonials are powerful. They are third party endorsements. Including them in your resume along the left hand column will make you stand out.

When you look at my resume, the most compelling reasons to call me for an interview were given by the people providing testimonials.

Soliciting Testimonials

The best part about the testimonials is that the process of soliciting them results in great networking. The last time I conducted a job search, I never even completed collecting my testimonials. When I asked Jerry Thomas at Decision Analyst for a testimonial, he offered me a job.

Here are the steps:

1. Make a list of everyone who has worked with you and who might say something nice about you. This list includes former bosses, co-workers, subordinates, vendors, customers, and teachers.

2. Call each. Tell each person that you are in the midst of a job search and would like to send him a copy of your resume and some other material. Tell him the type of position you are seeking. Remind him about your shared experience. Ask if he wouldn’t mind writing a sentence or two about you and suggest some places you might look for work. Always give people an out. Say, “It’s okay to say no.” Few will.

3. Prepare a testimonial form. The testimonial form opens with a paragraph like the following…

“Because people respect your opinion, I wonder if you might not offer a few words about me that I can share with potential employers. I might have to edit your comments for space reasons, but I promise not to change the words or meaning.”

Leave three or four lines for a response. Below the lines include a check box followed by the statement, “You have my permission to use me as a reference.”

4. Prepare a referral form. State, “Knowing me, knowing what kind of job I’m seeking, and how I perform, I wonder if you might know anyone interested in hiring someone like me. Would you mind listing a couple of possibilities below?”

Below the paragraph, include lines for two individuals’ names, positions, companies, addresses, phone numbers, faxes, and email addresses. Then, include a check box by each under the heading, “You have permission to use my name to contact this person.”

The next paragraph is for broader searching. “Please list anyone you know who may not be interested in hiring me, but who might know someone who would be interested.”

Collect the same information, but for five individuals, not two.

5. Send a cover letter, your resume, testimonial form, and referral form to everyone you called. When you do this, networking magic happens. People will open all kinds of doors for you.

You also learn who makes a good referral and who not to mention. If someone refuses permission or will not write a testimonial, don’t list him as a referral.

When Dave Laurenz hired me at Titus, he commented, “You select your references well.”

He was right. I did. So should you.

Philosophy Resume

When I first tried the testimonial resume, I didn’t have any testimonials. While I was collecting them, I needed something for the big empty column to balance the resume visually. I wrote out my business philosophy. I called it, “What I believe…”

It gave me a unique resume to send to people while I was waiting for the testimonials to arrive.


I would prepare several different versions of my resume depending on what type of job I was seeking or industry I would operate in. The changes were slight differences in what part of my career I emphasized and in the testimonials selected. As a result, my resumes always appeared to be better matches to the companies I would target than generic resumes.


Note that my resume stresses facts and figures. I give a very short description of duties and responsibilities, but quickly shift to accomplishments. It wasn’t everything I did with each company, but it was enough to show I got results. Moreover, the facts and figures made the performance believable.

Action Words

Note how the bullet points stress action words…

-Consistently maintained

Action words convey energy and accomplishment.


The conventional wisdom says resumes should be one page in length and never longer than two pages. Horse hockey!

My last resume ran on for three pages. For a nearly 20 year career at the time I wrote it, I felt three pages were justified. Today, I would probably use four pages. Earlier in my career I used two. Starting out, I used one page.

Long copy sells. If you’ve got interesting and relevant information that a hiring authority might like to know, include it.

If you use bullets and headings, length isn’t as important. People in a hurry can quickly scan it.

Command of the Written Word

I continually find it amazing how many people send out resumes with misspelled words, incoherent sentence structure, poor grammar, missing punctuation, and generally sloppy presentation. Your resume is the first tangible clue about your ability I will see. If it’s poorly done, it will be the last one I will see.

The Right Job Waits

Someone out there has the ideal job for you. The manager may not have even started the search. Personnel may not know about it, so don’t send your resume to personnel. Target hiring authorities.

Hiring is a pain in the butt. Except for a few search consultants, I don’t know anyone who enjoys the hiring process from the company’s side. If your resume hits the right desk at the right time, you can eliminate the need for the manager to suffer through the process.

As a grunt engineer at the Turbo Refrigerating Company, I used a trade magazine’s directory to send my resume to the vice presidents of manufacturing of companies within a 30 mile radius. If no one was listed, I simply mailed to the company president or general manager.

I mailed a resume to John Norris, the CEO of Lennox. To get it off his desk, John penciled “To Dennis Blanchard” on the corner.

Dennis was the newly hired vice president of manufacturing. As it happened, he was getting ready to start a search for an Advanced Manufacturing Technology Engineer to oversee and promote factory automation efforts at Lennox’ factories. My resume arrived on his desk, sent down by the CEO. Dennis assumed John wanted him to interview me for the position.

Dennis instructs Dave Napoli, who would be my boss, to call me in for an interview. In a follow up phone call Dennis tosses out an objection. He says, “My problem is this position calls for someone with 10 years of experience.”

I had two. I never would have been considered if my resume hadn’t drifted down from the CEO’s desk.

Being brash and cocky, I told Dennis, “You’re going to have a tough time finding someone with 10 years in robotics and computer-aided manufacturing. The technology’s not that old. Look, my experience is a perfect match for the job, plus I’m only two years out of one of the top robotics and computer-aided manufacturing programs in the country. Would you rather have someone with my experience or someone with one year of experience repeated 10 times?”

To my surprise, Lennox hired me. My salary at Turbo was so far under the minimum pay for the job that the offer was nearly 50% more than I was making and I needed two 10% raises over the next six months to get my income in line with the bottom of the job classification.

By sending my resume direct to a hiring authority, I slipped around the human resources department and was considered without competition before the job was advertised. Once the job was advertised, HR would have automatically flushed me as too inexperienced. If I somehow got past HR, I doubt my two years would have stood out against a crowded field.

Was I lucky? Sure. But I found my luck. It didn’t find you. If you’re in the midst of a job search, you can find your luck as well.

© 2009 Matt Michel

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