It’s a fact of life: Worthy candidates often have less-than-perfect resumes. Which poses a dilemma. Like most recruiters, I’ll happily throw a rope to a drowning candidate. Helping an otherwise-qualified job-seeker improve his odds of getting interviewed is not only the right thing to do; it also boosts my odds of making a placement.
However, I could easily spend all my time fixing funky resumes, which is not the purpose of my business. In order to assist my candidates—without changing my job description— I developed a quick and effective resume-improvement strategy.
Here’s how it works: First, choose a resume from your files that you consider "ideal," in terms of layout, structure and clarity. Remove or change any contact data that might identify the candidate or reveal confidential information.
When you’ve tweaked the resume to perfection, publish it on your company website. Make sure to place the resume on a page that’s easy to find. Or, if you like, you can create a separate page called "Resume Tips" and create the necessary linkage to take your website visitors to the page using a minimum of clicks.
Before you begin a resume makeover, ask your candidate if he would be receptive to making improvements that will give him a competitive edge. If the candidate is reluctant or too proud to accept your professional advice, you may want to reconsider your working relationship with the candidate. A lack of trust regarding something as basic as a resume could be a red flag. Fortunately, most candidates will consider your help worthwhile, and will invest a few minutes to further their careers.
Next, ask the candidate to visit your "Resume Tips" web page and study the template you’ve created. If you walk through this step "live" (that is, while you and the candidate are on the phone together), you can point out the crucial differences between the "right" and "wrong" ways to structure a resume. Then ask the candidate to revise his or her resume accordingly.
Ask the candidate to send you a "draft" of his newly revised resume, so you can catch any editorial mistakes before a final version is completed. Involving yourself in the process not only improves the candidate’s resume (and your relationship with the candidate); it also helps you gain a better understanding of the candidate’s work history and accomplishments.
Tip: I’ve found that resume formats will vary significantly, depending on your candidates’ position title, skill set and industry affiliation. For example, a powerful sales resume will differ considerably from a technical resume, not only in the way it’s laid out, but in the type of information that’s most important to the prospective employer. So the resume format that’s most effective in one field may not cross over to another.
An Unfair Advantage
My experience has shown that most career books, resume services and outplacement advisors give poor advice to candidates with respect to their resumes. That’s because they’re unfamiliar with what the hiring managers in different industry niches need to know when they’re reviewing a resume. As recruiters, we have an advantage over generalists, since we know precisely which data points are hot in our specialty niches, giving us the ability to shape our candidates’ resumes for the greatest possible impact.
Not long ago, I had to help a senior-level candidate completely rewrite his resume—after he had just shelled out $300 to a resume service. The resume he paid for looked very crisp and professional, but the information in it was totally superficial, and lacked the specific details my retained search client needed in order to make an intelligent evaluation.
In theory, a candidate shouldn’t need a resume at all; he’d only need our recommendation. But in our world—the world of reality—the candidate’s resume not only serves as a useful assessment and interviewing tool, it becomes a highly visible (and often indelible) component of the candidate’s overall presentation. And a direct reflection of our value in the employment process.
(An example of the "exemplary resume" technique can be found at www.billradin.com/resume_tips.htm.)