How To Sell Yourself (Your Job Depends On It)

Most job descriptions make you think there’s a serious thought process behind hiring people. Here’s a massive list of required skills and we need people who excel at each and every one of them! You can imagine, in your mind’s eye, an entire room full of people ticking and tying each candidate out to the job specification.

If only….

How Managers Read a Resume

Here’s reality, from the perspective of a hiring manager. First, you have limited time for hiring and interviews. Most of your energy is going into running your department – and covering any gaps due to your missing staffer. Second, you’re confronted with a bewildering array of candidates, with an even more confusing array of resumes. More than few of which have been… artfully written… to exaggerate their presenters abilities and experience. We’re also making a generous assumption the hiring manager actually knows the job – this isn’t always the case. So from this pile of nonsense, we are asked to find the few, the proud, the actually qualified and best candidates.

So most people default to pattern recognition. They look for candidates who:

  • Have Held Similar Positions
  • Are From a Reliable Source of Candidates

This isn’t usually a resume’s worth of material. A simple list of job titles and companies will suffice for this rather cursory examination. Hiring a pricing analyst? Well, you’ll usually gravitate towards candidates who have worked in pricing with a company known for at least basic competency in pricing. I was hired once for a process improvement job because I worked in process improvement at GE (famous for Six Sigma). The magic formula for my first GE job was listing SAS on my resume, showing a passion for marketing, and coming from another big company. Not getting fired from a known similar job implies some competency. Sadly, the world is simpler than it appears.

The good news is you can use this insight to delete about 80% of the typical resume. The hiring manager will extract most of what they need to know from your position title, employer name, and duration of employment. We don’t need the exhaustive list of your duties, they are assumed to be part of the role. Nor the massive list of technology skills, aside from the handful of items listed on our job description. The good news is we have a better use for that space…

Use that space to impress me, sharing the top two or three wins from your most recent job. Tell me a story, make me feel like you really went above and beyond what was expected of you. Showcase your best qualities. Not everything – the top 2 or 3. That’s all we’re going to have time to discuss.

The Correct Focus

This is the part where a little inside information can really help. If you know anyone at the target company, reach out to learn a bit more about the department and the job. Recruiters may also share useful information. Two questions I try to get answers to before speaking with a hiring manager are: a) why is this job open, and b) what are the top expectations of the role? These are powerful cues on what skills to focus on.

A well-qualified candidate sells himself or herself on the great resume and the hiring manager loves their resume
The resume may be great, but it’s hard to stand out when the artist can’t draw faces…

If you don’t have a good inside contact, at least spend a little time thinking about what qualities should be important to the role. Marketing roles – usually want creative thinkers with a good analytical skills. Customer Service? You should be a people person. Software development? A good grasp of quality, teaming, and experience in the right technologies. Again, powerful cues on what experience to push on your resume.

And by all means LISTEN to the people you are interviewing with and adapt your messaging. Was the last person smart but didn’t execute very well? Talk about organization and successful projects. Do they have a massive sales growth goal they want you to own? Better have some stories about how you delivered some sales growth. Along the same lines, if you become aware you’re competing against a specific candidate or type of candidate (eg. internal candidates vs. external folks like yourself), be sure to mention advantages that set you apart. External candidate might bring a fresh perspective, for instance. Or experience from other companies.

Controlling Distractions

First, we need to talk about your job titles. They’re going to get a lot of attention, since I’m using them to compare you to my ideal hire. It is entirely appropriate to do a little editing to make this easier for me to understand. It is unethical to adjust your level – no granting yourself promotions to manager or director. That will likely get you fired if your new employer discovers it. The rest of the job description is usually fair game, as long as the result is reasonably close to your actual duties. A little rebalancing is often of assistance here: if you’re 50% IT and 25% marketing, play up the marketing angle for marketing jobs.

It is also generally acceptable to consolidate multiple consecutive positions into a single role, particularly if you were promoted along the way. Along the same lines, downplay major career diversions unless they are highly relevant to the job. At a minimum, reduce them to generic statements of your role. For example, my passion is for marketing but I spent a year in IT and another two years in Fraud prevention. I tend to cover these at a very high level to avoid taking away focus from my commercial accomplishments.

Job accomplishments are the same way. Select to impress, leave the rest out. Particularly for older jobs. Along the same lines, don’t waste time reciting every single task you performed. I know what a business analyst does. I know what a bartender does. Focus on the stuff I don’t know, like saving the company money or getting the most tips of any bartender in the history of club. That would catch my attention.

And technology people? There’s really no reason to spew every single package you ever worked with at the bottom of your resume. Focus on the ones you know are directly relevant to the job.

But… The Applicant Tracking System, The Robots…

Yes, the applicant tracking system will probably fritz out with this resume. The computer isn’t smart enough to read between the lines and figure out what this candidate is offering.

Which is why we’re not going to waste time presenting it to them. You’re going straight to the source, the hiring manager or their boss. A little sleuthing on LinkedIn should give you some ideas on who to reach out to at that company. Compose a nice cover letter which hits your key points and send it along.

Playing To Win

Like any good salesperson, we’re going for focus here. Figure out what the hiring manager wants and make a strong effort to give it to them. Minimize precious time and attention lost on unrelated conversations. And, of course, listen carefully to what they tell you and adapt your messaging to their needs.

That’s the essence of a successful sales call – or job interview. Because they really are the same.

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