Crafting your personal pitch-book (your résumé)
Sounds familiar? I guess most busy professionals have encountered something similar and that is why in my seven years as a head-hunter for senior management positions in India, I rarely came across a perfectly crafted résumé. I also guess that most people may not perceive what should be an obvious fact – that your résumé is your “pitch-book” document and therefore, needs to be perfect in all respects in order to make the right impression to anyone reviewing it, especially when that person is taking a decision that could be critical for your career growth.
I have had many senior management professionals asking me for guidance on a “perfect” resume and here’s some of the guidance I have given them in Q&A format. Of course, like most things in life, perfection is very hard to achieve if one’s profile could fit a number of diverse job roles, it is preferable to tailor-make your résumé for each category of job role.
Hope you find these viewpoints useful when you next update your résumé:
Q: What is the typical time taken by someone reviewing a résumé for the first time?
While there are no statistics on this aspect, I have come across many comments in networking group forums and spoken to a number of people who confirm that the first review of a résumé normally lasts between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes. This review is to take a preliminary “go-no go” decision and the person will only spend more time a résumé if it passes that first-cut test. It is only when a person is being interviewed for a specific role that the résumé is read in detail and used as a basis of the questioning during the interview. Therefore, a résumé should be in a format that is reader friendly both for a quick review and for a detailed analysis. It is also important to put your “best foot forward” by capturing some of your key strengths on the first page itself
Q: What is the ideal length of a résumé for someone who has over 10 years of experience?
A: Most people have come across a typical résumé of an US based professional – everything crunched into one page, small font, use of bold font to highlight employer names, job titles and two small tables at the bottom of the page – one for educational qualifications and the second for “Other Interests”. While such a format could work for someone who is freshly out of university, I am of the view that once a professional has over a decade of experience, the one-pager doesn’t capture adequate information on the person’s work experience and critical information may be left out if everything is compressed into an A4 page.
I have also come across the other extreme where people try to cover up quality with quantity and have a 7 to 10 page resume. Such documents either have too much information or too much of white spaces, both of which are not reader friendly.
The ideal length could be around 2 to 3 pages. It could stretch to 4 pages if one has over 20 years of experience with several job roles but that should be the upper limit for a résumé
Q: What are some fundamental do’s and don’ts that apply for all résumé?
A: Accuracy – It is a natural tendency to exaggerate one’s achievements a little in one’s résumé. However, it is very important to avoid this tendency and ensure that your résumé is 100% accurate. Every piece of information presented in the résumé should stand the test of “drill-down questioning” and if one is unable to give credible responses when an aspect of your résumé is probed in detail, it will mean a loss of integrity and very likely result in the opportunity going to someone else. A simple test is to ask a colleague or close friend to review the résumé to check for possible inaccuracies or exaggerations and to then correct the potential misunderstandings in your résumé
Spell-check: This is a very basic need but is often forgotten by many professionals. I came across a résumé of a Head of Marketing for Credit Cards where the word “Platinum” was misspelt in several places and this made me reject the applicant. Apart from spelling mistakes, please also check for grammatical errors. If the Queen’s language is not your forte, ask someone whose linguistic skills are strong to review your résumé. This is particularly important if you are being considered for a role in an international firm and there could be people from diverse nationalities involved in the selection process
Personal information: Most Indian employers today adhere to the US “equal opportunity” code, where an employer is not allowed to discriminate anyone on the basis of race, creed, marital status, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc. While an US employer is not even allowed to ask questions relating to these aspects, it is common for Indian employers to find out such information during the interview process. However, I find that some résumés contain too much personal information – it could be OK to put one’s date of birth and perhaps marital status on one’s résumé. However, listing information on parents and siblings or one’s spouse’s occupation is certainly not needed and could be seen as a sign of weakness – that one needs to put this information to try to bolster one’s professional profile.
References: Many résumés have a line at the end of the document – “References: will be given on request”. To my mind this is superfluous. It doesn’t make much sense to list out the names and contact details of a couple of referees either, apart from trying to impress the potential employer on one’s connections (again a sign of weakness). Both these practices are archaic and in today’s world it is quite common for head-hunters or prospective employers to conduct a 360 degree reference check with upto 6 referees in all. Therefore, there is a need to choose the referees carefully depending on what a prospective employer needs and not provide them upfront in one’s resume.
Q: What should be the outline of one’s résumé?
A: For senior managers with over a decade of experience, I believe the following outline would be quite ideal:
- The Heading could be “Résumé – First Name Last Name” with a line below listing one’s personal email ID and mobile number, so that this information is easily accessible
- It may be good to start one’s resume with a snapshot of one’s professional profile – not more than 5 crisp bullet points.
- The Professional Profile snapshot could also be replaced with a Career Objective statement but be careful to amend this when submitting the résumé for different kinds of roles
- This could be followed with an “Employment Summary” table summarizing one’s various job roles in reverse chronology – Employer name, Designation, Start Month & Year and End Month & Year. If one has had multiple roles with the same employer, list out all the roles because it shows that one’s performance has been rewarded through promotions or job rotations. Such a table is very useful when someone is scanning your résumé for the first time, since it gives the reader valuable information without having to plough through the rest of the résumé
- The next section of the résumé – which would be the longest in the document – is the descriptions of each job role (see the next Q&A). If one has over 15 to 20 years experience, then some of the early roles may not be very relevant and therefore only the last 15 to 20 years could be listed in detail with the prior experience captured in a couple of lines. This will also help one to keep the résumé length to not more than 3 to 4 pages.
- The penultimate section is a summary of one’s academic qualifications. Only university level qualifications or professional credentials like Chartered Accountant, etc. need to be listed. Even if one has topped the examinations at the school-leaving level, the information is not very relevant for anyone taking a decision on one’s career at the middle or senior management level. It is preferable to mention the year of passing for each academic qualification (unless one is trying to hide one’s age!!). Also, if one has pedigree academic qualifications (IIT + IIM or University level gold medals, etc.) you could list your qualifications above the Employment Summary table so that you can impress the reader upfront!!
- “Personal Data” is the last section where you should list a postal address. Mentioning one’s date of birth & marital status is optional, as discussed earlier. If one has a foreign sounding name, like mine, mentioning the Nationality may be recommended especially if one has studied and /or worked in different countries. Finally, you could list a few pastimes and hobbies which you are involved in today and not those you were involved in as a student!!
Q: What are the important aspects to list for each job role?
A: I recommend that each job role should ideally capture four aspects:
– One line stating the Designation, Name of Employer, Location, Start Month & Year and End Month & Year. If one has had gaps between job roles or if one doesn’t remember the exact month when a job move took place (this could happen if the move was internal), then listing the Start and End Years (without the month) could be acceptable.
– “Job Metrics” – a couple of lines on who you reported to, how many persons were in your team and/or your span of control, all in one sentence to summarize your job role.
– Responsibilities – only the main ones should be mentioned and try to merge overlapping areas to keep this to not more than 5 bullet points
– Key achievements – This is the most important part of the resume and often missed by many professionals or is improperly worded. The contribution made by you personally and the impact of the achievement (% revenues grew, amount of cost savings, % increase in customer satisfaction or employee engagement, etc.) needs to be brought out succinctly. Again, use of bullet points is recommended and list 5 or 7 main achievements, unless one has spent many years in the same role (which in itself is not a good thing, because it indicates stagnation in one’s career)
Q: How often does one need to update one’s résumé?
A: Even if one is not actively looking for a job move, it is preferable to update one’s resume periodically. This will ensure that you always have a high quality and updated resume at hand, to submit to anyone if needed – responding to a call from a head-hunter or applying for an internal job posting. It also ensures that one doesn’t need to do a rush job to meet a head-hunter’s deadline in the midst of one’s work pressures. I would recommend that one should update one’s résumé at least once a year and perhaps review it every 6 months.
A fall-out benefit of updating your résumé is that it could lead to some introspection about the direction of one’s career and help in proactively planning a career move – internal or external. If there is no change in your résumé after a year (no new achievement or responsibility to add to the list) it could be a danger signal that one’s career is stagnating. Alternately, if one has had an excellent year of achievements, which may be difficult to surpass in the coming year, it could be a good time to make an internal or external move as well!!
Hope this article has helped you to improve your personal “pitch-book” document
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