Ask Brad: Writing the Resume

Why 99% of Resumes Fail to Deliver--and How to Fix Them

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Q: What's the single biggest resume mistake?

A: Ah, the resume -- a simple 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper (or two) that, for better or for worse, is the key to your future. You've sunk an incredible amount of time and effort into everything you've done in your career, and you enter the battle for a new job with this piece of paper as the primary weapon in your arsenal.
Brad Karsh
Brad Karsh

Let's be honest, no one really gets excited about writing a resume. In fact, if you're like most people, I'm sure you've put it off for far too long. And as someone who read more than 10,000 resumes as the VP-director of talent acquisition at Leo Burnett, I can tell you we're not too excited when we read it.

The startling fact is that 99% of resumes are not as good as they could be. Now that's a frightening figure when you think about it -- especially when you consider how important your next job is and how competitive the market is right now.

So why are so many resumes weak? It really comes down to one core issue: Most people write job-description resumes as opposed to accomplishment resumes. Let's take a look at a typical resume entry:

Account Executive -- McDonald's, DDB, Chicago, IL, 2005-Present
  • Manage a variety of integrated-marketing and creative-execution programs for agency clients
  • Author creative briefs that satisfy brand's business objectives while maintaining its strategic positioning
  • Perpetuate cash-flow profitability on all jobs by ensuring accurate and timely billing
  • Manage creative and production processes to ensure on-time and within-budget delivery
When you read this, it may sound good and you may have written something very similar to this on your resume. But the fact of the matter is that this entry is perfectly generic. In fact, what's written above describes not only what this person did, but essentially describes what any account executive has ever done at any agency in the history of the advertising business!

And for typical recruiting directors, who may receive 300 resumes per job opening, this tells them absolutely nothing about what the applicant has accomplished. Can you imagine them reading this resume and saying, "Wow, this guy worked as an AE and he managed creative projects and wrote a creative brief? We have to get him in here!"

An accomplishment resume that specifically outlines what you did, how you did it, and what the results were is what will make your resume stand out in the stack of 300.

Accomplishments come in two forms: scope and results. Scope: how much, how many, how often, how quickly. Results: sales, awareness, awards, vs. goal, vs. a year ago, vs. projection. As you can imagine, numbers are the key to any great resume. In fact, you should have a minimum of ten numbers on your resume outlining your accomplishments -- otherwise you're selling yourself short.

Let's take a look at the same person with the same job, but with an accomplishment resume:

Account Executive – McDonald's, DDB, Chicago, IL, 2005-Present
  • Launched company's first-ever breakfast-promotion direct-mail piece distributed to 2.5 million customers nationwide, ultimately exceeding goal response rate by 20%
  • Crafted more than seven creative briefs, including one used to fundamentally reposition Big Mac sandwich, convincing client to change target
  • Created new internal budgeting process, helping keep more than $7.2 million worth of production under budget
  • Managed production process for more than 12 national TV commercials and in excess of 65 print and out-of-home executions
Doesn't that sound a bit better? What makes it better is that it is unique to this individual. It's not generic and it's not a job description. In fact, here's the screen: If what is written on your resume can be written by the person who held the job before you, or after you, then rip up your resume and start over.

Recruiting directors are looking for the "easy" hire. They want to hire someone who can hit the ground running from day one. An accomplishment resume tells the reader in no uncertain terms that you have what it takes to be a strong contributor. Yes, they will have to interview you and make sure you back up what you've written on your resume (so don't lie). But an accomplishment resume gives you the best opportunity to make it to the next level.

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Brad Karsh is president of JobBound, a career consulting and corporate training company. Author of "Confessions of a Recruiting Director" (Prentice Hall Press, 2006), Brad spent 15 years at Leo Burnett in Chicago. He left in 2002 as VP-director of talent acquisition.

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