During the twenty-five years I was in the executive search business, I read a lot of resumés. I’m guessing the number could have been close to one hundred thousand or so. As a result, I know a little bit about resumés and resumé writing.
Of course, this was back in the days when people committed their thoughts to paper, typed or “word processed” them with only a limited benefit from “spell check” and then folded this vital document, placed it in an envelope, used the USPS to deliver it and then hoped that the recipient would actually care about the contents of their communication.
People generally share the opinion that writing a good resumé will get you a good job. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I can assure you that writing a poor resumé will result in your never being called for an interview for that good position. Allow me to explain.
My normal efforts to recruit for a specific position were to use contacts with whom I had a good relationship and work through a referral network to identify appropriate candidates for a position vacancy. Sometimes those efforts would come up short and I would run a “Blind Box Ad” in the “Chicago Tribune” to bring in a new field of potential candidates.
During times of economic prosperity, an ad would generally yield about two hundred responses. During bad economic times, the number of responses might be three to four times that great. In either case that was a lot of reading.
If I did nothing but read all these responses thoroughly, I would have had no time to address myself to the ongoing management of my business. So I developed a system for sorting through this correspondence to minimize my time devoted to reading them.
I thought of it as the “Goldilocks System”.
My essential view of resumés is that they bear a lot of similarity to a striptease. They should whet the appetite – but not necessarily be all-revealing. That is the purpose of a personal interview. So those resumés which were sent to us that were as heavy as the first volume of The Encyclopedia Britannica normally went directly into the circular file without being opened.
On the other hand, there needs to be enough material for the person reading the resumé to make some sort of judgment about the individual’s background to decide whether to call him in for an interview. So those resumés which were so light on information that it was impossible to make a reasoned evaluation were also sent into the wastebasket.
This process reduced the number of resumés by at least thirty percent – which still left a daunting number to be reviewed.
Then I applied the “Precision Factor”. Those resumés in which I found typographical mistakes (sometimes including the misspelling of the name of their current or previous employers) met the same fate as those which failed my first two sorts.
We were dealing with financial personnel and my logic for giving these resumés a failing grade was that if a person were not correctly able to spell the name of the company that wrote his paycheck, what kind of work product would he deliver in dealing with a corporation’s finances?
I was raised in an era in which we were taught grammar and spelling. Perhaps it is a personal bugaboo but I still believe that accuracy and attention to detail matter. (This is one reason that my two year stint working for government resulted in my starting my own business. It drove me crazy watching slip shod, sloppy work pass for a quality product).
At last I was down to the serious business of actually reading and “vetting” the remaining candidates. I only wanted to interview and submit to our client those candidates who had the capability to discharge the duties of their new position in an effective manner. I did not want to waste my client’s time by referring people to them who were not appropriate and I had a sense of professional pride in being able to sort the wheat from the chaff. After all, that’s why my clients had hired me in the first place.
It is within the context of reviewing candidates’ credentials that I began reflecting on the results of the Presidential election of a few days past. I wondered what sort of an ad I would write were I retained to fill that position and I came up with the following:
OPENING FOR PRESIDENT OF A MAJOR COUNTRY
Our country is in need of a new leader to replace our CEO. The individual we select will have shown a proven ability to be a problem solver, work with a diverse group of individuals, arrive at simple, effective solutions to complex issues, and will have demonstrated a successful track record throughout his or her professional career.
Our culture requires a person who has a firm grasp of economic, social and foreign issues and will be able to reach out to our diverse citizen base in an inclusive manner. A strict adherence to our fundamental governing document, our Constitution, is required.
For consideration, please submit your resumé to the citizens of the United States of America.
Perhaps before the general election in 2016, we can offer a crash course to our voters on how to read and evaluate a resumé. It might produce a better result for all of us.
Certainly, we could do no worse.