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​Crack the Resume Code and Discover the Write Stuff

In this soft economy employers receive reams of resumes.  As the number of job hunters increases exponentially, there are significantly fewer recruiters to evaluate them.  The role of screening resumes sounds simple – until you actually realize that resume readers and resume writers frequently don’t speak the same language.  During tough job markets some candidates purposely obscure a negative job record or try to build up skills that aren’t really there.  In addition, many candidates simply don’t know how to present their impressive skills and experience in a readable and interesting way.  You can’t change how people write their resumes, but you can learn how to crack the resume code.

In my 28 years leading Paul-Tittle Search Group, a high technology search firm based in McLean, Virginia, I have found that generally only 10% of the resumes screened for a particular position reflect strong qualifications, and approximately 70% are clearly not a fit.

The remaining 20% leave many unanswered questions because they lack clarity. Even finicky hiring executives often revert to lengthy cumbersome tomes when putting together their own credentials.

An experienced resume screener spends no more than 20-30 seconds on an initial resume review.  That’s half a minute in which to decide whether or not the applicant is a realistic contender, half a minute in which they hold a human being’s immediate vocational fate in their hands.

Using some simple “code-breaking” skills will help you mine that ambiguous 20% and achieve a much stronger candidate pool without wasting a lot of precious time.

  • Disregard stationary. First, the easy stuff.  Ignore expensive paper, logos, letterhead and fancy folders. Sometimes the thinnest resumes are on the thickest paper.
  • Big-head shots. Unless screening resumes of models or actors, be wary of photos on resumes.  Photos are good indicators of large egos. 
  • Brief Introductions. A short cover letter should indicate that the candidate knows something about your company, the open position, and what skills and accomplishments they bring.  Resumes that follow lengthy cover letters seldom get read.
  • Name-dropping. Invoking the name of one of the resume reader’s co-workers in the cover letter may or may not be a good idea, depending upon the reviewer’s level of esteem for the individual.
  • Long and short of it. There is no right length for a resume, but a single page is generally too short for most people with substantive experience, or the print is too small to read.
  • Summing it all up. A summary paragraph should include number of years of experience, special certifications, and a general overview of expertise, accomplishments and management skills.
  • Looking back. Experience should be in chronological order starting with most recent.  Anyone who lists experience only by skill set may have something to hide.
  • Weigh accomplishments, not duties.  Bullet points such as “I was responsible for the mid-Atlantic sales region” are tepid compared with “The sales team I led increased mid-Atlantic sales three-fold to $10 million in one year.”
  • Go beyond job titles. Titles are often misleading and highly dependent upon the size of the company.  Look for the scope of the job, management responsibility and revenues to gauge the fit.
  • Sift the dross. Long, run-on sentences and paragraphs are difficult to read and the reader can easily miss key items.  Highlight the “buzz words” that are of interest to you.  Then evaluate whether the candidate has depth in these areas and is worth talking with.
  • Be forgiving. Don’t overact to length of service at previous companies.  There are many “reasons for leaving” today that are out of the employee’s control!
  • Avoid ageism. Don’t discriminate against people who omit graduation dates; the important information is level of experience.  Don’t hide behind the “over-qualified” argument, because your company could benefit from a highly qualified bargain candidate given current market conditions.
  • Mass mailing. Resume delivery method should be appropriate to your company, and e-mail is perfectly acceptable these days.  But be wary of the generic resume and “Dear Employer” cover note spammed to every company in your vertical market.
  • Extra credit. Give extra credit to those who say they will follow up and really do, and particularly to those who persist.  A medium talent with enormous enthusiasm trumps a high talent with no enthusiasm nearly every time.

By David Tittle
Washington Business Journal

Tittle is a Partner at Paul-Tittle Search Group. He has been an executive recruiter in the Washington, DC region for more than 30 years