Want a Killer Résumé? Think Like a Salesperson

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By Marcelle Yeager

We've all heard it: Your résumé is your sales document. You are the product. Therefore, your résumé should sell you to the employer so that he or she wants to meet you in person and ask you to interview. You might ask how that's possible when you are not a salesperson. The key is to write your résumé in a sales style.

Think of it like a marketing flier. In a flier, you'd include the most attractive information first, and the same goes for your résumé. Before starting to draft or make changes to your current résumé, really take time to think about you. How often do you have time to do that anyway? Take this opportunity to think about your strongest qualities, both according to you and those for which your colleagues and peers recognize you.

Now, consider events that have led to these impressions. Take each of your strengths into account separately. What specific project were you working on? What was your role?

Descriptive title. This title should go under your name and contact information. "Descriptive" doesn't mean to use five words to describe what you do. You should aim for a title that makes clear where you want to go with your career. In other words, what's the next step or level for you? Try not to limit yourself by your current or most recent job title unless you feel it accurately explains where you want to head as a next step in your career.

Accomplishments. Think for a minute about what about you stands out­. You can use prose or bullet format just below the descriptive title to lay the groundwork for the rest of your sales pitch:
  • What are the most notable things you've done in your professional career, as a student or as a community leader?
  • Have you received accolades?
  • Have you worked at a well-known company?
All of these elements will generally be recognizable to a human resources manager or recruiter and should be featured prominently.

Areas of expertise. You can call this section any one of a number of things, such as "expertise," "key skills" or "core competencies." Use commonly accepted terms from your industry or for the industry to which you're seeking to transition.

Work history. Next comes the traditional list of jobs, titles, locations and dates. However, make the bullets specific. As you compose this section, keep in mind the following:
  • If your company or organization is not widely known outside your industry, include a few words to describe what it is. This can be in parentheses directly after the name of the firm or underneath your employer's name and your job title, if there is no space on the employer line. Is it a nonprofit or private company? If it has significant revenue, include that. You can also write how many people work there. All of this gives the reader a better idea of where you've worked and what you are used to.
  • Employers want to see specific examples. They don't want to see a list of your duties. If you managed several events, describe one or two of the biggest ones.
  • Employers want to see results that make sense to them. That's why you should use metrics if you have some good ones. When you managed a specific event, how many people attended or what did people say about it afterward? If you overhauled a process, by how much or what percentage did you reduce cost or the time it takes to complete? Estimates are OK here. Lying is not.

Education, community leadership and other skills. Don't leave out these important sections as far as they apply to you. For most people, these pieces should be kept short and sweet.
  • If you've graduated recently or held a number of board memberships or executive leadership positions in organizations, these merit more detail.
  • Most people today use a variety of Microsoft Office tools, so general skills such as those do not need to be included. Knowledge of programs and software outside of these can be incorporated as long as they apply to the jobs you're targeting.
  • The same goes for languages and volunteer work: They should relate in some way to the job you're applying to. If you're trying to fill a one-page résumé as an entry-level employee, that's one thing. But no matter where you are at in you career, every piece of information should relate in some way to the job you're applying to.
Many people say a sales résumé is distinct from other types of résumés, but that isn't how it should be. Non-sales professionals should aim to write their résumé in the same way a salesperson does: with clearly placed recognition, specific details and results. After all, your résumé is a sales document of sorts. Its goal should be to sell you.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.
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