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Confessions of a CRO: How I looked at resumes, and tips to optimize that experience...

As the new year begins, the buzz I’m seeing is that many of you are potentially looking for new positions. I’ve been blessed with so many business friends and acquaintances over the years, that many have been sharing their resumes with me in hopes for a little feedback. When I say “many”, I’ve seen eight in the past three weeks.

To start, our brains want simple. War and Peace length resumes subconsciously hurt. I just finished Josh Bernoff’s book Writing Without Bullshit on my flight this morning. He repeats throughout the book something he calls the “Iron Imperative” which applies to everything you write: “You must treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.” This is so right, and absolutely applies to resumes, too.

As a CRO:

  • I rarely had the fortitude to read every word of your resume. Don't get me wrong - I prepped for every interview. But you’ll see below as to why I just couldn’t every time. I need to get a feeling from your resume, and most are filled with fluffy lingo and superlatives.
  • I’m trying to predict what your success will be in our role.  This is done by looking at what roles you've had with what companies of what sizes, and how long you spent in each one. Many short stints, even in today’s age of shorter tenures and lots of changes happening in companies, speaks to sales discovery skills. During your discovery (i.e., your interview process), what did you perceive about the needs of the organization you chose to go work for that turned out to be different than reality? Why?
  • Type-o’s jump out at me on a resume. I wrote a book that has type-o’s in it, so it happens even with three proofreads. But on a one-to-two page resume, get those out. It’s a representative of the type of communication you’ll have with potential clients. If there are three-or-more type-o’s on your < 2 page resume, you probably didn’t make it to me for a final interview.
  • Your writing style matters - and a resume is evidence. Are you able to summarize content into clear, concise communication?

Here are my five pieces of advice to potentially help:

  • Evaluate the “white space” on your resume: For one of the resumes I looked at recently, I clicked “open” on the file on my laptop. As the file opened, and without me even reading a word, my brain burst into tears. No margins. Every inch of the page had words. Subconsciously, my brain wanted to take the easy way out - scan it and move on. The more white space on a resume, the more attractive the resume to the reader. Think about Bernoff’s rule above. What content on this resume is wasting the reader’s time? What content is not communicating who you are? Then, delete it.
  • Easy on the bullets, Rambo: This isn’t your autobiography! Just as in above, what are the 3-5 things you want someone to know about your accomplishments or experience in said role? One resume I read had thirty bullets of accomplishments or experiences with one company over a seven year period - and this resume was done by a “professional” resume writer. He did have multiple positions with that org, but I believe that every checked-off to-do turned into a resume bullet.
  • Lingo-Bingo is fun to play in meetings, but not fun being played on your resume: Do you need all of the fluff? It’s why we, as consumers, seek out negative reviews before making a purchase. Fluff puts up subconscious barriers. It causes eye rolls in your readers. I once worked with a guy who’s first slide in every presentation said his name, then under it in cursive read, “Trusted & Proven”. If you have to call yourself trusted, you may not be. Those are two things you earn. When I read a resume, I want to see experiences and accomplishments, then save the self-descriptive back-patting.
  • Numbers matter - in context: Numbers represent truth. They’re hard to fudge, and easy to fact-check. However, I’m looking for context in your numbers. Growth rates and quota achievement are great - but do they tell me a story? “I drove the organization to 1000% growth over a 12-month period” sounds amazing. But is it, if that growth was from $10k to $100k - where you grew the organization $90k? Or was it $10m to $100m, which really is impressive. Quota attainment feels the same way to me. If you hit 120%, but everyone did, it’s less impressive than someone who hit 90% of quota but the next best performer was at 75% (this happened to me at CA way back when…). I love seeing context. And if I don’t see it, I ask during an interview. Always.
  • The "summarized you" should closely represent the "actual you": With five of the resumes, the writer started the resume with a “Qualification Summary”, or “Overview”. In all five cases, when I read the summary, it didn’t match my perception of the person. One “summary” had 165 words, 4 bullets and 1,150 characters. That's not a summary. If you’re going to do a summary, think Twitter length - and make it memorable. Have your significant other or a friend read it and ask, “does this describe me?”. On my resume, which I update every three months whether I need to or not, simply says, “Revenue Capacity Architect & Sales Philosophy Nerd”.

If you want to see a good example, to me, of an attractive resume that tells me who the person is, and just enough to get me to want to talk to her, see this article from Business Insider. It has a sample resume from Marissa Mayer. Lots of white space. It makes me want to read it. It tells me who she is. Again, this isn't her actual resume, but this style is fantastic.

Hope this helps...and good luck!
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