This is a companion piece to my post, Interviewing for a Job in Sales: 10 Things You MUST Do. In that article, I offered 10 interviewing tips specific to the world of sales. Similarly, in this article, I offer resume tips specific to the world of sales from the perspective of a veteran sales manager who has had hundreds of resumes come across my desk over the past 15 years.
It’s important to first understand how the process works. The odds are in the employer’s favor these days—many more job seekers than there are great, quality jobs—especially when it comes to sales. When I post a job opening, I can expect to get hundreds of applicants within a matter of a week or two all vying for that one position. Companies do things differently, but a pretty common process is: candidates apply through an online tool; resumes are screened; phone interviews are conducted; in-person interviews are conducted; an offer is made. Any of those steps in the process could involve several layers—especially when it comes to in-person interviews, where there may be multiple rounds. Also, along the way there may be some sort of personality test and even a “day in the life” opportunity to shadow an existing rep.
How important is the resume? The resume is critically important in the earliest part of the process and less important as you progress through the process. After all, someone has to screen those several hundred resumes and narrow the pool down to a dozen or so in order to move on to the phone interview phase. I can tell you from personal experience that each resume may only get 10-20 seconds of evaluation—then it either goes into the “phone screen stack” or the trash can. If your resume doesn’t “pop” in the first 10 seconds, you’re toast. These tips are meant to help you make it through this weeding out process and earn you the ability to sell yourself person-to-person.
Style & Format
1. Odds are your word processor contains a couple dozen built-in resume templates. These are a great starting point so you can focus your efforts on the content of the resume, not the basic formatting. Use them! Everyone knows these tools exist. Therefore, there is no excuse for having a sloppy, poorly formatted, visually unappealing resume. It will stand out like a sore thumb among all of the other resumes and be one of the first to hit the trash can!
2. Stick with a basic font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Many companies have automated the application process to the point where you must upload your resume into their system, which then reads it and converts it into their back-office program. If you use a fancy, uncommon font, you run the risk that it will be garbled in translation. Sure, it may look cool and original on your desktop, but it may look like garbage by time it gets in front of a hiring manager! For the same reason, don’t overdo formatting such as bold, underline, bullets, and tables. These can make your resume “zing” in native format, but not so much when a company’s recruiting software is done with it. Lastly, never use less than 10pt. type—if I have to squint to read your resume I probably won’t!
3. Your resume should be one full page in length at a minimum, but no more than two full pages in length at a maximum. Remember: you may only have 10 seconds to impress the reader!
Profile vs. Objective
4. Do NOT put an objective statement at the top of your resume. If you have applied for my job, I know what your objective is: to get me to offer you the job. There’s no need to waste valuable real estate on your resume stating the obvious—or worse, misstating the obvious. I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve received where the objective statement didn’t align with the job for which I was hiring. Guess what? Immediate rejection. True story: someone who had applied for a sales rep position on my team had this as their objective statement on their resume, “To obtain a position in secondary education that will utilize my education degree and love of teaching to further the goals of the academic institution”. NEXT! Another true story: someone who had applied for a sales rep position on my team had this as their objective statement on their resume, “To obtain a position as a pharmaceutical sales rep…” I have never worked for a pharmaceutical company and have never been in a position to hire a pharmaceutical sales reps. Oops. NEXT!
5. Instead, use that space at the top of the resume just below your name and contact information to list your key skills or summarize your key qualifications. This can be accomplished in either bullet format or a short paragraph. Since you may only have 10 seconds to impress the reader, this is a good way to help them synthesize your qualifications and experience and come to the conclusion that you deserve to move to the next step in the process.
6. List your work experience in reverse chronological order. Be sure to provide the name of the company, job title, and dates of employment. I recommend including a brief job description for each position. Companies use similar job titles for different job functions (e.g., an Account Manager at one company could be a “hunter” type new business sales rep, and a “farmer” type retention sales rep at another company). Don’t assume someone else is going to know what is obvious to you.
7. The most important part of the job history—in fact, the most important part of the entire resume—will be the bullet points you provide beneath each job held in which you detail what you actually accomplished. Sales managers want to hire people who deliver results. Your resume must demonstrate RESULTS! Don’t just say, “Managed 100 accounts worth $15 million”. Say, “Managed a $15 million territory consisting of 100 accounts and grew the revenue more than 10% year-over-year for three consecutive years by increasing new product penetration and improving the customer attrition rate by 26%”. Hint: if you are running out of space, remove anything that simply talks about “Responsibilities included…”.
8. List your education after your job history, not before it. This is sales and your relevant work experience is much more important than your academic coursework; therefore, it belongs up front. I would hire a community college dropout with an abundance of successful sales experience over a Harvard graduate with little or no sales experience any day. Remember: you may only have 10 seconds to impress the reader! In addition to formal education, I recommend listing relevant training and certification (e.g., sales training, negotiation training, etc.).
Tailor the Resume
9. You wouldn’t present the same proposal to customer A, customer B and, customer C. You would tailor it based on their unique needs and what you learned during the discovery process so that it resonates with them and puts you in the best position to win the sale. Likewise, you must tailor your resume for the particular job and that particular employer based on the due diligence you conducted prior to applying. Use specific keywords taken from the job posting and the company’s website. Focus the reader’s attention on the most relevant parts of your resume as they relate to the job for which you are applying.
10. Make sure that there aren’t inconsistencies between what is on your resume and what is contained on your various social media profiles and online job board sites. For example, if your LinkedIn profile says you graduated from college in April 1999, but your resume says you graduated in June 1999, that can be a red flag to a recruiter or future employer. Make sure job titles, employers, dates, degrees, etc. all match. If you have so many online profiles that you can’t keep them all up-to-date, deactivate those you are allowing to grow stale. It would be better to have no presence on a particular site than one that is incorrect. Implicit in this tip is the fact that future employers will be looking you up on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Make sure you are comfortable with what they are going to find there!
11. Depending on who you ask, you will get different answers with regards to including personal information on a resume—hobbies and interests outside of work. I like it when an applicant shows some of their personality on their resume. I want someone who is well-rounded; someone who is “interesting”. I especially like to see things that correlate to sales (e.g., sports demonstrate competitiveness, team sports demonstrate teamwork and collaboration, activities such as skydiving demonstrate risk-taking, etc.). However, there are limits. As an employer, I am not allowed to ask questions about or take into consideration marital status, family situation, sexual orientation, religious persuasion, political affiliation, etc. Therefore, I don’t want a candidate to jeopardize my objectivity by overtly listing such things on their resume. And, yes, it absolutely happens (e.g., “Coach my son’s Little League baseball team” or “Treasurer, Campaign to Elect Hillary Clinton”). In short, avoid anything that is legally off-limits from an HR perspective and anything that could be considered controversial or polarizing.
Proofread Until Your Eyeballs Bleed
12. This is such a no-brainer that I shouldn’t even need to say it. Yet, it happens so frequently that I can’t ignore stating the obvious: typos and grammatical errors are the kiss of death. I want to hire a sales person who will write flawless e-mails and other customer correspondence. I want to hire a sales person who will draft flawless written proposals and contracts. If you can’t create a flawless one- or two-page resume, I just know you can’t live up to my expectations on the job. Don’t simply rely on your word processor’s spell check program. It won’t catch every mistake, especially those words that are correctly spelled, but wrong (e.g., “Sturdiest abroad my senior year” instead of “Studied abroad my senior year”). My favorite was the resume from the English major who misspelled the name of the University from which he received his MBA!
There you go—a dozen straightforward tips to turn a dull, lifeless resume into one that grabs the reader by the collar and screams, “Stop searching, you’ve found THE ONE!” Remember, this is sales. The interview process—starting with the resume and application process—is one big sale where you are the product and those involved in the hiring process are the buyers. Your resume is your sales collateral—your brochure, your white paper, your proof source, your proposal. You must take the same care in drafting it as you would any document you would put in front of a prospect when pursuing a sale. It must be persuasive and tailored to the customer’s needs.
Do you have resume tips to share? If so, please leave a comment below! Adding to the conversation and helping others is great Karma.