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For whom did you write your most recent résumé?

Posted By Administration, Friday, April 3, 2020

Even now, you are calling him to mind. He was that sales executive. He lives in Salt Lake City. He has 10 years of great experience and an MBA. He was easy to work with. He paid his bill promptly. He complimented you on your work. After he sent it off to that office supply company, he got an interview and the job.

If this were an essay test for résumé writers, that answer would probably get a grade of “B.”

So let’s try again.

For whom did you write your most recent résumé?

Even at the very first meeting with the person who paid you to write her documents, you should be also thinking about her “client:” the hiring decision maker. Ultimately, we write for that person. In this article, we’ll look at that second “client:” what needs does he have? How can we serve her interests as well as the person whose name appears at the top of the cover letter?

The average interviewer is more nervous than your clients will ever be. Think about the process he has just gone through (and tell your clients this story to build their confidence). Our harried executive knows he’s shorthanded; he needs a national account sales representative. His first stop is down the hall at his boss’ office. There he must get her permission to spend the company’s money and take the risk of bringing a new person on board.

He’s already anticipating his boss’ first reaction: “We can’t afford that!” If the hiring manager wants to leave this meeting with his credibility (and perhaps his job) intact,

he can only respond to her in one way. It might sound like this: “Boss, I know you’re concerned about the cost. And we have a good team, several are good in sales. But they have other responsibilities. Things are falling through the cracks. I feel so strongly about this, I’m going to give you my word the next person I hire as a national account rep will make our company a lot more money than it takes to bring him on board.”

Instant approval on the spot!

Then the dread sets on. He,
she, you, and I have all seen employees who weren’t very
good on the job. Hiring
decision makers know every
such deadbeat was chosen as
the best from a field of eligibles. Nobody hires incompetence by design. And, thinks our hapless hirer,
if others can make that mistake, so can I.

Want a recent example? There is no reason why you should recognize the name Dennis Muilenburg.... until I remind you he was the CEO of Boeing before he was fired.

When a manager hires the wrong person, he has broken his ROI promise to his boss, and his company. Both parties know it can cost up to three times the annual salary to turn over an executive position. Nevertheless, the work must be done.

So he turns to his best employee. He explains the new guy needs help and asks his top performer if she will assist. She probably will, for a little while. After all, she’s already overworked (that why we hired the new guy).

Average interviewers are morenervousthanyour clients will ever be.


But her boss now wants her to do part of the new guy’s work without getting paid part of the new guy’s salary. If that keeps up, the company gets three body blows.
The top performer, now disgruntled, becomes attractive to the competition. After all, she has access to all the proprietary information and the customer database. (Body blow one.) Once hired, she may even recruit her friends, also likely valued employees, to follow her. Even worse, she may take her customers with her. (Body blow two.) Meanwhile, Mr. Incompetent has worn out his welcome and is fired. He may sue the company. He may also become attractive to the competition because he, too, has access to all the proprietary information. . . . (Body blow three.)

To put more hyperactive butterflies in the interviewer’s stomach, she knows she isn’t trained for the task. The whole process is surrounded by folklore that would be comical if it weren’t so corrosive. Just precisely how did the following question turn up on list of the top 20 interview questions: “Tell me about your weaknesses?”

What does the interviewer expect? Their responses fall into two categories: the cliché and the impossible.

Ready for the platitude? “I work too hard! Please, stop me before I work too hard again!”

The impossible is just that. Does he expect the candidate to tell him about his arson conviction? That he tends to throw furniture at people who ask silly interview questions? Of course not!

[Email me at with the word “Question” in the subject line if you want to know how to handle this common inquiry. I’ll respond by 16 April.]

What does all this mean for you, the résumé professional? You must reassure the reader, the interviewer, your “second client.” Let’s look how that might be done in a cover letter and a résumé.

Let’s start with the cover letter. It should go to the hiring decision maker; he has the biggest stake in the outcome. That person is only rarely an HR professional.

Companies regularly load up HR experts with tasks clearly outside their areas. No systems analyst would feel comfortable reviewing résumés a company receives to fill an HR director’s position. And yet, many organizations feel completely at ease asking their HR staff to chop on a sales professionals’ packages.

Perhaps the best way to build an interviewer’s confidence is to address her problem right in the first paragraph. That approach shows your client leaning forward, ready to help solve the problems the interviewer has. Want to see an example? Consider this cover letter addressed to the executive vice president (the hiring official) at a company I call Topline who seeks a senior executive assistant:

“Dear Ms. Morgan,
If you could design the perfect Senior Executive Assistant for the Topline team, would the following ‘specs’ meet your toughest needs?

A ‘productivity multiplier’ who frees you and your leadership team to do things only you and they can do,

A problem solver who helps translate your vision for Topline into dollars —and does so with only the broadest guidance.

An experienced ‘diplomat’ who guides people to think of her solutions as their own good ideas, and
A behind-the-scenes success partner who gets the right information to the right person in the right format—fast enough for Topline to act faster than your competition.

You have just read the ‘Executive Summary’ of my résumé. You’ll find examples of the capabilities you just read in the full version.”

The same ideas apply to the résumé. To often it starts with that vaunted “Summary of Qualifications.” Which do you think employers will choose? Will they fall for a “laundry list” of glittering traits and skills? Or will their confidence rise when they see observable pledge of things your clients will do to make them money —at the very top of the résumé?


Do you include that section because you want to load up the résumé with key words for automated systems? Study after study shows automated systems don’t generate jobs at anywhere near

the rate that personal outreach to the hiring decision makers do.

There is also no good reason for
automatically listing responsibilities as
part of the job history. The interviewer
certainly knows the responsibilities for which
he is willing to pay. And he’ll recognize similar ones from other positions, especially since most job titles have similar responsibilities. Any list of responsibilities with which he is unfamiliar will probably suggest, rightly or wrongly, that our client isn’t right for him. Finally, responsibilities

You know the CAR model: challenge, action, results. It’s a sound approach, but often misapplied. Too many writers don’t make the most important part, the action, vividly clear. Consider this example:

“Exceeded my sales quotas by double digits three quarters in a row.”

The results are obvious. There is even a valuable context shown (“...three quarters in a row”). But a decision maker isn’t hiring our client for the job he held when he racked up those numbers. Our clients are all hired as problem solvers. The hiring decision maker wants to know how those quotas were exceeded. Was it easy to do because the quotas were low? Was this person so much of a pest people bought from him just to get rid of him? Here’s the same example with the action spelled out:

“Payoffs: My competitive intelligence system, now the corporate standard, produced double-digit increases above my quota nine months in a row. I leveraged our competitors’ weakness and offered more favorable billing.”

Notice how much more impact we’ve delivered, all of it transferable from one industry to another, one company to another. Note the payoff is right at the top. That approach concentrates on the future. We have a name for the more common format: an obituary.

When we write résumés, we might think of four roles we want them to play well.

First,wewantthatdocumenttohelpthehiring official deliver on his promise to his boss. We must provide him clear, compelling proof our clients offer great return on the

company’s investment.

Second, a great résumé is a template for fine interviews. It entices interviewers to ask questions we want them to ask.

Interrogations become collaborations.

Third, a top résumé is a lever to negotiate salary, bonuses, benefits, perks, and severance.

Last, it should be a tool to expand your clients’ lifelong professional development. It’s a rare and desirable applicant who showcases not just what he has done, but how he plans to offer even more value. As we match our clients’ track records to employers’ requirements for a given career field, we get clients for life.

As you’ve read this article, I hope a central point stands out. We must serve the needs of our secondary clients (those who interview and hire our clients) as carefully as we serve those who give us their credit card numbers.

My ideas are suggestions. But my goal was to instill in you and your practice a focus on what we are about: matching our clients’ excellence with corporate needs. When we do, everybody—including résumé writers and career coaches—wins. 

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