Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Technical Resumes: Part 2 (The Overview)

In yesterday's post I kicked off my resume writing advice for technical and technology leadership positions.  Today's post continues on that theme and I cover what I consider to be the most critical and most overlooked part of the resume: The Overview.

Overview is to Resume as Resume is to Interview.  Hiring managers have many constraints on their time  and are not waiting around for your resume to hit their desk.  It is not unusual for hiring managers to blast through a 12 inch thick stack of resumes in 60 to 90 minutes making gut reaction decisions on which candidates seem the most promising.  When I sort resumes I create two piles: Interested and TBNT (Thanks, But No Thanks).  After my initial sort the Interested pile is typically about 10% of the original stack size.  This is the pile that I spend my time on and really consider who I would like to interview.

Spending 30 seconds on one resume while doing this initial sort is the absolute maximum.  Typically a decision is made in less than 10 seconds.  There are a handful of surface factors that cause resumes to be dumped into TBNT: excessive length, obvious spelling errors, or anything that makes the resume look like it will be difficult to work through (poor layout, goofy font choices, dark paper -- why print black text on dark coloured paper?).  However, most of the filtering comes from the Overview section of a resume.   The primary goal of the Overview section is to convince the reviewer that they should continue to read the rest of your resume, search for you on LinkedIn and otherwise spend timing learning about you. 

I've seen resumes include an Objectives section (rather than an Overview) where the candidate describes what their career objectives are.  To be honest, I don't know you and I don't yet care what your objectives are -- TBNT (or at least ignore this section).  I've read other resumes that include a mini-resume in their Overview.  This kind of Overview doesn't say anything new or interesting that I can't get from the rest of the resume and is typically consists of long lists of comma separated skills and technologies.  Way too long and boring to hold my attention -- TBNT.  Still others include all boiler-plate.  Let me fill you in on a secret, there are literally thousands of people who "have excellent communication skills" and  "are dynamic leaders" and "put great attention to detail" -- TBNT.  Still others don't include an Overview section at all.  The reviewers challenge then becomes figuring out where to cast their eyes for the next 10-30 seconds in order to determine if there is enough value in doing a deeper read.  Couple this with an overly long resume and you're on the top of the TBNT pile.

Imagine you have 30 seconds to convince The Donald that you have a compelling business idea or Brian Eno that U2 should be opening for your band or Spielberg that you've written a blockbuster.  In all these cases you need to know what Trump/Eno/Spielberg are interested in and what they find valuable.  The same goes for your Overview.  If you have a boilerplate Overview that doesn't take into account the specific position let alone the specific company then you're 10 seconds away from TBNT.

You mean I have to write an Overview for every job that I'm applying for?  Yes, but it's not as bad as it sounds.  Chances are you have a core set of skills and interests and you are applying for similar positions at companies in related industries.  Still, there is a huge difference between what is required for a Senior Software Designer vs a Software Team Leader.

To start off I recommend writing a longer and broader Overview that captures many of your technical and non-technical skills, experiences and traits.  This might sound counter to everything I've written so far but you will NOT use this version on any actual resume.  Think of this as your diamond mine out of which you will extract gems for each resume.  You will edit this ├╝ber-Overview down to just what is needed for each position/company to which you are applying.  Editing down is much easier than trying to come up with new material for each resume.

Once you are ready to write an Overview for a particular resume put yourself in the shoes of the business owner or hiring manager for that company and think about how you would fill that position.  Imagine that you have dozens or hundreds of highly skilled candidates to choose from so you can be picky.  What experience, skills, knowledge would you be looking for to fill the position?  What would your dream candidate look like?  If you're having trouble do a little research on the web.  Google and LinkedIn can be great resources to get to know more about a company or about a type of position.  Now consider your experience, skills and knowledge and pick out a couple of experiences or unique skills that you think best match your vision for this position.  Be specific and call out (briefly!) experiences that you think would make you the top candidate for this position.

Once you have a draft Overview consisting of maybe 3 to 5 sentences (no more than 6 to 8 lines of text) read it over again deleting everything that you feel takes away from the core message you are trying to deliver.  Be brutal in your editing.  Slash irrelevant details, boilerplate, and duplication.  Even eradicate unnecessary words (particularly adjectives) and superfluous punctuation.  Get this section down to its very essence in order to minimize the time it takes a reviewer to decide to give your resume a deeper read.  This is your first impression and you want it to be positive.  Keep it relevant, keep it specific, keep it brief.  Your goal is to illicit a reaction like "hey that's cool" or even "hmmm, that's interesting".  All you want at this point is for the reviewer to be compelled to invest time in the rest of your resume.

A word about honesty.  Sometimes getting into the mind of the hiring manager gets your creative juices flowing and after you've written your Overview you realize that you've described someone else.  At that point you need to either rewrite the section using your actual experience (maybe you're 80% qualified for the position) or admit that maybe you're not the right person for this position after all.  Nothing will irk a hiring manager more than being lied to and having their time wasted.  At best you'll be on permanent TBNT from that department but you might also end up on the black list for the whole company or even a whole industry.

1 comment:

Marg Sanderson said...

Thanks Pete! I've always wondered if I should include a summary. Some say yea--usually the "long copy sells" people--and some say nay.
My resume is quickly approaching the 20th edition I've done so many re-writes.
Cheers. I love the Blog,