Ask The Headhunter: How (not) to use a resume

BY Nick Corcodilos  January 21, 2014 at 2:07 PM EST
Don't apply for a job by submitting your resume. But if you must send one, here's how to do it right. Image by Flickr user Olivier Charavel

Don’t apply for a job by submitting your resume. But if you must send one, here’s how to do it right. Image by Flickr user Olivier Charavel.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I need a template for a two-page resume that will help me get in the door at a company I want to approach. Can you help?

Nick Corcodilos: Resumes are a weak, passive way to get in the door (or to represent yourself). Using a template or any kind of boilerplate to demonstrate your value to a company is the worst thing you can do to yourself when job hunting.

You’re supposed to be uniquely qualified so the company will choose you instead of some cookie-cutter drone — right? Do you really want a “template?” Do you really want a new job by reciting old history? (See “Don’t lead with your past.”)

But you asked, so if you insist on distracting yourself with resumes, I’m going to offer you my suggestions. If you’re going to use a resume, here are two things to think about. Understanding these points might help you see the distinction between the resume itself and what’s behind a truly effective resume. (In the end, this distinction should reveal to you why you don’t really need a resume at all.)

Talk First
First, have a substantive discussion with the person you plan to give your resume to. That is, the manager must already know you and you must know the specific needs of the manager. So, the person you give the resume to should be the hiring authority in the company you want to work for — not someone in HR and not some unknown contact. Your initial personal contact with the manager prepares you to produce a relevant resume. (Does that sound backwards? It’s not. Read on.)

Tailor to Fit
Second, the resume should accomplish one thing: Show how you’re going to solve that manager’s problems. That’s a tall order. I’ll bet you’ve never seen a resume that does that. Few managers have, either. That’s why most of the hires they make don’t come from resumes but from truly substantive personal contacts.

The resume needs to be tailored to the specific employer and job. That’s why job hunting isn’t easy — and it’s why contact with the employer is so important. Obviously, we’re no longer talking about resumes as a “marketing tool” but as a tool to prove you can do a specific job. This essentially voids your question and puts us into a different ball game. I never said I’d support the mindless use of a resume, just that I’d give you my suggestions.

Now that we’re done with the two things you must take into account about using resumes, let’s take the step that changes everything.

Tailor to Fit Exactly
When you write the resume, sit down and describe as best you can how you’re going to help the specific employer, and do your best to provide proof that you can pull it off. That’s hard to do in writing. There is no boilerplate (or template) that’s good enough because every person and every employer and every job is unique. Writing such a resume is hard work, and there’s no way around it. If it were easy, every resume would produce an interview, but we know that doesn’t happen.

(Have I talked you out of it yet? Maybe I’ve talked you into a whole new way of looking at job hunting without resumes. What I’m describing is not a resume about you. It’s a business plan for a specific job!)

A resume can’t answer questions (especially if it’s muffled under the weight of 5,000 other resumes sitting on top of it). And a smart manager will be full of questions. This is why I don’t like resumes as a job hunting tool. (See The truth about resumes.) I’d rather go straight to the hiring manager and have a talk with him — but only after I’ve done my research so I can demonstrate how I’m going to bring profit to his bottom line.

Next week, we’ll discuss how writing a business plan can make a resume totally unnecessary.

Readers: Do you always use a resume to get in the door? Give us some examples of other ways you get an employer’s attention!


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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