Gayle Lewis (not her real name) is a career Superwoman. But you'd never know it from looking at her original resume. The eight-page document highlighted her day-to-day grind through IT project management and business analytics positions to her current role as a CIO. And it highlights that grind in excruciating detail without emphasizing her major strengths -- cleaning up big messes created by other people.
International IT Appeal
Unfortunately, Lewis's intense work schedule didn't leave much time or energy for cleaning up her resume. That's where executive career coach, strategist, publicist and founder of Executive Promotions, LLC Donald Burns came in.
The seven-time National Award Winner for Resume/CV and social media writing wasn't daunted by Lewis's overwhelming resume. Becuase many of Burns' executive clients are from outside the U.S., the international format and use of the personal pronoun "I" were familiar to him, as well.
"Since Gayle lives and works in Perth, Western Australia, the resume 'norms' are very different than in Europe and North America," Burns says. "A U.S. 'multinational' resume is lean and mean -- like a telegram. In Australia (and New Zealand, India and South Africa) the typical resume is more like a booklet -- up to 20 pages of rambling text," he says. So it wasn't surprising, at least to Burns, that Lewis's resume looked more like "an eight-page data dump."
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Though Lewis is Australian, she expressed to Burns during one of their initial conversations that she was looking for a shorter resume that told a better story about her career and her accomplishments.
"She realized that her resume, while filled with her achievements, was burying her numerous professional accomplishments," says Burns. He and Lewis connected via Skype for interviews and, over the course of three hours, came up with a way to tackle her resume makeover.
The Interview Process
"I interviewed her, 'recruiter style,' for three hours over two separate calls," Burns says. "I asked questions and recorded everything. While I'm writing the resume, I'm listening to the recordings in the background. Doing that makes the resume come alive," Burns says. Then, he set about cleaning up the "mess" and putting everything in context.
His first task was reworking the introduction: creating a headline, subheadings and a summary paragraph that can also function as a one-page "networking bio" for Lewis.
"The first page of this resume can stand alone as a one-page 'networking bio,' which is a great feature," Burns says. "Sometimes, a networking contact will ask, 'Send me something about yourself,' and in those cases, the full resume is too heavy, but this one-page bio is perfect," he says.
The first page -- the Introduction -- of any resume is crucial, Burns says, because it orients the reader to the applicant in the first seconds of contact.
"The most important element is the introduction -- headline, subheadings and summary paragraph -- because that 'sets the table' and controls the first impression," Burns says. "When you send your resume to a stranger, you can expect the reader will scan your resume for six to 10 seconds, maximum. So, the first impression is crucial," he says.
Putting the Puzzle Together
Next, Burns' focus turned to readability. Lewis's original resume lacked a headline, subheadings and, most importantly, had no sense of direction, Burns says. "I call this a 'jigsaw puzzle' resume. She was showing over a 100 little puzzle pieces -- the bullet points -- but not a complete picture of anything she had accomplished," he says. A resume must grab the reader instantly, and if it looks difficult to read, that just won't happen.
"It was just 3,000 words of text, organized like a school term paper. It wasn't easy to read, and none of the text elements were 'bite-sized,'" he says. "For example, if readers eventually made it to page 4, they'd be slammed with a dense block of text -- 15 bullets in a row -- that would cause most readers to skip out after the third bullet point," he says.
Based on the interviews with Lewis, Burns pulled out specific career accomplishments and achievements that would be especially attractive to recruiters and hiring managers. He then "connected the dots" of her career, starting from her high school days and winding up in the present day. Burns used some of Lewis's own words when crafting the resume to ensure that her voice came through to the reader.
"For example, she told me she is really good at 'cleaning up big messes created by other people,' and you'll see that expression right at the top of the new resume," Burns says. That ability to speak in the candidate's voice, to the reader, is another reason Burns records his interviews and plays them back while writing.
"A live, in-depth interview is the key to an unbeatable resume -- it's also great preparation for the job interview," he says.
Focus on Results
Once Burns was finished, Lewis's new resume shifted from a laundry list of her job descriptions to a document that accurately and effectively showcased her strengths -- solving problems for her employers. These success stories are one of the most important elements of a resume, Burns says.
"You not only need to show results you've accomplished for employers, but be sure to show the context," he says, especially if these results were achieved under less-than-ideal conditions, as in Lewis's case.
For Lewis, the process was enlightening, and helped her understand how best to present herself and her achievements to potential employers, she says.
"The most surprising part of the process was that it's not about the quantity or the volume of information you provide, but about telling a whole career story and focusing on results and achievements," she says. "While my CV was very detailed, it was too long for anyone to read, so many of my key accomplishments were missed," she says.
And the process made it clear just how impressive her career accomplishments were, even if that clarity was a bit shocking to her at first, Burns says.
A Shocking Transformation
"Her initial reaction was a state of shock. She has a very impressive career, but her old resume buried it under a mountain of useless verbiage," Burns says.
"In the new resume, she looks like Superwoman -- with no lying or exaggeration -- just a true story of accomplishment without apology and without bloated text," he says. And her shocked reaction is actually quite familiar.
"When clients with real accomplishments see themselves profiled by a competent outsider, sometimes they go into shock. They feel like they are bragging or exaggerating. It takes time to adjust to the new image. I call this the transformation from 'the resume in your head,' and that's the secret of success," he says. "I love to help my clients see themselves in a new light."
Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.