Plain vanilla's fine if you're talking about ice cream, but it doesn't belong anywhere on a resume. Scott Kressner had a lot going for him -- solid resume formatting, a great mix of experience and technical knowledge, as well a lengthy stint at RUSH Enterprises during which he steadily rose through the ranks. But his resume was much too generic -- too plain vanilla -- to get him past an initial screening and on to the interviewing stages.
"I felt that my resume was too similar to the average -- that I'd look like everyone else, Kressner says, "I really wanted to stand out from the crowd, but I wasn't sure how to get there."
The secret sauce
For Donald Burns, resume writer, personal branding strategist and career coach with Executive Promotions, LLC, the secret to creating a great resume for clients is the interview -- or, interviews, as it turned out. Burns and Kressner first spoke for about 90 minutes, using his original resume as a guide, though it had little that carried over into the new version.
"After that first interview, I had extracted enough information to produce a credible draft, which was organized around the biggest project of his career -- implementing SAP to transform his company, RUSH Enterprises," says Burns.
There were some solid foundational elements already present, but also some obvious areas that had to be addressed quickly, says Burns. For example, Kressner's original resume was three pages; standard rule of thumb is to keep it to two or fewer. While overall, Kressner's formatting was clean and polished, there was too much white space, which Burns eliminated.
"Scott's original summary was too generic to help him -- too much white noise and resume clichés; for example, 'Experienced leader with proven track record of delivering business transformation initiatives ...' That generic language could apply to anybody in IT, so his resume wastes valuable real estate. Instead, we replaced his generic introduction with a short profile that applies uniquely to Scott: 'Relentless implementer and forward-thinking IT strategist ...'" says Burns.
Next, Burns tackled some of the other generic elements of Kressner's resume, including adding flavor that recruiters and hiring managers would need to make his career into a compelling story.
"His text was broken into short blocks and was easy to read. I liked how he'd organized his 17 years at RUSH Enterprises under functional headings; Strategic Leadership, Innovation, Growth and Achievement, too. It's the right idea, but the actual content was too generic," says Burns.
Kressner's original resume had a weak headline and summary that wasn't making the desired powerful impression on readers, says Burns. Ideally, you want to immediately announce a clear goal and establish yourself as a likeable person who's exceptionally competent at certain things - in this case, transforming a $5 billion enterprise with SAP.
"Scott's original headline said 'Senior IT Executive Strategist.' I asked, 'What does that mean?!' After a discussion, we replaced that title with 'CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER (CIO) o CONSULTANT o ACCOUNT MANAGER' - three titles that most people can quickly grasp. If Scott were applying to a specific opportunity, such as a CIO role, we'd shorten that long headline to just 'CIO.' Three subheadings follow the headline -- concrete, short, and memorable -- that uniquely apply to Scott," says Burns.
Burns' biggest challenge was correctly positioning Kressner's role at RUSH Enterprises, beginning with introducing the company to any reader not familiar with them.