It's a fact of life: Worthy candidates often have less-than-perfect
resumes. Which poses a dilemma. Like most recruiters, I'll happily throw
a rope to a drowning candidate. Helping an otherwise-qualified
job-seeker improve his odds of getting interviewed is not only the right
thing to do; it also boosts my odds of making a placement.
However, I could easily spend all my time fixing funky resumes, which is
not the purpose of my business. In order to assist my candidates-without
changing my job description- I developed a quick and effective
Here's how it works: First, choose a resume from your files that you
consider "ideal," in terms of layout, structure and clarity. Remove or
change any contact data that might identify the candidate or reveal
When you've tweaked the resume to perfection, publish it on your company
Web site. Make sure to place the resume on a page that's easy to find.
Or, if you like, you can create a separate page called "Resume Tips" and
create the necessary linkage to take your Web site visitors to the page
using a minimum of clicks.
Before you begin a resume makeover, ask your candidate if he would be
receptive to making improvements that will give him a competitive edge.
If the candidate is reluctant or too proud to accept your professional
advice, you may want to reconsider your working relationship with the
candidate. A lack of trust regarding something as basic as a resume
could be a red flag. Fortunately, most candidates will consider your
help worthwhile, and will invest a few minutes to further their careers.
Next, ask the candidate to visit your "Resume Tips" Web page and study
the template you've created. If you walk through this step "live" (that
is, while you and the candidate are on the phone together), you can
point out the crucial differences between the "right" and "wrong" ways
to structure a resume. Then ask the candidate to revise his or her
Ask the candidate to send you a "draft" of his newly-revised resume, so
you can catch any editorial mistakes before a final version is
completed. Involving yourself in the process not only improves the
candidate's resume (and your relationship with the candidate); it also
helps you gain a better understanding of the candidate's work history
Tip: I've found that resume formats will vary significantly, depending
on your candidates' position title, skill set and industry affiliation.
For example, a powerful sales resume will differ considerably from a
technical resume, not only in the way it's laid out, but in the type of
information that's most important to the prospective employer. So the
resume format that's most effective in one field may not cross over to
An Unfair Advantage
My experience has shown that most career books, resume services and
outplacement advisors give poor advice to candidates with respect to
their resumes. That's because they're unfamiliar with what the hiring
managers in different industry niches need to know when they're
reviewing a resume. As recruiters, we have an advantage over
generalists, since we know precisely which data points are hot in our
specialty niches, giving us the ability to shape our candidates' resumes
for the greatest possible impact.
Not long ago, I had to help a senior-level candidate completely rewrite
his resume-after he had just shelled out $300 to a resume service. The
resume he paid for looked very crisp and professional, but the
information in it was totally superficial, and lacked the specific
details my retained search client needed in order to make an intelligent
In theory, a candidate shouldn't need a resume at all; he'd only need
our recommendation. But in our world-the world of reality-the
candidate's resume not only serves as a useful assessment and
interviewing tool, it becomes a highly visible (and often indelible)
component of the candidate's overall presentation. And a direct
reflection of our value in the employment process.
(An example of the "exemplary resume" technique can be found at