Your Resume Is Boring — And How to Increase Your Career Opportunities

If you are wondering why you aren’t called in to interview for great job opportunities, it’s undoubtedly because your resume is not “powerful,” and significantly undersells your abilities and experience. Having worked with major corporations on the design of their hiring and resume screening processes, I can attest that nearly all applicants fail to adequately highlight themselves in a way that increases their chances of being selected for further evaluation. While you may actually be a very good fit for the roles and the organizations to which you have applied, chances are that your boring resume doesn’t instill that perception in the 15-20 seconds that those charged with screening resumes typically spend per applicant.

Even if you are not currently seeking a new role, failing to adequately highlight your achievements is a weakness that can impact you throughout your career. When it comes to performance appraisal, promotion consideration, and even day-to-day work assignment, learning how to influence the perception of you as a performer is key to ensuring that your career reaches the heights you desire.

Over a decade ago, Fast Company magazine dubbed me the “Michael Jordan of hiring,” so if you want to have a resume as powerful and effective as Michael Jordan’s actually is, consider each of the checklist items that follow.

Bolster the Content of Your Resume

While an unusual format may garner a few seconds more of attention, it may also prevent your resume from making it through electronic sorting and filtering tools used by larger corporations, so it is best to focus on what your resume says about you, versus the font, layout, and embellishment used. (This is true for online profiles as well; spending hours adjusting the color pallet and background and only minutes on the content doesn’t facilitate stronger networking.) To maximize your appeal, focus on powerful “selling” points that cover your results, your impact on the organization, your skills and your ability to manage and lead.

For each of the items on the checklist, mentally review your working life, as well as other outside work responsibilities, for experiences/activities that relate to the item. For example, if you are seeking a role that calls for leadership skills, ask yourself how many times you were a leader of a project, a subproject, a team, or even a meeting/event. It does not matter if you were never formally appointed a leader or given a leadership title; if you have successfully led others, you should reference leadership as one of your attributes. Feature leadership terms throughout the content that comprises your resume, including sections covering your experience, education, and extracurricular activities.

Continue through the checklist until each of the factors appears at least once in your resume. When you have reached the end of the checklist, step back and admire all that you have done and accomplished, and can do again in your next job, ad then raise your career goals and expectations!

Thirty “Power Factors” to Bolster the Content of Your Resume

  1. Result or accomplishment — everyone wants employees who produce results, so you need to find a way to list every significant result, output, or accomplishment. Your resume should include dozens of performance-related references. (Example: Achieved 100% of ___ rollout project milestones while being first to implement ___ within the division.)
  2. Quantify results in dollars — the language of businesses is dollars, so characterizing the dollar impact of your accomplishments on the organization can be a key differentiator. It’s OK to use estimates if you can explain your logic. (Example: implemented changes to the ___ process that resulted in a 32% increase output with no noticeable impact on quality).
  3. Skills used — listing the work you did but omitting the array of skills that you need to accomplish that work is a major omission in most resumes. You should never mention a task or accomplishment without highlighting both the technical and people skills required to accomplish it. Start with a list of all the skills that you can find in job descriptions of interest and try to mention each one. (Example: Used root cause analysis to track an emerging issue back to a change that had been overlooked many times and used strong Internet research skills to gather supporting information and build a business case to successfully convince a skeptical manager to address the issue.)
  4. Demonstrate the quality of the work — you need to clearly demonstrate that you do high-quality work and that you understand and deliver quality consistently. Whenever you mention the volume of your work, also mention indications of its quality. (Example: Consistently ranked top producer within the division while maintaining the lowest error rate and a 98% customer satisfaction rate.)
  5. Awards and honors — mention all recognitions received for outstanding work. Don’t forget shared and team awards, or informal awards created by local managers. Include awards received both in school and on the job. (Example: Awarded employee of the month six times.)
  6. Leadership — employees who can lead are always in demand. Mention cases where you led a team or project, even if informally. Highlight challenges addressed and leadership methods used. (Example: Assembled and led a team responsible for developing a plan to expand scope of services provided, overcoming resource limitations, personality conflicts, and communication breakdowns to successfully present the case to the executive committee).
  7. Management tools used — even if you were not a manager by title, show that you did use common management tools and processes during your assignments. (Example tools to highlight: team work, quality control, conflict resolution, CRM, time management, process reengineering.)
  8. Technology tools — few things are more important these days than the ability to use and understand technology. Look for work examples that demonstrate your ability to learn and leverage emerging technology. (Example: used online groupware to create a project management office providing a common document repository, shared calendar, alerts, and staff assignments for key projects within our division.)
  9. Worked with key people — individuals who have the opportunity to work with key people and executives are assumed to be among the best. If you worked for or with a famous individual, highlight them. Also include enough information so that the reader will know their importance. (Example: Was selected by my divisional vice president to serve on a committee led by our CEO to evaluate key customer satisfaction.)
  10. Level of innovation — in a rapidly changing world, few things are more important than innovation. List new ideas or innovations you developed, even if the innovation was not implemented. Show that you are an outside-the-box thinker and often among the first to try new things. (Example: Suggested adoption of three new technologies to improve internal productivity, two of which were immediately adopted, yielding a 73% increase in workforce efficiency.)
  11. Buzzwords — business people love functional/general business buzzwords, and merely using them reveals that you are current. Buzzwords should be included in descriptions of both your experience and education. (Example: Participated in a 6-Sigma evaluation exercise of our ___ process.)
  12. Organization — almost every job requires organization, and if you can bring stability from chaos, you are valuable. Share how you took confusing and chaotic tasks and situations and effectively organized them so that they ran smoothly. (Example: Assumed responsibility for combining project documentation and assignments of seven local offices being consolidated into one regional center of expertise.)
  13. Problem identification — if you can identify problems before they become severe, you are quite valuable. List situations where you identified a problem that no one else saw and show them that you thrive in situations where there are lots of problems. (Example: Worked with individuals from four departments to uncover unique situations that led to key customer complaints resulting in significant changes to long-standing customer evaluation and support processes).
  14. People management responsibilities — in addition to leadership skills, general people skills are often a differentiator for technical jobs. It is important to highlight any time you helped with training, hiring, supervision, coaching or employee development, even if done rarely and informally. (Example: Assumed responsibility for training team of seven new hires during department leads leave of absence).
  15. Financial responsibilities — demonstrating that you were given financial responsibility shows that management trusted you. List any time, even if it was brief, where you managed a budget, were responsible for cash or other major spending decisions (Example: Charged with evaluation and selection of $3.2M worth of new equipment for the ____ project.)
  16. Selling capabilities — no matter what your job, the ability to sell ideas and products internally or externally is extremely valuable. Demonstrate that you effectively sold executives, vendors, or owners on new ideas. (Example: Developed arguments for a maintenance proposal that led our vendor to alter the service level agreement and reduce annual maintenance fees by 27%.)
  17. Customer service — almost all jobs require some customer service knowledge and skill. Even if you were not in a customer service role, demonstrate that you have relevant customer service skills that apply across many situations. (Example: Worked with several colleagues following assignment of a new manager with a very abrupt management style to our division to restore positive working atmosphere and resolve assumptions limiting productivity.)
  18. Wrote/Presented — anyone that can write reports or who can make important presentations is extremely valuable. Include any time that you were asked to write something or to make a presentation. If the audience included important people or was large, say so. (Example: Selected by my team to develop and present key revisions and changes to product implementation methodologies before 4,000 key customers at our global user conference.)
  19. Planning/Forecasting — employees who are forward-looking are the most desirable. Highlight situations where you forecasted future events or put together a plan, even if informal. (Example: Developed an emergency response plan following news that a court judgment on a highly publicized case would be announced in a building adjacent to ours during business hours. The plan was later used as a template for disaster planning across the company.)
  20. Goal-setting — the best employees are goal-oriented. Show that before you start a major project, that you set, communicate, and get agreement on goals. (Example: Worked with team members to clarify and set feasible project goals on the ___ project that resulted in avoidance of four possible project derailers.)
  21. Time management — you need to demonstrate that you are conscious of time limitations and deadlines. Show that you completed work in a timely manner or even that you were the first to do it. (Example: Was the first within my division to complete all milestones on time.)
  22. Efficiency — everyone needs workers who are efficient and conscious of costs. Whenever possible, show that you completed tasks efficiently and under budget. (Example: Successfully implemented ____ using only a fraction of the support budget allocated, reducing project cost by 9%.)
  23. Extensive contacts — being well connected and having extensive contacts is an extremely valuable asset for any individual. Demonstrate that you used your contacts to get access, answers, or information. (Example: Leveraged industry contacts to get unbiased feedback on two service providers being considered for a long-term contract, uncovering a volume of pending complaints and possible litigation against our leading contender.)
  24. Any major company names involved — in addition to mentioning the names of key individuals, you should also mention the names of well-known and innovative firms you have dealt with including notable customers, strategic partners, vendors, or consultants. (Example: Worked with McKinsey & Co. on the deployment of our groups product with Google, General Mills, and Dow Corning.)
  25. Global perspective — almost every employee is expected to have a global perspective these days. Even if you don’t have formal international responsibilities, show that you have the capability of working with those from other countries. (Example: Partnered with colleagues in China and India to localize customer evaluation and ranking processes developed there and slated for global rollout.)
  26. Benchmarking — the ability to capture information and answers from industry leading firms is extremely valuable. Highlight situations where you researched benchmark best practices both inside and outside of the organization (Example: Compiled summary of best practices in rapid skill development among professional service firms such as Accenture, Deloitte, and EY.)
  27. Used metrics — you can’t continually improve anything without metrics. Provide examples that demonstrate you start projects with clearly articulated results metrics in place and that you leverage the metrics to inform decisions. (Example: Devised customer service satisfaction and service efficiency metrics prior to the rollout of new CRM software that would later be used to optimize service center staffing levels.)
  28. Consulted — if you have had the opportunity to provide technical or functional advice to others, formally or informally, you are viewed as an expert. Highlight where you consulted or advised others internally or externally. (Example: Consulted with several key clients to transfer knowledge on our approach to learning collaboratively using social media.)
  29. Training — in many companies, access to advanced training means that you are a top employee. Highlight training courses, seminars, workshops and any-advanced training on emerging issues that you participated in. If you have taught training classes, even if they were informal, include that also. Under your education, be sure and list any key skills and tools that you learned and “hot topics” covered in your classes. (Example: Represented my division at industry working groups on ___, and then developed informal internal knowledge sharing summaries for others in my group.)
  30. Diversity — show that you can work with and understand people from different backgrounds. (Example: Used my knowledge of Spanish and Italian to assist global customers when translated support materials were not available.)

Supplemental Convincing Factors

The following elements can and should be used within any resume point to make it stronger and more convincing.

A comparison number — numbers are powerful, but to an outsider, a single isolated number might not mean much. As a result, it is always a good idea to provide a comparison number to show context. Comparison numbers can include the very best in the industry, the best number inside the firm, the average number, last year’s number, the target number, or your competitor’s number (Example: Broke previous sales records by selling 13 additional units on average, per period, and producing revenue 146% above average in our industry.)

Quotes are included — a direct quote from an executive, supervisor, coworker, or even a customer can add credibility and perspective to any accomplishment. (Examples: Was highlighted in my manager’s annual departmental performance review to senior leaders and the “most valuable” team player).

Killer phrases are used — there are certain phrases in business that are universally accepted as signs of good work. Wherever possible include phrases like … “cut costs by xx%,” “completed the project under time and under budget,” “used technology to improve customer service,” “did more with less,” “increased market share by xx%,” “increased margins by xx %.”

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A web link — resumes contain only words, and sometimes your actual work is your most powerful selling point. Wherever possible, provide a direct Internet link to your work or reference to your work. In other cases, mention where a sample or a video of it is available.

Final Thoughts

As both an adviser to talent managers and a business school professor, I get to see both sides of the job search picture. I understand how corporations screen resumes and what it takes to be consistently selected for an interview. Students and experienced professionals alike struggle to present themselves optimally because they rely on antiquated career guidance and assumptions about what others will value.

The one universal truth about resumes is that if it does little more than list your jobs, it provides little value to you or the organizations you apply to. A resume should be a comprehensive marketing document detailing your capabilities, skills, and accomplishments. It should be kept current and used not only when seeking employment, but also as a memory jogger when filing for an internal transfer, promotion, or completing a performance self-assessment. To ensure you are not underselling yourself, use the search feature in your word processing program to see how many times the factors highlighted in this checklist actually appear. If you find, as most do, that over half of these words are not present, kick yourself in the butt for underselling yourself for all these years!

About the Author

Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions. He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.