Finding the Fairytale Job: How to Tell Your Story


by Laura Gassner Otting , Consultant,

          The average headhunter will spend about eight seconds looking at your resume before moving on to the other hundreds of pieces of paper on his or her desk. Pretty scary statistic, huh? If you cannot capture that headhunter's interest in those eight seconds, you can kiss your chances to interview for that fairytale job goodbye forever. So, how do you create a resume that tells your story accurately and effectively, and grabs that headhunter's attention? Neon green paper isn't the answer, tempting as it may sound.

Size Matters

          One of the biggest questions I hear is, "How can I present a fifteen, twenty, or thirty year career in just one page of text?" The answer: you cannot. Feel free to elaborate to the length of two or three pages. I once got a resume from a college student who was applying for an internship; it was four pages. At the age of 19, that was obnoxious. If you at a level where you are comfortable applying for senior level executive positions, then a one page resume is doing you a disservice. While a recruiter will only spend few brief moments looking at your resume, you should provide enough material so that he or she can understand the full scope of what you've accomplished.

Numbers Add Up

          So, now that your resume is longer, how do you capture a headhunter's brief attention? It's not the cover letter, it the numbers on your resume! Including specific numbers on your resume allows a headhunter to scan through and quickly discern whether you have had the correct level of depth, breadth and scope of experience for the position for which he or she is recruiting. The headhunter will only go back and read your cover letter if there is enough meat in your resume to prove it worthy. List numbers of dollars raised, staff managed, grants written, board members trained, speeches written, press mentions secured. But don't get too carried away; listing salaries, number and ages of children, or your own age is crass, and in some cases illegal for the recruiter to even take into consideration.

But What Did You Actually Do?

          When was the last time your day to day job reflected what was in that position description you agreed to years ago? If you are like most of us, it's not likely lately.
           Most of us fall into the habit of reflecting our job descriptions in our resumes because it is the easiest starting point to help us explain what we do. But, your job description lists tasks, i.e., what you are supposed to do, but not your accomplishments, i.e., what you actually did. Why say, "secured donations from private corporations," when you can say "raised $5 million in corporate donations through three $1 million major gifts, four community events, and the recruitment of two new board members"?