One of the things I was most surprised by when I got into the jobs business over a decade ago was the prevalence and practice of age discrimination in hiring right here in the USA. Oh, sure... we're not like some overseas markets where job ads explicitly demand youth, or a particular gender, or beauty(!), in the applicant, but there it is...
In sales, it’s all about the numbers.
Here’s an example of what sales accomplishments should look like on a resume:
A pharmaceutical company has 1,500-plus employees and annual revenues of $415 million. Noble, a 35-year-old sales professional, managed to increase the company’s overall market share by more than 5 percent as he boosted his national sales ranking by 23 points in less than nine months.
Those sorts of statistics were hard to find in his resume before he brought it to Tina Harlan, a professional resume writer who works with TheLadders.
“(On Noble’s first resume), you really had to work to see what he had done,” Harlan said. In place of such specifics as company size and exactly how much Noble improved sales, he often used vague, ambiguous language to describe his accomplishments, she said.
For example, in the first draft of the document, Noble wrote that he “maintained exceptionally high market share within a territory for all three products” while working as a professional sales representative at a pharmaceutical firm and that he “received the marks of ‘Exceeds Expectations’ ” on three annual performance reviews.
“There were a number of things (like that) that were so ambiguous,” Harlan said. “He maintained ‘exceedingly high market share within his territory.’ Without knowing what (the size of that territory is) and how (much he improved market share), what is ‘exceedingly high?’ ”
Selling a hefty salary
Providing specifics is important regardless at any stage of a career, but it’s essential for a sales professional who’s used to making a substantial salary after 12 years in the field.
According to Noble, a sales professional at his level should be making around $75,000 to $80,000 annual base pay with the opportunity to make another $25,000 to $40,000 in commissions. In contrast, an entry-level sales position starts at about half that, at $40,000 to $50,000 annually, with commissions of around $15,000.
Since being laid off in January, Noble hasn’t been looking for a starting position, but such entry-level jobs seemed to be the only ones open, he said.
“My salary is a little bit, or much, higher than much of the people in pharmaceutical sales who are just starting out,” he said. But because of the state of the job market, he went from looking for a midlevel position to looking at entry-level positions. When he looked at the “huge” cut in pay he’d be facing for such entry-level jobs, he figured it would be worth it to stay in the pharmaceutical industry where he had so much experience.
The problem with this approach is that employers tend to shy away from hiring seasoned professionals even if they agree to start at the entry level, Noble pointed out. “Even if you say ‘I’ll take a pay cut,’ they say, ‘You’ll be looking for another position later on.’ I find myself in limbo,” he said.
When rehauling his resume, Harlan first teased out the specifics — the cold, hard numbers that flesh out the story of what a sales professional has accomplished. Also, where the original document took up valuable space by spelling out companies’ full addresses — details that employers or hiring managers don’t read — Harlan instead opted for a brief description of each company that included company size in terms of employees and annual budget, as well as the nature of its business and what specifically it sold.
She then listed his accomplishments in bulleted lists that “really stand out for someone scanning his resume,” she said.
The difference between the before and after resumes is “night and day,” Noble said. “Mine was almost cold,” he said. “If you printed both out, one looks like it’s an Edgar Allen Poe novel. The redone resume is written by someone much more positive. Like Dickens.”
His new resume spells out the specifics, fleshing them out to fill two pages where before he thought his experience was only worth one. The result: He now has the confidence to go after positions that reflect his true value.
“It’s still early,” Noble said. “We just finished the resume other day. But I still feel much more confident in pursuits going forward because when you look at yourself on paper, if you don’t have all the right things there, you don’t have the same confidence level.
“When you see it spelled out, you say ‘Hey, I’ve been pretty good! I’ve done well over the past eight to 12 years,’ and you’re positioned so other folks can see that.”