The Business Owner’s Resume Riddle

Do you call yourself the CEO?

The resume of an entrepreneur isn’t fundamentally different from the resume of any of the employees in a large organization. But the nature of the entrepreneur’s role in a company and the tasks he performs creates unique hurdles when crafting a resume for the business owner.

For the most part, it all comes down to words, said Steve Burdan, a certified professional resume writer based in Chicago who works with Ladders. A hiring manager will not necessarily read between the lines to understand what you did in your own employment and why you want to work for their company.

Roles and responsibilities

The trouble starts with the business owner’s title, Burdan said. Does “consultant” or “freelancer” fit the bill? Does “president” fully explain the work you’ve been doing? “It’s not necessary to have your resume mirror the title you are applying for,” Burdan said. “Think about what you did for your company. If you are looking for a vice president or president role, you don’t necessarily have to give yourself that title. Sometimes, general manager stands apart from VP or president and gives the sense of overarching responsibility.”

There’s also the matter of overstating your rank. Too often, business owners include inflated titles, such as “president and CEO,” Burdan said. He advises against those titles, even if that’s what the individual’s business card said.

The rationale boils down to perception: There’s a big difference between being the president of a one-person company and being the president of General Electric, and, in most cases, it’s wise to “dial it back” to avoid being seen as exaggerating your role, he said. “If you were a one-person operation, then use ‘principal.’ A franchise owner would be an ‘owner-operator.’ ”

It can be difficult for a business owner to capture the breadth and scope of her roles and responsibilities in a title, especially when the sole proprietor wears many hats, Burdan said.

Here he recommended the self-employed job seeker make use of the resume profile section to spell out not what she did in her old job but how she can leverage her experience to deliver for an employer. “Think of it as a branding statement, with yourself as the brand,” he said. “It should highlight your skill set and give the hiring manager a clear idea of what you can do.”

The consultant’s many jobs

For independent contractors, it is important to list the clients you performed work for as a way to highlight your professional credibility among peers. On the other hand, listing the many jobs and relationships of a consultant’s career presents its own problems, Burdan said.

A contractor may have dozens of clients, concurrent engagements and overlapping projects that can appear confusing if listed chronologically as separate “jobs” on a resume. It creates an unnecessarily long document and can confuse the hiring manager, Burdan said. Instead, he recommended combining them within the job descriptions and highlighting key successes as accomplishments.

What about the client relationships that went south or projects that didn’t work out? Just don’t list them, Burdan said. Never lie, but leaving something off your resume is not the same thing as making something up. If it wasn’t a good fit, it didn’t work out and it isn’t relevant to your search, then it’s OK to skip it, he said. “If someone took a short-term job, and that job blew up, I would suggest they leave that job off the resume,” he said. “It’s all about giving impressions; you don’t want to give impression that you jump from one job to the next.”

The rest is Resume 101. Be clear. Be concise. Rewrite; you can’t have a one-size-fits-all resume, he said. “The job search is a race; you’ve got to gain any kind of edge that you can, without using steroids.”