Manipulating a Sales Resume

Resume-formatting methods to help highlight your strengths

“Jack Smith” was a very successful regional account manager in the pharmaceutical industry. In developing a new resume, we needed a strategy for the content and for the formatting. Combined, the resume can now draw hiring managers’ eyes from the most important to the most basic information. Manipulating a resume to read how you want it to is critical.

To sell the most important points in Jack’s resume, we leveraged a variety of formatting tools: Between the time we received the original and when we delivered the final version of the resume, everything was formatted specifically to highlight some elements of Jack’s career and understate others.

Job One, though, was getting the content right.

I don’t always want to call out job movement, but the last two positions Jack had had were eliminated by acquisition or closure. I included this directly under the company names. He lost those jobs because of structural changes in the organizations, certainly not because of performance. This information answers potential questions before they are asked.

After the text was written, we began using our formatting strategy by visually separating out the basic information: contact details, core competencies and education. This clearly established different sections on the resume.

With the basic information minimized but easy to find, we started prioritizing the rest of the content. Everything was designed to draw the reader’s attention to the most relevant information.

Jack wanted to stay in the pharmaceutical field and was looking for a position that was similar to his last. So job titles were bolded and put in italics. A quick look at his job history makes it clear that he has had similar positions throughout his career and can therefore hit the ground running.

His employers also had well-recognized names. Because he intended to stay in the same field, the names were highlighted with double bars. If Jack intended to look for work outside this industry, I would not have highlighted the company names so clearly. And while we wanted to emphasis the previous employers’ names, we could minimize the company descriptions with an 8-point font size.

In order of importance, we were at:

  • Headline (12-point font, bolded and upper case)
  • Previous Employers (12-point font and upper case)
  • Job Titles (10-point font, bolded and italicized)

In sales, the next big hitter is quantifiable results.

In Jack’s field, formal recognition is important. So the word ”recognition” was bolded and left-justified as a way to draw in the reader’s attention. Jack had consistently outperformed his colleagues for more than 10 years, and I wanted to make sure that was clearly understood.

Many resumes for sales professionals just show the measurable results via different types of performance metrics, such as percentages over quota, President’s Club, Account Manager of the Year, and so on. The text for each job was fully justified with no more than four lines. But that would not tell the reader how Jack actually achieved those results.

We used bullets to highlight specific accomplishments and didn’t mix them with the job duties. Accomplishments lose impact if presented in a hail of bullets; indeed a resume should typically include fewer than six bullets.

After you have clarified what you want to say in your resume, consider what you want to do with formatting. Judicious use of bolding, italics, shading, borders, margins, font sizes and bullets can highlight what is most important and de-emphasize the rest. However, don’t get carried away, because then the resume will look cluttered rather than streamlined.

For example, the original resume’s font was a 10-point Garamond, which is hard to read. Some lines were gray instead of black (for no particular reason). The content under each job was dense and in paragraph form. The left margin was very wide, and the right margin looked ragged. It was not easy for the eye to scan, so streamlined it all in the final resume.

Though there are no definitive rules about what’s acceptable, here are quick tips so that you avoid the same situation:

Margins: I prefer to justify the text fully for a nice, clean look. The information on education at the bottom of the resume can be left- and right-justified as a space-saving technique, as shown in Jack’s “after” resume.

Fonts: It is a question of style preference. For Jack’s resume, I used Arial 10-point font because it is widely accepted and easy to read. Other possibilities include:

  • Tahoma
  • Verdana
  • Garamond
  • Times New Roman. (Use 11-point font if you like Times New Roman.)

Remember, some of us wear bifocals, so please make it easy.

When you think you are done with the resume, step back and give it another review to just look at formatting. And if you ask someone else to review it as well, ask for feedback on both content and presentation.