A Sales Resume Seals the Deal

When a sales pro learns to see himself as the product, he’s bound to make the sale.

What is it about salespeople who can’t sell themselves?

“That’s one of the paradoxes I see; for as long as I’ve been doing this, sales guys have been the worst guys at selling themselves,” said Steve Burdan, CPRW (certified professional resume writer) who works with Ladders. “They’re so used to stepping outside of themselves. They’re so used to selling a product. I tell them, ‘You’re the product now.’ ”

In April, Curtis Mills took his turn to be the product. Mills, 47, is a salesman, management expert and business development guru who underwent a resume power makeover with Burdan that made Mills’ eyes pop.

“My first e-mail to Steve was, ‘Wow,’ ” Mills said. “The main thing it did for me was to inject a shot of confidence back into my arm. It said I’ve done some good things in a lot of backgrounds. My first impression looking at the resume rewrite was that I’ve really done some things. I know I’ve done some things, and I know I can do some things for [my next employer]. To me, it exudes the confidence I used to have.”

That infusion of confidence is particularly valuable to somebody who’s been “banging around unemployed,” as Mills puts it. After too many rejections and too many resumes sent out with few, if any, responses, “things get to you,” he said.

Mills found himself looking for a job six months ago after his most recent employer — an Internet-based provider of motorcycle parts, accessories and clothing — dissolved from under him, running out of liquid cash and essentially ceasing operations, according to Mills.

Who wouldn’t want to buy this product?

By any measure, Mills’ career has been successful. His most recent role was as chief of operations, “responsible for all types of business functions, including inventory, inventory tracking, due diligence, vendor relations, contract administration and product delivery,” to quote from his new power resume.

As chief of operations, Mills also “played a key role in driving sales from $800,000 to almost $2 million, while maintaining smooth operations and resolving customer issues.” In addition, he “established the inside sales department from scratch and ensured that the design team had all the necessary applications for maintaining the corporate Web site.”

Before that, Mills successfully sold real estate; banking products for JPMorgan Chase Bank; fire, life and casualty insurance and financial services, including fixed and variable annuities and mutual funds for Farmers Insurance; and home, auto, boat and excess liability policies for Auto Club of Southern California (AAA).

Obviously, Mills can sell. At Auto Club of Southern California, for example, he achieved the highest insurance-renewal sales in his office — 96.6 percent — for four years running.

What was this expert sales professional doing wrong when it came to selling himself?

Format matters

For starters, Mills picked the worst possible resume format.

As professional resume writers will tell you, any resume boils down to one of three basic formats: chronological, which is the more common; functional; or a hybrid of the two.

Mills was using a functional resume. First his resume showed the sales highlights of his career; next came the high points of his management experience; what followed was his work experience, which he rendered minimally, only showing dates, employer names, employer city and state, and job titles.

A functional resume such as Mills’ “before” version has one primary drawback, Burdan said: It takes all of an applicant’s accomplishments and strips them out of their chronological sequence.

“You don’t know if the guy [achieved a given accomplishment] last week or 20 years ago,” Burdan noted.

A functional resume also strips out valuable context. It not only removes the framework of how recent a job candidate’s experience is; it also removes the context of the employers’ identities and the businesses to which the candidate’s skills and accomplishments pertain.

Worst of all, it makes it hard for the reader. “The harder [I] make it for the reader to figure out what I can do for [them], the less I’m selling myself,” Burdan said. “If they read a functional resume, they’ll see those things, but they don’t know what he’s capable of doing for them now.”

Burdan and Mills came up with a hybrid resume that combines both chronological and functional information. A summary section outlines Mills’ career highlights and key qualities and accomplishments, while a subsequent chronological section puts those elements into context in fleshed-out blurbs for each job title that not only state where he worked and when but also the nature of his top achievements and details of his job responsibilities.

For Mills, the most illuminating aspect of the resume-rewriting experience was the probing questions Burdan posed. The questions “caused me to think a little bit,” Mills said. “I’m not a person who cares about titles. I said to Steve, ‘Titles mean nothing to me. The only thing that matters is money. The term ‘housekeeper’ vs. ‘domestic engineer,’ for example, those mean the same thing — the title is the same.’ ”

Maybe those titles do boil down to the same thing, but when you’re selling yourself, that attitude doesn’t help. You want to be the product on the shelf that stands out. You have to give somebody a reason to pluck you off the shelf and to spend four minutes reading your resume. You have to grab your customer’s attention.

To get past that “titles don’t matter” mentality, Burdan prompted Mills to delve deep into his previous work experience instead of just shrugging it off. “To me, it was just my job,” Mills said. “He caused me to think about some of the stuff I did do. I thought, ‘Yeah, I guess I really did do some good stuff.’ ”
The effect of the power resume has been electric. Not only did it give Mills a confidence shot in the arm, it also produced instant results. Mills posted it on Ladders on Saturday, May 2. As of Monday, May 4, he’d already had about six responses.

It just goes to show: When a sales pro learns to see himself as the product, he’s bound to make the sale.