Here’s a perspective from Bridgespan Group Partner Wayne Luke, head of executive search:
Resume screening can provide insights into career progression, what the person views and values as major accomplishments and contributions, and how he/she packaged and leveraged experience into an engine for career progression. But it’s in “deep dive” interviews, based upon detailed discussions of real-world professional situations, that you will always expose styles, personal measures of success, specific actions taken, and lessons learned in any person’s background. Then, of course, the comprehensive referencing process will help ensure that “what you see is what you get” in a candidate, and how best to surround and support the candidate in their new role.
This reinforces the value of having a resume “profile” that lays out your core value proposition in two to three lines, which you then support by listing your achievements in especially the two most current positions. Think of a profile as a way to summarize your career progression and provide a snapshot of yourself to a prospective employer.
The process of coming up with these two to three “profile” lines will be invaluable to you – even if you are convinced that an employer won’t read it. simply by having it on your resume, you will demonstrate to the prospective employer that you did your homework, that you reflected on your career progression, and that you understand what you bring to an employer. Of course you need to back up your assertions in the body of the resume. The profile is simply an introduction, while the rest of the resume is the substance.
Reviewers will pay attention to what you list as an accomplishment and how you describe your accomplishments. I’m a big believer in highlighting only those accomplishments you want to repeat and those activities you look forward to doing again. If I read a resume, my assumption is that the person is a) proud of doing the work they list; and b) willing to do it again. So why ask for something you don’t want to do again? In any job, we are asked to do things we don’t really like anyway – that’s why they call it “work!”
Accomplishments are measurable and directional and often time-limited, e.g. “Improved by 30% proposal turnaround time within six months of starting job.” It’s often good to leave open the question of “how” you accomplished something, because it gives the employer a reason to interview you. If the employer wants similar results, they may want to know how you did it. This will give them insight into how you think and relate to others. Exceptions are where some description of how you did something is needed to provide context, will shed light on an attribute that distinguishes you, or illuminates your values. For example, if the employer has stated that teamwork is a value and you are a team player, you may want to say “Led [or Actively participated in] a team that improved by 30% proposal turnaround time, within 6 months.
When you get an interview, you will be able to use the ideas from the profile to convey your value. You’ll have answers for many of the interviewers’ questions simply by thinking about how you accomplished things. And your ability to engage in self-reflection will come across in the interview.
Finally, be careful about choosing references. It’s important that you are confident in the kind of answers someone will give. It’s likely that prospective employers will ask the kind of questions listed in the above quote, so prepare your references accordingly. I don’t think it’s good to ask someone after the fact what they said and then get upset about it, if you haven’t forewarned them and had some discussion about what they will say when called. If someone isn’t comfortable presenting you in a good light, they will not be a good reference. If you know someone as critical, they might not be a good reference. Good references may talk about your shortcomings, which is fine as long as they can answer “yes” to the question “would you rehire this person?” That is the ultimate good reference.