Looking Good On Paper

By: Cody Pierson


Congratulations! It’s a new year, you made your quota and you’re going on the Club Trip in 4 weeks. Things couldn’t be better, which is why you’ve decided it’s time to leave –because you’re at the top.

Click open your old resume, take a good look. Would you hire you? If you’re like most sales person you just want the opportunity to sit down with someone because they’ll quickly recognize a star, and if they don’t, you don’t want to work there anyways.

Hmmm…but that’s not how it works.  It all begins here with the resume.  The resume whose job is to capture and hold the attention of your next boss who needs someone like you to put them on the map because he DIDN’T make Club this year and his CEO just told him he has 1 more year to prove he can.

As you consider your resume, consider these points shared by recruiters who specialize in recruiting and representing folks just like you: Quota Killers. All Stars. Bag Carryers. Door Knockers. Individual Contributors. Sales Professionals. You.

(1) Understand your audience

You are a Sales Person. Your audience is the VP Sales or the CEO if you happen to be pursuing a start-up. Either way, your audience is time starved, mission minded, and their success is tied directly to the success of the sales team they build.

The reality is, that most audiences like that (your Recruiter included) do not read resumes. They scan them, looking for nuggets such as dollar signs, percentages, references to club trips or over achiever awards, names of large customer deals won or strategic partners signed.

These nuggets enable the audience to quickly create a  shortlist of potential candidates who will (a) have an understanding of their environment from a solution type or target account/industry perspective and (b) are likely to be successful again based on their previous track record.

What does that mean when it comes to writing the resume?


  • Avoid story telling and writing in paragraphs

  • Use bullet points

  • Keep the document to 2 pages, 3 if absolutely necessary

  • Highlight specific and tangible accomplishments whenever possible: see next section


(2) A resume is not a job description. Understand the difference.

A common mistake occurs when too much of a resume’s content details job responsibilities. Examine your resume. Does it describe what you are responsible for doing, or does it describe what you have done?

Consider this example:

Two sales people from the same company set out seeking new employment. They both send their resumes to the same US based software vendor looking for their first Canadian hire to open up the market. Both sales people submit a resume which outlines their responsibilities, it might look something like this:

Responsible for enterprise software sales of HR, payroll, financials, manufacturing, distribution and warehouse management.

  • Knowledgeable of the Canadian midmarket manufacturing vertical including both discreet & process manufacturing.

  • Regular user of Salesforce.com ensuring accurate and timely entry of prospects.

  • Responsible for achieving a quota of $1.8M in license revenue.


Question: how would the VP Sales know which of the two sales people applying was more successful?

Consider this: The first sales person is motivated to leave because he has not made his number in 3 quarters and he suspects he is about to be fired.  The second sales person is the top ranking rep in the region, and is motivated to leave for a more aggressive comp plan and the chance to put a new vendor on the map in Canada.

If YOU were the second sales rep, would you want to be mistaken for the first?

Net/Net: If your audience doesn’t see facts, stats, achievements, and bragging points, they may assume it’s because you don’t have any. Don’t allow yourself to be caught up in a case of mistaken identity.

(3) Noise and Clutter

A term used in photography to evaluate the quality or sharpness of an image is called  “noise”. Noise, or clutter, as I prefer to call it, distracts the audience, can affect the overall esthetics of a resume causing it to lose its sharpness or to look ‘amateur’. Sometimes the noise or clutter is obvious when scanning the resume, and other times it requires a methodical, editorial eye.

Occasionally a sales person may choose to intentionally add clutter in a painful attempt to demonstrate creativity or worse, use it as an attempt to distract the audience from realizing what is missing: facts and stats. No one expects a sales person’s resume to be highly stylized, therefore most VPs and Recruiters red flag these resumes immediately  and review them more carefully hoping their suspicions are wrong.

Examples of noise and clutter:

  • Clip art, photos, circle graphs/bar graphs, moving pictures.

  • Excessive use of text boxes or a resume template where an online view shows all of the content in boxes. This makes for very difficult  reading.

  • Multiple font styles, multiple font sizes, excessive and inconsistent bolding or underlining, inconsistent line spacing and indentations, excessive use of colored text.


(4) The Content

We’ve already pointed out that the content of a resume should be accomplishment oriented and bullet pointed so the VP or CEO can more quickly identify that you’re the top performer he’s been hoping to find! What else?

  • Be conscious not to create excessive white space around the text. Some older resume templates indent the content to almost 1/3 of the page. Using that style pushes the content to use extra lines and can quickly add pages to a resume.



  • Avoid lengthy opening sections that may be called “Objective”, “Summary”, “Executive Overview”, “High Lites”. This only causes the content that really matters to get pushed further down, and may cause duplication of facts/data. Your audience will want to understand what you accomplished with each employer so make it easy for them.



  • When outlining each employer, never start with date, always begin with the employer’s name first. Lengths of tenure are a wildcard for what someone considers acceptable. Will someone consider you a job hopper and therefore high risk to them because you’ve had 3 employers since 2002? Or will someone consider you too low a risk taker and a ‘comfort seeker’ for having been somewhere for 6 years? Don’t let something this sensitive be the first thing someone sees. Start out with our employer’s name – that’s what they’re looking for anyways. That alone may tell someone a lot about the profile of sales person you are.



  • Avoid writing in the first person: I did, I won, I sold, my accounts, my territory. Likewise avoid third person: He sold, she won, her accounts.



  • Avoid using acronyms or buzzwords that are exclusive to your employer. Industry acronyms such as CRM, ERP and BI are acceptable.



  • Fresh graduates generally put their education on the front page of their resume because they don’t have any experience and are hoping it will help them get started. For anyone else education belongs on the last page.



  • Resume writers debate whether areas such as ‘Hobbies” or “Interests” have a place on a resume and should be included.  This is purely subjective. I will frequently include it if I need ‘filler’ to keep the last page of the resume from hanging in white space.


(5) Don’t Take It Personally

You’ve finished your resume and are critiquing your work. You probably think it looks pretty good don’t you – after all, it’s all about YOU!  Which is the very reason why you need to get an opinion that matters – because while your resume is sitting in the inbox of the VP Sales, so are  5 others, and he only has time to scan through 3 today and interview 2 next week.

Seek the perspective of someone you trust will provide objective feedback, who KNOWS THE INDUSTRY and the role YOU do. Perhaps it’s an Executive you’ve worked for in the past. Perhaps it’s a Recruiter you’ve worked with before.

Many people find a resume format they like early in their career and maintain it. However, changing market conditions, the consolidation within the high tech sector and the speed of online communication have increased competitiveness amongst candidates for coveted positions like the one described earlier in this article. Maybe it’s time to evaluate your resume.

Resume consultants or writing services may provide an objective solution to documenting your career. Most of these services work with candidates from all industries and for all positions. Yesterday she wrote a resume for the Manager of Patient Care at a large urban hospital; tomorrow it’s a Pipefitter hoping to join a large construction firm, but today she is focused on you:  a Sales Executives who is seeking a target income of $230K.

When seeking such a service, ask questions.

  • Do they understand YOUR audience, and how you will be evaluated against their requirements?

  • Do they understand what makes a successful sales person and what facts and stats need to be included?

  • Do they have a portfolio of sales resumes to demonstrate they can do this; or does the portfolio consist largely of stylized resumes written in paragraph form or using filler content, ‘noise’ and printed on high grade paper?

  • Will their service benefit short term or long term if they create your resume?

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Cody Pierson is the Marketing Manager at Martyn Bassett Associates, Toronto's premiere executive recruitment firm. If you're working in the GTA and need help staying connected to your industry, get in touch with us at www.mbassett.com

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