How professionals shoot themselves in the
foot by using numbers the wrong way in their resume to
try to impress employers
Originally Published in The Business Marketing Association’s B2B Marketer Magazine
Of all of the bad mistakes you can make when writing your resume the most egregious is misusing numbers. It is so common for job seekers to use untrue, wrong or invalid statistics that most recruiters don’t believe them when they read them and just dismiss them as fallacious as soon as they see them. This puts job-seekers in a predicament, they know they need to prove their value, yet don’t want to be dismissed as phonies by numbers that cause disbelief. Its not unusual for people to just stick with job functions – no quantifiable results. That’s a problem. If you don’t quantify your contributions, the reader has nothing to hang his hat on and if they feel their bet on you isn’t safe, then all bets are off.
Making statistical resume claims you can’t support sinks your chance of winning an interview, and the real problem is that you don’t even know why you were overlooked.
I’ve seen thousands of bright, successful professionals use statistics in their resume that confused the reader or were so outrageously amazing that the reviewer simply rolled their eyes and dismissed their credentials altogether.
What really is the problem? First off, everyone knows it takes really awesome feats of accomplishment to build a positive impression in today’s difficult job market. In other words, it is critical to put up, as major league baseball players say, really big numbers. It’s all in the stats they’re told, i.e. the bottom line, the ROI, the profit point, etc. The truth is that percentages and quantities do make hiring managers take notice, but the simple fact is that embellishment is just a nicer word for lying and hiring managers are so sensitive to embellishments that a whiff of fiction where facts should be stated cause hiring managers to pause and their first instinct is to trash the candidate rather than risk their reputation by recommending someone they have doubts about.
The resume mistakes I typically see range from the benign accident where the candidate meant something else when they said they grew revenues by 1,000% in 60 days to the blatant lie, where the candidate says to himself; well the company is shuttered, so it doesn’t matter what I say, they can’t confirm or deny my facts. Either way, if you can’t validate your numbers clearly, don’t use them, or better yet, change them to numbers that you can confirm, that you feel are conservative or that are believable so that you can look in the interviewer’s eye with complete confidence because you know your numbers are valid.
Example #1 Suzy Q. Here was one of the most impressive sales professionals I had met. She started her career as a property leasing consultant for Chicago’s prestigious Habitat company in 1987 and over the next 15 years transitioned through 7 additional jobs. Suzy had what you might politely call an ‘eclectic’ career path, one stop that lasted 5 months and was duly noted on her resume was as the Assistant Maitre D of Riva Restaurant at Navy Pier in Chicago. What was interesting about her career from the perspective of numbers was how she used them in her most recent role as Business Development Manager (BDM) of Regus Business Centre (most know that the BDM is the re-minted title that used to be given to Account Sales Executive).
Suzy’s proudest accomplishment was stated as:
• Increased price efficiency of current clients from 69% to 90% within a 5 month period.
Although increasing anything by 21% in less than half a year is impressive, yet when I showed her feats to a dozen different clients, not one of them could understand what she meant by price efficiency. As I mentioned earlier, when you confuse someone, its bye-bye Suzy.
When I interviewed Suzy to rewrite here resume, obviously I sought the hot points to make her stand out from her competition which led me to her efficiency statement. What I learned was her special ability to negotiate better than anybody else in the company. When it came to new client signings for office space, which is what Regus rented, somebody had to determine the price per square foot, office amenities, length of contract and possible discount incentives to win the customer’s signature on the dotted line. This is where Suzy excelled. Where other BDM peers at Regus quickly capitulated to win business, she was determined never to go below 90% of the list price.
The resulting re-write defined what she meant by improving price efficiency:
- To maximize profits, I close all deals within 10% of list price, by comparison, the corporate standard is currently 69%, the difference of closing deals at 90% increases gross profit to Regus by over $5 million annually.
The point is that her statistics were valid, but unclear. She thought that she could go to the interview and just explain what price efficiency was, whereas I thought that it was more important to communicate her value in a way that nobody needed extra explanation. I don’t think you can be much clearer than stating $5 million in added profit.
Example #2 Joe Brown. Joe is your typical young genius. By the age of 28 he was Product Manager for Ameritech DSL. So obviously, being on the front-end of launching DSL for one of the largest companies in the world makes your professional pedigree beyond reproach, right? Wrong. Remember the dot.com/telecom melt down from 1999-2002, well Joe was part of the melt. By the time we met, he had job-hopped three other jobs between 1998 and 2002. His most recent position, which lasted barely over a year, was Director of Marketing for a small, privately held communication company called Cimco Communications.
- What Joe was most proud of was: Increased brand awareness 375% in under 12 months.
Great, right? Nearly quadrupled the awareness of the Cimco brand in a year. Only one problem, what does it truly mean to improve brand awareness. It sounds a little suspicious. Defining brand awareness is nebulas even for major corporations with large marketing departments and extensive brand reach in the consumer market. For a privately held company that no-one ever heard of, to say that you grew brand awareness 375% sounds a little like claiming my apple is 20% more crunchy than your apple, interesting, but hard to prove. Even though brand management, brand extensions, brand awareness and all things brand-centric are important to corporate America, you can’t just use hot ideas as “open sesame” key words to magically open the door of opportunity. If you go to an interview with the Sr. VP of Marketing, and he asks what you did to expand brand awareness and you tell him that you got 28 published articles in trade journals and newspapers and call that brand awareness, he will laugh you out of his office so fast that you’ll need a parachute to slow down. Joe didn’t mean to cross his wires between brand awareness and press mentions, he just needed to call it the right thing, so he made a classic mistake misnaming his accomplishment. This is a deadly sin.
The point is, don’t fudge, embellish or lie. Call it what it is, not what you want it to be. Spend a little more time in the resume explaining your key accomplishments. If you have someone read the resume, ask them if it is perfectly clear and don’t make the excuse that you are speaking to a knowledgeable audience that understands what you meant. Heck, your resume might be reviewed by a kid fresh out of college who refers the “keepers” to her boss. If you are unclear you could easily confuse the screener. The key is to be clear, use honest numbers and validate your claims with enough substantiating information that the reviewer believes your statements.