Guerrilla Resumes: Cons Versus Hiring a Pro

I remember first hearing about Jay Conrad Levinson in May 1993, when I attended the American Bookseller’s Association convention in Miami. He was a big speaker, and the buzz was that he had the line on new marketing techniques that would revolutionize the way businesses thought about promotions and new prospects.

Levinson has since expanded the Guerrilla franchise to dozens of books on a variety of guerrilla approaches to marketing yourself, your company, your brand—almost anything you can think of. The latest in this series of impressive products is Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0, published in 2009. This book came strongly recommended to me by a resume client of mine, who I happened to think was extremely bright and capable. I took her advice and looked for the book. To my surprise, several local Barnes and Noble branches had sold out of it, and I had to request it through our local library system just to get a copy.

Of course, I was particularly interested in the chapter called “Resume Writing and Cover Letter Boot Camp.” I wanted to see what made his flavor and technique new and different. In fact, his techniques are exceptionally different from mainstream resume writing. His plan for job seekers is to develop a document that is so quick and dirty that it takes barely a moment for a recruiter or hiring manager to get the gestalt of a candidate’s expertise. This clearly plays into two problems that job applicants face:

  • The 20-, 15-, or 7-second rule. I’ve heard varying lengths of time, measured in fractions of a minute, that recruiters or hiring managers spend reading a resume. No matter which measurement you believe, you can be sure that it’s no more than the time it took you to read this bullet point—so your resume better be eye-catching and pack a huge punch.
  • WIIFM? Those in the candidate-selection driver’s seat don’t care about you, the candidate. They are only thinking, “what’s in it for me?” The resume has to deliver a powerful, unambiguous statement of capability from the headline through about the first third to first half of the first page. The rest might not even get read.

Levinson’s guerrilla resume, therefore, cuts as much fat as possible. He explains it this way: “[T]he Experience section…is limited to listing your job titles, company names, places of employment, and dates. Nothing more…. Your Guerrilla Resume is designed to make the phone ring, not tell your whole life story” (p. 110). I don’t think there’s a resume writer out there who would argue that a resume isn’t designed to make the phone ring—that is, to get the interview.

But his technique is clearly different. To start, he advises candidates to make a bulleted list of about 5-10 items delineating what we resume writers typically call “accomplishment statements.” He calls them “milestones” and/or “special skills.”  And this is where I differ in my technique from Levinson. The statements he models in sample resumes are far from goal-oriented, measurable accomplishments, of the type that really answer the WIIFM? questions that a resume needs to answer quickly. He recommends using phrases such as, “responsible for,” one of my personal least-favorite bland resume words (see 7 Words You Can’t Say in a Resume for others I can’t stand). None of his bullets begin with strong verbs. The bullets also are not parallel, which is jarring to even the most forgiving of readers.

Of course, the rest of the page contains the expected Education, Certifications, Languages, and Technical Skills sections. But I think this technique is wasting valuable one-page resume real estate on statements that certainly can be much stronger.

Should you as a job seeker choose the guerrilla resume technique, these are my recommendations to improve on an idea that is sound in conception, but lacking in presentation:

  • Include a summary or personal branding statement of 1-5 sentences that focus on hard skills and succinctly explain why you’re unique in your field, position, or industry. Skip the “high-energy,” “creative,” and “dependable”—of course you are, or you wouldn’t be worth hiring.
  • Write strong accomplishment statements that demonstrate how and to what extent you have produced successful results in every role you’ve undertaken.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. Ensure that each word is spelled correctly, each phrase is formatted in parallel with the others in the same section, and the typeface is clear and produced in a readable size. Study a book on print layout if you have to, so that you will know which dash is which, how to justify or center text, and how to make efficient and readable use of white space.
  • Take a look at some resume samples that made the phone ring and got the interview for the client.

Contact Amy L. Adler for a free analysis of your resume. Is it powerful enough? Want it to be stronger? Want to use the guerrilla technique? We can help you the way we’ve helped our other clients get the interview for the jobs they deserve.

Writing a Résumé That Shouts ‘Hire Me’: A Response to The New York Times

When I was a teen, I thought the perfect Sunday morning involved a sesame bagel with lox and a schmear, a cup of great coffee, and The New York Times (especially the Book Review section). In my current incarnation, I wish I could find more meat on that bone. I was particularly excited to read the headline “Writing a Résumé That Shouts ‘Hire Me’,” thinking that I would be getting the scoop on what the experts were saying about contemporary resume writing expectations. I’ve lately been thinking that we resume writers listen to one another too much, when we should be listening to hiring managers and recruiters more.

This article somehow disappointed me. The author cited one of the best in the field, Wendy Enelow, so I was really excited to hear more about what she had to say. I have participated in several of her training sessions, and she and Louise Kursmark always give incredible, specific advice. I wondered, however, if the author of this particular article simply cited some of Enelow’s published comments, as the comments, although true and helpful, were not exceptionally instructive. Altogether, the article seemed like a list of the what rather than the how in a cohesive approach to resume writing that many readers surely would need.

I’m still keeping my RSS feed to NYT_Jobs active, and I hope that in the future we see more about what the hiring managers want to see specifically.

Cover Letters, Part IV: Cover Letters That Get You the Interview, or A Good Cover Letter Is Hard to Find

We’ve spent several posts talking about what makes a terrible cover letter. Here are 3 specific techniques that go into constructing great cover letter:

  1. A great cover letter doesn’t bore or antagonize.

Your cover letter is not about you, at least not to start. Your cover letter is about what you can do for the company to which you are applying. Tell the hiring manager why you understand the company’s situation or position. Explain what you bring that is unique and essential to the position. Capitalize on the hiring manager’s need to hire someone they don’t have to train and who can hit the ground running.

Additionally, don’t whine, demand, or convey in any way that you need something from the company. Don’t be rude or childish in your prose. Don’t be too personal, and don’t use instant-messaging speak (e.g., “CU l8r” is great for your pals, but it makes a terrible impression on a professional). In other words, don’t give the reader a reason to reject your letter out of hand.

Your professional resume and cover letter writer understands the correct language, tone, and presentation for your cover letter. She will demonstrate your keen industry understanding in an inviting, carefully worded manner. She knows your industry well, so she’ll select timely business topics that are relevant and interesting to the hiring manager.

2. A great cover letter is thought-provoking.

A great cover letter presents your qualifications in light of the company’s needs, not the other way around (news flash: the company doesn’t care about your needs, wants, or aspirations). Make the recruiter think that you are the right person for the job. You can do this by presenting a thought-provoking statement about the industry, or even a contradiction that only you, with your brilliant career, can untangle for the reader.

The writing professional you select should be able to craft a document that hooks the hiring manager instantly. She’ll demonstrate a bit of creativity on your behalf, utilizing your branding and industry expertise as the basis for a structured introduction that will have the hiring manager nodding in agreement with your perspective.

3. A great cover letter functions as an advertisement for your resume.

The subsequent paragraphs or bullets should reflect your amazing expertise. You have about 10 to 20 seconds to convince the hiring manager to put your resume into the “call for interview” pile. A good resume/cover letter writer will select the best of your accomplishments and craft vibrant achievement statements that reflect the specific position—without rewriting or copying the applicant’s resume.

A cover letter either resonates with a recruiter or hiring manager, or it falls flat. What do you want yours to do? Contact us about our approach to cover letters that put yours at the top of the “call for an interview” pile.

Cover Letters, Part III: Cover Letters Should Not Make Applicants Sound Like Supplicants

Actually, they shouldn’t make applicants sound whiny: “I want, and I want, and I want, and you should” is not how a cover letter should read. The letter should be all about the company’s needs, and very little about the applicant wants or desires—except about how the applicant’s goal is to exceed all of the company’s needs and requirements. The applicant would be better served to say that she has done X, Y, and Z before, and she can do it again.

In short, it’s not about what the company can do for you and how it can support your goals. It is about how you, the applicant, can improve the company in so many ways.

Cover Letters, Part II: Cover Letters Shouldn’t be Boring

Want Your Resume to Be Noticed?

Make Your Cover Letter Shine

I wrote earlier about a job application process I was managing (it was weird to be on the other side of the desk for a change!). Of the approximately one third of applications that I received with cover letters, about half or so included generic and unimpressive varieties. The applicants had an idea that they needed to send something with their resumes, but their techniques did not hit the right tone or level of appropriateness. These letters looked a lot like this one, which is word for word (although anonymized for the purpose of reprinting):

Dear Hiring Department;

I am excited to apply for the Employment supervisor for youth w/mental health issues (in your city) that has been advertised. While my resume will provide you with an outline of my education and experience; the following information highlights additional personal and professional strengths:

  • Creative, resourceful, and flexible; able to adapt to changing priorities, maintain a positive work attitude and strong work ethic.
  • Expert juggler of multiple projects and achieving on-time completion of various projects, while exceeding expectations.
  • Excellent anticipatory skills; adept at foreseeing unanticipated problems.
  • A clear, concise, and logical communicator; competent at building rapport with clients and colleagues.

Please find attached my resume for your further review.  A cover letter and resume cannot possibly tell you if I am the right candidate for your position, so I look forward to hearing from you in the future, for a more personable meeting.  Thank you for your consideration.


[Applicant name]

Can you imagine my reaction to this type of letter? It certainly beat the type sent by the other half, which hardly referenced the position at all, making the candidate sound like he or she was simply blanketing the universe with resumes (one simply included the words “Thank you.”). The only thing keeping me from sleeping through this letter was its impossibly bad format, which made me want to see how awful it was going to get. I also noticed the terrible grammar and formatting, which certainly did not endear the candidate to me.

Of course, my point is that your resume and cover letter should look nothing like the foregoing. It should be engaging, succinct, and address the hiring manager’s needs, not yours. Your professional resume and cover letter writer knows how to select the right language that will make the hiring manager or recruiter want to read your career documentation, so if you don’t feel confident that your skills are in promoting your area of expertise, you might want to consider hiring someone who does this every day.

A Good Cover Letter is Hard to Find: Part I

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on cover letters. I am trying to figure out what makes bad ones terrible and great ones stick out from the pack.

This is the first in a series of posts about what we know about cover letters.

Cover Letters Are Necessary

During the summer of 2009, I helped a business client of mine recruit for a supervisory position in her nonprofit for troubled children. I wrote the job description and posted it on craigslist locally. I think I received about 25 responses. Probably a third of those included cover letters of one sort or another. I wanted to reject the other two thirds out of hand, simply because the applicants couldn’t figure out how to follow the protocol for applying for a job. I didn’t, and that resulted in some other problems resulting from the candidate’s level of professionalism. Perhaps we should have paid attention to a well-known fact: Including a cover letter is a professional courtesy, as it gives the resume some context. It explains to the hiring manager why the candidate is sending this other document (resume). Without it, the resume is free-floating without a clear target. Your resume also needs an introduction, and that introduction is a well-crafted cover letter.

You Don’t Know What You Know About Yourself: How a Professional Resume Writer Asks the Right Questions

A Professional Resume Writer is Your Guide

When you meet your resume writer for the first time, you can expect a bit of an introduction, some small talk, some discussion about the process. You’ll mention your industry and your current job. Clearly, your resume writer doesn’t know you, and you might actually be worried about how, inside an hour or two, this person will know you well enough to write effectively for you.

A resume writer’s ability to do exactly that is what makes her great. Resume writing is about the writing, for sure. More than that, it’s about asking the right questions and listening.

Your professional resume writer will know how to ask the right questions that will uncover all of your great accomplishments. And she’ll figure out things about you that you didn’t know about yourself.

The Resume Inquiry Process

Your resume writer probably has a set of stock questions that she will ask you to get the process started. These might include the following:

  • What kind of position are you seeking?
  • What industry are you interested in working in?
  • How many years have you been planning this kind of career move?

These types of  questions start to frame the discussion that will lead to your amazing career documentation.

Getting the Very Best from You

The next set of questions relate to each position you’ve held. If your resume is like the hundreds that have crossed my desk, it will do a fantastic job of . . . reporting. I read the whos, the whats, and the whens. You’ve written a pretty good narrative for each of your jobs that tells a recruiter what you did every day—which is not what he wants to read.

A recruiter wants to read the whys in a resume. And the hows. And the what happened nexts. Your professional resume writer knows how to generate these questions so that they are specific to your particular job level, industry, and even region and demographic. These questions are far from canned. They’re different from client to client.

What Are Your Questions?

I can’t write here what the questions would  be for your specific situation and career aspirations—I haven’t met you yet. But, believe me, when we do speak about your history, I’ll have all the right questions on the tip of my tongue. And you’ll be surprised when you hear your answers. I’ll bet you didn’t know what you knew about yourself.

Related Links

7 Words You Can’t Say in a Resume

How to Effectively Use Recruiters in Your Job Search

Amy L. Adler is the president and founder of Inscribe / Express, a resume and career documentation company focusing on the health care and information technology industries. She prepares resumes, cover letters, post-interview thank you letters, executive profiles, and other critical career documents on behalf of clients at all levels of employment. Credentialed as a Certified Advanced Resume Writer, Amy has earned a Master of Business Administration in Information Technology and Strategic Management as well as a Master of Arts in Publishing. Contact Amy at (801) 810-JOBS or .

What Is in a Name? Or, Why You Need a Great Resume Headline

I recently heard a story detailing how so many resumes are titled “RESUME.” Imagine how the process works for recruiters, who scan in hundreds of resumes a week for future searchability. They’ve set their software to read the first line of the page as the candidate’s name. I wonder how many people out there are now known as “Resume.”

Think about the job you have. Think about the job you want. Your professional resume writer will ask you where you are going in your career, and you should have solid ideas about both. Your resume writer takes these data points, synthesizes them, and develops a heading to your resume that addresses where you’ve been and where you’re going in a way that catches hiring managers’ and recruiters’ attention. Certified resume writers understand the language that recruiters speak. We can craft a headline for your resume that speaks volumes about your experience, accomplishments, and expertise.

For more information about collaborating with a Certified Advanced Resume Writer, visit my site:

Logophilia and the Resume Writer

Resume writers by nature are logophiles. Show us a thesaurus— or a great list of strong key words that speak to specific industry requirements—and we salivate. Strangely, the resumes of some job candidates I have reviewed fall into one of two categories: verbosity to the point of absurdity, or brevity to the point of reductionism.

Professional resume writers have honed the skill of utilizing the right words that will have the right impact to get job applicants the right interviews.  Too often I have seen resumes that regurgitate the thesaurus blindly. Clearly these job applicants don’t realize that hiring managers don’t have the time to haul out their Funk & Wagnalls to figure out exactly what they’re trying to say.

More often than that, I have seen resumes that are simply too bare-bones.  They use simplistic language, most often the words, “Responsible for….” These clients don’t understand that hiring managers also don’t have the time to infer the great expertise hidden behind simple, bland language.

The chatty and unfocused share one quality with the terse and uncommunicative: They have not addressed the needs of a hiring manager who is looking to fill a position, starting by inviting candidates based on specific qualifications. They make the recruiter work, and, believe me, the recruiter does not want to work to figure out whether a candidate is the right one. If he or she has any doubts, I have no doubt that bad resumes go into the “do not call for interview” pile.

Your professional resume writer, on the other hand, knows words. Specifically, she knows resume words. She knows the words that will shake the recruiter out of complacency, causing him to pick up the phone and schedule an interview.

For more information about collaborating with a Certified Advanced Resume Writer, visit my site: