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.

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