How to Write a Resume for a Sales Job

Last Updated Oct 28, 2011 5:03 PM EDT

The best sales jobs usually come from referrals. In this line of work, it's the people who know you and trust you who are most likely to find you your next position. That's why your reputation as a sales professional is so crucial. It's also why it's long-term career suicide to screw with your customers to make your numbers.

However, even though it's probably your reputation and contacts that will get you most of your jobs, there are times -- like when you're starting out in a new industry, or have just moved to a new geographical area -- where you may need to write a resume for a sales job.

The purpose of this post is to help you with that process.

RULE #1: Only write a resume if there's no other way to get an interview. The only time a resume is useful is when you're answering a specific Help Wanted advertisement. In ALL other cases, you're better off crafting a specific letter to a specific person or pursuing the contact personally. Remember: the goal of the resume is just to land a telephone interview with whomever you'll be working for. As with any other sales situation, it's usually quicker and easier to achieve that goal without getting gatekeepers (i.e. HR) involved.

RULE #2: HR groups use resumes to disqualify candidates. For you, the purpose of a resume is to land you a telephone interview, which will then lead towards further conversations and (hopefully) a job offer. For the HR group in the hiring firm, however, the purpose of your resume is quite different: they want to use it to get you off the list of people they need to think about. In other words, the POINT of the resume is to survive multiple screenings, not to sell you as a candidate. You do that when you get on the phone!

RULE #3: Write a unique resume for each job. Your resume is going to be screened, probably by computer and if not, by some drone in the HR group, and if it doesn't contain the same keywords that are in the advertisement, you're toast. That's why generic resumes are useless. You're about as likely to get an interview from a generic resume as you are to win the lottery.

RULE #4: Don't write a resume if you aren't qualified. HR is going to throw out every resume that doesn't fulfill their minimum requirements for the job. It's a pointless exercise to write and send a resume if you aren't qualified. It's like selling to somebody who's already decided not to buy. A total waste of your time.

RULE #5: Echo the wording of the ad in your resume. If the screening program (or the HR drone) doesn't see the right terminology, your resume will be winnowed out. So you MUST put the right terminology in the resume. For example, suppose you see this advertisement:

Acme would like to invite ambitious, hard-working individuals to apply for the position of full-time Outside Sales. Applicants should be able to bring new ideas and improvements to business practices; remain fair, respectful and moral in all situations; and work well both independently and as part of a team.
List out the qualitative words in the ad, like "ambitious" and "hard-working". Then write a self-description that echoes back the advertisement, like so:
An ambitious, hard-working, moral individual, looking to for a full-time job in outside sales, with the opportunity to work both independently and as part of a team.
The purpose of that description is to make sure that get you through the first level screening. Put your self-description at the top of the resume, right under your name.

RULE #6: Research the hiring company. If you know the name of the hiring company, do some quick research into their business model, sales practices, etc. This will be useful in the next step. However, if you know A LOT about the hiring company, then you'll probably be better off forgetting about HR screening and the resume process and instead use your network, social network or sales skills to go directly to the hiring manager. (See Rule #1.)

RULE #7: Compile quantifiable evidence that the self-description is valid. Your next task is to make sure that the claims that you made in your "self description" are backed up by specific, quantitative examples of what you did personally in your previous positions. For example:

  • Ambitious: "I increased sales revenue by 23% percent by actively developing accounts in a new industry sector."
  • Hard-working: "I clocked 60 hour work weeks until the project was complete, thereby saving the company $10 million in lost sales."
  • Moral: "I registered for and completed a two-day Ethical Selling course."
What's important here is to avoid vague generalities (those go in the "self description") and instead provide hard evidence that you're the type of person they'd probably want to hire, expressed in terms that an HR person will understand. The presence of this information will help ensure that your resume is put into the "call back" pile.

RULE #8: Structure the resume to play to your strengths. Once you've got the guts of the resume, structure it either according to time line (if you've been regularly employed) or according to skills (if you've got gaps in your employment history). Needless to say, the finished resume must also state clearly how you fulfill the basic job requirements in terms of experience and education.

Once you've gotten the telephone interview, it's just like any other sales situation: building a relationship, assessing needs, etc. That should be easy for you, or you wouldn't be in sales, right?

READERS: You'll find plenty of similar tips and techniques in my new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling which can now be ordered here:

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