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Bulletproof Your Resume: Four Mistakes Nonprofit Execs Make and How to Fix Them

June 25, 2014

Nonprofit_resume_mistakesCrafting a compelling resume tends to get more difficult the further along you are in your career. There's a much larger body of work to consider and frame once you've reached the executive level, and for most executives finding the time to build a high-impact resume isn’t easy. But it’s time well spent, since your resume is still an important way to communicate your unique value proposition and helps prospective employers and others get a quick sense of your personal brand.

Below are four mistakes nonprofit executives often make with their resumes, and how to fix them.

1. Leading with an objective statement or random assortment of characteristics and adjectives.The real estate at the top of your resume is critical. This is your first and best chance to demonstrate your value proposition to a prospective employer. If you don't hook them here, most readers will lose interest before they get to the middle of the page. The old standby objective statement (e.g., "Seasoned manager seeking leadership opportunity in mission-driven social service organization") doesn't give the reader anything other than a vague picture of the kind of job you are looking for — and frankly, she doesn't care about that. Prospective hiring managers, recruiters, and HR executives need and want to know what you can offer them.

The fix: Develop a powerful summary that outlines your career achievements and value. Make it easy to read, use bullets, and be sure it demonstrates your skills in a way that convinces the hiring manager you are worth more than thirty seconds of his or her time. Focus on the quantifiable results of your projects and roles, as well as what you have to offer a potential employer. For example:

  • Managed department of 60 with $35M budget;
  • Oversaw organization-wide data migration project;
  • Secured $19M in funding.

2. Missing the mark on format and length. As an executive recruiter, I see hundreds of resumes every week, and the two most common mistakes I see are resumes that are too long and/or resumes that have overly fussy formatting.

The fix: As a seasoned executive, you have much more experience than you could possibly fit onto a single page. That doesn't mean, however, that you should take six pages to spell it all out; keep it to no more than two to three pages and indicate that you're happy to fill in your additional experience upon request.

When it comes to formatting, simplicity and readability should be your guiding principles. Stick to a maximum of two fonts, and don't over-engineer. Also, don't forget that many people, especially those with whom you'll be networking, will be looking at your resume on a mobile device, so be sure to look at the finished product on a smartphone and tablet before you circulate it.

Finally, don't forget about the basics: if you don't have the time to proofread your resume for typos and grammatical errors, find someone who does.

3. Neglecting quantifiable results. Anyone considering you for a job needs to know what kind of measurable impact you’ve had in your previous roles. Phrases like "improved performance" and "led a winning team" are so vague as to be meaningless.

The fix: Scan your resume with a results-focus. Where can you change generic assertions of success into measurable outcomes? Instead of "Improved performance," try something like "Achieved a 30 percent increase in efficiency over a one-year period." "Led a winning team" could be "Led team that secured more than $10M in funding."

4. Forgetting about your online presence. Unfortunately, you can't just sit back once you've crafted a bulletproof resume. Savvy job seekers (and even those who aren't actively seeking a new role) must pay attention, on a regular basis, to their online presence.

The fix: Once you've perfected your resume, use it as the basis for your online presence (or the one you'll be building if you don’t already have an online presence). At a minimum, you should be on LinkedIn, and your profile there should be just as compelling as the resume you've worked so hard to strengthen.

So there you have it: Four easy fixes for the most common mistakes nonprofit executives make on their resumes. Good luck, and happy job hunting!

Have any resume tips for nonprofit execs you'd like to share? Use the comments section below....

Molly Brennan is a managing partner at Koya Leadership Partners, a national executive search firm dedicated to the nonprofit sector, where she oversees the firm’s executive search services function.

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