When I meet the founder of a compelling startup I often will try and introduce them to people that could be useful to them. I have one such person who is very specific in what she focuses on and isn’t afraid to say it. Her interest: sales & BD consulting work for mom and education-oriented startups with a retail/ecommerce angle. That may sound ridiculously narrow, but I always remember her when I come across such firms and, precisely because of that focus, she has been the beneficiary of some reasonably lucrative introductions from me.
On the other hand, I come across a lot of resumes with candidates with great range across multiple functions. The titles they declare in their resumes and LinkedIn profiles span multiple disciplines like sales, business development, marketing and even general management (from being a startup founder). Often these are impressive people who really do have the capability to do multiple roles effectively and they think that, by “covering the bases”, they:
- Will look more impressive and
- Are “casting a wider net” to more interesting opportunities that span multiple functions.
Broad vs Specific
The only issue with casting a wider net is that the market doesn’t buy it! The market (and the hiring manager sitting in front of you or reading your resume) thinks down very specific lines – especially with regard to function. The job they are hiring for is always focused on one very specific function and level of seniority with, where relevant, appropriately sized management skills. In sales, they are also often looking for very specific industry experience (preferably in their space or highly coupled to it) and very specific vertical domain expertise in the case of sellers (preferably selling to their client vertical).
When a hiring manager or recruiter sees multiple functions across a few jobs they see someone who is not a specialist and is not interested in specializing. Ironically, trying to be a jack-of-all-trades makes you instantly forgettable in their eyes! Where you see a wide net, they see a lack of focus. This interpretation happens everywhere – initial resume or LinkedIn profile review right through to in-person interviews. In fact, often that first 10 or 15-second screen of your background will preclude you from getting an interview.
So, what do you do if you are a great generalist and want to show it?
Firstly, suppress that urge and focus! Think like the market does. Specialize and highlight your experience to match that specialization. To do that on your resume or LinkedIn Profile follow these steps:
**Clarify your intent
In the preamble/summary area of LinkedIn or the objectives area of your resume, identify your core focus. If you are actively looking, state it in the “open to opportunities” area of LinkedIn. Recruiters focus on this area to see your career intent going forward.
**Narrow down your functional/seniority focus.
To do this, look at these 3 areas:
- Titles – Refine your titles, where relevant, to be crystal clear what function you are in. For example, if your title is vague like “Director Sales & Marketing” or a slightly misleading euphemism for sales like “Brand strategist” you might want to change them to “Director of Sales” or “Brand Strategist / Sales Director” respectively.
- In the body/ bullets of each role – Try and filter your tasks and achievements of your various roles to be focused on a particular function. Ditch your general experience or anything that clouds a focused perception of your honed-in function. For example, if you are in sales, eliminate bullets that better apply to other functions like “Revamped website content” or “Solicited investors to help firm Raise Series A”. Focus instead on sales achievements, logos won, deal sizes etc.
- Seniority – Where appropriate, dumb down your titles to be less (ahem!) impressive. This applies to people who have worked at early stage startups, founded their own startup (if this applies to you, you might want to read this article also) or more senior people who now want to be considered for less senior or individual contributor roles. Titles like CEO can be intimidating to the reader and can be jarring when seen relative to a far more junior role you are applying to. Again, think of the end-goal – what job do you want at the end of the day? If it is a sales or Head of Sales role, instead of decLaring yourself a CEO try, “Head of Sales/Founder” instead and, in the description of what you did in the role, focus on relevant metrics and tasks per point #2 above.
In summary, this is all about aligning your desired job result to the hiring manager’s perception of you being able to do the job at hand. It isn’t rocket-science but you would be surprised how many people make this mistake.
Originally published on Feargall’s LinkedIn page here.