Think back to the best sales presentation you ever delivered or witnessed. What made it so compelling? Was it the facts and figures? The PowerPoint craftsmanship? Charts pointing up and to the right? Wait … maybe a slide filled with client logos?
Chances are, you remember the best presentation ever because the presenter told a story – a narrative that, like your favorite novel, featured a beginning (exposition), a middle (climax), and an end (denouement).
This presentation could have indeed included a PowerPoint, and it certainly could have contained facts, figures, charts and logos – but it appealed to both your logic and your emotion by combining these facts with narrative.
And when the content we’re presenting is somewhat, uh, “challenging” (product features are lacking, no reference-able clients, clunky demo site, unknown brand), delivering a strong narrative is absolutely critical for sales success!
Some of us have the same “content problem” with our resumes – specifically, short tenures – and I strongly recommend using storytelling to overcome this.
As detailed in this article, my customers (VPs of Sales) tell me that a salesperson’s tenures over the last 10 years are the No. 2 consideration factor when deciding whom to interview and hire. (No. 1 is their financial performance over that same time period).
If you have a “job-hopper” resume – which I would define as multiple 1-2 year stints over the last 10 years, and/or 4+ companies over that time period – there are steps you can take to land more interviews. The summary: use your resume to share your narrative with these VPs of Sales, rather than just recite your facts and figures.
Why the focus on your resume? Well, like it or not, it’s typically what gets you invited to interview or not. To be clear, you can and should communicate the points below through a cover letter, an email, a video, and certainly throughout your interview process. But if you’ve been a job-hopper (I know it’s a cringe-worthy term but, hey, candor), I believe you really must overcome these objections right on your resume.
Here are 6 themes to consider.
1. Highlight the positive
The easiest way to draw attention away from a series of short tenures is to fill your resume with all the good stuff you’ve done. If you’ve exceeded annual quota 7 of the last 10 years (and can provide evidence of this performance), the hopping loses importance. Yet I’m continually shocked by how many Top 10 and Top 20 Percent sales reps bury their financial accomplishments behind boring, keyword-based descriptions of their daily job duties.
OK, you had a 10-month stint. Did you close ANY deals over that time period? List the company names. Did you make your quota during any quarter there? Add it. Did you rank No. 1 or No. 2 among your peers during your time there? Even for a quarter? Include it.
2. Emphasize your career progression
Great salespeople are driven, ambitious, and always seeking opportunities to grow. Many younger AEs (1-10 years experience) have short stints because the new opportunities provide a $15k salary bump, a $30k OTE bump, and the chance to sell a product with a larger Average Deal Size. If you moved from a $40k SDR role, to a $55k SMB AE role, to a $70k Mid-Market AE role, all within 24 months and with 3 different companies – good on you! If I was in that position, I would have no problem providing these exact details on my resume.
3. Provide one sentence about why you left
Providing some explanation for your movement allows you to take control of your career narrative. If you simply list your companies and tenures, you are allowing the reader of your resume to make up whatever narrative he or she wants. If you’ve been fired from three consecutive AE positions for underperformance, I can’t offer much advice or consolation. But if there have been truly unique circumstances – especially those beyond your control – what do you have to lose by outlining them on your resume? Will this lead to fewer interviews?
Here are some common reasons for movement that many VPs of Sales will relate to. After all, they’re salespeople too. If you left a short stint for any of these reasons, I’d recommend you share it up front, rather than allow a recruiter or sales leader to fill in the blanks:
- Drastic comp plan changes, especially those that cost you commission payouts.
- Lack of confidence in the product: significant drop in close rates / renewal rates / customer satisfaction scores.
- Company lost funding / drastically tightened the purse strings / removed high-salaried individuals / executed a mass layoff.
- Company moved to an inside sales model, and eliminated field reps.
- Exodus of senior leadership, possibly including the person who hired you.
- Non-existent coaching / professional development / promotion opportunities. A true dead-end job.
- Dysfunctional company culture: negative office environment; anti-sales sentiments; lack of vision/direction; rampant harassment; poor ethics.
- Your role tuned out to be significantly different than what was discussed during the hiring process: i.e. role, quota, territory, products in your bag.
- A new sales leader took over and cleaned house, regardless of your performance or activity level.
4. List your references on your resume – with their contact information
You had some short tenures because of circumstances beyond your control, you say? One or more of the those listed above? Surely, someone who worked with you there can verify this. So why not list them as a reference, right on your resume?
This is an exercise in building credibility. I don’t expect the recruiter/hiring manager to start dialing up your references without your permission. But the mere fact you proactively list their contact information signals: “I’m confident these people will say great things about my performance at ABC Company, as well as the circumstances of my departure – so go ahead and call them.”
These references will eventually support your career narrative.
5. Put those months back in
Again, the theme here is transparency. Some of my clients simply will not accept a resume that has only years, and I don’t necessarily blame them. It’s not that you have short stints – you can overcome that objection – it’s the appearance of trying to hide something. In this case, a gap in employment. If you got fired in October and you didn’t start your next job until January, that’s what happened. Describing this as “ABC Company, 2013-2013” and “XYZ Company, 2014-2016” isn’t going to alter that reality. If anything, you’re drawing attention to the short tenure.
Also, when you verbally recount the narrative around your movement, you’re going to use months anyways, right? Unless you have truly left every job on December 31, I suppose.
6. Transparency will set you free
There are definitely friends, colleagues, and recruiters out there who will recommend leaving out tenures that are under 5 or 6 months. In fact, here is an article I found that directly contradicts a couple of my recommendations. I know people feel passionately on both sides of this, so feel free to debate it in the comments. I think it’s pretty clear where I stand.
Above all else, take control of your career narrative – or others will do it for you.