Cover Page

“Your Endorsement.”

I'm confident in the power of this book—and the unique resources provided here—to help you find the best possible career for who you are. Your success is our most important endorsement. —Gary Burnison

Lose the Resume: Land the Job


Gary Burnison

To everyone who hates his or her boss.


Early one morning, as I drove to work along the Pacific Coast Highway—the sun glistening off the ocean to my right—traffic suddenly slowed to a crawl. Several cars stopped in the median of a six-lane highway where cars normally move at a steady fifty-five miles per hour. One man stepped out of his truck and stared at the ground. As I rolled slowly past, I couldn't believe what I was seeing: A skunk had a plastic soda cup stuck on its head. It had obviously jammed its snout to the bottom of the cup to get the last drops of sweet liquid, and now it was stuck. Scampering frantically left and right, the skunk shook its head violently back and forth in a fruitless attempt to dislodge the cup.

Photograph depicting a skunk whose head is stuck by a plastic soda cup.

Timidly, the man circled the animal—clearly at the crossroads of whether to be the hero of the helpless or a victim of the clueless. Eventually, an animal-control officer arrived and safely removed the soda cup from the poor animal's head. But the image of the man and the skunk was burned into my memory.

Far too many people today feel helpless and clueless when it comes to getting their next job. And too often they act just like the skunk. They focus on what they believe is a “sweet” opportunity without considering the fit. And just like the skunk, they find themselves stuck. They're in the wrong environment; the culture is not a fit. They're working for the wrong boss, who is never going to champion them to gain the learning experiences that will expand their skill set. And all they can do is shake their head back and forth, wondering how they can get out of this mess.

How can I get a new job? What's it going to take? What should my resume say? How do I go about this process? People at the earliest stages of their career are not the only ones asking these questions. I hear them from people at all levels, even those who have two or three decades of professional experience.

Their stories of frustration and confusion are similar. I can't help but have empathy. But honestly, in the back of my mind I'm thinking something is terribly wrong here—unfortunately, with them. Their entire approach is just plain wrong.

In my thirty-five years of professional life, including the last decade as CEO of a public company, I have been continuously shocked by the naiveté of people when it comes to their career. From the supposed most sophisticated to the least experienced, from Fortune 500 board members and seasoned executives to college seniors, people are confounded by how to find their next “gig.” Not knowing what to do, they resort to the old standby: “Let me send you my resume,” which has become as meaningless a cliché as “Let's do lunch.” When you say it, you know you're never going to have lunch. The same goes for your offer to email your resume. Unless someone genuinely wants to hear from you, your resume isn't going anywhere.

That's why you need to lose the resume to land the right job. Yes, you still need to have a resume, but don't expect it to be more than a calling card, a conversation opener. Unfortunately, people think their resume accounts for 90 percent of getting a new job, when actually it's only 10 percent. No wonder sending out resumes isn't getting people where they want or need to go!

“Let me send you my resume” has become as meaningless a cliché as “Let's do lunch.”

While it's true that almost anyone with a decent education and some experience can get a job, finding the right job is not easy. In fact, it has never been harder. Forget unemployment rates that might not seem so bad these days; most unemployment figures mask the fact that the combination of technology and a merciless global economy has made it almost impossible to find work that offers the compensation we want or purpose we need. In survey after survey, it's the same complaints: Wage growth isn't happening, motivation is down, and job stability is vanishing. Here's a ridiculous stat: Half of U.S. workers have a pay rate that fluctuates sharply every month—by almost 30 percent.

Yet the only way out of this trap is to engage in a job-search process that people never expect to be so arduous or so long. If you are like most people, you will start out by making the critical mistake of waiting for opportunities to come to you. Given that an average of 250 resumes are received for every corporate-job opening—the first 200 typically land just seconds after the job is posted—this approach is patently passive and illogical. And when you fail to gain any traction, you tend to send out more resumes. You feel stuck—like a victim.

As time goes on, you begin to doubt yourself. If you lose heart, desperation sets in. Soon you'll lose all perspective about yourself and where you want to work. You take any job rather than languish in a position you don't like anymore. Or you quit before getting another job—and that's the number-one mistake to avoid, because you need to have a job to get a job. When you're “marketing yourself,” you must eliminate every red flag that could sink your career.

People think their resume accounts for 90 percent of getting a new job, when actually it's only 10 percent.

This is the kind of straight talk you're going to get in this book, so that you're no longer at the mercy of the odds that obviously are not in your favor. To break this cycle, you need to change your strategy, to shift to a more active and calculated approach.

The analogy I use is surfing, which exemplifies my life philosophy. Everyone, I believe, gets a number of “waves” in life—some enormous, some much smaller. The trick is to know when and how hard to paddle when your wave appears, how to position yourself for success—when to bail before the wave crashes on you, and when to ride all the way to shore. One thing is certain: You never look down. Look up, look forward, take flight. This book is about creating more waves for yourself, creating the opportunities that will expand your learning, connect with your purpose, and bring more meaning to what you do.

This approach requires action and hard work. You have to understand who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, your purpose, and what motivates you. You need to know the kind of environment you thrive in, even the type of boss you work best with. You must have a plan that targets where you want to work, and you have to network to make the strategic connections that will help you get to those employers. Most important, the effort and details must be at a level that makes all your past job searches seem like sixth-grade homework. For example, “investigating” a company's culture doesn't mean just checking out a company review site. It may require finding and listening to recordings of the earnings calls that public companies make every quarter. Indeed, the detail that's needed is almost always what people skip over.

Fortunately, you have help. At Korn Ferry, we have shown 8 million executives how to achieve their career goals. As the world's largest executive recruiter, we place one professional in a job every three minutes. While we've been known for executive search for more than fifty years, our company today is much broader: We are the leader in talent development and organizational development. More than half of our business involves developing executives and professionals and advising the world's leading companies on their organizational strategy. (Full disclosure: Korn Ferry also offers individuals looking for work a new tool called to guide the process. But even our coaches will tell you that you still have to do the hard work.)

The research behind recruiting, hiring, and retention is fascinating. Our company houses its own “Institute,” with PhDs from the world's top universities. The assessment tests they've developed boggle the mind with their ability to accurately forecast anyone's future management behavior. This expertise—along with that from myself and nearly 8,000 Korn Ferry colleagues around the globe—is brought to bear in these pages and distilled into simplified exercises and assessments that can help you.

You'll have access to insights and tools that until now were available only to senior executives. And we'll clue you in to exactly what recruiters are thinking when someone becomes a job opening's 100th candidate to talk about being a “team player,” instead of demonstrating an understanding of how to collaborate.

With this encyclopedic knowledge and your newly efficient approach, you'll see the odds moving in your favor. It's like Moneyball, the best-selling book and Brad Pitt movie, which describes the radical approach the Oakland A's took to build a winning baseball team. Instead of fielding high-priced superstar talent, they made strategic choices that radically increased their chances of winning. Consider this your Moneyball playbook. Step by step, you'll learn what can meaningfully improve the chance that you'll win.

Lose the Resume, Land the Job is organized into three parts. The first is about knowing yourself—your strengths and weaknesses, motivation, behavior, and personality traits. We'll get you there with a series of personality tests developed from our world-class IP (intellectual property) that, trust me, you can't outsmart. The tests may reveal traits you didn't know you had—and recruiters definitely will discover.

Then we'll show you how to match those skills with the specific companies that need them, instead of wasting time with those that don't. For this, you'll be doing detective work into companies and their HR teams that you never thought possible. Finally, you'll learn how to present your story through, yes, your now expertly crafted resume, your carefully manicured online and social-media presence, and the all-important face-to-face (or Skype) interview. When the job offer comes, we'll give you insight into what companies are thinking about in terms of both money and nonmonetary issues.

Ultimately, you'll need to face the fact that job hunting in the twenty-first century requires a focus and dedication you didn't know you had.

Job hunting in the twenty-first century requires a focus and dedication you didn't know you had.

Does any of this sound like something you're willing to do? If so, then by the end of this book, you will have far more in your job-search arsenal than just your resume. You'll have a holistic approach grounded in who you are, where you can be most successful, and the story you tell to forge a connection with a prospective employer. And that's so much more empowering than merely getting your next job. It's the key to your future success. img