Expert advice: 17 resume tips for sales reps

Sales reps drive profits and overall success in nearly every industry, but truly talented salespeople are a rare commodity.

Still, even if you’re a born salesman, don’t assume you can waltz right into any open position. While your skills might put you at the front of the pack, you still need a stellar resume to get noticed.

To help us learn what works and what doesn’t in a sales resume, we spoke to Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC) and resume guru Melanie Diotte, the Chief Recruitment Officer and founder of Eximius Personnel, a recruitment firm specialized in placing sales and marketing professionals.

Have your sales job applications been vanishing into thin air? Read on for 17 resume tips that will land you more interviews, guaranteed.

Sales Resume Content: How to Sell Yourself

First things first, your name and contact information go at the top—that’s a given in any industry. But as a sales professional, you should put extra focus on the personal statement at the top of your resume.

Crafting Your Personal Statement

Think of your personal statement as an elevator pitch for yourself. Just like an elevator pitch for a product or service, your personal statement has to be short and powerful, and it’s crucial that it sets you apart from other candidates with similar experience.

There are a few ways to approach this. You can try a list of adjectives, a single sentence that describes your selling personality, or a description that explains your specialized experience relevant to the role. For example:

  •      Personable, honest, and happy to help the team.
  •      Driven to achieve sales goals with enthusiasm and technical prowess.
  •      Motivated sales professional with extensive digital marketing experience.

This might be the hardest part of writing your resume—it’s like creating a tagline for a brand, and that brand is you.

Narrow down what you think are your most important assets and write some statements around them. Ask your current and past colleagues for advice on what differentiates you as a salesperson. People who know you and know sales will be the best ones to give you actionable feedback.

What Comes First: Experience or Education?

melanie diotte eximius personnel resume guru

(Melanie Diotte, Chief Recruitment Officer, Eximius Personnel)

One bit of conventional resume wisdom that we’ve been told to throw out the window for sales positions is listing your education first. A large number of successful sales professionals either have an education that doesn’t directly relate to their role, or don’t have a formal degree at all.

According to Melanie, “You should only list your degree first if it is highly relevant to the role, like if you’re going into sales at a lab and you have a science degree, or if you are fresh out of school and want hiring managers to see that your lack of experience is because you just graduated.” Otherwise, put your experience first.

When it comes to listing your education, you can leave off the date if you feel that it ages you. “I suggest leaving off the date if your degree is more than ten years old,” Melanie notes.

Results-Based Experience Is Best

One of the most common mistakes people make on sales resumes is just listing their job duties. That’s a waste of space and makes you blend in with every other applicant. Yes, it matters that you were on time and did your duties as assigned, but it matters more that you can show exactly what you achieved through concrete facts and figures.

Think numbers. You may not be able to say that you did a million dollars worth of sales last year, but can you list some figures that reflect growth, improvement, or impact to your company? Some of these dollar amounts might be confidential, but you can use percentages to add context to your experience. “Even if you can’t always put a number to your personal achievements, say that you were part of a team that did x, y, and z,” says Melanie.

Always avoid cliches, too. You might be a hard-working “people person” who performed duties as assigned and has references available upon request, but none of those things should be listed on your resume. There’s an old adage about good writing: Show, don’t tell. Stick to showing people how you are awesome, not just telling them.

Related: What business leaders really look for when hiring a sales manager

The Extras

You may be very proud of the coursework, school projects, volunteer experience, or other “extras” that fall outside of work experience on a resume, but you need to limit these entries to things that are directly relevant to the role.

If you did a project in college or took a class that is related to the industry or role for which you’re applying, include it. If your volunteer experience helped you gain a skill that you actually use in a sales role, list it. Otherwise, remember that a resume is just a first contact. You can explain more about your life experiences in your cover letter, on the phone, and in your face-to-face interview.

LinkedIn is a good place to list those “extra” things you’ve done. Hiring professionals use it and search for applicants there, so if they really care, they will find out that you walk dogs for the Humane Society or took a class on selling techniques.

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Sales Resume Layout and Design

Once you have the right content for your resume, you need to present it in a way that’s easy to read and visually coherent. You don’t have to limit your resume to just one side of a single page, but remember that space—and attention—is at a premium. If you’ve taken our advice and chopped out anything fluffy or irrelevant to the role, there’s no reason your resume should fill up two pages with 10-point text.

One of the most common resume questions we came across is whether it’s smart to include unique design elements, colors, and graphics in your resume to help it stand out. Hiring managers agree that what’s in your resume is better than the pieces of flair you put on your resume.

It’s okay to choose a resume layout that’s a little visually interesting, but stick to classic templates that are clear and easy to follow. If recruiters don’t know where to look for the highlights, they’ll miss all the key points that are hard to read or buried.

Put Away the Selfie Stick

Although including a photo of yourself in your resume used to be something people were warned against, Melanie is for it: “I think it helps make a personal connection,” she says.

Besides, there’s no hiding on the Internet. “If a recruiter or hiring manager wants to know what you look like, they can find out in seconds by checking LinkedIn.” Just make sure to use a professional-quality headshot if you decide to put your face on your resume. No selfies allowed.

Word Doc vs. PDF: Which File Format Is Best?

Choosing a file format for your resume is another part of applying for a sales job that is fraught with uncertainty. When you’re creating your resume, most people use Microsoft Word. This way, it’s easy to edit as needed and you can quickly save the file as a PDF. Keep in mind that some employers prefer a .doc format because they use applicant tracking systems that digitally import your information. These systems aren’t always able to read what’s in a PDF, but Microsoft Word .doc files are in the clear.

Melanie explained that some recruiters, however, want a PDF because they can read from a preview of the document without having to download the file, find it, and open it in another window. “Sending a PDF ensures that your resume’s formatting won’t get wonky if the receiver has a different version of Word or doesn’t have the correct font installed.”

So which file format is best? Easy: If the posting doesn’t specify, send both. And if you’re thinking that you want to print a nice paper version to send to a hiring manager instead of emailing a digital one, don’t. It’s not efficient or practical. Paper resumes are a great leave-behind after an interview, but stick to digital submission of your resume and cover letter. Save some trees.

What’s in a Name?

When naming your file, it’s tempting to keep “resume.doc” or “Jack Smith Resume 12-1-17” on your desktop to make it easy to find, but it’s not a good idea. Every resume should be customized for the job you’re applying for.

You don’t want to make it sound like this is the same resume you’re sending to everyone, or the one you’ll send to every job listing this month. Some of your skills or experience will apply to one job or company but not be relevant to the next, so always optimize the content for the opening, and save a new file every time.

Melanie told us that it makes sense to put the job title in the filename. “Recruiters might be going through hundreds or even thousands of resumes for the jobs they need to fill. Putting the job title or other identifiers in the filename is a huge help. You can even use phrases like ‘Bilingual Sales Rep’ instead of just your name, but keep it simple and easy to scan.”

Before You Send Your Resume

Finally, proofread, proofread, proofread. Have a friend read over your resume. Pay a professional copy editor or resume expert to proofread your resume. Do what you have to do to ensure that your submission is clear, concise, and totally free from errors.

And always do a reality check before you hit “send.” You don’t want to send the wrong resume—or that pdf of how to make crème fraîche—to what could have been your dream job.

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