Thoughts on the “Grecian Formula” Resume Approach

If you’re out looking for a new employment opportunity in this marketplace, and you’re normal, you’re going to find yourself over-analyzing, over-reacting, and over-stressing (is that a word?) to almost every little aspect of your resume and job search approach.

Is it something on my resume that’s preventing me from getting more interviews?  Does that one phrase on my LinkedIn profile throw people off?  Did that one casual remark I made in my last interview cost me the offer?”  This is the kind of worried self-talk that most job hunters, in my experience, deal with constantly.

Along the same lines, a great many people worry whether their age (if they’re in the 40+ range) might be the chief boogeyman behind their lack of success — and whether they should therefore follow the frequently-dispensed advice to “dumb down” their resume and trim out everything but the last 10-15 years of experience.  It’s a tempting notion, when you’ve been searching for months without much in the way of results.  You may feel you’ve got nothing really to lose.

I’ve written about the realities of age discrimination multiple times in my blog, over the years, if you want to read some of my own advice here on the matter.  In particular, I stand by the observations I give in this article about the important of separating “experience” discrimination from “age” discrimination.

Today, however, I want to bring another voice into the discussion.  I want to reprint (with his permission) a recent article by Matt Bud, veteran executive recruiter and Chairman of the Financial Executives Networking Group (FENG) consisting of over 40,000 senior finance professionals across the globe.  Matt is one of my favorite all-time collaborators and as usual, he gets right to the point and shares his thoughts on the matter at hand.  Here’s what he has to say about the notion of “hiding” experience on a resume.  And while the tone of the article is obviously aimed at his audience of financial executives, I think you’ll find that the lessons apply equally to professionals/executives in almost any occupational niche.

Who is your customer, what is your product?
by Matt Bud, Chairman of the Financial Executives Networking Group

If I had to put my finger on the one issue that confuses senior financial professionals it is the subject above.  Who is the customer for your services, and what is your product?

In recent weeks I have chatted with or had email exchanges with members who were going through outplacement.  The bad advice they have gotten has included only showing their most recent 10-15 years on their resume, to dumbing down their titles, and, of course, leaving off their graduation dates.  Please know I am very much opposed to any of these approaches.

The assumption with only showing your most recent 10-15 years is that you can somehow fool a resume reviewer into interviewing you.  May I suggest that just as you can tell a bogus item on someone’s expense report from 50 feet away, or a padded budget from the same distance, in much the same way someone who reads resumes for a living can spot an inconsistency in your credentials without really trying very hard.

Friends, it really isn’t all that hard to know you didn’t start in your first job out of college as a Controller or Chief Financial Officer.  The other technique is saying “prior to 1985 I worked at the following 4 companies,” but not give the years you worked there.  All foolishness if you think about it.  It begs the question of how old you are, and the reader is always going to guess higher.

Be assured, no one has time to read between the lines and no one is going to call you for a clarification.

But, let’s just suppose you actually do get an interview because you “fooled” the resume reviewer.  Please explain how you are going to overcome having duped them into interviewing you?  Do you think they will have a warm glow of admiration for you for having beat the system, or do you think they will be a little angry?  I’m going to guess angry.

As my grandmother would say: “I am who I am.”  So, who are you?  What is the product?

The product in a word is “been there and done that.”  The truth is that at this point in your career you have a wealth of experience that you bring to the party.  This is your value to any company that will engage your services.  No need for training on the job.  You already know how to do the job.  May I ask you how you select a surgeon?  Do you want one who is “over qualified?”  Or, do you want one who is learning on the job? (I hope you appreciate that I only ask easy questions.)

So if this is the product, who is the customer?  Well, it generally isn’t large corporations.  Large corporations typically do not hire senior level executives.  Very simply, they grow their own.  Sure, once in a while they bring in someone from the outside.  In addition to the fact that these poor folks rarely succeed, many of the talented folks who now report to them have had their career paths blocked and leave the company.  Hopefully you are beginning to see the logic I’m suggesting, and why it isn’t often done.

Middle market and smaller firms hire senior level executives because they are approaching a crisis.  Jerry Mills, Founder & Chief Executive Officer of B2B CFO, refers to this issue in his book: “The Danger Zone, Lost in the Growth Transition.” (Please visit our website for more information his firm:

As I have often said, if it was an easy problem, they would have asked someone else to solve it.  Because it was complex and a crisis, they called me.

Even small companies these days have big company type problems.  What better way to solve them than to hire someone from a large company who can bring structure, discipline and proven solutions to our firm?

Your seniority and wealth of experience having solved the same problems your potential employer is facing is WHY you will get hired.

Just because you can do an entry level job at a large corporation, and just because age discrimination is illegal, they still aren’t going to hire you.  And trust me, you wouldn’t want the job anyway. If you want to “look for love in all the wrong places,” that’s up to you.

If you focus on your real market, you will find a more rewarding solution to your career goals.

Regards, Matt

2 Responses to “Thoughts on the “Grecian Formula” Resume Approach”

  1. Good article, Matt! I don’t think anyone is going to ask me what I did in 1992, even though there is possibly relevant experience during that decade for most everything that I apply for. Beyond that, I list the companies that I worked for.

    Every interview I have been on wants to know – what did I recently do, and then just before that? About four years worth in my case, *maybe* a couple more. Everything else seems ancient to most interviewers.

    One very good point in the article is that large companies mostly grow their own executives. What was Steve Ballmer doing before he became CEO of Microsoft? He was working there in another capacity. And so it goes.

    In regard to the meat of the article, (So if this is the product, who is the customer? Well, it generally isn’t large corporations…) it echoes one of your themes Matt – there are plenty of companies that have an unmet need, it’s the job seekers “job” to uncover those. They generally will not be Microsoft, T-Mobile, Starbucks, Boeing, Nordstrom, Expedia – etc.

    Like the old adage goes, if it were so easy, everyone would be doing it. Which is what sending resumes to advertised job openings is like.


  2. Most articles on age discrimination focus on the past and how to put a camouflage net over it. I appreciate the article and points that Matt’s guest article made. Since I coach new business startups, I have seen first hand the energy, drive, savvy, motivation and competences of people 55 and over. To any employer reading this, get over it. Use the talent or lose it to people becoming self employed.

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