In the October 9, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter tries to figure out the Working Resume.


working resumeOK. I’ve read your book and these 2 articles:

But I still can’t find a concrete example of what a “Working Resume” is supposed to look like. I understand that no Working Resume will look like another because each one will be tailored to a specific job in a specific company. Other than adding a “Value Offered” statement at the top of the Working Resume, how is it structured differently than the traditional resume?

For example, in Resume Blasphemy you say that you have to cover these four things (basically a restatement of “The Four Questions” from your book):

  • A clear picture of the business of the employer you want to work for.
  • Proof of your understanding of the problems and challenges the employer faces.
  • A plan describing how you would do the work the employer needs done.
  • An estimate of what/how much you think you could add to the bottom line.

So the “what” is pretty clear. My question has more to do with the “how” — the actual mechanics of doing so. Do you write out a proposal? A business plan? A project plan? I’m confused. 

Nick’s Reply

“Any or all of the above.” A Working Resume is structured differently from a traditional resume because it’s not a resume. So toss out your resume.

Seriously — your Working Resume can be a proposal, a business plan, a project plan, or an outline of how you will get the work done profitably.

How the Working Resume works

The Working Resume is essentially a business plan for how you will do the job. I think the instructions are pretty clear as you’ve reprinted them. Here’s one example, to give you some ideas:

Desired outcome of this job: Increased sales of blue widgets to the hospital supply industry.

Challenge your company faces: Two of your competitors are under-pricing you by 10%.

Underlying problem: Competitors’ products are inferior, but their advertising is effective.

My solution: Promote specific features the competition can’t match, both in ads, packaging and sales presentations.

My plan: Meet with product managers, marketing and sales team to coordinate a new presentation of the product and a new strategy for promoting it. Get this done in 30 days. Roll out new campaign in next 30 days.

Steps: [week by week plan and schedule of tasks involved in YOUR job]

Profit Estimate: Using these steps I believe I can help increase unit sales 10% in 60 days without reducing price. Such sales would result in 20% more collateral sales of associated products. I estimate this would increase total revenue by X% and possibly enhance overall profit by Y%.

If that kind of presentation doesn’t get attention, nothing’s going to help you.

You must tweak this format and content to suit your situation. Do not do it exactly as I’ve outlined, because every situation is different. That’s why I don’t publish samples of other people’s Working Resumes.

You have to deserve it

Needless to say, you can’t do a Working Resume like this for just any job that comes along. Here’s a tip from How Can I Change Careers?, which details how to prove to an employer that you would be a profitable hire — whether you’re changing careers or just jobs:

Employers respond best when you demonstrate your value:
Before you can legitimately ask for a job, you must assess the needs of a company and plan how you will contribute to its success. Don’t behave like a job applicant in the job interview; behave like an employee. Show up ready to do the job in the interview. Bring a business plan showing how you will do the work and contribute to profitability.

As you can see, there’s nothing easy about applying for a job with a Working Resume. That’s because, if you aren’t willing to make this investment, you don’t deserve the job.

Have you ever tried using a Working Resume? Or an alternative that shows an employer what you’ll do if you’re hired? Maybe you think this approach is bunk! Let’s discuss in the comments section below. What would you put in such an “alternative resume?”

: :


  1. I wish I read this last week. You noted it’s not for any job…but I think just about any.
    I reached out to a previous candidate just to see how she was doing. Job hunting and had an interview. She said the manager, per his own admission, didn’t quite know what he wanted/needed.
    I told her then get back to him and act like she already worked for him and he was using her as a sounding board. And propose a role, that of course she could do.
    In so doing it would show she understood him, his mission and a need. In other words I told her to do the planning part of the the job.
    In reading your discussion it occurs to me that it’s not that unusual for a hiring manager to not have it nailed down. It’s often that when a candidate interviews, what the actual job appears to be..differs quite a lot from the job description, the manager literally starts thinking out loud adding and modifying or in the case of my contact…confessions he’s undecided.
    All of which means the candidate has been presented a perfect opportunity to bring a working resume into play, …if they’ve done their homework on the company, know their stuff, they can get creative and start adding value by helping the manager gain clarity, a plan etc.
    In so doing they will differentiate themselves from all the other candidates who will join the manager in wondering what the job is all about.

  2. So far I haven’t had to write a working resume because doing the other things that make recommends, such as demonstrating my skills in the interview, has usually been enough to win me the job. Having said that, today I’m meeting with a programmer analyst with whom I just became acquainted. I’d like to talk with her about the possibility of helping me write a working resume. I plan to present the idea as a means of getting some practice so there’s no pressure on her to give me a job. I’m hoping we’ll be able to discuss an actual problem. If it goes well I’ll post a sample working resume. Before I meet with her, I’m interested in advice from the board about how to broach the subject. Your thoughts?

  3. @Thomas: I’m not sure I’d ask someone for help on this, not yet. I’d start with a sketch of what you’d like it to look like. But keep in mind: A working resume doesn’t start with you. It starts with a particular company you want to work for. It’s problems, challenges, what work needs to be done. Check the outline in my column above for an idea about structure. Once you know what a company needs, then you put some meat on the plan – what you will do, and some evidence that you can actually pull it off.

  4. Thanks for the advice, Nick. I agree at this point it’s probably too early to ask for help in putting together a project plan since I am unclear about the problems the company faces. Since I’m just getting to know her I’m not sure how to approach the subject of internal problems at her company, but in order to pull this approach off successfully that seems necessary.

    How do you suggest a steer the conversation in the direction I need it to go?

  5. Sorry about the typos in the above – I’m using my smartphone’s voice recognition and it’s not always smart. I meant to say I steer not a steer…

  6. @Thomas: I’d steer away from “internal problems.” I refer very generally to “problems and challenges,” but I’d never suggest using those terms when inquiring. “So what’s new at your company…?” Or, “What challenges do you think the industry [or IT] is facing today?” Make it easy for her to talk more generally. Then hone in a bit. “So what’s influencing the way your IT department is stepping up to the new demands of users?” Make it easy for her to talk shop. If she starts getting specific, that’s your signal to offer some general suggestions, or to ask how you might be able to help.

  7. These are great suggestions. The meeting has been postponed until Saturday, and since this is just an informal meet and greet over a cup of coffee, I think that’s a good thing. If this thread hasn’t gotten too old by then I’ll post back and let you know how it turned out. Thanks!

  8. The working resume can also be used at one’s present workplace. I’m surviving a survival job at the front lines, in the trenches.

    The usual postings for traditional positions that open up don’t really apply my talents and experience. Somehow, I have to create my position. My only trepidation with presenting a “business plan” is underpaid consulting work, even though it would be a nice expression of my gratitude for allowing me to survive after losing my high-paying job.

    My reconcilliation is to work on what I call a CCH–Comprehensive Case History. This is a composite of companies and situations I dealt with in the past, and the solutions that I came up with. I don’t reveal what company to protect privacy and keep me out of hot water with non-disclosure agreements. I just create a detailed history of what I did, what the outcome was, and what I think I would do if I had the authority or autonomy to develop a solution for my current employer’s challenges.

    The history allows me to present my ideas as a kind of continuum, and avoids the awkwardness of a newbie telling his seasoned bosses what they should be doing.

    Because the bulk of this activity is documenting my personal accomplishments, I’m working for myself, not providing free consulting work. A few paragraphs and a couple of diagrams is the only new work created, which can be re-entered into my case history file for future submissions, or placed in my Professional Portfolio of Accomplishments. (The case history can also discuss ideas in play at the time, but never actualzed, such as budget cuts, changes in buying patterns, outside economic forces, etc.)

    Even if I don’t create a position here, I’m confident that my portfolio and short case histories should provide an opportunity to create work for myself somewhere.

  9. I applied for 10+ positions 2010/2011 with a cross-functional resume that did not get me to the next step. The two interviews I’ve had were based on relationships not my resume. Ask 10 people for feedback on your resume and you’ll get 11 different suggestions. I’ve been underemployed in the right industry but wrong job for over 1 year. Networking internally, I’ve learned 2 things: they require the on-line application submission for positions even as an internal candidate, and they discourage networking.

    Yes my resume could be better, and it’s been said before, HR has an aversion to creative resumes – anything that deviates from the traditional – chronological resume. I’m going to try to incorporate more of your ideas into my resume and see what happens. Your column and honesty have always been great. This quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is now posted on my desk for encouragement: “If you only knock long enough at the gate, you are sure to wake someone”. Of course I want to wake someone, but I also want them to open the door and let me enter.

  10. Over the years I’ve been following you, your advice on resumes always contains the item of how the prospective employee can add to a company’s bottom line. That’s always been a tricky issue on my resume, since for nearly 50 years I have worked in jobs where my work was basically SLA, which is rather hard to equate to $$$.

    When I ran NYSE’s main computer system, they had a single outage over 7+ years (42 seconds, and we recovered so fast they didn’t even know there had been an outage). While they could calculate the cost of being down for an hour, how do you calculate the financial benefit of not crashing? With one critical event, all their systems crashed except for mine, the only system absolutely necessary to keep the floor trading. How do you measure my value to the company in such a case?

    Today, I run a system for a hospital complex. The nature of the applications involves planned outages and there are manual procedures in place for those scheduled events. How do you price the cost of minimizing such outages?

  11. @RayS: Sometimes it’s in the wording.

    “When I apply for a job, I believe it’s incumbent on me to explain what value I can bring to your operation. If I can’t do that, then you shouldn’t hire me. Over the past 10 years, I’ve managed the NYSE’s main computer system, and a hospital’s network. The cost of either of those systems being down for even one minute is staggering – and the cost of your system being down is enormous. My value to your enterprise lies in my track record: The NYSE’s computers were down for 42 seconds in 7 years – and no one even realized it happened. At the hospital, there was never an unplanned outage, only planned system maintenance. Consider what it would cost you per minute, per hour, if your computers went down unexpectedly. That’s my value, because I’m here to make sure that never happens.”

    If you’d like, you can walk the employer through an exercise, to help them estimate the cost per minute of downtime. Then, of course, there’s everything else you do…

  12. Re Don Harkness’ comment about what employers not knowing what they need, and this representing an opportunity for job seekers.

    I avoid any employer who can’t say what they’re looking for. If they don’t know what they want, how will we know if I’ve succeeded? I’ve wasted too much time on interviews where I’m called in to find they thought they wanted a cost accountant. No, actually they want a general accountant. Well, maybe they want a financial analyst. They need to know what they want before I want to waste time with them.

    Related to this, there also seems to be a trend of calling me in for interviews where there is essentially no job description. I’ve taken a couple of these positions and find them to be generally unsatisfactory. I’m not interested in opportunities if employers can’t say what they want up front.

    I’m not interested in trying to sell myself to someone who doesn’t know what they want. I’d be interested in any thoughts about this.

  13. First off I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there. I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Appreciate it!

  14. I blog often and I really appreciate your content. The article has truly peaked my interest.
    I am going to take a note of your website and keep checking for
    new details about once a week. I subscribed to your RSS feed as well.

  15. Just as Helen ODonnell said, before you submit your CV to a prospective employer, it is best to find out the job description. This will enable you to tailor your CV to the job.
    What this means is there is no permanent CV format but you adjust your CV to the position you are applying for. A cover letter is also very important and indispensable whenever you are applying for a job vacancy.
    Just my two cents..

  16. I like this working resume. It is a bit like a cover letter where you can get specific and personal. Telling the hiring official “what you can do for them” is a must.