I have never seen a resume that I remember, and I have seen plenty of resumes from great and qualified candidates. This sentiment is echoed by businesses with whom I speak and the people who do the hiring. The reality is, a resume is much like a business card — it won’t ever get you an opportunity, but not having one can hurt you. Also like a business card, the resume is something that novices and the uninitiated spend more time and focus on than professionals do. Like the guy who claims he has a startup but just has a business card, the job hunt novice says he has experience but really just has a resume.
We’ve hit resume inflation. So many people have decent-looking ones that the value of having one has decreased heavily. You need something better to stand apart from the pack — something that shows you actually put work into your work and exhibits your skills and work experience.
You need a pitch deck.
If you’re familiar with pitch decks, it’s probably in the context of startup fundraising or sales. Pitch decks are used by professionals to present information and to tell stories about companies and products. They came into vogue after companies and investors experienced business plan inflation. Everybody had a business plan – so nobody had a special business plan.
The pitch deck worked well for products and startups because it allows a founder or a sales team to not just present the information one would find in a business plan but to also tell a story. Great pitch decks tell a story of a customer and of a product while simultaneously presenting the important nuts and bolts like tech, business plan, sales plan, and traction.
We have all of our participants build pitch decks. This is why.
It Tells a Story
Even if you aren’t a startup yourself, you can apply this level of thinking to your own professional development and presentation. Sitting down to put a pitch deck together forces you to ask yourself “what is my story?” and gets you out of the resume-padding mindset of high-status optionality-chasers that you run into in high school and college.
By and large, the very best that I meet know what they are good at and have an idea of what they want to achieve. The things they’ve done are connected by a narrative thread. That is more compelling a way of telling me about why I should pay attention to them than telling me that they’ve achieved X-thing or Y-thing, which are barely related to each other.
Storytelling is so much more powerful than a bullet-pointed list. Mix in the facts and let people know the things that you’ve achieved, but tell a story in it.
It Leaves an Impression
The biggest and most practical advantage of putting together the pitch deck is that it actually leaves an impression on the person you are sending it to. Resumes are trite and a dime a dozen — a pitch deck is something unusual and exciting. Even a poorly-done pitch deck shows a business that you have taken the time to sit down and present something unique to them, which can be all you need to get to the next level of the process.
If you are gunning for a unique job, combine the approach of a resume with the cover letter and tailor your pitch deck specifically to the business. If your story aligns with their story, show that, give examples, and pitch them on taking you on. If your experience is most applicable to the job for which you are applying, make that clear in the pitch deck and don’t be afraid to ask specifically for that job.
It Forces You to Reflect
I meet ambitious young people way too often who have no idea what their story is — not just because they are young and haven’t had the opportunity to write their own story, but because they haven’t stopped to ask themselves what they are good at and what they want to achieve. Professional life and school have become a system of leveling up from one part of a game to the next, but the parts of the game barely have anything to do with each other.
The reason why putting together reports and meeting agendas is useful is because it forces the person putting these together to reflect on what they are doing — not that they convey valuable information to anybody else. The pitch deck is the same way. Even if you’re not currently job-seeking, it can be a valuable exercise to create one. Sit down and reflect — see what story you come up with.
The Nuts and Bolts
Putting together a pitch deck is both a science and an art. It is the science of logical presentation but also the art of storytelling. With this in mind, your deck should tell your professional story in a logical flow that makes sense for your audience. It should be visually-engaging — usually designed in PowerPoint or Google Slides — and should have no more than 20 words on any given slide. If you want to put more details in it, use the presenter notes underneath the slides. Design it so that it could be pitched in person or sent to somebody via PDF.
One of your first slides should show you off and tell your story. This slide should have a punchline — it can be three words that describe you, like, “Ambitious.” “Driven.” “Meticulous.” or an elevator pitch, “The best [at X] in [Town].”
This is like the traction slide that you would have in a startup deck. Show off your past work experience. Use photos, embedded videos, and visualized data to show how you practically added value to these projects. The number one mistake that most resumes make is that they don’t tell how you added value — they just tell what you did. This is useless information to most reviewers — we know what “retail” or “sales” or “marketing” means — tell us what you did, and quantify whenever possible.
Visualize your skills. If you can compare them against each other, then that also shows a level of introspection or reflection that is difficult to come by in young people. If your skills can be illustrated with examples throughout the deck, do that. Use both soft-skills and hard skills.
Using a bar chart is a good way of doing this — on a scale out of 100. Your very best skills should be close to 100. Remember not to clutter up the slide. Using 3-5 different skill sets helps to minimize clutter.
Get photos of the people who would give you the best endorsements possible, whittle down their endorsements to a few sentences, and display them prominently in your pitch deck. This would be like a customer testimonial or an advisers slide of a startup pitch deck. Social proof is huge. Displaying this right after your skills helps back up your analysis of yourself. Putting it before your ask makes sure it is fresh in the mind of the reader when they are considering bringing you on.
Much like an investment deck, make sure you include an ask. If it is a generic deck you can send to potential clients, you can leave it generic. If it is for a specific company or role, alter it for that. Saying something like, “I’ve proven myself before, now I want to drive sales for [company].” is a good move.
Again, you can use the notes section beneath the slides to leave additional details about how you could create value for the company.
One of the useful things about a resume is that it leaves a central place where you can find a candidate’s contact info — don’t forget to add this. It can be your last slide and still be visually-appealing. If you have a website, LinkedIn, blog, or other web presence, link to those.