Your Résumé… and Beyond

Go back to Job Search Prep Syllabus.

In the job getting process, your résumé serves a very specific purpose: it gives the hiring organization a measure of comfort that you are “for real.”

That’s it.

It doesn’t make you friends, open doors, or get you the job. In fact, the résumé can’t do anything except one thing: it can get you cut. As in, if it’s not perfect, if it has a typo, or if it’s missing the particular phrase someone has in mind for the position, you’re out.

So, I’m wondering, because I know perfecting this document is where most people spend the majority of their job-seeking energy, why divert so much time from things that can help you move forward and spend it on something that can only help you stay in the game?

Have you ever bought a car? How much time did you spend studying the list of standard features? How much of your decision was based on the glossy? Haven’t you ever seen a glossy and thought, “Great glossy, too bad the product is crap. If they spent a fraction of their marketing budget on product development, they’d be dangerous!” (Like in Apple’s Bean Counter spot.)

Your résumé is a list of features. A marketing glossy. Nobody but you really cares about it because it’s about you, not them, and what they care about isn’t you, but them. They’d rather be looking at their own résumés! Once people see that your résumé generally fits their mental model of what they expect, and has no fatal flaws, they’re done with it. The problem is, the résumé often becomes all-consuming for the one person most interested in the subject matter: the person whose name is at the top.

To keep from getting captured by the “résumé time suck,” remind yourself frequently to treat your résumé like a sales glossy. As much as possible, have other people help you shape it; they’ll be far less likely to spend hours agonizing over whether the first word in a line should be “Facilitated” or “Helped” or “Assisted,” meaning you’ll have more time to improve what really counts: the underlying product.

Generally, you’ll want a résumé that’s as short as possible while still being complete, easy to read, and easy to understand by a human, for when you work your way into an opportunity through a connection. Your résumé should be short on jargon. In addition, for each position you apply to, you’ll want a customized résumé that is stocked with the relevant buzzwords to survive being scanned by a machine, and that emphasizes the wording of the job description. That’s a different résumé for each application.

A few tips:

  • Own your story. Never be defensive about your past. There is power in being able to tell someone, “Team player? C’mon, I was low man on the totem pole for 2 years. What kind of projects do you think I got?! Yes, I know what it means to support the team.”
  • Got a hole? Let it be. If you try to hide it, the message to potential employers is that you are the kind of person who tries to paper over your mistakes. The excuse doesn’t matter, it’s the fact that you have one that’s the problem. I’d much rather hear you say, “I was a goof-off, and I paid the price for it when the economy went south… and I’m a changed person now” than try to explain away the situation. At least this way I know you’re a stand up individual.
  • Tell me what makes you special. This doesn’t mean rehash your job description, and certainly don’t lie or inflate your last job! Because guess what: I’ve had your job, or something close to it. I can spot the low man on the totem pole. I also know that no two people do the same job quite the same way… so I want to know what’s unique about you. Were you the glue that kept the team together? Can you get your coworkers to call in proactive references? Are you fast? Reliable? Willing to do the grunt work without complaint? How many burgers did you flip in an hour—are you the type to keep count? What accomplishment are you proudest of?

Strengths Documents: Beyond the Résumé

Got more to say than fits on your résumé? Invent a new document. Call it your strengths document, if you must. Use it to facilitate  networking connections and to move the job getting process forward. (Remember, the résumé doesn’t move things forward, it only prevents them from sliding backward.)

Ever ask someone to take a look at your résumé? How silly: (1) it puts the other person in control of the situation, (2) it elevates the process of exchanging the résumé above the results of solving a problem, and (3) it’s socially awkward. The social equivalent of “can I send you my résumé” is “Hey, can I send you a letter explaining why I’m a great person to hang out with?”

Tell your connection that you think you can help solve his or her problem, and back up your claim with your strength document. A strength document is not a formal document. In fact, you’re going to make it up. As such, it has no defined format. It can be anything from a stylized version of your résumé to a block of code to a grid of past jobs and your accomplishments from each to a list of references to something no one’s ever seen before.

I know you don’t like ambiguity, and you want more direction than that. Sorry, Charlie, but I can’t give you more direction… because one of the skills I’m hiring for is the ability to take action in the face of uncertainty. If I tell you more, then I won’t get to see how you handle the uncertainty inherent in the hiring process!

HOMEWORK

Create your own strengths document. I know you want a model to use… resist the desire to copy from a formula! This is a document you are creating to showcase your skills… and more than that, your ability to communicate those skills! The very skill you most want to demonstrate to a prospective employer—beyond your ability to do the job—is your ability to go beyond the job, right? Well, here’s your chance to show off those skills! Watch the video and create your very own strengths document… but be forewarned: the instructions are loose, and there is no model to copy from. This is on purpose. This gives you a chance to show someone how you can both do the job (in this case, create a resume) and go beyond the job (in this case, recognize where the resume falls short and figure out how to plug the gap… all by yourself). Take a risk, and have fun!

If you’re bold enough, post a draft. Time permitting, I’ll take a look and offer some quick comments…

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10 responses to “Your Résumé… and Beyond”

  1. John Peden says:

    Hey Jason,

    First attempt at my strengths document. I thought it might be an idea to make this public on my blog. Feel free to be brutal the feedback can only help me improve. I’m really enjoying the series thus far and I’m looking forward to what’s coming next.

    http://johncpeden.com/accomplishments/

    Feedback from other readers is also welcomed.

    John

    • Jason Seiden says:

      Awesome 1st crack—lots of good stuff, clean organization, easy to follow, nice diversity of strengths. One suggestion to tighten things up: lead with punch! For instance:

      * I assisted one of my professors (Ms. Elena Rodriguez-Falcon) in the development of an engineering module. I was paid for my assistance…
      This tells me nothing so far, as lots of students assist their professors. It’s how many students subsidize school!
      …and even got the opportunity to lecture my course mates on the Citicorp Tower Ethics Case Study. Click here to read more about “The Fifty-Nine Story Crisis”.
      Now we’re talking!

      flip it:

      * Delivered a lecture on ethics in engineering (Click here to review “Citicorp Tower: The 59 Story Crisis”) based on an engineering lesson I worked with my professor to develop.

      Nice start!

  2. Ivan says:

    Thanks for the free lesson!
    I tried to create a strenghts document for an analytical position in finance. Check it out at http://www.ivanrybar.com/strenghts.com if you get a chance.
    Thanks!

  3. Eric Rutledge says:

    What do you guys think about using a blog as a strength document? I’m kind of taken with the idea of using wordpress to bring together my online job search.

  4. Jason Seiden says:

    Eric, I’m ambivalent. A blog is a blog; use it to demonstrate your strengths, not to talk about them. If you happen to be a good writer, write. If you’re knowledgeable about a topic, write about that topic. Blogs are meant to be dynamic and fluid and timely… that’s something a bit different from a strengths doc.

  5. Total stab in the dark for a strengths page, but I’d love any advice on it!

  6. Sujin says:

    Here’s a very early draft of a strengths document (and by early, I mean I registered the domain this week). I’ve been meaning to make a website for something similar to what you describe for awhile but never got myself in action until coming up with a nontraditional concept that would fit my nontraditional background. You can probably tell where this is headed.

  7. J M says:

    Probably too late to get responses, but maybe others on the reply board can offer suggestions/encouragement. My portfolio website, in case it doesn’t show up above, is http://jmmpro.zzl.org. That would be the closest equivalent. If you view it and like it. Send me a message saying so! (BTW allow the video content a moment to load, I am on a free server…)

  8. Lena says:

    Thank you. But I still have a problem….

    What if a person is pretty unsure about herself?
    Wouldn’t it be better if somebody else would tell her what the strengths are?
    I mean, I know my strengths well, but it’s stuff nobody needs and my degree actually…well, has nothing to do with my strengths – so how to prove em?

    I went to Japan to interview Sumo wrestlers and washed dishes to make a living. Now tell me who’d employ me for that. Am a super-geek in a very special subject (nobody needs). Want to work in the country of my 3rd language (not all of us are English-natives, so we darn have a problem competing with you guys AND the natives of the 3rd country.)

    Getting depressing….

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