It’s no secret that competition for jobs is fiercer than ever. And as the stacks of resumes grow taller and the eyes of HR staff grow wearier, it behooves the thoughtful candidate to find a way to make that rectangle of type into something more than a wan recital of past tasks and responsibilities.
That document is your ambassador, so it needs to do more than rehash old job descriptions; it needs to pique the peaked attention of overburdened employers.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the resume as personal branding tool.
“Consider your resume the same way you think of your business card, your website, your interview outfit, your everything. It’s all part of a promotional package that tells me who you are,” insists recruiter Keva Dine of The Keva Dine Agency, who not only screens candidates for her employer clients but also offers custom-branded resumes* (and whose insights into personal branding for job-seekers could fill several issues of Editorializing). “If I don’t ‘get’ you after reading your resume — skimming it, if you want the truth — you haven’t effectively differentiated, or branded, yourself.”
We’re not talking about getting so creative, so brimming with personality, that you obscure your skills or annoy with your preciousness. The degree of individuality on display must be carefully calibrated to the company and the position. (Vying for the Assistant Principal gig at a conservative religious school? Play it straight.)
In fact, your resume should zero in like a telescopic sight on your dream (or dream-like) job, with relevant details front and center and — if only I didn’t have to say this — irrelevant ones removed. What remains is a highly targeted advertisement for the brand that is you. “If I don’t ‘get’ you after reading your resume, you haven’t effectively differentiated, or branded, yourself.” — Keva Dine, TKDAinc.
The headline of that ad is your summary (by the way, you can bag the “objective” — everyone knows the objective is to get a job). A punchy paragraph preceding the nitty-gritty details of your experience and achievements, this is your opportunity to pitch the fundamental equities of Brand You.
Sadly, many job-seekers squander that opening salvo, instead supplying a bland mish-mash of boilerplate phrases. The summary is the written equivalent of your elevator speech. Don’t waste it on the same vague language every other candidate is using, the pabulum that makes recruiters’ eyes glaze over.
Do you really think the folks doing the hiring will find you memorable because you’re a “self-starter?” Will you separate yourself from the pack by claiming to be a “results-oriented professional?” Here are a few other creaky terms, enumerated by HR veteran and former Fortune 500 VP Liz Ryan in her article “Ten Boilerplate Phrases That Kill Resumes”:
More than [x] years of progressively responsible experience
Superior (or excellent) communication skills
Strong work ethic
Met or exceeded expectations
Proven track record of success
Works well with all levels of staff
While we’re at it, let’s add the strangely ubiquitous jargon “thought leader” “I got your ‘thought leader’ right here”:
In other words, if you’re really an out-of-the-box thinker, you wouldn’t be caught dead saying “out-of-the-box thinker.” If your communication skills ARE “excellent,” substantiate that with an example of how your communication skills had a tangible impact in a specific instance.
More resume gold:
Keep it to one page. Any longer and you’re likely to try the patience of prospective employers (many of whom won’t even bother reading to the bottom of the FIRST page). If you can’t dazzle “em” sufficiently with a single page, two’s not likely to do the trick. And it could suggest a lack of focus. Also be extra scrupulous about keeping your cover letter or introductory e-mail tight. “I read enough novels in my spare time,” Dine cautions. “Don’t send me your life story.”
Be precise; make your specialty and talents abundantly clear in your summary and elsewhere. “The frustrating question ‘What does this person DO?’ is heard way too often around the Keva Dine office,” reports Dine.
Details, details, details! Branding is all about telling a story — people remember stories — and storytelling is all about specifics. Use mini case studies to illustrate your productivity, your efficiency, your indispensability.
Recount how your quick thinking and logistical acumen resulted in the lightning-fast relocation of a Phoenix corporate-retreat’s luncheon after the caterer sent 125 Cornish game hens to the wrong site. Describe how you marshaled your street team to drum up 35% more database registrations than any other division. Give life to the tale of the 11th-hour campaign pitch (illustrated by nothing more than stick-figure sketches) that won your outfit a $12 million contract with ActiVision. Divulge your role in getting Oprah to model the platform gladiator sandals designed by your client.
Such yarns comprise the very fabric of your brand; they tell your next boss what you’re made of and suggest what you can do for HER.
Forget about listing every job you’ve ever had in strict reverse-chronological order. Do indicate the years you were with each employer, but make sure the “experience” entries most aligned with your current career goals come first. This is sometimes called a “functional” resume. It’s arranged by order of importance. Sacrificing strategy to chronology is so 20th century.
Use vocabulary cherry-picked from the listing for the job you want. Large firms frequently depend on computers to sift resume submissions; the software sorts forkeywords that match the listing. Include those keywords in your resume to penetrate the machines’ defenses so you can work your magic on some HUMAN eyeballs.
Don’t make them Google it. Unless your prior employers, clients and partners are so well known that clarifying what they do would be ridiculous, provide a pithy description: Fortress of Solitude, a boutique entertainment-marketing firm. Lithwick, Stahl and Osterman, a financial consultancy. Green’s Greens, the Upper Midwest’s leading distributor of frozen vegetables. If the HR manager has to search for info because you didn’t provide it, consider yourself deleted.
I know it seems like everyone’s hocking resume advice these days, but few “experts” we’ve encountered seem to grasp the concept of personal branding. So it’s up to us to drop some recession-resistant resume science on your dome: Telling your story in vivid detail, with all the value propositions, case histories, names and numbers you’d associate with a winning brand, is essential. That stuff is why your future supervisor will hire YOU instead of the other candidates with similar qualifications.
Of course, if you’re stymied by the task, you can always hire a resume writer who understands the importance of branding. That decision alone can showcase a critical skill: the ability to delegate.
*Full disclosure: Keva Dine is a partner of Editorial Emergency