What is a resume? A resume is a specialized teaching tool. It is not a marketing piece or an advertisement. This is in contrast to what most resume “experts” will tell you. But think about the mindset of a marketer. Marketers pull out all the stops and do whatever they can to get us to think we need their product. They spend millions researching logos, product names, color usage, and advertising campaigns.
Marketers exaggerate product claims about what their products can do for us (check out the weight loss and get-rich-quick infomercials), sometimes crossing over the line by lying or at least providing false hope to the general public. (“I lost 35 pounds in a week eating nothing but Oreos and ice cream!”) The marketer doesn’t reveal that the product rarely works this good. It’s all a marketing scheme, grounded in well-researched persuasive psychology and walking the line on legality and the ethical high road.
The purpose of a resume is to teach—not to market yourself. When you draft your resume, think about the characteristics of great teachers.
Marketers don’t care what buying their product will do to your budget, and they don’t have your best interest at heart. YOUR best interest is not THEIR job—their job is to make money. If they don’t make money, they lose their job and their kids go hungry. Their job is to play to your emotions, your intellect, and your sense of urgency so that you leave the house right now and go buy their product. That’s their job. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people; it just means that they don’t care that much about you.
Lots of people writing their resumes think of themselves as self-marketers. They try to present themselves as bigger than life, greater than great. Studies indicate that over 60-90% of resume writers exaggerate the truth on their resumes. And, as a hiring manager, I’ve sometimes fallen for this. The result: I’ve hired people who SEEM to be a good fit for the job, but after a while, they don’t work out. They’ve sold themselves to me and end up not being a good fit for the job.
Everyone pays a price for resume lies: the manager, because he’s hired a person who is unable to do the job; HIS boss, because he now thinks the hiring manager is incompetent; and the person hired, because he is not able to do the job he convinced the manager he COULD do. As a result, the employee can end up with disciplinary actions against him, which could result in termination of his employment—not to mention all the associated stress caused from his failure on the job. Or he may have just locked himself into a job for life because his incompetence means he won’t be promoted. Or, if the company finds out he falsified information to get the job, he could end up at the wrong end of a lawsuit.
Experienced managers can smell self-interest marketing techniques. They intuitively identify someone who is trying to sell themselves. When an experienced manager senses that someone is trying to sell themselves in a resume or job interview, the manager sees the person as desperate and self-centered. The manager will run away, because the applicant sounds like a used car salesman trying to unload a junker. It’s like the applicant is holding a big “WILL WORK FOR FOOD” sign—People tend to look the other way. As a resume writer, you are trying to teach managers what you can do for their particular business, not trying to sell yourself as the best thing since sliced bread.
The purpose of a resume is to teach—not to market yourself. When you draft your resume, think about the characteristics of great teachers. This takes the pressure off of you. You don’t have to become a salesman. But, in teaching the hiring manager, you must adhere to teaching basics: First, eliminate distractions. Remember how easy it was in school to get distracted by things going on outside the windows or things the class clown was doing? And sometimes you were so bored in the class that you probably LOOKED for things to distract you. I know I did. The hiring manager is the same. If your resume is too wordy, has a distracting layout, or has any other attributes that distract the manager, it will be headed for the trash can.
Second, educational psychologists have found that people need to hear a message at least three times before they remember it. If you give students a piece of information once and never bring it up again, they are sure to forget it. So what does this mean for you? I want you to remember that 3 X 3 does not equal 9 x 1. Here’s what I mean: Giving a manager examples of three skills you have and repeating these skills in three different situations is much more powerful than giving the manager nine different skills and mentioning each only once. The nine won’t make an impression, but the three will make you look like an expert. For example, if a company is accepting resumes for a team leader, you are better off using three different examples of when you’ve successfully led team projects, rather than nine different skills you have, one of which is team leader.
Condense and emphasize. Otherwise, you end up hiding your qualifications behind too much data and trivial facts. In writing your resume, you will have to choose what to include and what to leave out of each description of your past and current jobs. Leave out irrelevant details and emphasize necessary qualities for the job you want.
The hiring manager has the right to hire the very best person for the job. They get to choose—that’s their job. It is their right and their responsibility to the company. Your job is not to sway them that you are better than some other job candidate. Chances are you don’t know the other people the hiring manager is considering. But your job, on the other hand, is to teach them who you are. You have the right AND the responsibility—to yourself and those affected by your employment decisions—to put your very best in front of the manager for him to consider. You are an educator, not a sales person.
This is a complete mental shift for most people. Every day many great applicants are passed over because they are selling themselves, not teaching the manager. If a manager can look over your resume and know what you have accomplished and what skills you could bring to the job, you have succeeded as a teacher, regardless of who gets the job offer. But, remember, most people draft their resume as a sales tool. Draft your resume as a teaching tool and you WILL stand out.