Over at LinkedIn, a member of an editors’ group posted this link to a very entertaining rant by ghostwriter Jeff Haden. I used to teach resumé-writing and, as a business owner and as the head of an editorial office at the Great Desert University, discovered all that canned resumé advice, straight out of the textbook, came back to haunt.
How many times have you told some prospective employer how “unique” you are? How superlatively unique!
And how could you fail to tell the hiring committee of your “goal-oriented” nature? Your “world-class” administrative assistant skills? Your “creative,” “dynamic,” and “results-oriented” personality?
But did you happen to provide a concrete example to prove any of these steamy claims?
Come on! All I want is someone to do the filing, answer the phone, and learn the university’s involved purchasing software so we can order some paper now and then. Do I need a “world-class” administrative assistant for these Herculean tasks? Especially one who doesn’t know “world-class,” “goal-oriented,” and “results-oriented” are hyphenated?
When I look at a resumé, I hope to see what specifically the applicant has done somewhere else that a) indicates what he can accomplish on the job and b) tells me how she can bring the skills required to bear on the tasks that my organization needs to have done.
It comes right back to the oldest chestnut of advice to budding writers: Show, don’t tell.
Show an example of what you can do. And try to provide specifics, preferably with figures, that bear on the work you’ll be doing in job you’re trying to land.
If you must use a vague term like “creative” because you figure your resumé is being sorted by a computer searching for keywords, list accomplishments that prove you’re creative:
• Established and oversaw two new departments for Arizona Highways, “Hike of the Month” and “Mileposts”
• Created and taught the College of Arts and Sciences’ first fully online course
You’re “goal-oriented”? Prove it:
• Wrote four feature-length articles a month plus several shorter pieces for regional and national magazines
• Obtained a contract for and completed a fourth book
“Results-oriented”? Show what results you obtained:
• Co-wrote national bestseller for William Morrow that returned $1.5 million in revenues during its first year and $1 million the second year
• Redesigned research newsletter, turning it into a “magaletter” that became the basis of its current magazine format
You say you’re a “team player”? Whose team did you play on?
• Established and developed office and designed all management policies. Developed and regularly updated strategic plan.
• Initiated collaboration with Scholarly Publishing Program and Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
• Coordinated management of unit with office of the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
• Consulted with faculty editors and Dean’s Office on publishing matters.
• Mentored graduate students in Scholarly Publishing Program.
If you’re feeding bloviated terms from a job description back to the employer, remember that the person doing the hiring wants to know what you can do for the company, not what you think of yourself — even if you think your qualifications exactly match the hot air in the job ad.
Find out something about the employer. Then massage your resumé so it highlights past accomplishments or training that bears directly on the kind of work you will be doing in the coveted new job. It’s all very nice that you did x or y for some other outfit. But what can you do for me? In your cover letter, show how that will come to pass.
The cover letter, in particular, should explicitly show that you understand something about the hiring company or agency and explain what, exactly, you can do for it. Don’t talk about your needs, for heaven’s sake. Talk about what you can do for the employer.
One of the funniest application letters that ever crossed my desk came from a guy whose cover letter went on and on about why he was applying to my company. He explained in great detail how he had moved to Florida in search of a better life. He decided he didn’t like the weather there and so he was moving to Arizona and wished to come to work for me.
Second runner-up: an application from a newly minted J-school graduate who couldn’t spell and didn’t recognize the comma splices with which she had salted her cover letter.
😆 🙄 😆
Sure: it’s all about you. But your task is to make it look like you’re all about the employer. And prove it.