Chapter 1: The Naked Truths of Résumé Success
In this chapter, you’ll learn:
The right attitude to begin with
The right résumé-writing process to follow
I was slurping down watery spaghetti when the news reached college friends and me in the dining hall: An all-campus streak was scheduled for sunset. Dozens of female students would supposedly be dashing across the wide-open university quadrangle in their birthday suits. We quickly finished our Jell-O desserts and dashed from the male dorm to the scene of the unfolding spectacle.
But before we could jostle the frantic freshmen out of the best viewing spots, the runners were already sprinting across the grassy field like proud Olympians. Alas, only a couple of females had joined the male streakers’ ranksin the middle of the pack where they couldn’t be clearly eyeballed.
Of course, neither I nor my inhibited friends stripped down to join the passing runners, and within thirty seconds the entire escapade was over. Observers continued shuffling around for fifteen minutes like brooding carrion birds. Then they began wandering to campus watering holes to drown their disappointments. We joined them.
As we talked it over, my friends and I realized how gullible we were. All it took was a little gossip to move us to action; within minutes, we had run like a raft of turkeys to the campus quadrangle to gawk at the streakers. We wondered what we had really expected to see or to accomplish by following the other flocks of dorm guys to the much-hyped event. We’d been duped. Worse yet, we realized that we had fooled ourselves into believing something that was not likely to happen as imagined.
So it is with résumé writing. Most people fool themselves into believing they can cobble together a decent résumé and proceed to land a job. They imagine the end productthe great jobwhile failing to consider what they actually need to do to obtain interviews, let alone secure a job or launch a career. The same fantasies affect people in their late twenties through early forties who hope to shift to a better career.
What about the streakers? They had a mission; they had a purpose, however wacky. They courageously sought to undress on campus and to briskly run from point A to point B without getting arrested for public indecency. They had even planned the whole affair secretly so that word wouldn’t spread in advance among authorities, let alone among freshman males like my friends and me. By contrast, we were just fantasy-driven gawkers, mere consumers of other people’s carefully planned work. So what?
So this: Most career-seeking résumé writers are like the observers at that college streak. They want the fun without the planning. They expect a free ticket to an interview based on little or no résumé-writing preparation. In consequence, they usually get what they deserve: a very disappointing “show.” As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” A raft of turkeys will always be a bunch of birds, at least until they learn how to make something more of themselves. And it won’t do any good for them to fantasize about the great life of being a bald eagle, soaring overhead and grabbing fish right out of the lake. They have to train for the job as well as desire it. Then they have to convince others that they can do the work well.
Those streakers had more than a mission. They had determination and courage. They knew the importance of collaborating with others to make the streak a success.
Here’s the bottom line: writing a great résumé is a lot like streaking. The art of streaking includes many of the same traits you’ll need for writing a great résumé. Both require courage. Both can be fun. Both are a bit unconventionalif you do them well. Although hiring a professional résumé writer can help, it won’t engage your own creativity and prepare you for interviews. Having someone else write your résumé is like recruiting a surrogate streaker to take your place. It’s just not the same thing. You need to tell your own life story if you want to write a personalized, powerful résumé. You need to start with the right attitude.
A lot of résumés fall flat because they aren’t daring. They rely on the same old lingo to say the same old things in the same old, repetitive, tired ways. Reading them is like seeing the movie Groundhog Day over and over againwithout the happy ending. Just look at all the résumé-writing books that tell you what to say and exactly how to say it. Or peruse all the Microsoft Word résumé templates that give every content-weak résumé the look of every other high-on-gravy, low-on-meat résumé. Where’s the beef?
Don’t be afraid to emphasize your strengths and express your potential. If you don’t have faith in your abilities, why should anyone else? It takes guts to go streaking. It takes nerve to create a résumé that will stand out from the pack. I’m not talking about hollow hype or puffy prose. I’m talking about honest persuasion.
We all let our self-doubts cloud even our realistic dreams. We wonder whether we’re good enough, bright enough, and talented enough. We fear failure. All of us. I know. I’ve helped many college students write dynamite résumés. Almost all of these career seekers started with low confidence. Why? Because no one had ever helped them review the practical value of their life experience. They worried excessively about their lack of professional experience. Some of them even wanted to exaggerate part-time work experiences to make it seem as though their professional backgrounds were more substantial. That doesn’t work. It’s unethical as well as ineffective.
Also, we all tend to remember and dwell upon our weaknesses rather than our strengths. Every former job we list on a résumé reminds us that we didn’t perform perfectly. We wonder what our confidential references will really say about us. Every career seekerold or young, male or femalefeels inadequate. Writing a résumé can make you feel even worse if you don’t know how to tell your story persuasively. Get ready. Take courage. I’ll coach you.
It can take days to write a solid résumé, weeks to identify a job worth applying for, and months to land an interview. The process of launching a career can be slow and tedious. One day you’ll assess yourself and your résumé as outstanding. The next day you’ll want to tear it up and toss it in the trash. Sometimes you’ll feel like giving up. To keep your sanity, you’ll want to download entire seasons of old TV shows; go shopping; hang out at a coffee shop eating pastries; or simply sleep until noon, slurp down a can of unheated SpaghettiOs, and then crawl back into bed. Don’t let yourself cop out. Short breaks are okay. Just don’t avoid the inevitable. Steel yourself for a long and bumpy road. Be brave!
Frustrations can devour you if you let them. It may be that 95 percent of the time you’ve put into applications and résumés has led to nothing. Nada. You’ve faced the dreaded black hole of submitted résumés. You haven’t even received a form letter saying, “Sorry, but no.” It’s infuriating.
If you’re new to the job-search process, you should expect to be ignored by some employers, no matter how great your résumé and cover letter may be. That’s just the way things are, so don’t take it personally. But you can greatly increase your employer response rate and interviews by following the tips in this book. So take courage, even if you’ve been beaten down in the past.
Creating a résumé really can be enjoyable. You get to be imaginative. You can paint a self-portrait with words, tell your own story, make your case with style.
As I discuss in this book, one way to liven up résumés is with applied creativity. Search for just the right words to describe your skills, knowledge, and traits. (These are the “big three” that we’ll talk much more about later.) Describe some personal activities that are interesting and will catch a reader’s attentionperhaps hobbies or adventurous travel, a passion for reading mysteries or for learning everything you can about particular sports teams or players. What excites you? Why?
How would you tell someone else about your passions? What words would you use? Right now, stop and think about one thing you like doing when you have free time. What does that activity say about you? Start thinking outside the box.
Suppose you like eating. Why? Is it the tastethe variety of flavors? Do you enjoy different food experiences? Going out to eat? Eating with others? Cooking your food and then eating it? When, why, where, and with whom you eat can say a lot about you.
I’ve noticed that many people who love to eat are great conversationalists. They enjoy interacting, listening to others’ stories, and sharing their own life adventures: “You’ll never guess what happened to me last week at the car washI accidentally left the passenger-side window open.” They’re schmoozers, tailor-made for conversation-rich careers. Their creativity comes with expressing their schmooze power in a way that highlights the strengths they offer a potential employer: an “avid conversationalist who builds relationships by listening and speaking well.” Sounds like a salesperson. Or a teacher. Perhaps even a résumé-book author!
Maybe you did something special while engaged in a run-of-the-mill, part-time job. What was your contribution to enhancing the value of the mundane tasks? How did you serve your coworkers or customers? How did you brighten someone else’s day even in a routine job? How did you transform an everyday task into a more bearable onebesides quitting? If you did resign, what positive statement does this action make about your ethical standards? Or about your patience or loyalty for hanging in there for so long?
We all need to get the work done, but why and how we work is just as important as whatwe accomplish. After all, few jobs are solo efforts. Would you rather work with a dull or a fun colleague? If you were hiring someone for a sales position, would you prefer a conversationalist or a quiet loner? What about for a library job? When it comes to résumé writing, one size does not fit all situations. You need to know what you personally have to offer and under what circumstances those qualities might be a good fit.
Get your creative juices flowing in the following chapters. Imagine yourself writing a poem, crafting a playlist of your favorite songs, snapping a series of photos, filming your life story, or painting an image of who you are and who you would like to become. Don’t start by imagining yourself in a professional suit. If it helps, peel off some clothes late at night and roam unencumbered around your living quarters. Just make sure the blinds are drawn, or you might end up telling your tale creatively to the authorities.
It may sound obvious, but there’s only one you. You should be yourself in your résumé. You can borrow good ideas from other résumés. But remember that overly standardized, run-of-the-mill résumés tend to get tossed into the recycle bin. Who wants to employ an imitation if they can hire the real thing?
In highly creative professions, especially the arts, conventional résumés are nearly useless. But even in less-artsy fields like accounting and computer science, cookie-cutter résumés are less effective. With a boring, predictable résumé, even someone with fabulous life experience can resemble a tasteless, manufactured cookie rather than a gooey one, hot out of the oven. Go for the goo! How? By expressing what makes you distinctive, what reflects your own life recipe.
In short, you are a distinctive member of the human race. An engaging résumé should highlight your individuality even as it conforms to some of the tried-and-true basics of a professional résumé for a particular career. In other words, be innovative within the parameters of professionalism. This will make you deliciously unconventional in a world of knock-off career seekers who wrongly believe that imitation itself is a résumé-writing virtue.
Of course, avoid extreme or inappropriate individuality. Elle Woods in the movie Legally Blonde uses a pink, scented résumé. Cute, but it won’t make a good impression in most professions. Avoid the extremes even if you truly are that unconventional.
So use this book to discover your own exceptional traits. Then express those traits creatively, within the accepted rules of résumé writing.
Sending out résumés can be humiliating. You might not hear anything back, making you wonder whether either you or the employer is a loser. Or you might snag an interview and then be asked tough questions about your résumé, causing you to fret over your weaknesses. Just writing a résumé can be embarrassing if it seems as though you’ve got so little professional experience that you’re unworthy of employers’ attention.
Like streaking, letting other people see who you are, warts and all, is humbling and sometimes embarrassing. We all crave acceptance. We need to know that others value us for who we are. But we fear being rejected if we’re honest about ourselves. Feeling this way is normal for people of all ages. Deep inside we’re all like teenagers going through identity crises. A friend of mine who makes movies says that working in Hollywood is like living in purgatory with a bunch of adolescents. Truth be told, there’s a lot of the insecure Hollywood celeb in all of us. We all protect ourselves by projecting personas in order to mask our inner doubts and fears.
Done properly, preparing your résumé can help you to come out of your overly protective shell. It can actually encourage you to accept and express your strengths as well as to identify and address your weaknesses. One of my former colleagues faced a real challenge teaching public speaking: students tended to cut class on the day they were expected to stand up and explain to their peers one thing they could do well. Either they couldn’t identify any area of proficiency (unlikely) or were simply embarrassed about revealing it to others.
Use your résumé writing as a way to remind yourself that you’re unique, that your life experience has already taught you volumes, and that your experience itself qualifies you to tell others about your strengths and to address your self-identified weaknesses as opportunities for growth. If you do, employers will pick up on your distinctiveness, your self-confidence, and your desire to learn from your life experience. Smart employers don’t look for perfect people to interview. They look for honest, mature individuals who know their own strengths and weaknesses and are willing to continue learning. But to get there, you’ll need to lower your defenses.
If the real you doesn’t speak persuasively in your résumé, you probably don’t yet have a great one. Your résumé needs to reveal your career-related skills, knowledge, and traits in order to make a case for your career potential. By revealing the value of your own life experience, you’ll be making a strong case for the kind of employee you’ll makenot just for the type of career you’d like to launch.