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Friday, March 31, 2006
Demonstration Speaks Louder Than Words
I had a client this week who was concerned that the new resume we were going to develop for him to communicate to the reader his unique personality. He said, “The key to my sales abilities is my personality. I interview very well. I’ve never been on an interview where I didn’t win the offer. My problem has been trying to capture that personality in the resume. I just haven’t been able to get it across, at least not to where it makes the phone ring.”

I found this an interesting comment because it showed several misconceptions that most job seekers have about the resume and how it works for them. The first misconception they have is that they can effectively communicate something that is intangible in their resumes – personality. Sure, it’s possible to get style woven into a resume and it’s important for the resume to be written in a tone that is similar to the client’s, but really being able to communicate a personality in a resume is very difficult.

The second misconception is that employers want to know all the nuances of personality before they can make a decision to call a candidate. Employers are primarily concerned about the results a candidate can achieve. They look for information concerning past performance in the resume as it relates to achievements, job scope, education, etc. Past performance gives them clues to future performance (kind of like mutual funds). If the employer is impressed with the performance that shows in the resume, they will set up an interview. It is in the interview that the personality is gauged. Only in the interview can personality traits be shown to the employer – not in the resume.

The third misconception is that soft skills like ethical behavior, communication, honesty, etc. can be described by stringing adjectives together. For example, the phrase “Strategic thinker with well-developed, intuitive communication skills, strong organizational abilities, and keen negotiation skills” is a typical sentence we see in summary sections that are written by job seekers. In this sentence, there are eight adjectives. There are only fourteen words total. All those adjectives strung together in noun phrases do not have any power. It’s overkill.

Soft skills like “detail-oriented” and “strategic thinking” should be anchored to results. For example, an accountant who had worked in auditing could say “Identified $200K in fraudulent expenses through detailed investigation of budgetary line items.” This SHOWS detail-oriented skills rather than just claiming them.

Many people throw high-sounding adjective-heavy noun phrases in a resume but don’t think about if they truly apply. They sound good so they must be effective. Unfortunately, most of these phrases are so overused that they are becoming trite and have lost their impact. It also sets my teeth on edge when I read “detail-oriented” in the summary and then identify 23 mechanical errors in the document ranging from misspellings to verb tense shift. That is why demonstrating evidence of the soft skills through the results achieved is always better than just claiming the skill by itself. If you demonstrate it, it has more power.

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