A job search is full of obstacles, from unresponsive HR departments to those annoying blind ads that don’t even tell you who the employer is. On top of the roadblocks that a job search imposes on us, here is one more that we create for ourselves: a dry-as-dust, boilerplate resume that sounds exactly like everyone else’s resume does.
It’s easy to see why we’d write a resume in the conventional way, following what I call the ‘Standard Model’. It’s a safe approach, because we’ve already seen a million resumes that read the same way. Here’s an example of a Standard Model resume summary used by one imaginary fellow applying for HR jobs:
Results-oriented HR professional with a bottom-line orientation and strong attention to detail. Team player with excellent communication and organizational skills and experience leading cross-functional teams.
We have read these words ten million times before. When we read them, we get no sense of the person behind the boilerplate language. Is this person creative? Is he smart? We have no idea. The words present a brick wall to the reader. They’re robot words, churned out of the resume-language machine in the sky. We can’t tell whether the resume’s owner is someone who can help us, or someone we’d like to work with every day. We can’t tell anything about him at all. In my opinion, a boilerplate-filled resume is a waste of space.
We can make our resumes more powerful by dropping the boilerplate language in favor of simple, human words that regular people use when they’re not writing resumes. We can write our resume in a human voice that speaks directly to the reader.
Let’s start with the opening words of our resume summary. “Results-oriented professional” is written in a strange kind of governmental/bureaucratic language that has no ‘person’ in it. We know that the phrase “Sally is a sweet girl” refers to Sally in the third person. “I’m left-handed” is written in the first person. What person is used by resume-writers? None at all. “Results-oriented professional” is neither first-person nor third person. It’s a ghostly kind of no-subject language. Let’s get rid of it, and speak to the reader in the first-person in our resume summary, like this:
As an RA in college and ever since, I’ve loved untangling thorny people problems and helping groups move past differences to beat their goals. I’m an HR Generalist whose strong suit is removing obstacles for the teams I support – from comp snarls and policy confusion to training gaps – and whose passion is building a culture to attract and hang onto the most talented people in our industry.
Now we have a sense of the guy behind the resume – a strong sense of him, in fact. There are zillions of HR people on the job market, but this man knows who he is. He’s an HR guy who loves the employee-relations/generalist side of the HR function. The first-person voice in his resume speaks directly to the reader, and it’s confident. On top of that, this fellow knows what he wants to do and what he’s good at. He is speaking very specifically about his talents without detailing his skills (comp, benefits, HRIS, training) out of context in the usual boring, laundry-list approach.
One more thing — our HR job seeker uses vernacular in his resume summary (slang, in other words). He writes the way he speaks. He says that he’s passionate about helping his employers hang onto talented people, because ‘hang onto’ is the way regular people refer to what HR types call employee retention. This job seeker doesn’t need to use ‘the official words’ in order to feel, or to make himself sound, more professional. He’s professional – he knows it, and it comes through in his description of the work he’s already done. He uses simple English, slangy terms (‘beat their goals,” “strong suit”) because it’s a more down-to-earth and confident approach than the Standard Model treatment, a la “Proven track record of success retaining seasoned talent using cross-functional yada yada yada.”
Is the human-voiced approach ten million times stronger than the boilerplate resume summary above? I think so. Most employers – most hiring managers, in particular – will have a strong, positive reaction to a resume summary like this — but not all of them.
Could a more traditional hiring manager or HR person reviewing this HR person’s resume freak out at the use of the first person, the strong branding, and the casual tone? It’s possible. If our HR job seeker’s use of simple human language would get this job seeker tossed out of the promising candidate pile, would he want to work for that company anyway? That’s a question for him or her – and for you.