Career Advice, Interviews

Ingredient ‘X' is YOUR Brand

I got a call from a lovely but very discouraged woman who had a setback in her job search progress. “I love your idea of the human-voiced resume,” she said, “and so I rewrote my resume to put some life and some of my personality into it. I ended up with one first-person sentence in my summary. The sentence starts with ‘I,’ and I’ve already had two people tell me that it’s never appropriate to start a sentence in my resume with ‘I.’

“Can you read that sentence to me?” I asked, and she read aloud: “I am passionate about helping people succeed on the job.”

“I’m an HR person,” she continued. “And I’m really committed to helping people succeed. You would have thought I wrote ‘I’m passionate about wreaking destruction everywhere I go from the reaction I’m getting.”

“Help me out,” I said. “Who’s reacting so negatively to your new resume summary?”

“Other HR people,” said my caller. “I went to an HR networking event and showed my resume to a few people. One woman read the sentence about helping people succeed at work, and she said, ‘Oh, so you’re on THEIR side.’ Like the employees are on one side and the employer is on the other, and HR is supposed to be on the employers’ side.”

“What did you say to her when she said that?” I asked, and my caller said, “I told her that I’ve been an HR person for fifteen years, and up until now hadn’t been aware there were sides.”

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “I could tell you to ignore the stodgy HR people who don’t like your first-person sentence and your very wholesome helping-people-succeed message in your resume summary.

I think using “I” in a resume summary is perfectly fine, and I think it’s wonderful that you like to help people succeed on the job. I’ve never heard of an employer looking for HR people who prefers to help people fail on the job. But I don’t think you should listen to me, any more than you should listen to the HR people who tell you to change your resume.”

“Then whom the heck should I listen to?” the lady wanted to know.

“I’d say listen to your gut,” I said. “Your job search is all about you, and your materials need to incorporate your brand. I think being passionate about helping employees succeed on the job is tame; it’s motherhood and apple pie for HR people. Not everyone feels how I feel about it. Some employers might think all of your time should be spent writing policies and writing performance improvement plans. You get to choose which sorts of employers to attract, and which sort to repel. You’ll do that, in part, via your job-search materials, including your resume.”

“My job search brand,” repeated the caller. “That’s a new one on me.”

“It’s critical,” I said. “The employers who are looking for a person like you will be attracted to your brand of HR, and others will shudder in horror at your use of the dreaded ‘I’ and your HR goals. That’s exactly the way a job search is supposed to work. Let your gut guide you in using the words that describe you, and if someone doesn’t like what you wrote, that’s not a signal for you change anything. It’s a signal that the person making that judgment about you is not your next employer. The more strongly you brand your materials, the less likely you are to wind up in a job you hate because you can’t be yourself at work. Believe me, there are plenty of employers who want employees to succeed on the job, and want HR people to help them do it.”

“Interesting – yet nearly everything you read online about job hunting tells you ‘Always Do This’ and ‘Never Do That’,” said my new friend. “I’d take that advice with a grain of salt,” I said, “because the secret ingredient is always Your Brand. If you’re buttoned-down, your materials will be too. If you’re jaunty, ditto. The more YOU in the resume, the better – in my opinion. Your opinion matters more than mine – since it’s YOUR job-search brand we’re talking about.”