Kill the stultifying, dull corporate-speakâ€”before it kills your chance to get an interview
By Liz Ryan
There are rÃ©sumÃ©s that, from the first word, signal that the person behind the rÃ©sumÃ© is someone you’d like to know more about. These provocative rÃ©sumÃ©s come in as many variations as the people whose backgrounds they describe, but they have one thing in common. A clever, well-written rÃ©sumÃ© does not begin with (or include) the words “results-oriented professional.”
Sometime in the past 20 years, many or most of the white-collar workers in the U.S. fell into a torpid state where their rÃ©sumÃ©s were concerned, using the same language that everyone else uses and stuffing as much stilted corporate-speak into the rÃ©sumÃ© as possible. How else could one explain why anyone would write “Versatile Business Professional skilled at multilevel, cross-functional project management utilizing excellent verbal and written communication skills”? Who talks like that?
It’s hard to say whether we use trite, done-to-death corporate boilerplate in our rÃ©sumÃ©s because doing so makes us feel businesslike, or because we’re afraid to write a rÃ©sumÃ© in such a way that it would explain what we actually do, why we do it, and what difference it makes. Either way, a rÃ©sumÃ© that doesn’t present you as the sharp, insightful person you are makes your job search harder. The more “you” you can inject into your marketing materials, the better.
A smart and interesting person yoked to a dull, clichÃ©-ridden rÃ©sumÃ© is a person whose marketing materials are pulling him (or her) down like an anchor.
Here are a few rÃ©sumÃ© rules that will help you get the lead out of your rÃ©sumÃ© before you need to use it again.
â€¢ Don’t assert what you should be demonstrating.
Imagine how creepy it would be if you met a person at a social event and s/he said to you “I’m good-looking.” You would think, “That’s odd; it’s a bit rude to assert your own physical attractiveness, but also, don’t I have to make that determination for myself?” Your rÃ©sumÃ© is a vehicle whose purpose is to display your stellar professional background and your communication skills. Don’t suck power from your rÃ©sumÃ© by insisting, “I have great communication skills!” when, if you’ve got ’em, you should be flaunting ’em in the very document you’re composing.
â€¢ Specific is better than general.
Boilerplate language kills a rÃ©sumÃ© because it doesn’t say anything. “Met or exceeded expectations” is one of those despicable, say-nothing phrases. It’s shockingly unoriginal and it makes no sense (if you exceeded expectations, why would you tell us that you also sometimes met them?). Plus, we’d be far more interested in reading which expectations you exceeded, and why we should care, than reading a general statement that says you hit some unknown mark. Be specific: “Designed marketing campaign that resulted in $100K in pre-launch orders for NoisyLocks mp3 Barrettes line” is much stronger.
â€¢ Talk about accomplishments, not tasks.
If you list the job title for each job you’ve held, we can guess on our own what your day-to-day duties were. Don’t use you valuable rÃ©sumÃ© real estate on those. Instead, tell us what you accomplished on the job. That’s what will make us want to hire you. Instead of “Created monthly sales analysis reports for Sales VP” (yawn), write “Spotted trend in new-account orders arising from Customer Education Days at big-box retailer, and developed strategy to grow that segment 15%.”
â€¢ Show no mercy to boilerplate.
Go through your rÃ©sumÃ© looking for the boilerplate language that chokes the life out of it. “seasoned business executive with a bottom-line orientation” is another groan-inducing string of nothing-speak. When you find it, kill itâ€”and replace it with a more original, human, and pithy phrase that talks about what you actually (specifically) did and why anyone should care.
â€¢ Tell us what you want.
Your rÃ©sumÃ©’s Summary or Objective is a critical piece of your message, and a good Summary or Objective is compelling and to the point. Replace the meandering “Communications professional with sixteen years progressively more responsible roles in Advertising, PR, Health Care Communications and public-school administration background seeks an opportunity to make a difference in a role that will utilize my [whatever, whatever]” with “Mar/Com Manager with a combination of big-company and startup experience looking for a small brand to make big.” We don’t want to have to work to figure out what you do well and what you want to do next. Tell us, quickly.
The old, musty style of the boring, nothing-speak rÃ©sumÃ© is gone, and the personal, pithy rÃ©sumÃ© is here to stay. Do your job search a favor and write yourself a rÃ©sumÃ© that sounds as though a personâ€”you, to be exactâ€”wrote it, and not a robot. People hire people. Get your rÃ©sumÃ© to tell your human story, and leave the boilerplate to the bureaucratsâ€”and robots.
Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.