Do More Than Personalize Your Resume, Humanize It

Advice for creating a resume that accurately portrays your skills, experience, interests and personality.

The job market is a tough one right now, and it clearly favors employers over job seekers. There are simply more job seekers than available jobs. Competing in this market means that you need a solid resume, and one that recognizes a current reality for technical jobs. Employers are not just filling positions. They are looking to hire "the whole person" - someone who fits organizationally and culturally, and who can fill multiple job roles. The bottom line: You'll be more competitive in this job market if you have a resume that shows "the whole person."

The Resume Challenge

Almost without exception, no one likes to work on their resume. It ranks somewhere close to filing taxes or having cavities filled on the list of unpleasant things in life. It is one of those undesirable activities that simply must be done and done right. Many hire tax professionals to complete their returns, and nobody fills their own cavities. But all too often we struggle alone to produce resumes. My recommendation: Get some help! Seek help from your friends and colleagues, and perhaps from a resume professional. But even when you use the services of a professional resume writer, you can't abdicate responsibility to make your resume personal and human - to let the "whole person" shine through. Creating a resume that accurately portrays your skills, experience, interests, and personality can only be done with your participation and the participation of those who know you well. Participation means reflection on who you are and what you want to do - a task that can't be hired, contracted, or delegated.

Professional resume writers, often with good intentions, can create resumes that make interviews difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes even defensive. Lacking the participation that is needed to make a resume personal, the hired writer will resort to superlatives and overstatements. Imagine being interviewed based upon a resume that that makes statements about you that you don't even believe to be true. How do you respond to interview questions that arise from these statements? It is far better to be confident in the language that is used to describe you, and readily able to respond to any questions about your resume.

This statement was written by a professional resume writer who was overzealous in his desire to help a client obtain employment: "Exploited the power of system tools including scandisk and defrag to counteract performance issues in machines." How would you answer interview questions about such a statement? Would you be comfortable to glorify such a simple task? Does it really offer a clear picture of the prospective employee, or does it cloud that picture?

Clear and Concise

I'm not particularly good at taking care of my glasses. I'm careless with where I leave them so they often develop scratches quickly. Gradually I find myself squinting more and more as I try to make out details. When the squinting becomes too severe, I become aware of the problem and replace the glasses. With each new pair of glasses I'm initially surprised by how clean and crisp everything looks. The comparison between before and after is dramatic. If your resume isn't clean and crisp - if it doesn't accurately portray the real you - then you have the "scratchy glasses" version with prospective employers "squinting" at your resume.

In this article I'll illustrate resume clarity and showing the "whole person" by telling you Stephen's story. Stephen is both a talented IT professional and a friend. His story does a good job of illustrating the importance of sincerity and clarity in resume writing. Stephen's resume is included here for illustration and reference. The resume is not full of superlatives. It uses clear and concise language and describes Stephen's accomplishments and abilities without embellishment.

It is a powerful resume that tells Stephen's story quite well. But we didn't get to this resume quickly or easily. There were bumps and bruises, starts and stops, and detours along the way. I'll also tell you a bit of my story, as I am a resume writer who learned and grew from the experience of working with Stephen. I'll tell this story in the form of issues, describing each issue encountered and the ways that the issues were resolved.

Issue #1-Personalization

Managers want to hire people, not marketing brochures. Your resume should give them a good sense of who are and how you might fit into their team. It's a recipe for disaster when your resume tells one story and your interview tells another. You do a disservice to yourself when you let others describe you without comment or intervention. You know yourself better than anyone else, so it's your decision how you are portrayed in your resume.

The first sentence in Stephen's summary of qualifications statement answers one of my common questions when gathering information for a resume: "What is it that makes you most proud?" Stephen loves to stretch software functionality almost to its breaking point-it's a game to see who will win. Even though he's proficient with numerous BI and data warehousing tools, Excel remains his favorite. It was during our discussions about Excel that I captured this sentence: "Innovative technology professional who takes pride in building complex solutions with basic technology, getting the most from a company's technology investment."

I thought this was a powerful statement that couldn't be a more perfect fit, so I submitted it as part of my resume certification program. The rewrite I received back was a bit of a surprise. The "resume expert" restated the sentence as "Innovative technology professional, expert in building complex solutions and extracting optimum results from a company's technology investment." In trying to improve what I had written, the reviewer changed the meaning and reduced the value of the statement. The more general statement sounds good, but it loses the concept of making much from basic technology. More importantly, it is a less clear statement that takes a more careful read to find the meaning. Most important of all - it loses the sense of Stephen as a person who takes pride in his technical abilities.

Stephen also has a love of learning and finds it rewarding to help others learn. He is naturally patient, and is clear and descriptive in his explanations. This important aspect of Stephen closes his summary of qualifications with the statement" "Applies natural talent to translate a love of learning into a love of teaching, and helping others to learn." To reinforce this message we interwove elements of teaching into his resume with a section titled Business Intelligence (BI) Technical Training and Learning Laboratory Management

Issue #2 -Technology

Stephen is a gentle soul who is modest about his achievements. When I first read his resume I told him that something was missing. He asked "what? And I replied "technology." This simple exchange highlights the fact that we often find it difficult to accurately self-describe. I know that Stephen has exceptional technical expertise, having worked with him in the past. But he had not thought to include most of it on his resume. His reasoning: he only included technology where he had an extreme level of experience and had not considered others. His measure of acceptance was so high that most technology was excluded.

I assigned Stephen the task to list every technology he had used during the past eight years. It is difficult to remember specifics over an extended period of time, so it made sense to start with an all inclusive approach then refine the list based on how and how extensively he used each technology. Together we found the right list of technologies to accurately represent Stephen on his resume.

How you position and organize technologies on your resume depends on how you view yourself. For those who feel tightly coupled with technology, placing it on the first page makes sense. In Stephen's case, he is not so much interested in specific technologies as in pushing the limits of what the technology can do. He wants to see tangible results. We organized his technologies into five categories and placed them near the end of the resume. We focused the first page on the results instead of technology.

Issue #3-Projects

Determining which projects to include and how to describe Stephen's roles in each of them was particularly challenging. He has worked on many projects over a span of eight years, so discussion alone was not enough to decide which projects to feature. I asked Stephen to create a list that included every project he had worked on, no matter how small. From that list we selected projects based on how well they matched Stephen's interests and skills - how well the demonstrated "the whole person." Then we organized them into seven categories.

Issue #4-Value

With an organized project list we were ready to tackle the question: "What's the connection to business value?" Not everyone has statistics, such as 'delivered 20% cost reduction' or 'increased new product sales by 35%'. For IT professionals, value statements are especially difficult because they often think in terms of providing technical solutions, not business value. Extending from technology projects to business value means thinking about what will work better, who will be happier, and what new capabilities will be available when the project is completed.

The following statements in Stephen's resume effectively describe the qualitative value that he created without resorting to exaggerations, superlatives, or fictionalized quantifications:

Implemented systems to satisfy a variety of business-to-consumer requirements including web-initiated database transactions, contact management, and communications tracking. Software development - Reduced the time, cost and complexity of maintaining the ETL process by developing a rules engine to remove hard-coded rules from an existing difficult to maintain ETL process. Stephen's project and technology lists now serve multiple purposes. The refined lists are included in his resume and the original lists serve as a quick review and reference prior to interviews. It's best to refresh your memory before interviewing so that the facts are clear in your mind and ready when needed.

Stephen's resume tells a story. It works as a well placed introduction that describes him in his entirety - his character, interests, and skills. What story does your resume convey? What does it say about your past, present, and future? A good resume does not come easily. It must be crafted over time and from all of the right perspectives. Put together all of the right pieces, including a pinch of this and a dash of that, to show the individual and make the resume interesting to read. Consider who you really are and how best to personalize your resume and properly position technology, projects, and value. Capture the sense of yourself that conjures up an image of you as a whole person.