Monday, September 22, 2008


Résumé “headlines”

Someone sent me this résumé advice as a curiosity, and curious I found it, indeed:

Instead of putting your name and objective at the top of your resume, try this technique. Make a single sentence headline about yourself that is so intriguing or funny or descriptive or unique or creative that it breaks through the clutter and gets read.

On the surface, it sounds like reasonable advice, but for two snags. I should start by noting that interviewing prospective hires is a small part of my job, and not something I’m doing all the time. Perhaps someone who does it constantly would have a different view. Or perhaps the view would be different for someone in another industry.

So, that said, the first snag is that I don’t start by looking at the applicant’s name, or other such information that’s likely to be heading the résumé. That’s not the most important stuff on there, and I also wouldn’t want to take even the small risk that things like the name or address would prompt me to pre-judge the applicant.

No, the first thing I look at is what your goals are and what you’ve done already. And for those, I don’t need nor want something cute or catchy, but something clear and concise, something that really tells me why you’re here and what you want to do, and what skills and experience you bring with you. I will say that this should certainly be “unique”; it’s of no use to say, “This is a great company, and I’d really like to work here.”

The next thing I’ll do is go to Google and see what I can find about you, so make sure there’s something out there that shows off your professional credentials. I’ll look over some of your publications, and I’ll note where they were published, how mature the work was, and how clearly it was communicated.

The rest of it — education, references, name, hobbies, or “headline” — comes later, and means far less. References, in particular, are things I usually find pretty useless. You have to have them, of course, but unless you’ve specifically picked references I’m likely to know personally or professionally (if you’ve really done a good job putting your résumé together, you have, but I rarely see that), I’ll have to go looking for references on my own, anyway, and that’ll wait until I’ve already decided that you’ve made the first cut.

The other snag is the list of examples of “creative” headlines, which includes these:

I married the prettiest girl in my small town high school, proof positive I can sell myself; just think what I can do for the widgets of ABC.

Voted “most likely to succeed,” when I should have been voted “most likely to help ABC develop killer products.”

I was MVP for a state championship team in high school, voted on by my peers.

If I saw these, my response would be, “WTF?” I’d think of the first two as negative points, attempts to be cutesy at the expense of real substance. For the third, I would wonder why you thought that mattered at all. Even the best of the suggestions would be no better than neutral for me.

Again, maybe that’s because I don’t do this day in and day out, and my eyes are not just glazed over by one more résumé.

So do any of my readers interview job candidates regularly? Do any of you have comments that agree or differ? Would the catchy headlines truly catch your eye and make you look further, saving this applicant from being stacked on the endless heap?


Lisa Simeone said...

Can't stand cute or cutesy on resumés. It's childish. Makes me wanna shout, "are you a professional or not??"

Also can't stand resumés longer than one page. As the great impresario David Belasco famously put it, "If you can't write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don't have a clear idea."

Hate pretentious corporatespeak and other such jargon. Write in plain English or don't bother. If I even so much as get a whiff of "proactive" or "prioritize" or "empower" or "actualize" or "prior to" (it's "before," people) or "team player" or "grow" used as a transitive verb (grow a business) or "goal oriented" or "contextualize" or "on-task" or "resource allocation" or any other bit of Orwellian bullshit, I immediately scrap the thing.

And frankly, I think those Objective statements at the top are baloney. If you're applying for a writing job, I assume you like to write. If you're applying for an electrical engineering job, I assume you're an electrical engineer. Etc. We can talk about your philosophy of life or longterm goals (if you have any, which, personally, I never do) during the interview. A resumé should be a snapshot; that's all.

Barry Leiba said...

Yes, I agree with most of that. Unfortunately, I have to deal with a lot of the corporatespeak; I just do. I don't have to like it, though.

But there is a reason for some statement of what you're looking to do, in some situations (including mine). In a research division of a company the size of IBM, even if you're applying for a specific position, you're not really just applying for one position. You're applying to be, say, a computer software researcher who's going to concentrate on certain sub-fields, and it's important to say a little about what you'd like to work on beyond what's obvious from the work you've done so far.

We can cover that in the interview, yes (and we will), but having something there on the résumé might make the difference in getting the interview.

Obviously, that's different from the case of, say, someone applying for a job as a city-desk reporter at a newspaper, or a paralegal at a law firm, or some other sort of job where what you'll be working on is pretty well defined from the start.

Jeff Stephenson said...

Having been in the software developer interview loop off and on for many years, my first reaction to this sort of resumé would be "next...". I actively dislike doing interviews, but do understand their importance, so I agree to participate. But anything that gets in the way of determining whether you're going to make the cut will be held against you!

My preferred layout is a short paragraph telling me what qualities you bring to the table, a list of skills (languages, OSes, etc.), followed by a chronological review of what you've done. The folks who want you to give them your money to "help" you with your resumé will naturally call that "boring" because there's thus no incentive to pay them to do something "eye-catching" for you. I, on the other hand, consider "eye-catching" to be an attempt to cover up for a weakness, so I'll dig to try and find that weakness. Thus it's counter-productive.

BTW, references now days are becoming more and more useless - it seems that the majority of companies still ask for references, but will not themselves provide anything more than dates of employment to anyone that calls to follow up. Everyone's afraid of being sued for "defamation" nowadays...

Natasha Chart said...

I remember years ago when I was helping a manager of mine go through the resumes of my prospective replacements (I'd gotten another job offer and given notice) and she spotted the word "totally" in one of them. That was the end of her consideration for that one.

I felt bad for the applicant, esp because it's a word I habitually overuse, but even that was a little much in the context. But it certainly drove home to me what a risk it is sending your resume out all cute.

Mine right now is a travesty, I'm sure. Too long and filled with corporate-speak after one well-meaning offer of assistance too many. I totally need to pare that thing down.