This is one of those articles where I talk about how things are, and then talk how things would be in an ideal world, but then--because we live in this world--where I have to sadly come back to the original point.

Today's discussion: résumés. We do a lot of weird things on résumés, by common agreement:

  • We write about ourselves in incomplete sentences, without pronouns: "Achieved 300% growth year over year."
  • We use present participles that just hang out there like fragments, begging for a subject to own them: "Interfacing with key stakeholders both internally and among client decision-makers."
  • Oh, and word choices: We keyword-stuff some of our descriptions so as to hit every hot-button term we think an artificial intelligence bot will think is useful, even if it makes the whole thing look like gobbledygook to a normal human reader.

We write, in short, in a weird construction of language that we would never use in person. 

At least, I hope not.

But now a new report in The Wall Street Journal says Gen-Z in particular is doing some strange, self-defeating, but oddly understandable things with them--like adding dashes of color and even photographs to résumés, along with things like a "by-the-numbers" section, or even bitmoji to the digital versions.

In short, they're supposedly making résumés look less like résumés and more like, dare we say: "Instagram--and sometimes even Tinder," as the report puts it.

Do not get me wrong. There is something appealing and admirable about these off-the-wall résumés. However, they don't seem to work.

As an example, an employer quoted in the article said he liked the flair he saw when an applicant included an avatar of himself sweating. It suggested he was willing to hustle.

Good attribute. The only problem: "The applicant didn't land the job."

At a high school in Indiana, an applicant sent a digital résumé that included a bitmoji waving and saying, "hi." The applicant didn't get hired.

("There's a freaking bitmoji on the résumé," a school official said.)

More résumé examples from the WSJ:

Some come spiral-bound like full-color corporate brochures.

Others feature elaborate illustrations of half empty--or is it half full?--glasses, representing a candidate's experience with Microsoft Excel or their organizational skills.

One recent applicant for a marketing and communications position at Jeni's included a moody black-and-white photo of the job seeker in a cafe, overlaid with personal details, including "spin aficionado, dog lover, foodie, outdoor enthusiast."

So here's my advice, as someone who has had more than 17 different jobs in about a 20-year professional career since college (several simultaneously), and done a good bit of hiring as well.

The rules are the rules. Unless you're in a very creative industry in which boundary breaking is a clear advantage, you're much better off staying within the bumpers in terms of résumé format, but showing your personality and excellence through other means.

Pro tip, at the risk of getting off on a tangent: Write a book about what you do. 

I don't care if it's self-published and just 120 pages.

You will absolutely stand out if you're applying for a job in, say, advertising sales, and you can say: "I literally wrote a book called Kick Butt and Take Names as an Ad Sales Wizard." 

If you're applying to be an associate finance director at a startup, be the one applicant who has literally written a book (again, even self-published) called How to Build and Run a Finance Department: A 365-Day Guide to Success.

Look, I do agree that résumés are kind of stodgy. But you have to stick with stodgy to some extent.

And then just use your boringly formatted résumé as a way to get in the door, where you can show how you really stand out.

Published on: Aug 14, 2019
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