Originally posted on the Strikingly Blog
See what you just did?
You knew there are literally thousands of resume advice and tips columns out there. You’ve probably seen a few dozen of them. Yet you’re looking at this one. Why?
Many of the answers to that question are also answers to your question. At Strikingly we’re obsessed with the problem of standing out and getting your message across – of making sure that in a world full of special snowflakes, you are the pragmatic, informed, tough-as-nails boss of a snowflake who lands that ultra-competitive job. And here we’ve found that many of the principles that apply to all writing apply especially to resumes. Being strikingly different is sometimes just a matter of doing what everyone ought to do, and then doing it a bit better.
Say you’re the coach of an elite track team, and someone tells you he’s a good sprinter. How likely are you to give him a tryout? Now say someone tells you he’s competed in 95 track meets since the beginning of high school, averaging 10.93 seconds in the hundred meter dash during college with a personal best of 10.41 seconds, due in part to his work with a renowned ex-Olympian sprint coach starting his junior year. How about now?
These two “someones” could have been the same person trying to say the same thing. But when in doubt, employers assume that vagueness is code for a lack of concrete achievements. People expect you to brag on your resume. They tend to assume that if something set you quantitatively apart, you would have mentioned it. Whatever distinguishes you should be stated with brevity and precision. What have you achieved? What problems did you face? How did you solve them, and how can you prove that you did?
Actions Speak Louder
You don’t have to be an Elements of Style fanatic to know that people like to read things that give them clear mental imagery. The imagery your resume creates should be of you learning skills, making decisions, completing projects, and verb-ing other exciting nouns.
The goal is not to use bureaucratic language to sound like a grownup. The goal is to use vivid language to sound like someone who learns from experience and gets things done. Don’t “assist”: say what tasks your assistance was made of. Don’t “work”: say what you improved and finished. Don’t talk about your “responsibilities”: say what you did, whatever your reasons were. Don’t let your words paint you as a passive object to whom experiences happen. Your resume should show a curious, hardworking, thoughtful agent who seeks opportunities and uses them as platforms for action.
Being strikingly different is sometimes just a matter of doing what everyone ought to do, and then doing it a bit better.
Talk the Talk
That said, don’t avoid all the language that you wouldn’t use in conversation. The lingo of the specialists you want to join should be an exception. It’s hard to overstate the conscious and unconscious impression you make by sounding like someone who knows the industry. By correctly and appropriately using the jargon of your target profession (e.g. prospectus, amortization, divestiture, convexity, securitization, basis point…), you can create an impression that you would hit the ground running, and that you don’t need on-the-job training – even when the reader knows that you probably do. If you do have relevant experience, why not show you’re in the club? If you don’t, be warned: this is not as easy as it sounds. Proceed with caution and don’t overdo it, lest you leave your would-be employers wondering if it’s mean to have a chuckle at your verbal camouflage.
“Attention Is Like Water”
This one is probably our favorite. Sadly we can’t take credit for it, since it comes from an interview with the “Gentleman Thief” Apollo Robbins, whose pickpocketing videos have inspired awe and paranoia across the web. He elaborates: “[Attention] flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”
Skillful formatting and design involves something like sleight of hand. The reader thought she was just going to have a quick peek, and then she realizes she’s basically reviewed your whole website. The same can be done for a resume. Try to imagine yourself poring over hundreds of applications each day, spending a few seconds on each, begging them to grab or interest you. If you can format and reformat with that in mind, you’ll know when your resume is no longer a series of text-stripes on a page, and when the reader’s eyes will flow from verb to verb and achievement to achievement without turbulence.
Resumes Are Like Menus
Suppose you’ve done all of the above. First of all, congratulations! Second, why stop there? Having earned your readers’ curiosity and given him a menu of what you can do, why not provide a first course? Build a web presence for your personal brand, using LinkedIn profiles, blogs, portfolios, and websites as appropriate. In the digital age, an interview is just one of the many tools that an employer can use to find people with skills that the organization needs. And your odds of getting an interview will go up if employers can easily go beyond your resume to see if you have what they want.