06 June 2012

Resume: Details, Profile and Person

Resume and CV
I tried to figure out if CV or resume was the correct word to use for the document I will talk about. My five minute google research pointed towards resume but it didn't seem to be any general agreement on this. Anyway, when I talk about resume in this post I refer to a 1-2 pages long personal summary you generally send to a potential employer.

Details, Profile, Person?
First things first. What does these words mean?

Details - All your content viewed from a general perspective (without context): "what is generally considered most important", "what order would be logical to sort this information in" etc.

Profile - The collective picture you want the reader to get, for example: "A self-reliant nurse who takes responsibility in creating a good working environment".

Person - The picture the reader actually gets of you when reading your resume. This of course varies from reader to reader, for instance, a person trying to communicate the profile described above might by one person be interpreted as "A competent nurse I can put my trust in" while someone else might think "Naive, inexperienced person who oversimplifies this job".

So why is this important? My hypothesis is most of us think almost exclusively from a Details perspective, simply because it's the easiest. Easiest since everything can be handled isolated with no regard to how it fits with everything else (when sorting work experience you can for instance ignore you personality or language skills). This also means you can set up general rules that are easy to follow and that's exactly what I think too many resume guides do.

Still, why is this a problem? Well, Details are easy to handle as a writer but complex as a reader. Complex since the reader wants to find "the essence" and he/she will simplify, generalize, try to find patterns etc. to get a collective picture of who you are (Person). If you haven't thought about this collective picture (Profile) there is a great risk you either communicate the wrong picture (which will be to your disadvantage in an interview) or make it hard for the reader to get any collective picture (risk of being excluded).

So how to avoid this? First of all think about the collective picture you want to communicate (Profile). I personally do this by writing down the most important items from my experiences (job experience, education, positions of trust), personality, skills and interests. When done I try to find a common theme, some "one liner" that pretty much covers the items you have in front of you:
  • Serious critically thinking engineer with high level computer skills!
  • I live, breath and think architecture, simply put, an awesome passionate architect!
  • I'm a creative innovator who makes others perform better!
  • I'm an experienced easy going electrician who gets things done!
If you can't really find a profile, try adding or removing items (but don't remove a whole column!). Not only may the new/fewer words be easier to handle but sometimes this process (at least for me) makes me realize some things I first thought was important really weren't (and vice versa).

When you have some kind of profile defined (notice it's still up for change) it's time to read your resume. Try to find things that just don't fit into your profile and either remove them or tone them down (... or reevaluate your profile). Also try to find things you should highlight more and think of gaps compared to your profile. Add stuff or update your profile accordingly. If it doesn't feel like your resume communicates the profile at all you need to make major adjustments to your resume, profile or both.

Notice! Your profile is a lot more than just the "data"/content! Language, design, content order, font/font size, picture (in case you have one), title, length etc. all adds to what your resume communicates. For instance, using a basic template does not communicate creative, misspellings or grammar errors does not communicate careful/professional and not being open about your weaknesses does not communicate self confident. Apart from these extreme examples everything add to how you are perceived.

When you feel your resume is good enough, from a profile point of view, try reading it as if you were someone else (or even better, let other people read it, preferably people with different experiences). Try thinking about how someone else would interpret what you are writing. I find this to be easier if I try to imagine that the resume is not mine but rather someone else, even better, someone I despise :) If you at this point feel that "I don't really sound serious" or "I sound really insecure" you probably have a problem you need to address. Same thing if the resume feels really "stiff" or "impersonal" (which I think is really common). If it isn't really part of your profile, try to loosen up. This might be achieved by changing really formal words or, sometimes, reverting back to an older copy (my experience is that we generally tend to make texts more and more formal/impersonal for every update we do).

Finally try to think about prejudices. This could mean very different things depending on where you're from but to provide you with some examples (which might not apply to you): immigrant = language issues, good looking = stupid, young = inexperienced or naive, old = hard to adjust, high grades = low social skills etc. If you can, try to address these and, when true, disprove them. Notice that prejudices might also work to your advantage like immigrant = knows a second language and culture, young = eager to learn or can find a new perspective etc. The good thing with this is that very little can communicate very much. For instance, being Brazilian, applying for a job in the Europe, just adding anything related to Brazil may indirectly make the employer presume you know Portuguese really well and understand the Brazilian culture (as well as being a kick ass soccer player ;)

Keep reading and keep improving your resume as you develop, but like I said before, beware of becoming too formal as you review and update your resume, common mistake in my experience.

  • The reader will generalize to be able to understand what you are communicating, make sure you take this into account.
  • Choose your content and way of presenting this in a way that communicates a profile.
  • Try reviewing your resume from the perspective of a potential employer, take prejudices into account.
  • If you feel your resume sounds insecure, unserious or stiff, there's a great risk an employer will feel the same.

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