You already know how to write a resume. You put your contact info at the top and then list your jobs in reverse chronological order, with your education at the end. Done! What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that if you write your resume the way countless books and articles have instructed you to, you’re going to sound like a Star Wars Battle Drone or a zombie. Standard resume language like “Results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation” brands you exactly like every other banana in the bunch. It’s excruciating for a hiring manager to read a resume that sounds like it was the written by a robot rather than a human being. So why not try something new, and put a human voice in your resume?
You’re thinking right now “But I have to please Godzilla, Liz! I have to stuff my resume full of stupid corporate boilerplate and keywords so that I’ll make it through the Applicant Tracking System a/k/a Black Hole.” Here’s why you’re not going to worry about that – two reasons:
- You can write a Human-Voiced Resume and still stuff keywords into it (we’ll get there). Applicant tracking systems don’t care whether you describe yourself as a “Results-oriented professional” or any other way.
- I don’t want you wasting your time with Black Hole recruiting sites in any case. They’re a waste of time. You can reach your hiring manager directly through the postal service, and I recommend that you try it, because people around the world are dramatically improving their job-search results that way.
How do you write a Human-Voiced Resume, or revise your current resume to put a human voice in it? Follow these ten steps.
Create Your Basic Career History
Make a list of your past jobs, starting with your current or most recent one. If you’ve already got a resume, use that as a starting point. For each job in your history, list the job title(s) you held, the dates you had the job and the company name. Title this document “Career History” and save it — you’ll use it later.
Pick a Career Direction
Now, stop and think about what you want to do next in your career. You’re going to pick a focus area for your job search. A Human-Voiced Resume is specific – it appeals to a particular set of hiring managers. You’re not going to brand yourself a Marketing, PR and Customer Support Leader in one resume — split out those facets of yourself (we call them ‘prongs’) into three different versions of your resume. If you’ve identified a set of hiring managers that is looking for a combination Marketing/PR/Customer Support Leader, go ahead and create a consolidated prong just for that group of managers, but in general, the more specific your brand, the better.
Why is a specific brand better? It’s because a Human-Voiced Resume, like a Pain Letter, is oriented around pain. Hiring managers have specific kinds of pain. They’re not excited to talk to someone who says “I can do everything!” because that’s not a believable message. When a manager has customer service pain, s/he’s looking for an ace customer service person. When the manager has IT security pain, s/he’ll be looking for an IT security pain relief specialist – like you!
Write Your Human-Voiced Resume Summary
Once you have your focus area firmly in mind (we call it A Place To Put Your Canoe in the Water), write a Human-Voiced Resume Summary that describes you and the pain you solve. Give us a feel for yourself as a person. Tell us how you got into the field, for instance:
Since I started writing business stories for my college newspaper, I’ve been a zealot for business storytelling and its power in shaping audience behavior. As a PR Manager I’ve gotten my employers covered by CNN, USA Today and the Chicago Tribune.
This Public Relations job-seeker gives us a lot in two sentences. He tells us how he got into PR – as a kid writing stories for the college newspaper. In our minds we can see him flying across campus to interview somebody for a story. The PR job-seeker knows why he does what he does, and he tells us about the results he’s had doing it: he’s obviously skilled at getting national media attention.
Notice that the PR job-seeker doesn’t use his precious resume real estate to say “I know how to get national media coverage.” He doesn’t say “I’m strategic” or “I’m smart.” Those aren’t his judgments to make. He just tells us what he’s done, and lets every reader decide whether he’s smart, strategic or anything else.
Frame Your Past Jobs
Here’s the part where you’re going to use the Career History you wrote and saved earlier. As you add your past jobs (and your current job, if you’re working now) to your Human-Voiced Resume, you’re going frame each assignment for the reader, by telling us what the company is all about (you can’t assume we know) and what your job is or was all about:
Materials Director 2006 — present
Acme is the USA’s largest stick dynamite maker, a family-owned, $10M business. I was brought on board to start a Materials Management function as the company grew outside the Southwest to serve the entire country.
Now you’ve let us in on three important elements of your story. You’ve given us a sense of how big Acme Explosives is and what they do. Without knowing their size and situation, how could we evaluate your role in the organization, or the scope of your responsibilities? Secondly, you’ve told us your mission as you joined the company. That’s huge! You weren’t hired to push paperwork around — you were hired specifically to start a new function to support the company’s growth.
Thirdly, you’ve given us a way to be able to evaluate the bullet-pointed accomplishments (we call them Dragon-Slaying Stories) we’ll read in a moment. We know what your mission was, and next you’re going to tell us how you fulfilled the mission. Share those human details, every time!
Give us the human details, every time! They resonate far better than dry data points.
Share Your Dragon-Slaying Stories
Choose two or three pithy Dragon-Slaying Stories from each job you’ve held, and use them as bullet points to round out our understanding of the wake you left at each of your past jobs. Don’t kill us with tasks and duties we could extrapolate from the job title. No one cares about tasks and duties — anybody in the job would have had the same job description.
We want to know what you did when you had the job. That stuff is more fun to talk about, too! Here are three bullet points from the Acme Explosives Materials Director stint:
- Together with the Production and Engineering teams, I created Acme’s first Supplier Management Plan and installed it to save $2.5M in supply chain costs in my first year on the job.
- When a rail strike threatened our ability to ship product in 2007, I created fast shipping relationships with local carriers and got 97% of shipments to their destinations on time, allowing our customers to stay up and running.
- As Acme was being acquired by RoadRunner Industries, I wrote a transition plan and taught RoadRunner’s Buyer/Planners to use Acme’s systems and metrics. I’ve been offered a position at RoadRunner but am taking this opportunity to try something new.
Notice how our Materials Director tells us why he’s leaving his current post, even as he describes how he made his mark in it! We can see the whole movie. We can understand why the guy doesn’t want to stick around under new ownership: been there, done that. We admire him for stepping onto unfamiliar turf again; he was at Acme for eight years, and these days eight years is a long time at one place.
See how a job-seeker can bring power and personality across on the page of a Human-Voiced Resume? You can do the same thing!
How Far Back to Go?
The inclusion of a past job on your Human-Voiced Resume depends on its relevance to your current career direction. If you’ve got a job from twenty years ago that is highly relevant to the work you’re seeking now, it might not fit on your Human-Voiced Resume if going back twenty years means you’ve got to recount every job between now and then. That’s okay! You can refer in your Human-Voiced Resume Summary to a job that doesn’t appear in the chronological listing of your past roles. You can do it this way:
I’m a software development Project Manager who’s equally at home debating technical features and working with Marketing folks on launch plans. I’m drawn to the human side of project management, where every voice is heard and political or cultural roadblocks are appropriate topics for conversation. I grew up at Wang Laboratories managing mainframe projects, and more recently I’ve helped a string of startups get to funding, acquisition or IPO.
This job-seeker’s resume doesn’t include Wang, because that experience was so long ago. So what! He was there, and he gets to claim that long-ago experience even if the details aren’t included on his two-page Human-Voiced Resume. If someone wants to know about his Wang days, all they have to do is ask!
Your resume can’t be longer than two pages unless it’s an academic CV or unless a headhunter tells you s/he wants all the specs, software, hardware, project details and so on. If you’re working with a headhunter who knows the clients well and has relationships with them that will speed your job search, do whatever the recruiter tells you to do. If you’re using your own devices to get a hiring manager’s attention in the way we teach, then keep your resume to two pages.
Keep Storytelling in Mind
Your resume is telling a story, so the more fluid it can be and the less choppy, the better. Don’t split out multiple roles that you held inside the same company. We don’t care about the exact months and years when you worked as a Financial Analyst versus an Assistant Controller versus a Controller. Smash all those jobs together and just tell us that at Acme Explosives, you entered as a Financial Analyst in 2004 and were Controller three years later. Much better story!
Get The Jargon Out
The point of a Human-Voiced Resume is that it sounds like a person is talking to you. Get rid of corporatespeak boilerplate language like these awful examples:
- Motivated self-starter
- Works well with all levels of staff
- Led cross-functional teams
- Meets or exceeds expectations
- Proven track record of success
- Superior communication skills
Show us, don’t tell us! If you’ve got communication skills, use them to communicate, not to talk about your communication skills!
Add Your Education
After your career history, fill us in on your degrees and certifications. You don’t need to include your graduation dates. Just tell us where you went to school and what you earned there. You can include Interests, Professional Associations and Publications at the end of your resume, too, if you’ve got ‘em.
At the end of your resume you can also include a ‘keyword corral’ for the technical and functional keywords that didn’t make it into the body of your Human-Voiced Resume. Keyword-searching algorithms will find them there!
Wait, Read, Wait and Read Again
A Human-Voiced Resume is very different from a traditional resume, even though both documents include words on paper and cover two pages. A Human-Voiced Resume tells the reader much more about you than a traditional resume does. It can be a little jarring to read your own Human-Voiced Resume. When we write Human-Voiced Resumes for clients, we ask them to sit with the resume for a few days before reacting to it. Within about three days the unfamiliar resume language start to feel normal, and then it starts to feel really good.
If someone can’t handle your human voice on the page, imagine how horrifying it would be to work with them! Only the people who get you, deserve you. Your Human-Voiced Resume will make it easier for sparkier hiring managers to pick you out of the crowd.
LinkedIn is an incredible resource for job-seekers. The LinkedIn database is vast, with over 300 million users.
Finding hiring managers via LinkedIn is just one of the many ways job-seekers can benefit by using LinkedIn as a job search tool. In this article you’ll learn how to use LinkedIn to find your hiring manager inside one of your target employers.
When you know exactly who your possible future boss will be, you can craft a customized Pain Letter and send it right to your next manager, at his or her desk! You can skip the insulting online job application process entirely.
To find your hiring manager using LinkedIn, click on the word Advanced next to the open search box at the top of most LinkedIn pages. Clicking on the word Advanced will bring you to the Advanced Search Page on LinkedIn.
Choose “People” and type in the company name (in the Company field) and the most likely job title you guess that your hiring manager could have (in the Title) field.
Make sure and specify “ Current” from the choice of “Current or Past” for each field. That way, your search won’t bring up people who used to have that title and/or used to work for that company, but don’t any longer.
Now, hit Search. That’s it! Your hiring manager will pop up in your search results if his or her title matches the title you specified in your search, and his or her company name matches the company name in your search.
If your search doesn’t turn up someone who looks to be your hiring manager, try a slightly different title in your search.
If you are looking for Purchasing Agent jobs, your hiring manager probably has one of these job titles:
- Purchasing Manager
- Procurement Manager
- Materials Manager
- Supply Chain Manager
- Purchasing Director
- Procurement Director
- Materials Director
- Supply Chain Director
- Operations Manager
- Director of Operations
In a very small company a Purchasing Agent could conceivably work directly for the VP of Operations. As you try a few LinkedIn searches you’ll get better and better at finding your specific hiring manager using the powerful LinkedIn search capability.
When you find your hiring manager, write his or her name in your notes so that you can find him or her again. This person is very important to you now. You want to know as much as possible about his or her background, personality and priorities.
You can learn a tremendous amount about your hiring manager by reading his or her LinkedIn profile carefully.
Don’t send your hiring manager a LinkedIn connection invitation right now. He or she doesn’t know you yet. That will come later!
Right now, all you need to know is your hiring manager’s name and title. You can find his or her street address at the office on the employer’s own website.
Now you can start a conversation about pain and solutions.
Online job application systems are bad technology deployed stupidly and they are headed the way of the dinosaur.
You don’t have time for keyword-searching nonsense.
You have much more power in the hiring equation than that — but only when you believe it yourself!
I speak at a lot of conferences. The conference organizers say “Talk about hot topics in the workplace. What do people need to know about working in the new millennium?”
I say “Well, the traditional work week is gone and the nature of work is evolving as we speak. The entire idea of work is shifting in a monumental way. The locus of branding control is shifting from the organization to the individual. We are all entrepreneurs now, however we get paid, and of course the combination of a global economy and technology are only going to speed the pace of change. There is a lot to talk about.
Is there a topic that you especially want me to touch on?”
Often the answer is “Can you talk about millennials?”
What is it about millennials that captivates the minds of older folk like me, tantalizing and infuriating them at the same time? You’d think that an older generation had never given way to a younger one before, except that this is the same basic motion that has spared our species from extinction for a million years or more.
Have we forgotten what parents said about their kids in the fifties, when the kids started rockin’ out to Bill Haley and the Comets? the truth about millennials badge
Have we forgotten what parents thought about the Summer of Love and kids dropping out of college to play guitar and invent frisbie golf? Millennials take a lot of heat they don’t deserve. If we can take a break from bashing millennials for their widely-reported rejection of traditional workplace values, maybe we can learn something.
We got a call in our office from a mom in Boston who wanted career coaching help for her 25-year-old daughter. We scanned the young woman’s LinkedIn profile. “She has five jobs,” said her mom. “I want her to have one, stable job.” Ay carumba, we said. “Do you mean a job in a big company?” we asked the young woman’s mom. “Yes, like answering the phones at a law firm or something,” she said.
We invited the young woman for coffee. She said “I got a degree from an East Coast college and figured I’d work for a while and think about grad school. I did an internship in a big company and it totally turned me off that lifestyle. I moved to Denver, started a French tutoring business and picked up a few side jobs.
Now I have five jobs, I earn $48,000 per year, I make my own schedule and I choose my clients. I understand that my mom is freaked out, but I think my situation is more stable than the one she wants me in. What do you guys think?”
Apart from the French tutoring, the young woman house-sits and pet-sits, works 15 hours a week doing inside sales at a roofing company, and resells her boyfriend’s snow-plowing services in the winter. We listened as she described each prong in her career array, why she chose it and how it fits into the overall picture. We told her mom, “Your daughter’s situation is more stable and enviable than that of most 25-year-olds. If she isn’t interested in law, what good would a law-firm receptionist job do her?”
The millennial generation is the canary in the coal mine for the old working world. It is going away anyway — millennials are only calling our attention to it, and maybe pushing the pace a little.
Anyone who argues for a more human-centric approach to work is a hero in our book, and that quality is what millennials are most well-known for. They aren’t willing to fall in line and take a lousy job just to get an apartment that’s the envy of their friends. What good would the apartment do them, if they hate their job and therefore hate their life?
People my age fuss and harrumph over what they view as the slackerly millennial view toward hard work, but what did hard work do for their Boomer parents? How many fifty-plus working people got the rug pulled out from under them over the past fifteen years, after devoting decades and countless brain and heart cells to someone else’s vision and someone else’s bottom line? Millennials have the right idea.
It’s up to all of us to run our careers as entrepreneurs, whether we’re paid a salary or cobble together an income from five or six sources. It’s up to us to choose our employers and our clients.
The future of work is human badgeMy dad worked for one company, McGraw-Hill, for thirty-five years and retired from an executive job with a wonderful pension that is keeping him and my mom in good shape today.
What company can make that offer today: “Come into our firm as a fresh grad, work hard, rise through the ranks and retire in comfort?” Not one of them can. Maybe the Vatican makes deals like that. Surely no one else does.
Anyone who frets over the idea that millennials aren’t drinking the kool-aid should stop and ask “What good has the kool-aid done me?” We raised our kids to be smart and to pay attention to the world around them. Are we going to castigate them now for doing that so well that they end up rejecting the deal-with-the-devil “Just put your career in our hands, focus on pleasing your employer, and everything will be fine!”?
I hope we trust our kids to make good choices, since they’ll be running the world in another few years.
I think we can put our trust in millennials. They have a better sense of priorities than many of their status-and-income-drunk elders do.
When I started teaching people how to get jobs without groveling, lots of them got nervous. “Won’t something terrible happen to me,” they asked, “if I don’t follow the rules? The job ad specifically said No Contact with the Hiring Manager allowed. You really want me to ignore that, and contact my hiring manager anyway?”
Look here, I said, in every company you’ve ever worked for, there were VPs and people walking around with the letter “C” in their title, right? Of course there were. Those people are executives. Do you know how those executives got their jobs? They sure as heck didn’t throw their resumes into Black Hole recruiting portals and wait weeks for a terse auto-response reply. That’s not how executives get hired.
Executives figure that if they keep their networks energized and mobilized, they’re going to hear about new job openings as they emerge. They might even create a job opening, out of what looked at first like a consulting project. The job-seekers who stay busy and income-producing are the ones who never treat any job as a long-term engagement.
They never know what’s going to happen next, so they keep their antennae up. The ones who get knocked for a loop are the folks who believe the first page in the Employee Handbook, the one that says “We hope you have a long and happy career with Acme Explosives.”
Here’s the thing about that handbook. It was written in 1962, and it’s never been updated. The person who wrote those words is dead. The words don’t mean anything. I’m not cynical — I’m an HR person myself, and I believe in people, probably way more than is prudent. I believe in people like crazy. I just don’t trust institutions, policies or empty Employee Handbook pablum. I teach people to stay alert and to look out for themselves.
If you switch your mindset from “I’m a job-seeker” to “I’m a Marketing person who’s always on the hunt for his next assignment” (or hers, and of course your field might not be Marketing) you’re going to have major advantages over people who think that their responsibility toward their own career is to go to work and perform their job every day.
You’re going to have something priceless when you start managing your career like a business. That priceless thing is altitude on your career. You’re not going to fall into the Career Coma that keeps so many smart and capable people from seeing the handwriting on the wall, when things start to crumble at their current position. That’s the worst thing that can happen — for you to give heart and soul to your job and be caught by surprise when the rug is pulled out from under you. I don’t want that fate to befall you, and that’s why I write these columns.
If you shift your frame from “I’m a job-seeker” to “I’m a professional in Field X, and I’m always up to talk about Business Pain and its solutions,” you’re going to do a lot more networking than you probably do right now. People always ask me “What do I talk about on my networking coffee dates, if I’m not job-hunting?”
Don’t overthink a networking coffee conversation. Just talk about the person you’re having coffee with. What have they been up to? What’s on their mind? What are they seeing happening out in the marketplace, and which trends do they see emerging? Who in their networks would they recommend that you meet next — not because you’re job-hunting (because you’re not, except that you also are, in the sense that every thinking person has one eye on the talent market all the time) but because it’s good for smart people to know one another?
Executives don’t use Black Hole recruiting portals, and if they did, they’d never be employed. Those things are meant to screen people out, not in. I don’t want anyone to job-hunt in such a grovelly fashion.
I’m rooting for one or two ATS vendors (ATS being short for Applicant Tracking System) to rise up and humanize their products such that all the Human Workplace employers choose from the same set of talent-aware products, and the rest of the pack goes out of business. An ATS, of course, is nothing more than a big dumb database. How hard can it be to add a human voice, human process and a selling (versus vetting) logic to a product like that?
Executives use their networks, and they also reach out to their target hiring managers directly using Human-Voiced Resumes and Pain Letters, which replace cover letters and are much friendlier and more effective. A Pain Letter talks to a hiring manager not about the goofy, bordering-on-delusional job spec but on the Business Pain behind the job ad. Executives start conversations about common problems that crop up for employers at every stage in their life cycle. They don’t bow and scrape and write things like “I’m a hard worker, and I learn fast.” They let their resumes speak for themselves.
You can do the same thing. You can job-hunt the same way a CFO does. You and your CFO, after all, have much more in common than not. A CFO is just a Finance person who learned how to see the dollars and cents moving throughout an organization from a high altitude, to see how the pieces fit together. If you want to be an executive yourself, start by getting altitude on your own career.
Don’t follow rules that make no sense, and don’t pretend that doing something you’ve done a million times already without success, like lobbing resumes into faceless recruiting portals, is magically going to work for you this time. Give up on that mewly job-search process, and reach your hiring-managers-in-pain directly. Ask any executive how he or she got where he or she is right now, and you’re likely to hear “I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and listening to my gut.” That course is available to anyone – especially you!
As much as we feel sorry for job-seekers (and I do, in spades) I feel sorry for hiring managers and resume screeners, too. Can you imagine reading letters all day that begin with “Dear Hiring Manager, I saw your job ad and I was intrigued…?”
We read about Motivated Self-Starters and Results-Oriented Professionals and Leaders of Cross-Functional Teams until we want to stick pins in our eyes. It’s atrocious. A stack of resumes attached to cover letters a foot high might yield two micrograms of actual human spark, if we’re lucky.
Let me be quick to acknowledge that it’s not a job-seeker’s fault the stack of cover letters and resumes (See Resume, attached!) yields so little life or individuality. Job seekers have been trained to write a cover letter and a resume in Zombie Language, or what I call Boilerplate Corporatespeak.
It’s the language Darth Vader writes in, and every bureaucrat on the planet. It’s the language job ads are written in, and the language policies are written in (you know the ones: “Effective April 15th, it will no longer be permissible to use the back entrance between the hours of eight and six…”).
That’s a horrifying way to communicate, and as bad as it is to read that stuff in corporate life (or to get a Zombie memo from your kid’s school) it’s even worse to read about a person described that way. Zombie Language is not the way to bring across a brilliant and vibrant job-seeker’s heft and spark.
We don’t have to use that kind of language to describe ourselves. We can put a human voice in our resumes, for one thing. And when it comes time to write a cover letter, we can ditch the tired cover letter format and write a Pain Letter, instead.
What’s a Pain Letter? It’s a letter that doesn’t go into the Black Hole of Death, for one thing — it goes directly to your hiring manager. You’ll find your hiring manager in two seconds on LinkedIn, by using the People Search page to find the person at your target employer who’d most likely be your boss in your new position.
Let’s say you’re a purchasing agent. In that case, your boss is likely to be the Procurement Manager, Purchasing Manager or Materials Manager for the company — or Director of one of those things.
If it’s a small company, your boss could be the Director or VP of Operations. You’re going to find your prospective boss’s name without much trouble on LinkedIn. That’s fantastic, because then you can write directly to that guy (or woman) instead of pitching your resume into the abyss. You can get the company’s street address from its website.
A Pain Letter goes right through the mail (yes! We still have mail delivery in the U.S.!) from you to your hiring manager. How awesome is that?
In your Pain Letter, you’re going to congratulate your possible-new-manager on something cool the organization is doing, and you’re going to mention the business pain your hiring manager is likely to be up against.
Then you’re going to tie that business pain to your own background. No muss, no fuss, no painful-to-read self-praise, and no Mad-Men-era cliches like “ability to work well with all levels of staff.” A sample Pain Letter is below.
Note that the Pain Letter doesn’t mention the job ad (who cares? You’re writing to talk about business pain, strictly. If you mention the job ad, your letter & resume go straight into the Black Hole to die.)
It doesn’t say that you’re smart and savvy and had a 3.8 GPA in school. Who cares about those things? You have a more important message to convey:
I’m out here, noticing what’s happening in the business ecosystem and who’s doing what. My eyes are open. I’m a businessperson like you are, and I notice that you guys are rockin’ it over there at your company. I know something about the movie you’re living, because I lived that movie, too. If the things I’m writing about are on your radar screen, maybe we should talk.
It’s a new day. We can communicate like human beings (and with other human beings, leaving the machines to communicate amongst themselves) in the human workplace. We can write to our quite-possibly-new-bosses as though they were people with real problems, ones that we just might be able to understand.
Some of them won’t like the fact that we colored outside the lines in daring to reach out to them. That’s awesome, because you don’t have time to waste (or mojo to squander) working for a person who’s horrified by color-outside-the-lines types, anyway. The ones who get you will call you or email you to continue the conversation. What kind of conversation will it be?
No telling, but it will be human, and that’s at least half the battle.
SAMPLE PAIN LETTER
Vice President, Marketing
Exclusive Chocolates, Inc.
4840 Whispering Pine Road
I was lucky enough to catch your speech at the Boulder Natural Foods Expo last month, and delighted to learn about Exclusive’s plans for expansion into dessert toppings. You’ve hit a chord with the chocolate-loving public, and the Wolfgang Puck deal announced last week is a wonderful green light from the market for Exclusive’s take on organic chocolates.
I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that those opportunities are taxing your talented Marketing team as well.
When I led the new-products efforts for Angry Chocolate during its high-growth phase (just before the company’s acquisition by Nestle) we had at least one major launch per month. Among other things, we were on the hook to create a sugar-free version of Angry Choco-Mints in time for Chocoholic Expo ’07 and serve our loyal domestic partners during two years of 25% growth.
We prevailed – our Sugar-free Angries took Best New Product at the show – and if Exclusive is in need of hands-on go-to-market, channel-marketing and new-product-launch-related Marketing help, I’d love to look at ways to help your team.
If you have time for a telephone call or email correspondence to see where we might have an intersection of interests, I’d be delighted to learn more and share a bit of my background with you.
Here’s a letter from a Human Workplace fan about his experience with Pain Letters:
Dear Liz and Team,
I just don’t know about your “pain-letter” technique. It’s SOOO exhausting. I actually had to send ONE email that resulted in a two hour interview with a regional manager, and, happy to say, now I’m HIRED! All kidding aside, your method is awesome!
Thank you for all your inspiring, wonderful articles and efforts to put the human side back into the work force. If you ever need a spokesperson, sign me up! I will sing your praises loud and clear!!
YOU’RE MY HERO.
All the best,
Want to learn to compose Pain Letters and send them directly to your hiring manager, to get the job you deserve?
Check out these Four-Week Virtual Courses!
- Writing my first Pain Letter (how to research and compose a Pain Letter and send it to your hiring manager directly)
- Spot the Pain and Get the Job! This course teaches you to spot the Business Pain your manager is facing and use Business Pain throughout your job search, from your Pain Letter to your job interviews!
The world is changing really fast. It’s disorienting. Lance Armstrong is a hero! Oh wait, he’s a big liar and a bully. Wheat is good for you – we ate it every day as kids. What’s that? Gluten is bad for you? It makes people sick, and stupid?
Easy come, easy go in the information-and-advice department, and it’s a good thing, because everything we’ve been taught about personal branding is wrong, also.
The Skills dogma that most of us grew up with is complete B.S. and a total waste of time. You know what I’m talking about – the thing where you talk about your Communication Skills and your Administration Skills in your resume and your LinkedIn profile, not to mention on job interviews.
That Skills dogma is the lamest advice ever dumped on an unsuspecting and job-seeking public. I don’t think there’s a worse way to describe yourself on paper or in a job interview than by listing your Skills — and for that matter, listing the same half-dozen Skills that nearly every other job-seeker also claims.
“I’m well-qualified for this job because of my Organizational Skills, my Communication Skills and my Negotiation Skills,” says a typical job-seeker on an interview or in a resume.
What does that robot language mean? The Skills dogma gives no clue.
When I say I have Excellent Communication Skills, you can’t gauge the veracity of that statement. Worse, you are skeptical, because people who communicate nimbly don’t describe themselves using done-to-death cliches.
When a job-seeker’s resume says the guy has Negotiation Skills, a reader has no way to evaluate the claim. I might think my Negotiation Skills are world-class, but a hiring manager could decide after talking with me that I can’t negotiate my way out of a paper bag. We have no agreed-upon standards for these Skills we blithely toss around, and in any case a person’s skill level is in the eye on the beholder.
Lists are boring. Every list in the world is boring – lists have no emotional weight at all (except this kind) and can’t carry your flame across the chasm to a person who hasn’t met you yet no matter what Skills you might credit yourself with.
The Skills racket is a dog not only because anybody could claim any Skills he or she wanted to or because lists are boring.
When you claim Skills on your resume, you’ve hampered a hiring manager’s ability to learn what he or she really wants to know about you: who you are. The central question for a hiring manager is “How does this person’s brain work? How does he or she think?” The purpose of a job interview is to give both the applicant and the hiring manager an opportunity to see the other person’s brain working.
That happens organically when a manager invites a job-seeker to ask a question, rather than answer one. Scripted interview questions and their tepid, scripted answers give little room for thoughtful interpretation or human spark (unless you try our frame-shifting responses, here and here). They suck even more humanity out of the interview room than was already lost when the applicant walked in the door and snapped into Performance Mode.
(Why oh why would a hiring manager ever want to interview a person stuck in fake, formal Performance Mode? Doesn’t it make more sense to invest energy early in the interview getting to Human Mode, in order to talk the way people talk in a coffee shop or at the grocery store? You’d see so much more of the real person behind the resume if you did that on your job interviews.
You can do it easily if you take off the mask that says “I’m a manager, and I deserve respect.” Deference is pleasant in the moment, but it costs you: the more you cling to the persona The Person in Charge, the less of the real job-seeker you’ll see.
If you’re going to spend hours a day with a person under sometimes trying circumstances, don’t you want Real Guy to come out during the interview, and replace Fake Interview Guy? And if you want to see Real Guy, why would you ever use crappy scripted Mad Men-era interview questions?)
There is a better way to interview candidates, and we’ll dig into that in a future column. For now, let’s get back to bashing the ready-for-the-dustbin-of-obscurity Skills dogma for job-seekers.
Skills tell us nothing about what you did that mattered, when the chips were down. To say you have Skill X and Skill Y tells us exactly nothing about when, whether and how you’ve had occasion to use those Skills, and that is the Skills dogma’s biggest problem.
Skills carry no context with them. They don’t convey your warmth, your core, your flame or your passion. They don’t tell us how you think or how you react in the moment. When I was an HR leader in corporate America during the Jurassic period, the Skills dogma was going strong. Every resume read nearly exactly the same.
Rows and battalions of Results-Oriented Professionals and Motivated Self-Starters marched through our doors every day. Why on earth would we ever want to brand ourselves with the zombie brand that screams “I’m Just Like Everyone Else?” Yet that’s what we have taught job-seekers to do, going back to the 1980s and beyond.
Forget Skills, and ask yourself instead, “What problem do I solve?” Think about your stories, the dozens or hundreds of stories you’ve collected during your career. When did you rock it at work, and why did it matter? What were the stakes? What did you do to save the day, and why was that exactly the right move to make in that moment?
We have to re-teach people to tell stories, because people have forgotten how. When we talk about storytelling at our workshops, people say “I have no stories.” They worked at a job for twenty years. There were grand-opera-scale dramas playing out around them every day. It’s not that there were no stories. It’s that we have devalued our stories and storytelling in general after sucking down the dogma that told us only Skills are worth notice.
Imagine you’ve got two resumes in front of you, candidates for your Admin Assistant job. Both candidates claim Communication Skills and Organizational Skills. You can hardly choose between them – both have four years of office experience and community college diplomas – so you invite them both in.
Annabel is well-spoken and passive. When you ask “What did you mean when you wrote about Communication Skills on your resume, Annabel?” she says “I heard that was a good thing to write, I mean, I read you should,” clamps her lips shut and slides back in her chair. Dear Annabel has no more awareness of her communication abilities, bent, experience or orientation than the Man on the Moon. In Annabel’s short career, she very likely has never thought about her own communication talents or preferences before.
Nadia comes in to interview next. You ask Nadia about the Communication Skills listed on her resume, and she says
“I think of myself as a communicator because my job involves communication all day long. I’m always coordinating schedules and unruffling feathers and making sure people are heard. I get their important messages through to my boss, the VP of Sales, get his thoughts and play carrier pigeon with the staff.”
Nadia is in a wildly different league from sweet Annabel. She could help you at a much higher level. Yet the two administrators’ resumes were substantially the same. Why would we teach every job-seeker in the country to write a resume in such a way that the vast difference in altitude between your candidates made evident in their interviews would be almost completely obscured on paper?
The standard resume format is an insult to job-seekers and to all of us with its list-y, robotic, stiff tone and language that’s completely lacking in color.
We invented the Human-Voiced Resume(TM) to bridge that gap, to let job-seekers bring more of themselves across on the page. To get there, though, we have to step out of the Good Little Job-Seeker frame. We have to say “I choose not to bound by conventional resume wisdom. After all, whence cometh these rules that people keep spouting, like the rule against using “I” in my resume and the one that tells me to list my Skills? Who ever thought these were good ways to brand ourselves?”
Those ancient, unexamined resume rules either came from Hell or from someone who hated job-seekers and resume screeners. You can only read forty or fifty of those zombietastic resumes at one sitting before you want to kill yourself.
Luckily, the day of Corporatespeak is ending and the day of a human voice in business is arriving. We are human all the time – thank goodness!, because our customers, shareholders, fellow employees and our families need us to be human, even (or maybe especially) at work.
There is a point in every kid’s life when the kid has an experience that says, “Hey kid — not everything you’ve been told is true.” It’s tough to get those jarring awakenings, but it’s imperative, too. Adulthood, in a sense, is the state of seeing things clearly regardless of what you’ve heard, read or been taught to the contrary.
One of my husband’s childhood friends got pulled over by a police officer one time and had his car checked for drugs. No drugs, no ticket, but the cop didn’t like my husband’s friend. A few weeks later the same cop pulled over the same guy and planted pot in his car. The guy got ninety days in jail.
Now wait a second. Aren’t the cops the good guys? As you grow up, you start to see that what looked like a nice shiny organized grown-up world from the kid-level view is no more functional or fair than 100,000 years of human evolution would predict it to be.
The floor dips a bit under your feet when that happens. Your frame is shaken.
That’s why I always cringe when the time comes to share with job-hunters the tough reality of life in the Black Hole, that gaping maw into which trusting millions of job-seekers toss their resumes every day. I want to warn you, because I have told this story in workshops, and people have started to cry.
Here’s the story: the vast majority of the time, your resume in the Black Hole does not get read. It does not get perused, inspected, scanned or glanced at, either. All the agita about ten seconds or three seconds or whatever duration a screener is said to spend on your resume completely misses the point. Most resumes do not make contact with human eyes, period.
Let’s break it down. Nearly every job candidate who has his or her shiz together enough to apply for jobs has figured out how to stuff a resume full of the same keywords and phrases, pulled directly from the job ad, that you stuffed into your own resume. So everybody passes whatever automated keyword-searching screen there is, and what was supposed to be an automated resume-filtering process becomes human once again. Now what’s an overburdened Staffing person to do?
(Also, what a horrendous design process on the part of the people who built those keyword-screening tools! You couldn’t anticipate that once the whole world started evaluating job applicants via their keywords, a disgusting idea to begin with, then everyone would figure out how to thwart the keyword-searching algorithm in about ten seconds? Step your game up.)
Let’s say a hiring manager tells an HR person (we’ll call her Liz) to place a job advertisement online, for a lab tech. She does it. A week later, the hiring manager comes back to check the status of his ad.
BOB: So Liz, how’s my job ad doing?
LIZ, AN HR PERSON (What ad? Oh, that’s right – I placed a job ad for Bob last week. Totally slipped my mind.) Let’s take a look. (Spins around in chair to face her screen, types a few characters.) Lemme just log onto the career portal here and we’ll see what’s up. Okay, not bad, 95 responses.
BOB: Perfect. Why don’t you phone-screen 15 people for me, and give me the best five?
LIZ: For sure.
Bob leaves. Liz, the HR person, is left to figure out how to find the 15 people she’s going to phone-screen for Bob, out of 95 resumes. How would you tell her to proceed?
Let me save you the trouble. It doesn’t matter what you and I think. Ninety-nine out of a hundred overworked, time-pressed HR people are going to pull down exactly as many resumes as they need to get 15 folks whose backgrounds warrant a phone screen, and that will be it. They won’t look at one resume more, assuming one of the first crop of applicants goes the distance and gets the offer.
Let’s say Liz grabs 20 resumes from the virtual pile. The other 75 resumes that showed up in response to Bob’s job ad will never be read by anyone in the company, ever.
(That’s the part of the story that makes people cry.)
Why would we imagine things to be any different? HR people are just as budget-deprived and overworked as anyone, and more than many other people because it’s so easy to say “We’re not doing a lot of hiring anyway, so let’s downsize HR.”
I am not getting down on HR people or blaming my HR brethren and sistren for the dismal state of recruiting. I am an HR person myself. A lot of HR people are doing valiant jobs flying the human flags in organizations where their voice is the only one speaking for the team.
It is wrenching for me to talk every day with HR people who are bridging the human gap in broken and mechanical recruiting systems that weren’t built to celebrate creativity and spark, much less deviation from the norm. Human-focused HR people soften zombie processes and constraints all over corporate and institutional life, way beyond the recruiting realm. Just as in any field, there are awesome and switched-on HR people and sad, fearful ones who believe that their power comes from their position, rather than from who they are.
I think the HR function is a central role in any company or institution. We have a name at Human Workplace for HR leaders; we call them Ministers of Culture.
One of the ways eyes-open HR leaders bring human energy back into work is by dismantling Godzilla-type recruiting systems, old-school performance evaluation and the rest of the crusty structure of yardsticks and control.
All that being said, now you know why I don’t want you messing with the Black Hole. The Black Hole is like the witch’s cottage in Hansel and Gretel. It’s got candy all over the outside, but inside is death. (Job-search-wise, at least.)
You don’t have to waste brain cells and emotional energy lobbing resumes into the Black Hole. You can write to your own hiring manager directly, instead. The process is called Stop! Don’t Send That Resume!
You can write to your hiring manager by mail or post, or whatever people in your country call the thing where the guy brings you letters himself, with his actual body.
You need five tools to launch your own direct-to-the-source job search platform, and nothing on the list is hard to get.
We’ve listed the elements of that toolkit below.
The cool thing about the Black-Hole-free job search ecosystem is that when you start to reach hiring managers directly, you’ll be in more substantive conversations right away than the typical HR screening process allows. That’s because your hiring manager, a/k/a The Person With the Pain, isn’t hung up on your certifications and years of experience with random tools.
He or she has bigger fish to fry. Tight-fisted CFOs don’t approve job ads because it’s fun. There has to be bigtime pain for a new hire to get approved in this economy.
You have an opportunity to talk about what really matters, whatever pain the job requisition was designed to alleviate, when you’re talking directly with the person who’s actually losing sleep over the budget shortfall or the customer exodus or whatever is rotten in Denmark.
Here’s your toolkit for stepping up from Black Hole job-hunting to take your career into your own hands, and reach out to hiring managers who are facing exactly the sort of business pain you solve.
There’s no sense creating a direct channel for your message if you’re planning to deliver a robot-speak “Results-oriented professional” -type resume to your hiring manager. In order to make your direct approach count, you’ve got to come across as human on paper.
A Pain Letter(TM) is a snail-mail letter that goes directly from you to one hiring manager in one employer. It is personal, in the sense that you’ve learned enough to say something insightful about what the employer is doing, where they might be running into rough seas, and how your background relates to the hiring manager’s most likely business pain.
Your Pain Letter(TM) goes in the same envelope with your resume (an 8.5 x 11, white business envelope, into which you’ll slide your resume and letter, stapled together, letter on top and resume after, unfolded), mailed to your hiring manager at his or her desk.
If your hiring manager opens your letter and reads it, the first thing s/he’s likely to do is find your LinkedIn profile. (You will have listed your profile url at the top of your resume, just under your email address, so your LinkedIn profile will be easy to find.) Your LinkedIn profile has to be just as rockin’ as your resume, if you want the hiring manager to contact you back.
Fodder for your Pain Letter(TM).
You’ll need to find the name of your hiring manager on LinkedIn, an easy thing to do unless the firm you’re approaching is IBM or another corporate behemoth. You can use LinkedIn to search on the company name and the title of the person you’d typically report to (Materials Director, e.g.) and get your hiring manager’s name in ten seconds.
You also need a Hook for your Pain Letter(TM) — you’ll learn about the format for the letter when you follow the resource link below in this story – and you can get that Hook from the company’s own website. Lastly, you’ll need the company’s mailing address, which will be on the company’s website, too. No link for this toolkit item – the fodder-gathering is described in the Pain Letter (TM) E-Book you downloaded already.
The last thing you need to launch your direct-to-my-manager campaign is a willingness to step out of the standard I’m a Good Little Jobseeker frame. Sometimes, this is the hardest part of the process.
Once you realize that even if the hiring manager hates your letter or if a fearful HR person, affronted by your direct approach, blacklists you from employment in that firm forever, you will still be fine. No one is going to come to your house and slash your tires because you sent a guy a letter that said “Maybe you have this kind of issue going on. A lot of people do. Maybe I’ve run into that kind of thing before. Maybe we should talk.”
(from offstage, timidly): But Liz, I was told not to contact the hiring manager directly!
You are an adult and a professional. Are you taking orders now from people you don’t know who also aren’t paying you?
(warily, but excited at the same time) But what if my failure to follow the rules gets me in trouble with that company?
Would you consider for three seconds working in a place where the act of sending a fellow businessperson a letter with a stamp on it gets you cast out and exiled?
If you were banished from the kingdom for that heinous infraction in business etiquette, you would have dodged a big old bullet. Life is too short to work among weenies, as you know.
Let’s keep in mind that many less-talent-focused-than-they-might-be employers think nothing of running job ads, receiving resumes, and sending job-seekers no acknowledgement at all. Your parents did not raise you to submit to inhuman systems like that.
We know that lots of employers have to step up their game and bring a human voice to the recruiting machine. The good news is that it’s easy to do.
In the meantime, job-seekers can sidestep the Godzilla system and have pain-and-pain-solving conversations with hiring managers any time they’re ready.