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.