For a Better Resume, Get Outside Your Own Head

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Five Rules to Make Your Professional Employment Reference an Asset

One of the most hilarious nights I can recall took place in Dallas when my date, now my husband, and I played Pictionary with his niece and her husband. In that game, you have to draw the word from a card and get your partner to guess it.


While the niece, Gerrie, tried to draw the state of Maine, her husband, Fred, thought it looked like a duck's bill and that she wanted him to say "bill." Her gestures grew increasingly more frenetic and Fred grew more confused, desperately calling out various duck body parts. We all laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks and that night lives on in family lore.


The problem: She tried to draw just that one state. Obviously, the answer was context. If she had in the beginning roughly drawn the United States, then pointed out this state in the far northeast, Fred probably wouldn't have been crying fowl. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)


Similarly, my son is notorious for telling stories that I liken to walking in during the middle of a movie: You have to figure out who the characters are and what's happening to have any idea what's going on. Without that background, the stories make no sense.


That can be a problem in resume writing, too. In this post at 6figurejobs.com, executive resume strategist Jewel Bracy DeMaio takes issue with this bullet point: "Grew the client list from zero to 25 in just two years." She says that raises all kinds of questions:

What type of clients are they? Are these clients in some sector that was new for the company? How did you make this happen? What was the revenue that came from these clients?

Though there's always a premium on space on your resume, you can't leave off details that convey the relevance of your accomplishments. Jack Santos, research vice president at Gartner and a former CIO, is quoted in this SearchCIO.com article, saying:

It's important to get down to scope of responsibility: people, budget, major accomplishments.

Writes recruiter Wayne Richardson:

Relevance is all about what you can deliver right now, better than most, and in distinctive and worthwhile ways.
If you want to be seen as a more valuable applicant, make sure that your resume translates what you accomplished in the past into specific benefits that are immediately relevant to new employers. Essentially, don't make them guess. ... Make it easy for employers to recognize you as a better-than-average applicant who understands their current needs.

Basically, what this all means is that you have to get outside your own head. Just as you need to ask someone else to proof your resume for spelling and grammar errors, also ask whether you're expecting people to walk in during the middle of the movie. Says DeMaio:

... think about your executive achievements not only from your point of view. You know the story because you lived the story. You must take extra effort to ensure you actually communicate that story in a dynamic way to someone else.