What is it about resumes that they’re still around? Aren’t we well past the era of using 1- to 2-page documents to represent ourselves?
I’m a professional resume writer and I’ve been ready for the traditional resume to die for a while now, like a king in his castle looking down onto the battlefield at his battered and bruised knight, so proud but bracing for the inevitable.
But the knight just won’t go down. Despite all the swords blazing and shots being fired, the trusty-rusty resume keeps swinging.
There have been numerous attempts to take down the resume, to relieve it of its decades-long tyranny over the job search, but nothing has been victorious.
Here are some of the more modern sharpshooters that have promised to dethrone the chivalrous resume:
- Video resumes. Video resumes have taken their shot, but are more of a laugh for hiring managers, than an appreciated application tool. It’s not as easy as you think to produce a compelling, well-paced talking-head video about yourself.
- Infographics. Though admittedly some of the coolest looking documents out there, infographics have not usurped their less snazzily adorned but equally as informative text-driven ancestor.
- Interactive Resumes. With their horizontal timelines, scroll-over content, and hyperlinked pop-ups, so-called Interactive Resumes will always win the “clever” award, but the medal of honor will go to the traditional resume.
- Visual CV’s. Usually created by a resume-builder application or algorithm, Visual CV’s often entice the job seeker, but frustrate the hiring manager, because the emphasis is on creating a pretty marketing document, not strategically emphasizing the right data for a particular candidate.
- e-Portfolios. Portfolios are great ideas, as long as you have a resume to back them up. (Try submitting a slide deck or a URL instead of a document the next time you apply, and see what happens).
- Care Packages. Possibly the riskiest move for an applicant, care packages involve sending an object in the mail, often with a pun attached (think: pizza with on slice missing and a note saying “I’m your missing piece”). This will surely spark a conversation around the hiring table, just not necessarily the one you’re thinking.
None of these rootin’ tootin’ gun-slingers have become the new sheriff in town. So what is it? Why does that bland ol’ resume stand time and keep its badge, amidst a barrage of innovation?
As a Commanding Officer of the battle-worn resume, I’ve thought long and hard about this.
I think resumes persist for a few reasons:
#1. Resumes allow the hiring manager to be in control.
Hiring folks want to decide themselves what is most important about your background; they don’t want someone else to tell them. It’s human nature. They want to choose where their eyes roam.
Seasoned hiring managers like to read between the lines. Indeed, they’re often looking to find something you didn’t mean to reveal. They’re hoping for a glimpse into the real person you are, behind the polished presentation you’re throwing at them.
Resumes fit entirely on a single page (or two), which means a hiring manager can see the whole thing at once and choose what they want to explore.
They’re in control.
#2. Resumes are predictable.
Videos, timelines, infographics, and portfolios are beautiful and clever, but they’re unique and unpredictable; they don’t follow a standard, agreed-upon format. Therefore, they take longer to synthesize and digest.
Hiring managers are faced with hundreds of resumes. If they have to take even a few seconds to figure out how to read yours, that’s an immediate strike against you.
With traditional resumes, as boring as they’re considered to be, hiring folks already know where the information is going to be. They know they’re going to read left to right and top to bottom. They know what they’ll skip over and what’s important. They can find dates and job titles easy. They know your education will be at the bottom.
They’re not looking to be wowed by formatting, coaxed along by dynamic content, or corralled with cleverness. They want to see what you did and when you did it.
When time is of the essence, people like predictable.
So make it easy on them.
#3. Resumes please robots.
People aren’t the only screeners. There is another guard to get past first.
Chances are the first “person” to see your application isn’t going to be an actual person.
Okay, so companies aren’t sophisticated enough to have animatronic robots doing their hiring (yet), but almost all mid-to-large companies use tools called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS’s) as part of their Human Capital Management (HCM) software or Human Resources Information System (HRIS).
Can you blame them? They have thousands of applicants to review!
So, before the human hiring manager can have that lusciously emotional experience with your resume, the robots have to be pleased first. And robots and algorithms prefer scannable keyword-rich digital documents, not videos, graphics, gifs, websites, or metaphorical objects that come in the mail (you can’t scan a pizza).
Unlike its image-driven counterparts, the text-heavy resume is savvy enough to satisfy the robots and slip into enemy territory, to get in front of your ultimate target: the hiring manager.
#4. Resumes take up less space.
As we all know from managing our phone storage, it’s the media files that take up all the space.
A Word document, without elaborate formatting, is usually a few kilobytes, whereas PDFs, jpegs, and .mov files are more than a few megs. And remember, with job applications, we’re talking in multiples of hundreds.
Don’t antagonize the person you’re trying to please by gumming up their in-box.
When it comes to file size for job applications, the smaller, the better.
#5. Resumes tell stories, on many levels.
It’s basic Psychology. All people (and this includes those who hire) are motivated by the “Why” and the “What Happened Next” questions. Hiring managers want to discover things, they want to root for you and be excited by your cliffhanger stories.
Successful resumes tell stories on at least 3 levels.
Your Big Story: This is the story that runs across the entire document: your rise to fame, your pivots between jobs, your unexpected detours. The big story wraps everything together so each part has a purpose.
Your Job Stories: With a resume, you have the open-ended space to weave a storyline for each of your jobs, with a beginning, middle, and end – to create interest and a little suspense. Resumes offer just enough room to tell the story of why you took the position, your trajectory across the company, the reason you left, and the skills and talents you developed for the next chapter of your life.
Your Accomplishment Stories: Each bullet should be a story in itself, with a distinct setup, action, and outcome – in 3 lines or less, of course.
Why bother with telling stories?
Stories draw people in, they have a beginning, middle, and end. They make your audience wonder what’s next. This creates an emotional experience. And, when you’re tapping into peoples’ emotions, that’s when you can really win them over.
#6. Resumes rely on words, the most important tool in your arsenal.
Words, when compared with images, are subtle, and that’s where their power lies.
We are inundated with images all day long, in social media feeds, through memes, on billboards, on TV. Images are provocative, they create a strong reaction, but, we’ve come to realize this, and, consequently, many of us have learned not to trust images so quickly and absolutely.
Hiring managers may feel the same way about the images used on, or in place of, a resume.
Bar charts showing your sales performance or your strength of aptitude in each software tool may look cool to you, but HR folks may find them cumbersome to decipher. And they may see your self-assessment as a biased (read: untrustworthy) evaluation.
Line graphs showing how you grew sales ‘up and to the right’ are great for pitching investors, but in job applications, they come off inflated and contrived.
Photos, GIFs, and talking-head bios will certainly get immediate attention but they summon quick opinions, inadvertent judging, and possibly some snickering.
In short, images, in their boldness, are risky, and not yet fully accepted as a form of communication in job applications.
Don’t get me wrong, good design is essential, but it won’t get you the job by itself; that’s the hard work of words. And words, sharpened into stories, are the artillery of the resume.
Think of your resume as a cunning knight, a samurai, a green beret, stealthily infiltrating the fortress of your reader’s brain, whispering ideas, instead of shouting them. Words are stealth, secretly powerful. They influence without bravado, they get inside without being noticed.
Words summon emotion and change minds.
Words win wars.
On the battlefield of the job search, the resume is the last warrior standing, the king’s anointed first choice.
Although its armor isn’t the shiniest and its mechanics mostly unsophisticated, the resume has managed to outperform the other contenders, time and time again.
By putting the hiring manager in a position of power, offering up a predictable layout, satisfying robots as well as humans, not hogging disk space, and using stories and words as its weaponry, the resume, in its humble presentation, continues to reign supreme as the go-to combatant for the job-seeker, and the preferred choice of employers, as well.
At least in this war, tradition beats innovation. The victor remains victorious. The knight’s legacy, in all its unimpressive, under-appreciated clink-clank clunkiness, prevails.