Gisela McKay

President and Co-Founder, pixcode


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Reinventing the resume

So today's task that has resulted in procrastinating on TED has been reading resumes.

I'm not sure whose bad idea the standard resume/cover letter format was but I'd like to slap that person.

Resumes don't tell potential employers what they need to know about you, which isn't just what you have learned and done in the past. I need to know why you did what you did and how well you did it. I need to know about your personality and whether you are a self-starter, whether you generate new ideas, whether you are going to be happy in the position I am filling and get along with the rest of the team. Can you work productively from home? etc.

What can we do to re-think the resume?

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    Jan 26 2012: Gisela, Unlike Jamie Barnes below I admire your "spunk". You ask great questions and take suggestions and constructive critism well. As an instructor I put my students in the following situation. You are in a elevator and the person next to you asks what you do. You have approximatey thirty seconds to sell me on you, your product, and your company. You represent American wedgits. Go. The same should be true in resumes. If I cannot sell ME in one short paragraph then why should I be allowed to the second step of the hiring pocess. HR people in large firms have only about one minute to give to the initial selection process while sorting through hundreds of applications. At least some of the problem must go to the applicant. Do they understand the company, the product, the long range goals, salary ranges, and what they can bring to the table. I combine these concerns with the job ad and try to answer in a manner that makes me a fit.

    How about this. The resume should be a two step process. 1) A 10 line (max) paragraph stating what you can do for me; to be followed upon request by 2) A full resume of achievements that are pertinent to the position.
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      Jan 26 2012: Thanks, Robert!

      I think it still misses a critical factor which is personality. Most of the ones I received have something akin to your first step in the cover letter.

      I almost feel like I would prefer people send me their Myer's-Brigg type, Enneagram, StrengthsFinder profile or some such.

      These are things where it is not about right or wrong, it's about fit. For example, you can well imagine that I don't do well with SFs (sensey-feely types like Mr. Barnes below). I hate walking on eggshells around them because they are likely to burst into tears or some other annoying emotional display at any given moment based on something I've said that has NOTHING to do with them.

      While they may be brilliant in another environment, for me, they're draining to be around. NFs I can deal with. They make great interfacers between me and the outside world.

      I'd like to get a feel for their sense of humour as well. Are they too likely to pick up my neuroses, or are they independent-willed? Are they going to get hurt when their ideas get rejected or are they going to toss out a new one?

      Do they need me to couch criticism between two bits of praise, or do they think of it as the "shit sandwich" as I have heard the technique called.

      These are all factors in getting the right person for the job.
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      Jan 26 2012: FYI Robert, the stance I take is not based upon Gisela's optimism and strong personality (I admire that).

      It's from seeing (here and other topics) her unwillingness to accept other peoples ideas and press on with dominating replies....There is a difference. Gisela, you may think I'm opposed to the majority of your words.

      Truth is I'm not.

      I admire alot of your thoughts...and I dont let the parts of you I disagree with obstruct that because I accept youre not perfect.

      I just dont like when you take 5% of a person and conclude who they shown again by your wilingness to define me in summation as..

      " likely to burst into tears or some other annoying emotional display at any given moment based on something I've said that has NOTHING to do with them"

      You may be intelligent, educated and even successful. But dont for a second think that in this world all that cant be overshadowed by a lack of humility.
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        Jan 26 2012: I'm not really sure what leads to this compulsion to "fix" me, but you are by far not the only person to have experienced it. As you can see, I am still "unfixed". I refer to it as Ma'at Syndrome, the need to restore justice/balance.

        Oh, I get that there is my tone "triggers stuff" in certain others, and I'm sure that if I were a really nice person, I would try to not "trigger" other people's "issues," but I can't live my live through other people's eyes. Or I suppose I could, but that would put the onus for what is going on in other people's heads on me.

        Or at least create the illusion that I was in control of what is happening in other people's heads -- usually based on some past experience that has nothing to do with me.

        The reality is that other people are going to do what other people are going to do, and only thing I can change is my response to them.

        So you can follow me from thread to thread nipping at my heels like a chihuahua, and being about as effective, though I am sure you will gather a cadre of "she was mean to me" followers, but the reality is I am just going to ignore you and continue on as I am.

        Your choice. Your time to waste. Your issue to address.
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    Jan 25 2012: Seth Godin (marketing Guru and multiple TED speaker) wrote about this a few years ago:

    "Why bother having a resume?

    In the last few days, I've heard from top students at Cornell and other universities about my internship.

    It must have been posted in some office or on a site, because each of the applications is just a resume. No real cover letter, no attempt at self marketing. Sort of, "here are the facts about me, please put me in the pile."

    This is controversial, but here goes: I think if you're remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn't have a resume at all.

    Not just for my little internship, but in general. Great people shouldn't have a resume.

    Here's why: A resume is an excuse to reject you. Once you send me your resume, I can say, "oh, they're missing this or they're missing that," and boom, you're out..."

    (you can read the whole piece here:

    I think that we should not only rethink the resume, but the application process as a whole (and in many ways, the hiring process).
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      Jan 26 2012: Yeah. the process doesn't really benefit either party at this point.

      If it isn't a position that is financially worth outsourcing to a headhunting company, then it is usually the obscenely over-applied-for kind of job. I'd like to get a better feel for people at that point of contact, because for 90% of applicants, it is the ONLY point of contact.
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      Jan 26 2012: Simon, alot of jobs are simply not open to application without sending a resume...

      Lets be realistic... The majority of the population have never been heard of, and wont be remarkable.
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        Jan 26 2012: Sure - and I'd also argue that many jobs aren't a good fit for remarkable people.

        Jeffrey F Fox has a great book out there called "How to Land Your Dream Job: No Resume! And Other Secrets to Get You in the Door."

        He talks about tactics like creating your own position at the company you really want to work for and I can attest to it. I've landed several jobs simply by connecting, showing value immediately, and working my way in the door (even when the company wasn't hiring).

        I mostly agree with Seth's sentiment: great jobs, like great people, don't require a resume. There are plenty of mundane jobs for mundane people though.
        • Jan 29 2012: >There are plenty of mundane jobs for mundane people though.

          Well that doesn't exactly help most of us out!
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    Jan 25 2012: Programmers and artists can point to product instead of a resume.

    Given the different perspectives of potential interviewers, I think it's difficult to write one short document that will inform everyone.

    I've found that the best measures are (1) test applicants on a task that is as close to their job as you can make it, and (2) talking sincerely. In your case, perhaps you could ask some questions on a website before asking for resumes.
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    Jan 23 2012: I've found that I can really work with the format of resume/cover letter, cover letter being an introduction to myself as a person and resume being a timeline of activities relevant to the position I'm applying for, and make it personal and unique, and really tell what makes me who I am.

    The cover letter can be a nice balanced between the shameless self-promotion, and the story about why I am applying to the particular job. I personally only apply for jobs that I feel I will be happy in, and usually there is a little story as to what brought me in my life to the point where I am looking for a job like the one I'm applying for.

    In the resume section, I write the necessary information like what and when, and then I write a short paragraph on how the job propelled my working experience forward, either by presenting me with challenging situations, or teaching me new methods of doing something, or just generally familiarizing me with a line of work, or new work ethic.

    I've had a lot of good luck with resumes this way. The personal touch really makes a difference. As to your question of how we can change the orthodox resume: The way to change how these are written is to write them differently! Be the change. Simply. Honestly. Strongly. Gracefully.
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      Jan 23 2012: I agree that the "story" of the person is much more important than just the chronological listing of experiences. Make no mistake, those are vital as well, but when you are hoping to get someone who genuinely fits into a workplace, you need a feel for the person.

      I sincerely wish we lived in a world where people only applied for jobs they felt they were a match, but when you get 300 resumes in one day for a single job posting, you know that isn't the case. :/
  • Feb 22 2012: Main reason we must all have resumes: EVERYONE goes to college. VERY few people have any true experience by the time they are 22 or 23 (most are discourage to work menial jobs in their teens and few companies want to take the legal risks to hire teens), so everything substantive they've ever done actually does fit nicely on one page. Since EVERYONE goes to college now and most people spend dozens of hours in classes that add zero value to their employ-ability (classes they are encouraged to take by these schools), all they can hope for is that the school they went to is more marketable than the schools other applicants went to. Maybe one in a hundred college students actually has it together enough to do something impressive in the 4-7 years they are undergrads. This has been going on long enough that the people doing the hiring are still in the mindset of looking at where you went to school or worked instead of what you did while you were there since they assume you wasted your time there like everyone else.
  • Jan 31 2012: Yes, resumes are kind of crappy... but I think that it is employers who need to do the rethinking of how they look for good candidates... people only submit resumes because employers usually ask for them. Read the rest of my thoughts on my blog -
  • Jan 29 2012: Naieve solution (that is to say, it seems pretty good to me, without the benefit of extended consideration); ask people to send in answers to typical interview questions with the resume/cover letter.

    e.g. Who are you, what have you done, and why do you want to work for us?

    When you actually interview people - you cut the crap and have a conversation on essentially what amounts to life and work philosophy.
  • Jan 27 2012: I read the book Topgrading by Bradford D Smart. In that book there is a very interesting way to prepare for an interview - it is referred to as Chronological In-Depth Structured Interview process. The candidate completes this and it teases out the real 'you' and when repeated for each job/project it highlights many things I think just get overlooked in a CV. Why is that? Because we write a CV to make ourself look great in the eyes of the reviewer and we all know that we make mistakes, s**t happens and there is nothing you can do about it, we write to impress and sometimes we can loose the human and humour of life. The resume is not dead, is dying, and there is a need to find a better way to tell your story. So, watch what you say online when you tweet, upload to Facebook, start discussions, comment on discussions as all these things create a digital identity that is about 'you'. Not a warning just a comment.
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      Jan 27 2012: The issue, though, is that I wasn't about to go searching for more information on 289 people -- and that is the # of resumes that came in.

      Maybe the 20 people who actually got in the "keepers" pile -- but the rest, it really feels like I have to hope I didn't overlook someone better simply because the resume format didn't convey who they really are.
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    Jan 26 2012: Point well taken. I was staying within the proverbal box. Duh Winner. This will take some more thought. You have thrown down a mental gauntlet and I accept.
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    Jan 26 2012: I think you have made a disconnect. In your "question" you were discussing resume. However, in your response
    your have switched to the factors in the interview, character assessment, and the probationary evaluation. We all know of the slackers that each organization has that are along for the ride. As a hiring agent we can all be fooled by a good writer, smooth talker, and slick operator only to discover this down the line. That is the danger of the resume/hiring process as we know it. I think that your question is valid, however, that is not the vehicle to accomplish all you are looking for. EXAMPLE: I enjoy a good head to head discussion. I depart, lick my wounded ego, reassess, and reengage if approperiate if not get on with the job. It is my job to know when the input is no longer approperiate. At what point would an employer say I was a asset and where would he/she say that I was a hinderence. Fine line. At what point in the hiring process would you make that decision.

    I think you are trying to put ten pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. All the best Bob
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      Jan 26 2012: "I think you are trying to put ten pounds of stuff into a five pound bag."

      Entirely possible. I simply think that for most (and depending on the job they are applying for it could be upwards of 90%) that resume is not the best showcase of who they are and what they are capable of doing -- and they aren't getting the luxury of the interview to demonstrate that.

      When I say "re-invent" I don't mean "shuffle it around", I mean to accept that the world has changed and the paper format doesn't work in the digital world. No, I don't mean I want to watch the video resume (at least not as a first pass) or any of the other clever multimedia options that have been developed in the past few years.

      It's time to blow it up and start again, accepting that people are different and it's not a matter of wrong or right, it's a matter of fit within an environment.
  • Jan 26 2012: the items you are looking for are more often found out in the interview. behavorial based interview work the best that i have found. it show past present and future traits of the person. unforturily resumes tend to be borning. key points i look for is longgevity, education, and if they have extra type of activitys. these help on if they are someone that strives for things. most often the really good people still have jobs, most are not looking that is where head hunters are good. What would be nice is if people could post unconvential type of resumes on a site like I have a job in management, our company continues to grow, I like horseback riding, married with kids, 6 foot tall, large, played football, wresting, placed at states, volunteered and coached youths. did work for goodwill for severail years, will work for steak dinners and nice vactions, hours are not a problem, great leader, type A presonalliy, live in michigan don't want to move unless the pay is great. will learn new job if training avaible, no degree but some college.
    ps I think this could be a new web site if you or any one else startes it just make sure i get a kick back. i just need the modavation and maybe ill start it.
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      Jan 26 2012: I agree that much of this is often discovered in interviews. Unfortunately, faced with a stack of resumes, only a small percentage of people get to the interview stage in the order of 10%.

      I think Linked In is rapidly becoming the site where exactly what you described takes place. Have you tried it?
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    Jan 23 2012: Hi Gisela
    The resumé is a useful source of information. What you are talking about should be accomplished in both the front end and the back end. That is, the front end is your advert for personnel. In that you can ask for information specific to your current needs to be included in the cover letter. The resumé itself is traditionally full of generalized information and is fine as far as it goes. In the back end, after you have selected your candidate list and invited them to come in for an interview, you can have specific questions that you feel have not been answered in either the cover letter or the resumé.
    You say "Resumes don't tell potential employers what they need to know about you." Well, of course not. But the resumé does provide a general background for the specific individual who is applying for the job, and in it are key facts about that individual. If you had to rely on a letter and an interview only, you would probably invent a form by which the past performance and educational background, as well as personal goals of the applicant could be discovered. I wonder what you would call it?
    At any rate, the only constructive idea I can say is for you to ask for the kind of statements in the cover letter that will help you eliminate unwanted candidates quickly so that you can narrow your search to the most suitable ones more easily.
    Either that or throw the resumés down the stairs and read the ones that go farthest first.
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      Jan 23 2012: Advertising for a managerial, specialized, or an executive position is easier, I have learned, than for something entry-level or just above. First off, at the higher levels, it's often worthwhile to outsource to recruiters and make it all someone else's problem, hee.

      But when you are advertising something that is broader in appeal/tone in this market, you simply get a wider pool of applicants, and it is at this level that there really needs to be differentiation.

      Looking back over my own job-hunting experience, I realized that the items that would either have made me better- or worse-suited to a job rarely come out even during the interviews, the little details. It's not that I grew up the eldest child in a family with a business, it's that from 12, 13 on I was taught the management end of things, from ordering and scheduling, to closing, doing the books, etc. I was used to functioning as back up if things got busy, and it instilled a tendency to pick in at any capacity on a project to push it when needed, despite that early business having been a restaurant and now working in technology. Early on, my managerial tendencies sometimes offended/threatened my direct reports.

      These are nuances that you don't get - at least not when you are whittling a stack of 300 down to 20, 30 for interviews.
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    Jan 23 2012: "Yes, I have a strong personality, and someone like you should probably not work with me or you would only end up stealing office supplies to feel "vindicated" at the end of the day".....

    Perhaps put that on your next resume and see how you go for an interview. There is no better way to display a lack of intelligence than by claiming superiority.I'd have no problem woking with someone like you because I exercise tolerance for people. Your comments so far though Indicate you probably wouldnt.

    But on Topic, I have recently been sending resumes, and when I decided to do mine, I approached the formatting/presentation with creativity.

    Its a piece of A2 folded in half and trimed to the height of an A4. What you get is a back to back printed booklet..

    Basically, the resume goes like this.Cover page(Front)>Cover letter(Inside page)>Resume(Other 2 pages).As for the internal formating. I changed that too, I start with a summary of abilities/strenghts, not a heading of the mandatory information.
    I wanted to introduce the person to Who I am, not What I am..if that makes sense...It sounds similar to what you are suggesting, more interpersonal than informative.
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      Jan 23 2012: Unfortunately, as an employer I am not looking for someone to "tolerate" me but who can actually fit into an environment with multiple "strong personalities" -- the reality is that someone who subconsciously believes that there are people who "think too highly of themselves" won't last long on a team where people need to have the strength of presence to toss their ideas into the fray and be able to distinguish rejection of the idea from rejection of the person.

      This little bit of honesty from you would be infinitely more useful in determining fit than what a resume consultant has told someone they need to say.
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        Jan 23 2012: It's clear you're impervious to criticism..that which sometimes may even be constructive.

        Like I stated earlier, I am all for improved resumes, thats why i spent time on mine... the best resume in the world however will typically only get you to the interview where you must back yourself against what you've written. This is for some is where they break through to the empoyer and show their personal values. Unfortunately, the employer often culls those people before their chance, hence the resume today needs to be a personal and creative marketing tool rather than a list of history.
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          Jan 23 2012: You're not seriously claiming that "There is no better way to display a lack of intelligence than by claiming superiority" qualifies as "constructive criticism" are you?

          Anyone who -- on any level -- thinks that having a big ego is a problem really just won't work in certain environments.

          Ever notice that awesome people hang out with other awesome people? It's because they don't think that there is a finite amount of emotional security or self-assurance on the planet and if someone has too much of it, there's less for others. These are not people who need to poke pin-holes in other people's egos.

          I can't be around people who hear "I am good at [x]" as "you must be bad at [x]". Much as I know my strengths, I know my flaws. None of them includes hearing positive things about others as being somehow detrimental to myself.

          I suppose you could consider that I am not particularly attracted to petty people as being a flaw.
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        Jan 23 2012: I think the flaw is in seeing them as petty to being with.

        I'd be repeating myself, but again..seems like a domineering attitude and a failure to accept other people's ideas.And this is probably turning into an argument at this point, so I'm going to accept your ideas, accept you as who you are.
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          Jan 23 2012: "See me as I want to be seen, not as I am behaving?"

          Well then! Maybe I want to be seen as meek and mild-mannered!

          I didn't realize it was Opposite Day.

          EDIT: But it is OK for _you_ to be judgmental.
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    Jan 22 2012: "I'm not sure whose bad idea the standard resume/cover letter format was but I'd like to slap that person".

    Im sorry, but is this a domineering attitude and a failure to accept other people's ideas? Do you believe you have the superior ability to reinvent the resume?

    " I need to know why you did what you did and how well you did it. I need to know about your personality and whether you are a self-starter, whether you generate new ideas, whether you are going to be happy in the position I am filling and get along with the rest of the team. Can you work productively from home? etc."

    This is the purpose of a good cover letter.
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      Jan 23 2012: "Im sorry, but is this a domineering attitude and a failure to accept other people's ideas? Do you believe you have the superior ability to reinvent the resume?"

      Exactly what I mean. Yes, I have a strong personality, and someone like you should probably not work with me or you would only end up stealing office supplies to feel "vindicated" at the end of the day, whereas another person would work fine in close quarters with me.

      Also, just because something is a convention and/or commonly accepted doesn't mean it is the best way of doing it. There are lots of traditions that should go out the window.

      I posted it here to get suggestions from others, not to single-handedly upturn the convention of the resume.

      As for the cover letter, anyone can write "I am a hard-working go-getter who thrives in an independent environment" - in fact most people have written variations on exactly that.
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        Jan 25 2012: I can say that with my "resume," I took a bit of a departure and used my experience traveling the world as a "rockstar" to exemplify my skills in terms of publicity, social media, marketing, and connecting with others...if anything, it's always invited deeper conversations and helped make me stand out from the rest of the crowd.