Conversational Cover Letter, Formal Resume?

04/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dear Liz,

I like your Human-Voiced Resume idea but I've always been taught that the cover letter is the document that's conversational, while the resume is formal. Why would we change that paradigm?



Dear Carson,

Many job-seekers struggle to write a pithy and conversational cover letter, so if you're doing that now, you're ahead of the game. When we write a compelling, person-to-person cover letter (I call them Pain Letters) sharing our thoughts about a business person's most likely pain and our relevant experience in solving similar problems, we're off to a great start.

Once we've captured a hiring manager's interest, could there be any benefit in asking that hiring manager to flip the page and read our stiff, cliche-ridden resume? I can't think of one. We have no opportunity, in the year 2010, to impress a hiring manager via our use of traditional, formal resume language, seein' as how every other chicken in the barn has a resume that reads same way.

In 1982, when I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed baby businessperson, it felt very sharp and grown-up to use "Results-oriented professional" on my resume. That was then -- this is now. We can't get across what's powerful and inimitable about you using corporate boilerplate like that, today.

Compare these two resume summaries, for instance:

Summary One

Results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation and sixteen years of progressively more responsible HR experience. Excellent team player with skills in Compensation, Benefits, Recruiting and Employee relations. Motivated achiever and cross-functional collaborator.

Summary Two

I'm an HR person with a fervent belief that hiring and keeping great people is the only sustainable competitive advantage. At Sierra Graphics, I sent 75 call-center agents home in a pilot telework program and boosted productivity by 50% while cutting $150K from the budget. I'm fanatical about installing smart and nimble HR infrastructure that doesn't slow smart people down. I'm looking for an employer who's looking for a few-policies, no-bureaucracy HR person like me.

Both your Pain Letter and your resume can and should use a human voice -- not just any human voice, but YOUR voice. We are speaking directly to the reader. "Savvy, seasoned Marketer with experience across a broad range of industries" says nothing, and says it to nobody. There's no place for that kind of writing anywhere in the job-search communication continuum, from a Pain Letter to a LinkedIn overture to the message that says "I've signed the offer letter and sent it to Janice Powers, and I'll see you bright and early on the 19th."

We're writing for human recipients, all the way through the pipeline. When robots take over the world (or apes, if things go that way) we'll adjust our writing style to suit the changing conditions.