06/23/2010 04:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Conflicting Advice: Traditional v. Human-Voiced Resume?

Dear Liz,

I like what I've read about Human-Voiced Resumes and speaking directly to hiring managers in a conversational way. I like the Pain Letter idea. It's just that I hear conflicting advice. I've heard that it's pointless to write a cover letter because a lot of people don't read them. Maybe a more technical person or a lower-level person needs a more traditional resume and higher-level and non-technical people are better off with a Human-Voiced Resume. What is your take?



Dear Jackson,

The vast majority of people in the world, and undoubtedly millions of
job-seekers, have no idea that a Human-Voiced Resume approach exists. They've
never heard of a Pain Letter and have never imagined that we could approach
employers in a peer-to-peer way, using conversational language to talk about
where our talents and employers' needs may intersect.

Much or most of our advice here on Ask Liz Ryan is likely to differ from
traditional job search advice. Our advice is designed to do that! I find most of
the job-search conventional wisdom unfortunate, in case I've been
uncharacteristically subtle in conveying that! :-)

I'll be more blunt: most of the job search advice flying around is garbage.

The issue of resume style ("Should I use a human voice or not? Should I listen
to the traditionalists, or make the leap?") has nothing to do with whether one
is more or less technical or at a higher or lower level in an organization. It's
a matter of personal preference, strictly. We will never solve the puzzle called
"Which is the right way to go?" because it isn't a logical question. It's a
'heart' question. We have to decide for ourselves how we want to be branded.

Imagine that you're on the dating scene, and that you heard someone say "Some
people think blond/blonde people are stupid." Would we dye our blonde hair
before meeting new suitors, based on that information? We wouldn't, if we value
ourselves more than we care that some people don't like blond/blonde people!
Rather, we'd say "There may be people who don't like blonde hair, and that's
their problem."

We have the exact same situation in a job search. Some people don't read cover
letters. Fine. Do we stop writing cover letters -- that is, Pain Letters? We
don't. Not only could we never predict who's a reader and who isn't, but we also
choose to represent ourselves in a certain way. The Pain Letter is the link
between the product (us, reflected in our resume) and the employer's need as we
see it. If we don't write the letter at all, we don't have the opportunity to
make that powerful connection for the reader. (Personally, I wouldn't consider
working for someone who doesn't read cover letters. It takes two seconds to scan
a letter. How rude do you have to be, to skip that step?)

Branding is a matter of making choices. It isn't a halfway endeavor. A
traditional resume brands us one way. When we go to the market as that person,
we have to expect the market to react to us as we've instructed it to. ("Please
step between these velvet ropes, right here.") If we truly feel like a
Results-Oriented Professional, we should by all means brand ourselves that way.

Our idea in Ask Liz Ryan is that most people don't really feel like
Results-Oriented Professionals, and don't want to brand themselves that way.
When I write a new, Human-Voiced Resume for someone, the initial shock at
reading it lasts about ten minutes. After the shock, the resume's owner says "Am
I this? This person is cool. I am this person, by gosh!"

Empowerment comes in all sorts of different packages. Sometimes it comes in
words on a page -- the important words we choose to describe our power to people
who don't know us, in a resume for instance.