THE BLOG
06/17/2010 01:16 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Give Your Resume Bullets a Shake-Up

I've been writing resumes today. I want to share with you a snippet of my Human-Voiced Resume-writing thought process, both to illustrate the Human-Voiced Resume mindset and to poke a little fun at the goofiness of the traditional resume-writing approach.

The typical resume is full of conventional bullet points, for instance:

Answered customer calls and email inquiries.

This is a very common resume bullet. Lots of people answer customer queries on
the job. We've been taught by countless books, seminars and articles to describe
our work in this corporate-speak 'Answered customer calls' style.

We could take this 'Answered customer calls' viewpoint and extend it to our non-work life. Today I drove around in my car. I had client meetings and kid-related places to go. I could describe this activity on my resume this way:

Drove my vehicle on various business and personal errands, parked, performed the errand, task or meeting and drove back to my office.

Goofy, right? Why would we tell people the physical action (drove the car, or answered the phone) without telling them why we bothered to pick up the phone, or turn the key in the ignition?

We could just as easily say 'At that job, I breathed air in and out of my nostrils, occasionally breathing through my mouth.'

Let's back out of the resume-writing frame for a second and imagine that we are talking to someone who isn't in the business world -- let's say, a second-grade friend of ours -- about our work. The little kid might ask us, "What do you do in your job?" We might reply, "People call me on the phone with problems, and I help them."

What is the second-grader going to ask us next? We have to expect this question:

"What are they calling you about?"

Resume readers (recruiters and hiring managers) want to know the same thing! We've been taught to write nonsensical bullets like "Answered customer calls," leaving out the only thing that matters in the story: namely, what those customers were calling about! We've been taught to write our resumes in a clipped, dry, bureaucratic, bloodless style that sucks all the life out of our rich work histories.

What if we wrote, in place of "Answered customer calls:"

I calmed a justifiably furious long-time client (saving the 120k/year account) by untangling his badly botched payment records in a four-hour marathon phone session.

Here, we have a mini-story. We don't really care if you answered the phone all day long; we want to know about one time when you answered the phone and something good and important happened. In this revised bullet, we see a real person in our mind's eye, painstakingly working through that long-time client's complicated account records on the phone.

We know that you understand (and understood at the time) the gravity of your project. We know that you see, and saw then, the business ramifications of that day's work. We see that you're an able communicator and a calm voice on the phone. The story makes it unnecessary for you to stand back and evaluate your own talents, much less to yak to us about them in the traditional resume style of "Excellent interpersonal skills." Those skills are abundantly illustrated in the story already.

In our little bullet, we make it easy for the reader to pick up on the confidence you bring to your work, reflected in your use of the slang phrase "badly botched." We hear that an adult and a capable business person is represented on the pages in front of us.

A Human-Voiced Resume is based on the non-traditional idea that a resume is a reflection of a particular person and his or her history, values, talents and milestones -- not a dry listing of dates, titles, skills and certifications. It's a human story, perhaps the story of a little girl who loved scouting for dinosaur bones in her back yard and grew up to teach science and then go on to a career in library science, digging up hard-to-find information sources wherever they're buried. We see the little girl, the dinosaur bones, and the passion for ferreting out clues, all reflected in her resume.

What's fun about the resume-writing part of my job is the digging out of individual stories, the ones that capture why we do the work we do and why we're good at it. Our Human-Voiced Resume approach keeps the whole person in the resume.

A hiring manager can love you or hate you, but s/he isn't going to miss the fact that a real person is represented on these pages. Hiring managers love the Human-Voiced Resumes we've been sending them, but of course, we only hear from the hiring managers who love them! There may be other hiring managers who hate the real you, on paper, because the real you on paper might represent someone who would would be threatening in real life. That's perfectly fine. You don't have time or emotional energy to waste working for someone like that.

Our goal is to keep the stories in our resumes alive and full of energy,
concreteness and personality. The big story -- the arc of your career so far -- and the individual mini-stories mesh together to leave no doubt that the person represented on the pages knows herself (or himself) and what s/he is meant to do at work -- and why.

Surely we've earned the right to put ourselves out into the working world that way? I'm certain that we have.