Be humble. Don’t brag. Don’t let it go to your head. Get off your high horse. Most of us have spent years of our lives practicing humility. We’ve taken it so far that most of us hardly even know how to accept a compliment when someone else tells us how great we are. Forget about us telling them. So for most of us, writing a résumé can be one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. We don’t know where to start because we don’t know how to sell ourselves.
So how exactly do you sell yourself in a résumé?
Think about selling yourself the same way you would sell any other product. Let’s use the example of a car, and we’ll pretend to be a car salesperson. To make this analogy work even better, let’s pretend that as a salesperson, we are assigned to one specific car (just like you only have one you). And let’s pretend this is a very very busy car lot, so there are lots of potential buyers. Not all of them are looking for the car you’re selling. A guy who needs a truck is never going to give a second thought to the two-door hatchback. Just like an employer who needs an accountant isn’t going to give your résumé a second look if you’re an airline pilot. It’s your job to find the right customers. In marketing we call this your “target market” which is just a fancy way of saying “the people most likely to buy.” Or in your case, the people most likely to hire you.
Now every potential buyer—every potential employer—is going to be looking for slightly different things. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a used car sales pitch, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re a woman, the salesperson is likely to try to sell you on the comfort and safety features. If you’re a man, you’re more likely to hear about performance factors like speed or towing capability. This is why it is so very important that you rewrite, or at least partially rework, or at the very least review your résumé for every single employer you send it to. And that you carefully look over their qualifications and concerns in their job posting first. Because no two companies are going to be looking for the exact same features in an employer, just like no two car buyers are going to be looking for the exact same features in a car.
Finally, let’s talk about the way we talk about ourselves. One way to make it easier to brag about yourself on paper is to use the third person narrative. Bullet points are great for this because “Built Rome in a day” sounds a lot less braggy than “I built Rome in a day” on some kind of subconscious level and works better for everyone. Please note that I said “Built Rome in a day,” not, “Built Rome” or “Built city” or “City building skills.” Potential employers want hard facts the same way car buyers do. They aren’t looking for “fluff.” A car salesman doesn’t say “Man, this car is wicked fast.” Well, he might, but he would be better saying “Dude, she does 0-60 in 4 seconds flat.” He won’t tell the toddler-toting lady who walked onto the lot that “this is a safe car.” He’ll tell her it has received a five-star front, side and rear impact safety rating for the last ten years. Using numbers wherever possible is a great way to turn all of those “brags” into “facts.” And far more effective selling points.
So to recap, how do we sell ourselves in an interview? Just like we’d sell a car:
1. Identify the right buyers (employers)
2. Identify their needs
3. Focus on the skills and experience you have that meet their needs
4. Back up your claims with hard evidence whenever possible
As a parting example, which of the following sample résumé bullet points do you think sounds more appealing?
• Lego-building skills
— or —
• Over 15 years experience constructing lego sets ranging from 5–5,000 pieces
… Yep. That’s what we thought too.