The Resume as Personal Branding


It's no secret that competition for jobs is fiercer than ever. And as the stacks of resumes grow taller and the eyes of HR staff grow wearier, it behooves the thoughtful candidate to find a way to make that rectangle of type into something more than a wan recital of past tasks and responsibilities.

That document is your ambassador, so it needs to do more than rehash old job descriptions; it needs to pique the peaked attention of overburdened employers.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the resume as personal branding tool.

"Consider your resume the same way you think of your business card, your website, your interview outfit, your everything. It's all part of a promotional package that tells me who you are," says recruiter Keva Dine of The Keva Dine Agency, Inc., who not only screens candidates for her employer clients but also offers custom, branded resumes via the subsidiary TKDAResume* (and whose insights into personal branding for job-seekers could fill several issues of Editorializing). "If I don't 'get' you after reading your resume – skimming it, if you want the truth – you haven't effectively differentiated, or branded, yourself."

We're not talking about getting so "creative," so brimming with personality, that you obscure your skills or annoy with your preciousness. The degree of individuality on display must be carefully calibrated to the company and the position. (Vying for the assistant-principal gig at a conservative religious school? Play it straight.)

In fact, your resume should zero in like a telescopic sight on your dream (or dream-like) job, with relevant details front and center and – if only I didn't have to say this – irrelevant ones removed. What remains is a highly targeted advertisement for the brand that is you.

"If I don't 'get' you after reading your resume, you haven't effectively differentiated, or branded, yourself." — Keva Dine, TKDAInc.

The headline of that ad is your summary (by the way, you can bag the "objective" – everyone knows the objective is to get a job). A punchy paragraph preceding the nitty-gritty details of your experience and achievements, this is your opportunity to pitch the fundamental equities of Brand You. Sadly, many job-seekers squander that opening salvo, instead supplying a bland mish-mash of boilerplate phrases. The summary is the written equivalent of your elevator speech. Don't waste it on the same vague language every other candidate is using, the pabulum that makes recruiters' eyes glaze over.

Do you really think the folks doing the hiring will find you memorable because you're a "self-starter?" Will you separate yourself from the pack by claiming to be a "results-oriented professional?" Here are a few other creaky terms, enumerated by HR veteran and former Fortune 500 VP Liz Ryan in her article "Ten Boilerplate Phrases That Kill Resumes":

  • Cross-functional teams
  • More than [x] years of progressively responsible experience
  • Superior (or excellent) communication skills
  • Strong work ethic
  • Met or exceeded expectations
  • Proven track record of success
  • Works well with all levels of staff
  • Team player
  • Bottom-line orientation

While we're at it, let's add the strangely ubiquitous jargon "thought leader" (I got your "thought leader" right here).

If your communication skills are "excellent," substantiate that by not relying on the tired "excellent communication skills." An original turn of phrase speaks volumes. In other words, if you're really an out-of-the-box thinker, you wouldn't be caught dead saying "out-of-the-box thinker."

More resume gold:

Keep it to one page. One page transmits focus. Remember: The point of the resume is to get you an interview, not to present your entire career history. If the document is targeted properly, you can do the job in a single page (we've done it for VP- and C-level clients with 20 years of experience). And be scrupulous about keeping your cover letter or introductory e-mail tight. "I read enough novels in my spare time," Dine cautions. "Don't send me your life story."

Be precise; make your specialty and talents abundantly clear in your summary and elsewhere. "The frustrating question 'What does this person DO?' is heard way too often around the TKDAInc. office," reports Dine.

Details, details, details. Branding is all about telling a story – people remember stories. Only you have your stories, so they naturally differentiate you. And storytelling is all about specifics. Use (brief) anecdotes to illustrate your productivity, your efficiency, your indispensability.

Recount how your quick thinking and logistical acumen resulted in the lightning-fast relocation of a Phoenix corporate retreat's luncheon after the caterer sent 125 Cornish game hens to the wrong site. Describe how you marshaled your street team to drum up 35% more database registrations than any other division. Give life to the tale of the 11th-hour campaign pitch (illustrated by nothing more than stick-figure sketches) that won your company a $12 million contract with ActiVision. Such yarns comprise the very fabric of your brand; they tell your next boss what you're made of and suggest what you can do for HER.

Keva Dine on the importance of self-articulation

Don't make them Google it. Unless your prior employers, clients and partners are so well known that clarifying what they do would be ridiculous, provide a pithy description: Fortress of Solitude, a boutique entertainment-marketing firm; Lithwick, Stahl and Osterman, a financial consultancy; Green's Greens, the Upper Midwest's leading distributor of frozen vegetables. If the HR manager has to search for info because you didn't provide it, consider yourself deleted.

Here's another one that should be obvious: When submitting your resume electronically, don't name the file "resume" or even "resume 2013." You might as well title it "I don't really want this job." Repeat after me: File name equals full name (yours), plus the title of the position you're after.

I know it seems like everyone's hocking resume advice these days, but few "experts" we've encountered seem to grasp the concept of personal branding. So it's up to us to drop some recession-resistant resume science on your dome: Telling your story in vivid detail, with all the value propositions, case histories, names and numbers you'd expect of a winning brand, is essential. That stuff is why your future supervisor will hire YOU instead of the other candidates with similar qualifications.

Of course, if you're stymied by the task, you can always hire a resume writer who understands the importance of personal branding. That decision alone can showcase a critical skill: the ability to delegate.

*Full disclosure: TKDAResume (now Creative Profiles) is a partner of Editorial Emergency.