Thursday, October 20, 2005

Resume Writing 101

So my cousin is thinking of hopping employers and sat down to update his resume a while ago. While going over his efforts, I was struck by a rather obvious 'insight'; a resume is just a marketing document!

I can only blame my complete stupidity for not having thought of this before. All this time, I've always thought of the resume to be, well, a curriculum vitae. A summary of one's education, professional history, and job qualifications... as puts it. A numbered list of enraged ex-employers, dubious educational institutions and dodgy projects to be paraded before incredulous HR drones. A stack of paper, with as dense a mass of black on white as possible. Something to win your next assignment with by boring - or more satisfying still - bludgeoning, the opposition to death.

However if you really think about it, a resume is really the first step is marketing that most desirable of commodities.


Like any good marketing campaign you've got to not only provide accurate information, but also dress it up in a manner that attracts and excites. Let's face it, there's not much difference between a good resume and what's on a packet of chips. You've got the ingredients, the promotional puffery, the endorsements by trusted spokespersons... What we've got to learn is what makes people buy one brand and not another. Especially since at heart, all they're really getting is some sliced, salted spuds and a warm feeling that's just impending indigestion.

It's - to a large part - all in the presentation.

So apply standard marketing techniques to your resume. Identify your target audience. Satisfy HR enough to get by their buzzword filter. Stand out enough so you're noticed by first level decision makers. Give HR their alphabet soup of acronyms and certifications, but make sure the tone is such that it also catches the attention of your (you hope) new superiors.

Write your resume taking into account the kind of company and industry you're aiming for. Be edgy and provocative if you're targeting a hipper crowd. Stay a little more conservative if you want to be a banker or accountant. Remember though, it's better to be specifically rejected than simply ignored. If you make something that some people hate, then others will love it. Design to elicit emotional responses. It's better to be hated than to not to make an impression at all.

Think of using colours, textured paper, blurbs from past employers/superiors, innovative designs... whatever. The people reviewing your resume plow through hundreds of boring CVs a day written by earnest hopefuls. You have to make an impact if you're going to get an invite to an interview...

...which is a whole 'nother packet of chips.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Non-intuitive Manager: The Semantic Weight & Half-Life of Words

[You might wish to read the Introduction to the Series before you proceed...]

Words matter. A lot.

How you phrase something makes a big difference, especially when you're talking to people who are technically your subordinates. Now, this may seem like the most obvious statement in the world, but it's surprising how often it's forgotten.

What we tend to forget is that when the boss speaks, his words are mined quite intensely for subtleties and hidden meanings by his subordinates. A simple "Hello" might send some of your more insecure underlings into a panicky tizzy. Now this might seem unfair to you, but that's just the way things are. Human nature isn't slated to change anytime soon, so you might as well get used to it, bugs and all.

The problem is a basic one of power. The bossman has it, the wage-slave doesn't. The managers whims directly impact the average workers life in measurable ways, while things don't quite work vice-versa. It isn't surprising then that the communication flowing from the top is analysed much more obsessively than you expected it to be.

In other words (HA!) we need to examine...

The semantic weight and half-life of words

Description: You words and opinions, even ones joking expressed, are examined much more deeply for nuances than you'd like. Often, your subordinates build-up their stances or expectations on utterances which were hasty, or meant to be taken lightly. What seemed like banter to you, was taken as a reprimand; or your flippant remark about a company product has made people treat it lightly.

The Problem: People are apprehensive in nature. Real or perceived power resides in you in this relationship, not them. In addition, you're looked at to provide leadership and direction. People will emulate your stances and align their positions to the ones they think you hold. In addition, there's no expiry date on words, so something you said 6 months ago may still be shaping the teams perceptions about itself, the product or the company, long after the situation has changed.

A Possible Solution: Being aware of the issue is halfway to solving it. You have to be very careful with what you say. Your heart should be behind your tongue, as it's sometimes put, not before it. There's no need to be fake, or a bland, emotionless robot. Joke and josh around with your team with abandon, but remember the limits. Don't put anyone down, even in jest and never denigrate an in-house product or another team.

Having to be so careful may seem like an over-reaction.

But words matter. A lot.