When faced with the daunting task of summarizing themselves, whether on paper in a resume or face-to-face in an interview, job hunters often fall into the trap of trying to encapsulate everything into a few simple, pithy phrases. I’ve seen these chestnuts far too often:
- I'm a hard worker
- I have a strong work ethic
- I'm reliable
- I'm a good listener
- I work well with others
- I take pride in my work
The hiring manager’s mental response, assuming his eyes haven’t glazed over, is likely to be “You and everyone else, pal.” Is there anyone out there who would not feel justified in using all of the assessments above to describe themselves? (I certainly hope that you wouldn’t be foolish enough to vocalize it if not.)
The next response to such vague summations is “According to whom?” A “hard worker” at a big faceless corporation or a government 9-5 job may be very different from a “hard worker” at a startup, or at a video game company. (And whatever you do, don’t put down that you “try to work smarter, not harder”, which is as trite as they come.)
What to do instead? Provide facts and stories, not judgments, when telling someone about yourself and your work history.
Back on the old radio and TV show Dragnet, Sergeant Joe Friday would question witnesses about a crime that had been committed. If she strayed into personal opinion about a suspect, he’d steer her back with “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” Imagine you’ve got Joe Friday reading your resume.
Instead of “I’m a hard worker,” give details of projects you’ve completed. Include points that make clear you were a hard worker, without you having to say “I worked hard.” For example, you might say:
I recently completed a five month, 50,000-line conversion project. Even though we we lost one of the four team members with only three weeks left, we pulled together to make the deadline.
You’ve described a big project, hard work, and made no self-assessments.
Got a strong work ethic? Explain it: “A few weeks ago, my team rolled out an upgrade to Office in our 300-seat location. We did it over the weekend to minimize work disruption. Sunday night we had to order in some pizzas, but Monday morning everyone was able to come in and get work at 8am sharp.”
Every manager wants reliable employees: “My projects are consistently done on time, never more than 10% over budget. Here are the planned vs. actual charts for the last three projects I worked on.” Then you can show the actual work products from your portfolio. “Plus, I’ve only had unscheduled absences twice in the past four years.”
Good listening is great, too: “I find that I’m able to help my team with listening carefully. The other day, we had a meeting and one of our developers and the guy from accounting were having quite a disagreement. As I listened to their arguing, I saw that they were agreeing, but didn’t even realize it. I gently interjected some restatements of what each of them was saying, and they came to see that their differences were very minor.”
Working well with others is a cliché, but critical in all but a few jobs: “As a web page designer, I usually work with three or four different teams throughout the week. They’re all very different in their makeup, but I work hard at fitting in with each as necessary. Ted in Marketing even sent me this gracious thank-you note for my work, which I was very proud of.” You can then open your portfolio to the printed copy of the email to show the interviewer.
When it comes to the pride you take in your work, you need not explain at all. Your resume and interview should be enough. The pride you take in yourself and your accomplishments must shine through without additional words being necessary.
Note that all these examples use recent examples, and not stories from years past. They emphasize teamwork and other people, which every manager should have high on her list. And they document facts that let the interviewer draw her own conclusion about you and your value to her company.
The examples above are taken from an interview setting, but they apply to any printed work as well. You’ll have less room to stretch out verbally, but you can certainly replace your “Reliable worker” bullet point with “Projects mostly completed on time, never more than 10% over estimates.”
Right now, I challenge you to take a look at your basic resume and scrutinize every sentence. If a claim is vague, replace it with a concrete example, or remove it entirely. If something applies to everyone, then it means nothing.