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Adding Sizzle to the Steak: Crafting a Clever and Creative Resume

Marty Nemko

It seems absurd that employers still so value the resume as a screening tool: It's so hard to use one to assess a candidate because its quality is affected by whether he or she is honest or puffing, whether the resume was created by the candidate or by a hired shill, and whether the candidate chose to be no-nonsense or add lots of sizzle to the steak.

For example, Philippe Dubost, a Web product manager, chose to format his resume as an Amazon.com page, right down to including language like "Add to cart for pricing information," and "Only 1 left in stock--Order soon." To check out his work, visit phildub.com. Ruby Developer Jamie Kite created an infographic resume, complete with a colorful mindmap, bar chart, and flowchart. Kite's was found on Forrst.com.

Those resumes triggered some ideas for developing an eye-catching resume. True, to pull off some of these, you may need to hire an graphic designer/artist. But then again the clich? of a "starving artist" may mean you won't have to pay too much for outside help:

Are you in finance or real estate? Use a Monopoly board as your resume's structure. On the "Go" square, list your target job and list a deal you facilitated for each avenue, railroad, and utility on the board. For each "Chance" square, describe a risk you took and whether it worked. For the "In-Jail" square, describe a time you were held back from doing the sort of work you'd really like to do. On the "Free Parking" square, describe a recreation of yours that might impress your target employer.

Seeking a career in the environmental field? Make a two-column resume with a brown, leaf-bare tree in the top left and a fully-leafed out green tree in the top right. Then list a series of before and after achievements. For example, in the brown column, "I did an energy audit of a building that used $200,000 a year in energy." Next to it in the green column: "Now the business uses just $150,000 a year."

Are you a manager? Use a flow chart. You're the product, and the boxes in the flow chart present your experiences, accomplishments, and skills that culminate in you being a well-suited candidate for your target position.

A salesperson? Your resume can consist mainly of challenging sales you made. Tell each as a few-sentences long story: the difficulty of the sale, the smart and/or dogged way you pursued it, and the positive result.

Teachers, why not format your resume as a lesson plan? The lesson's objective: Hire (insert your name). Then the steps in the plan consist of all the reasons you should be hired.

Are you an electrician, plumber, or electrical engineer? Present your resume as a system of pipes or a circuit, with the key aspects of your background listed on each pipe or wire.

Want to work for a Disney or Pixar? Make your resume a series of cartoons.

Want to transition from corporate to nonprofit work? Why not theme your resume according to How (insert your name) gives: whether it's to your boss, co-workers, or customers, and even during your spare time.

As an antidote to your clever resume being perceived as substituting sizzle for steak, try being hyper-honest. Remember, standard resume-speak makes most employers roll their eyes.


Resume-speak to fill a gap in employment. "Self-employed" or "consultant," or "homemaker" (followed by examples of how being a homemaker required skills that would make an employer salivate).

Hyper-honest statement: "I decided to leave the workforce to raise my kids during their first three years, but now that they're in a good preschool I'm looking forward to returning to work. I worry that my skills and contacts aren't current, which is why I'm willing to take a step down in rank. But I'm committed to working my way back up and resuming my career."

... in the summary section. "Dynamic self-starter who delights in exceeding customer expectations."

Hyper-honest statement: "I do wonder about the net value of many products. So I'm searching for a job where I work on a product that is of net benefit to customers and society at-large."

... in the accomplishments section. "Key player in initiative that saved the company $7.4 million."

Hyper-honest statement: "It's difficult to parse out the value of my efforts but this anecdote may help explain why I've received numerous 'exceeds expectations' evaluations. We had long created dossiers on prospective donors but while thorough, they neglected the prospect's psychology. So for one of the prospects, I pieced together snippets from the Internet, adding a paragraph that focused on the target's psychological motivators. Since then, my boss has asked us to include that feature in each dossier."

Alas, if truth be told, sizzle sells better than hyper-honesty. (Sigh)

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.

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