Ramblings of a Resume Writer

Imagine a sheet of paper. It is blank, which is why you are holding a pen. In just a moment, you will use this pen to fill the blankness with words. Words, that you will use to describe yourself: Your background, your goals, your life.

Which words will you choose? What will you write?

Imagine yet another scenario: Again, this scenario starts with a sheet of paper. Again, it is blank. But this time, it is not you who is holding a pen. It is someone you’ve employed to write about yourself, instead of yourself.

Which words will he choose? What will he write?

The first scenario came about recently, when I received a call for a short biography — a few lines to tell people a bit about myself, my career and the things that are relevant to me. Nemas problemas, right? Well, that’s what I thought. Things soon became tricky:

What information DO you want to share about yourself? Naturally, you would want to focus on the good stuff, leaving out any shortcomings and odd quirks. So, in with the fancy adjectives, out with the annoying habits: ‘inquisitive’, ‘empathic’, ‘ambitious’, and not a word about control issues and starting each book by reading the last page first.

Next, my priorities: Of all the things relevant to me, which to mention? Greenpeace or Gender Equality? Animal Rights or World Literacy? What about the kids — do people care if and how much I care? What is relevant to whom, and in what measure? How do you charm an anonymous audience? Or, in my case, any odd reader who has accidentally stumbled upon my rambling thoughts?At this point, I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed.

It occurred to me: Any portrayal, even if carefully crafted by our own hands, is no better than your average box of fine chocolates: Selected to please the crowds, but at the mercy of both whim and fancy.

On we go to the second scenario. You see, I am a resume writer and editor. People pay me and my colleagues to make them look good on paper. To highlight their accomplishments, and set the dimmer on their defeats. An unfortunate succession of bad ideas becomes an ‘innovative mind-set’. A somewhat prickly personality transforms into a ‘decisive leadership style’. A nagging habit miraculously converts into the ability to ‘work towards continual optimization and growth’. Resume writing may not be magic, but it sure is nifty. Mind you: We are not allowed to reinvent you. But, we are encouraged to present facts in a way that is advantageous for your professional portrayal, and to leave out that which may be conveniently deemed irrelevant in the context at hand.

With this in mind, I took a look at my own career:

As someone in my mid-forties, I can look back upon a mixed bag of jobs and professions. Which one to highlight? Is it relevant to know that I once tied over 500 pairs of shoelaces in one afternoon? Smeared out cheesecake batter in an assembly line? Monitored the chat platforms of obscure Internet startups? Assisted a local weather forecast? Administered criminal files for the federal criminal police? Taught irregular verbs by surfing festival sites? Tweaked learning assessment systems with YouTube clips?

Who is the bouncer to invite or reject the facts and figures of my professional life? Who the writing wizard with the magic ink and brush to portray them? Who knows the words to describe someone who has dipped their toes in many puddles? Who can make me look not inconsistent and fleeting, but curious and bold, with a sense of adventure? Who knows how to say ‘transitory’ without making me look shifty?

In comes the resume writer with his tools. When painting a picture, the colors you leave out are just as relevant of a choice than the ones you use. Writing someone’s resume may not be an art, but it is a craft. A delicate work of weaving the right words into the right patterns to present someone as the best professional version of themselves.

A well written resume will create a professional brand a hiring mangaer will gravitate towards. A brand, which presents a unique angle, quality, service and vision – with a price tag hovering invisibly above. Take the Power Statement, which allows 4–6 lines to give an overview of what someone does professionally, and happens to do well. By reducing someone’s qualities to just a few lines, you have to make some tough choices. Whatever information you choose to in- or exclude will equally impact people’s perception of and behavior towards them. The same goes for the Core Competencies, which really is nothing but a shopping list for the hiring manager. The skills you include and the order you choose is a way to prioritize that which is most sought after by the intended audience.

This brings us to the audience itself, and the need to research and define it prior to writing. Judging from the presentation of information available, the audience will either buy into the brand, or politely decline. Such a decline may just be a personal set-back. It may, however, also be the difference in someone being able to pay their rent, by their groceries and send their kids to summer camp.

So, what do you do? You define the needs of the audience, and you cater to them to the best of your abilities with the resources you have. You poke and pry for information, you tweak the facts, you zoom in and fade out of someone professional timeline according to what looks best. And you present them in a way that you hope someone else will like.

Godspeed, and hail the resume writer!

Julia RybergResume, Career, Writing