Boring or Bland Won’t Get You the Job

My résumé: retail store manager, restaurant manager, job skills trainer, human resources manager, recruitment services general manager, business consultant. In these positions spanning over twenty years, I have prepared people for and placed people into hundreds of jobs and read thousands of job applications. Most of them were and continue to be. Boring. Bland. Passive. When you want someone to pick you out of a crowd, your first goal should be to stand out. Yet applicants seem to do their level best to hide in a sea of yawn-inducing sameness. True, pretty much all the advice available tells them how to write an application to look like everyone else’s application. They are being taught how to be forgettable. To be fair, that made sense in the past. Work was designed to be standardised and the ideal worker was the one who was best at following instructions. It was a time when the system rewarded those who knew how to be part of the system. But even as that old system breaks down, and companies change their recruiting practices with big data analytics and chatbots, there will always be the point where there is a person evaluating the application. When you get that opportunity to have your application in front of human eyes, you don’t bore that person with your same-old layout and canned phrases. You don’t offer up your “skills and competencies”, qualities and attributes in one mind-numbing shopping list. You don’t present your details as though it is so self-explanatory that is all they needed to finally put the puzzle of their workforce together. Assuming that you are a qualified candidate for a job, the fastest way to be eliminated from a pool of candidates for a job is to provide all facts and no feelings. CV, or curriculum vitae, is Latin meaning ‘course of life’. It is, in other words, a story of (the relevant parts) of your life that go to work with you. You are not just the sum total of your skills, and your skills are not the sum total of your experience. By feelings I mean how your personal story helped to create your professional story. For example: the help of a mentor, a hard lesson learned, a sense of fulfilment from doing particular things, an inspiration turned into action. I also mean the logic and the connections between your choices, experiences and work. Whoever is reading your application has experienced their version of these too. In many ways, your personal story is more responsible for your success than your professional story. (It is why major brands are engaging with branded story-telling – content where the story goes before the brand.) Of course people also want to see your professional history too – thats the résumé (it’s French, meaning short summary) part of your application. Yes, it feels risky to move away from the safe, standard template you (and everyone else) have used for years (or decades). A more interesting application does not mean less professional. In fact, capturing your full story requires the ultimate professionalism in the telling and the presentation. The idea that you will stand out by blending in is just as unlikely as the one where a recruiter is looking for someone who is the best at being boring.

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