Is the Resume a Marketing Piece?

by Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., SPHR


One should not have to hire a publicist, marketing agent, or communications expert to create a great resume; but then again, it couldn’t hurt. Long gone are the days that a resume was a brief, factual statement of one’s past educational and employment experiences. It can be argued that the sole purpose of a resume is to get an interview. If this is indeed its purpose, then a resume, in part, should be designed to sway opinions and influence decisions.

The word marketing might conjure up misconceptions about fictionalized accounts of facts or sensationalism. Yet, marketing also serves to inform, educate, and, most importantly, communicate effectively. These are goals shared by every job seeker. Think about how readable a magazine review of a scientific study is in comparison to the actual journal article itself. Which would you want to present to a committee reviewing materials of many well-qualified candidates? It is not a farfetched idea to consider the resume as a marketing piece because we all know intuitively that presentation matters.

In my first lesson on resumes over 30 years ago, I was told to ensure they were typed neatly on good, heavy bond paper. Resumes used to be staid, vanilla, and overly formal. A musical analogy might be useful to illustrate a comparison between yesterday’s and today’s resumes. We have moved from Classical to Big Band Jazz; think Mozart to Gershwin, or Ravel to Basie. Today’s resumes are still traditional and conservative, albeit a little less formal than in the past. As such, today they can be dynamic enough to express emotion and personality.

Here are some comparative statements that might illustrate the point:

* Held sales manager position and supervised six sales staff in two different locations.
* Led a team of six that averaged 6% annual growth in sales for four consecutive years.

* Awarded the 2017 Ingrid Bergoff graduate student research grant.
* Awarded a university-wide research grant of $150,000 against stiff competition of over 75 graduate students.

* Research interest includes behavioral economics, microeconomics, and international monetary policy.
* Passionate interest in the factors that influence fluctuations in global economic markets.

As you ponder why and how certain statements might garner more interest and attention from search committees or hiring managers, here are three tips to help make one’s resume more persuasive:

  1. Presentation Matters
  2. Readability is important
  3. Accomplishments and Impact are Zingers

Since a resume is a snapshot in time that presents the best picture of one’s professional background, care should be taken to make sure it looks as good as possible. The appearance can matter as much as the content. The formatting, white space, font, and the flow of information all matter. Everyone recognizes advertisements that have a little pizzazz versus monochrome ads with words thrown onto the page. Vogue magazine versus the student newspaper might offer a fitting contrast.

Sometimes resumes are too dense and contain too much information. Some are simply too long to keep the reader’s attention. Bullet points, numbers, and simple, clear, and impactful statements help the readability of the document. To accomplish these, it might take multiple rounds of editing with a focus on word choice and phrasing to deliver the right ideas, images, and messages.

The resume should not be a summary of past job descriptions. Everyone knows that a dean of student’s position is responsible for the co-curricular and extra-curricular development of students. It goes without saying that an assistant professor has some combination of duties related to teaching, research, scholarship, and service. An effective resume provides a narrative that informs the reader about how well duties were performed, the character in which they were performed, and the impact of one’s service. Indicating that an instructor’s student evaluations were consistently in the top 25% rating category compared to others, or that class enrollment was routinely oversubscribed, tells a lot about one’s ability as an instructor. Similarly, noting the impact of one’s work tells a great story. “Over 35 of my graduate students have gone on to doctoral study,” or “I have been an invited speaker more than two dozen times,” are good examples of accomplishments and impact that add a little zing to one’s materials.

Accepting the idea that the resume is a marketing instrument causes a subtle shift in thinking and acting. The presentation of materials should be as impressive as your credentials. The fluency in which the material is delivered should add value to the content. All things being equal, it would be to your advantage if committee members wanted to talk with you simply because of the way your materials were presented in comparison to other qualified candidates. I can attest to numerous cases in which more presentable materials held sway.

This reminds me of the saying “If it looks good, it is good.” An entire field of study-marketing-exists to deliver information and ideas in such a way as to compel us to act in a preferred manner. A well-crafted resume leaves a positive image in the mind of the reader. Spending the extra effort to draft and edit one’s material to ensure that it is not a dry dump of facts and dates will help make a good impression. Candidates that keep marketing principles in mind, such as clearly written content without extra verbiage, descriptive and artfully crafted statements, a few buzzwords included, and an appealing format, style, and layout are likely to be more successful persuading search committees to invite them for an interview.

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