How to make your personality stand out on your resume

The second (or third, who’s counting?) most important part of your resume, from someone who really hates having to read resumes

When I wasn’t nursing a vicious hangover, most of my college career was spent immersed in resume alchemy:

How can I turn this lead turd of a CV into a golden ticket to professional success?

Because my GPA was average at best, I did whatever I could to convince myself that if my resume had the “correct” blend of font size, style, and script then the sheer aesthetic structure of it would outweigh lackluster academic performance and general disinterest in extracurriculars that weren’t mandatory and weren’t Beer Olympics.  To make a long story short, I slowly improved my GPA, got involved in a few clubs and managed to land a few job offers prior to graduation.

Four years later, I’ve entered the Twilight Zone where I’m the one selecting resumes and doing the interviewing.  Job opportunities that require specific sets of skills are going to draw an overwhelmingly homogenous group of candidates.  For example, for finance jobs (which is my industry) you’ll get a bunch of finance majors who had a few internships and were involved with various finance clubs during college.  That’s fantastic – if you’re applying for a finance job it’s good to at least feign a passion for it.  However, since most of the resumes are basically identical apart from the candidate’s name, I have very little reason or interest in one particular applicant versus all the others.

So how do you stand out?

When I look over a resume, the first thing I look at is the miscellaneous section where people typically list their interests and hobbies.  It’s usually only one line and thus it doesn’t take up a lot of precious resume real estate.  I want to know if this person is interesting or if we’re going to have nothing better to talk about at lunch than the weather (Chicago’s favorite pastime is bitching about Chicago weather) or how much we enjoy our food.  I want to work with someone I enjoy being around.  This is why interviews have a major “fit” component; you could be the smartest person on the planet but if you make me want to perforate my eardrums with a plastic spoon then no one really wins.


However, if you and I share similar interests, it’s much more likely I’ll want to bring you on simply because you won’t annoy me, even if your technical qualifications are subpar (although there’s a minimum level of expertise required so don’t go thinking that all you have to do is be the coolest person alive).

I majored in philosophy in college, so if I find that someone lists philosophy as an interest, that resonates with me and I’m much more likely to advance them to the next round, if only out of a personal sense of curiosity.  Additionally, we’ll probably spend a decent chunk of the interview talking about that instead of typical interview questions (which only provide more opportunities to say something that ultimately disqualifies you for the job).

The key here is specificity – listing “sports” or “music” as interests isn’t going to hit home for anyone; pretty much everyone would agree that they like sports and music.  However, if you list “viola performance”, “1950s be-bop”, or “underground roller derby” as hobbies/interests, you’ll stand out, if nothing else.

Certainly, it won’t work every time – maybe the people doing the hiring don’t have any non-work related interests besides Season 84 of American Idol.  And since that awful show is still on I’m assuming there’s still a pretty substantial contingent of the working population who take interest in watching it.  But on the off chance that the person deciding whether to interview you happens to share your love of all things underwater-basket-weaving, you’ve got a leg up on your competition.