What the Homeless can Teach You about Writing Your Resume

“People do not buy what you do. People buy why you do it.”

— Simon Sinek, Starting with Why

A resume is used to present your background or skills. It’s what you use to sell yourself. To boast your accomplishments and state your case for the job you want. But as Simon Sinek points out, people don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.

He illustrates this point with a simple, but unlikely example. The homeless. The results are interesting.

A Lesson from the Homeless

The homeless are just like you. Relax, I’m not calling you homeless. You are trying to sell yourself. So are the homeless. The sign might as well be a billboard. Or better yet a resume.

Sinek delivers the message across keynotes and a piece in the Huffington Post. He runs a simple experiment on two different signs that the homeless use. The first sign talks about the homeless person. The next sign talks about you.

The results? Sign B generates more money in 2 hours than Sign A generates in a day’s work. Because people don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.

As Sinek eloquently demonstrates, don’t always talk about yourself. On a resume, you state the facts and details. Your skills, past accomplishments, and references. The facts are important. But why should anyone care?

In the example, Sign A delivers the facts — hungry, unemployed, and homeless. This is the resume equivalent of saying I’ve worked somewhere before, I can read and write, and I need a job. Sign B taps into your emotion. It tells you why you should care. It accepts you my not always give, but if you do, consider me.

A resume should state what you’ve done, but also answer why. It should reflect belief. A belief that aligns with the employer. And presents why they should care about you.

Cut the Bullshit

Homeless signs and resumes are not the same. Isn’t the point of a resume to state the facts? You’re right. But when we present the facts, we present with bullshit. Or jargon as I like to call it.

“Do we want to be part of the 90% of noise or the 10% of signal?”

— Brad Frost, Death to Bullshit

Frost lays down the state of the web today. Your resume is alive. It’s living and breathing across social networks, blogs, and search engines. But with more information than ever, comes more bullshit. Or unnecessary, intentionally deceptive and insincere information.

We love jargon. Every company today is a full service business solution. We engage users and influencers. You use new media and leverage client resources. We’re strategists that are data-driven. We love jargon and buzzwords.

Why do we use jargon? Because we’re more concerned about the what than the why. I look back at my previous resumes and cringe. The langauge I’ve used makes no sense. It’s unnecessary and clunky.

Here is the first line of my resume a year ago:

Communications professional with a passion for using new media technologies to leverage client resources.

I don’t even know what that means. This sentence is supposed to explain the why, before I list my experience (the what). Instead it confuses you and you don’t even know why you should care. Don’t make the mistake I made of using jargon. Use clear and concise words. Write like you talk.

“Wise decisions, based on lies we living. ”

— Tupac Shakur, All About You

Tupac was rapping about women, and not resumes. But the point is we all make wise decisions based on lies. Even little white lies. We’re predictably dishonest.

We conform to the ways everyone does it. We talk about what we do. And not why we do it. We use jargon and buzzwords because that’s what others do. We’re living lies about it all.

When writing a resume, you’re making a presentation. The goal of every line is to get whoever is reading to keep reading. It’s to sell yourself in a interesting way. A way that shows people why they should care.

I’m not an expert. But here are a few miraculous examples:

  • Phil Dubost — A creative presentation you can relate to.
  • Robby Leonardi — Interactive game is remarkable.
  • Eugene Hsu — Anyone can understand this PHD students resume.

You don’t have to create a lookalike, interactive game, or microsoft paint resume. All you have to do is cut the bullshit and show people why they should care.

Again this post was inspired by Simon Sinek, Brad Frost, and Tupac. Read their work, watch their videos, and listen to the music. Thank you.

Title Photo Credit: Flickr