No, it’s not 1994. It only seems that way because we still use business cards and resumes despite having online platforms such as Linkedin.
Even with online job search tools for self-promotion, and job application, the stalwart classic CV remains a staple expectation by hiring managers and companies.
While resume design templates evolve ever so slightly each year, expectations for core content have remained stuck like a 1990’s black hole sun. Career counselors, professional resume builders, and executive coaches advise some invariable version of a summary/objective at the top, bullet-pointed achievements within each position, whether in a functional or chronological format, and highlighted relevant qualifications/education at the bottom.
Additionally, we are counseled to illustrate how we have achieved a tangible impact on the positions we have held. We illustrate quantifiable positive momentum to the business/team/organizational performance, as expressed in numerical terms, often in revenue growth percentages, market share gains, reversals of profitability decline, the number of deals closed and, the round of funding completed. These are all strong metrics of performance and are worthy of making it onto our “greatest hits” narrative on the recommended maximum two-page CV.
However, these are not the professional truths that matter most about us.
The bullet points we feature so proudly showcasing what we did are the result of another unexpressed narrative; how we did it, and under what type of circumstances. Of course, this nuanced more in-depth story exists. However, it’s hidden behind its showier siblings. You know these flashier standouts well: the big deal that closed on your watch, the successful turnaround/start-up, the triple-digit increase in users/conversion/traffic. The achievement statistics gleam off the resume page like the San Francisco Salesforce tower, taller than the Transamerica pyramid in sheer height, but not in hard-won majestic beauty. The Transamerica triangular enigma has fought its way to the iconic cityscape “top,” after surviving years of criticism and revolt for its defining landscape point. It’s not the pointed top itself that you want to hear about, it’s how this controversial building survived in spite of naysayers that captivates attention.
The most spectacular people I have worked with do not reflect their complete greatness on their resumes. They follow the prescribed resume rules, focusing on quantifiable achievements. Of course, such traditional accomplishments matter to me as a hiring manager. However, when evaluating candidates, I want to know more, even from the contained two-page CV. Whether I have hired for a 450 person company or a six-person start-up, every person counts when excellence is the measurement and people are placed ahead of product and profitability by the leadership team.
When reviewing resumes, I want to see a few bullet points letting me know about the guts, grace, and gallantry driving the quantifiable business impact achieved. In a world where nuclear weapons can be deployed and hearts may be broken in 140 characters, we can craft bullet points succinctly illustrating our unique humanity on our CVs. If we can’t, it should give us and the hiring manager pause.
Why wait until you have hired the high achiever to fully understand them? It’s not merely that they have accomplished standout results before, it’s how they did it that matters the most.
How did they treat people along the road to success? Why did they approach a strategy in a specific way? How did they handle it when everything fell apart? How did they behave when the corporate environment became the Hunger Games? When did they screw up and how did they fix it?
The “how” and “why” provide insight into the sustainability of performance vs. a one-hit-wonder. It tells me quickly on a page if someone even understands how to feature these few nuggets, further enticing me into an interview and a more in-depth conversation.
Context separates those who have only worked somewhere during the good times from those who know how a struggling company can bring out the best and worst in anyone. Context is the arena. You can not fake context. You can not fake being bloodied in the arena vs. being cozy on the sidelines. It’s always a choice.
It’s time to add a section to Resumes titled: “In The Arena.”
Inspired by the famous Citizen in a Republic speech by Theodore Roosevelt from 1910, where he said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
If you have succeeded in industries or businesses with upward trajectories due to fortunate macro trends and benevolent timing, be grateful and acknowledge how this may have lit your path. If you have been less fortunate and survived an industry during upheaval and transformation, be thankful for the many ways you stretched and strengthened.
In both cases, how you approached either your gift of fortunate timing or how you learned from your challenge grenade says much about you. How did you uniquely show your code of character manifest and how did your integrity shine through within these established values?
Tell the story of achievements, where you have shown: integrity, a strong work ethic, courage, humility, and grace to achieve the blowout sales increases, standout Series A raises, and epic new product launch responses.
A former colleague of mine once continued working until 9:00 PM on a project, the Friday before the Fourth of July; his last day on the job. By his account, he had a horrible boss and had resigned mostly to escape her. He was a highly respected employee by his peers and his team and had consistently achieved his annual performance goals for his department. However, all these years later-what I remember most about him is the integrity he showed by finishing the price regression analysis that most people would have left for their disliked supervisor to complete after the goodbye lunch, as they escaped the maddening LA 405 freeway traffic before the holiday crush. When he left a copy of his completed analysis on his boss’s desk, she was long gone.
His choice to complete the thankless final task was more of a leading indicator of his future performance than the impressive business metrics he achieved. The way he left his position says much about his character, which means everything about how he will behave when he is in the arena, the next time, and the next time after.
We have all read and heard the research. People don’t leave jobs; they leave bosses. People also leave arenas where too many sit on the sidelines.
They leave arenas not because they don’t have what it takes to succeed. Instead, they depart because of the soul-crushing and mind-numbing realization that workplaces both traditional and, those with dogs wandering around gobbling up errant chia seeds remain hosts to too many people comfortable on the sidelines. These are the people who quit in their hearts and heads but stay at companies because they are comfortable. They slither around in groups forming a counterculture of complacency and distrust of heartfelt commitment to the cause and work at hand. But, they do not leave.
They refuse to jump into the arena and invest political capital, risking themselves. These are the “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” according to Roosevelt. These are people who still bullet-point incredible achievements on their CV while having remained on the sidelines, unbloodied, safe from the Hunger Games, and even worse, criticizing those brave enough to champion change and transformation at an often substantial personal and professional sacrifice.
It’s time we emerge from 1994, expand our professional narratives to include the context surrounding why and how we achieved what we have, because of who we are.
Until then, we are only telling one side of the story on our two pages of bullet-points. Without context, it’s the least important, less impressive, least inspired and most generic version of ourselves.
May we never again create or read a context-less resume that doesn’t feature examples of when we were in the arena with our faces marred with dust, sweat, and blood, daring greatly as Roosevelt implored.
Hi, 1994, it’s 2019 texting, we are revolutionizing the resume/CV 25 years hence. You may keep the business card, for now.