Resumes: Don't Move Bricks, Build a Cathedral

February 27, 2007

There is a story about a traveler who passes three men moving bricks at a construction site. The traveler asks the first worker, “What are you doing?” The worker says, “I’m moving bricks.” The traveler asks the second worker the same question, “What are you doing?” The second worker replies, “I’m building a wall.” The traveler asks the third man the same question. “I,” the third man replies, “am building a cathedral.”

I reviewed a resume for a friend that described one of his contributions as “extracting and parsing program output from XML files.” Technically, this is what he did, but he’s describing his work in terms of the first or second man.

When you write a resume, don’t just write what you did. Also write how it helped the company from a business standpoint. The real point of “extracting and parsing program output” was to support a company initiative to port one of their best selling products to a Windows platform. The new software was expected to drive millions of dollars in sales to new clients. This sounds much better.

I have to be honest; I grapple with giving this advice because on the surface it looks inflationary. It seems like “spin.” But I think the benefits go beyond just making your resume look better. I think that a resume written in this style also benefits the company doing the hiring for three reasons:

My second bit of advice is to include specifics about your contributions. Was the project big? How many man hours in total? How much revenue did it generate? What was the budget? How many people?

Vagueness, on a resume, looks like you made stuff up. Being specific is the best way to add credibility to your resume. This is especially important because 95% of the time, someone is reading your resume when you aren’t there to explain it.

Just a reminder: Use your judgement here, don’t include any confidential information.

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