Why Resumes are like Personal Ads

I’ve already shared in a previous post that I read so many career books that when I find one that’s funny and profane in equal parts, I can’t help but share the advice with you.  Michael Laskoff is the author of a “survival guide for the recently unemployed” called Landing on the Right Side of Your A**.  (Title redacted; this is a family friendly blog, after all.)  His often hilarious advice is based on his own checkered career.  He’s a graduate of Harvard Business School and has held several high profile jobs for companies like McKinsey & Company.  He also wrote an employment column for Business Week Online.

In the chapter about resumes, Laskoff starts out by comparing them to personal ads.  Here is how he makes his case that “looking for love is a lot like looking for work.”

Personal ads state precisely who the writer is looking for as a soul mate.  It requires enough focus that the “last man or sheep on earth I’d consider” won’t reply, but not so narrow that everyone opts out.  The perfect personal ad states its goal clearly, but leaves enough latitude to make sure that a sufficient number of people are interested to make the exercise worthwhile.

Second, a great personal ad makes clear what the writer has to offer.  If the ad mentions stable finances, you can be sure that the author values that, and hopes that you do, too.  If it’s family life or outdoor activities, the author is writing about strengths and what he or she brings to the table.

Third, says Laskoff, good personal ads are intriguing, but based in reality. If a writer says he’s tall, young and rich, and any of those qualities is clearly false, he loses all credibility. Writers must learn to present their best qualities well without succumbing to the temptation to make things up.  You may get a first date, but you will never achieve a long term relationship if you start out with a lie.

Finally, a good personal ad is brief.  Laskoff writes, “Being clever, rather than long, is the key.”

The implications for writing resumes are obvious.  Start with a clear professional goal, so you know a good match for you when you see it.  Make sure that your goal is specific, but not so narrow that you overlook opportunities for great jobs that come your way.

Interestingly, Laskoff’s advice on your clear personal goal mirrors the advice of resume masters I wrote about. He also says that you should write the goal, but not include it on your resume.  Use it in cover letters, conversations and interviews, but don’t include it in this important document.  It’s for your benefit only; the rest of your resume should reflect the employer’s needs and wants. 

Laskoff proceeds to outline what he calls the Five Content Commandments. 

  1.  Support your goal.  Your entire resume should convince the reader that your goal is reasonable and achievable (even if the recruiter hasn’t actually read your goal.) Having your goal in mind gives you a filter to help you edit your writing.  “Does this sentence / achievement / assignment support my goal of being considered for X?”
  2. Cover the basics.  By this, Laskoff means that you should make sure you anticipate any questions a recruiter might have and cover those in your writing. That includes gaps in employment, and education and community activities that helped build your skills or experience.
  3. Be brief.  Real estate on a resume is precious, so edit your writing down to the essence of your meaning and eliminate anything that doesn’t advance your case for getting the job.
  4.  Intrigue the reader.  Laskoff emphasizes accomplishments over duties and making your writing more interesting. In my opinion, intriguing is easier to accomplish  in the cover letter, so it pays to spend some extra time in crafting that document.  Don’t forget that intriguing is in the eye of the beholder; the facts you gain through researching the company may make your cover letter more compelling to a recruiter.
  5. Bottoms up.  Of course, most everyone knows that resumes are written in reverse chronological order.  Laskoff also makes the case for presenting the most valuable skills and experience you have at the top of your document; it’s where the will get the most attention.

Laskoff finishes the chapter with two versions of a friend’s resume: ‘bloated’ and ‘fit.’  His ‘fit’ version is a good piece of editing, proving that a sense of humor and serious content are not mutually exclusive.

1 thought on “Why Resumes are like Personal Ads

  1. I agree that accomplishments on a resume trump all else, especially if they clearly describe the challenges you faced and the means by which you overcame them. Remember, hiring managers do not have altruistic goals…it’s all about what you can do to help the organization and make them look good for hiring you.


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