6 Secrets of Great Resumes, Backed By Psychology
The day I landed my job at Google was the day I decided to pay forward all the help I received on reworking my resume.
After going through many resumes, I want to share what I learned in hopes that it helps more people get their dream jobs.
My biggest realization? We don’t think like psychologists. And in doing so, we sell ourselves short.
Here are six ways to change that:
- Microsoft and Netscape fought for ultimate browser dominance
- GIF images to stop empty table cells from collapsing
- However, because Flash required a plug-in
- Strong: Compiled a 44-page pitch deck for buyout of $53 million automotive company
- Weak: Wrote articles on entrepreneurship and technology
- Strong: Wrote 8 articles on entrepreneurship and technology, generating 107,000 page views, 8,003 likes, and 3,723 tweets
Reason: Greek philosopher Aristotle taught three pillars of effective persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. He believed most in the power of logos, which means persuading others using logic, evidence, and facts. By quantifying your impact, you’re doing exactly that. You’re providing evidence to underscore the significance of your accomplishments.
2. Make Your Interests As Quirky As Possible
Tip: To quote Drake (another great philosopher), you need to “start from the bottom.” The last line of your resume is where most people list their interests, but don’t actually say anything interesting. You like movies, sports, and traveling? How original! Instead, say something that could strike an emotional chord or spark a memorable conversation mid-interview. At the very least, be highly specific.
Examples: Settlers of Catan, Quentin Tarantino films, Mediterranean cooking, Lego Star Wars collections.
Reason: In Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant emphasizes that similarities matter most when they’re rare. “We bond when we share uncommon commonalities, which allow us to feel that we fit in and stand out at the same time,” he says. Your interests are a huge bonding opportunity with your resume reader. Don’t waste it.
3. Show The Competition
Tip: This one gets me every time. So many people win awards, get into selective programs, and do other impressive things but don’t convey the full amazingness of those accomplishments. It’s because they don’t show the competition; they don’t reveal how many other people were gunning for that very same spot.
- Weak: Won Granny Smith University’s Innovation Competition
- Strong: Won $1,000 for Granny Smith University’s Innovation Competition (80+ entrepreneurs competed)
- Weak: Accepted into Johnny Appleseed Management Program
- Strong: Accepted into Johnny Appleseed Management Program (9% admit rate, Granny Smith University selects 50 students per year)
Reason: Social proof is one of the most powerful principles of influence, according to psychologist Robert Cialdini. By showing your competition, you emphasize how coveted your accomplishments are. Many people tried, but only you succeeded. By doing this, you safeguard yourself in case the recruiter hasn’t heard of your program, award, or honor – which they most likely haven’t and won’t bother looking up.
4. Ask An Employee For Feedback
Tip: Relationships are more important than resumes. Before applying to any company, always connect with an employee – whether through information sessions, introductions, or alumni outreach. If the conversation goes well, kindly ask for feedback on your resume before applying.
This accomplishes two things. First, it’s an extremely efficient way to customize your resume to different companies. Employees offer highly specific edits (“hey try using this buzz word, we love that”). Secondly, this is an awesome way to internally pass along your resume without even asking. If an employee finds you impressive, kind, and sincere, there’s a good chance they’ll put in a word with recruiters.
Example: Here’s an email I’ve used before.
Great chatting yesterday! I really enjoyed hearing about your experiences at [Company X] and I’m excited to apply for [Position Y].
I know you’re super busy, but could you spare 2 minutes to share any feedback on my resume before I submit? Even a quick gut reaction would mean a lot.
Reason: The Foot-In-The-Door Phenomenon refers to people’s tendency to more readily complete larger requests after they’ve already agreed to smaller ones. By asking for feedback, you’re doing just that. Requesting two minutes of their time is an easy starting point, especially if you’ve built rapport beforehand. Before you know it, they may help out in bigger ways by making referrals, brokering introductions, and more.
5. Associate Yourself With Big Brands
Tip: Build instant credibility by associating yourself with trusted institutions, even if you’ve never directly worked for one. Did any of your clients include Fortune 500 companies? If you worked at a startup, was it backed by notable venture capitalists? Were you featured in any major publications? Well-known brands shine when recruiters scan resumes so find a way to include them.
Strengthened relationships with 7 strategic partners (including Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble & Emirates Airlines) through follow-up meetings with senior leadership
Hired and managed 6 students from Penn and Yale including programmers, salespeople, and graphic designers
Collaborated with Zagat’s “Restaurateur of the Year” Stephen Starr to run a Philadelphia-wide Restaurant Week at 8 different venues
Reason: Authority is another one of Cialdini’s principles of influence. If you don’t have it, the best way to convey authority is by associating yourself with those who do.
Bonus Tip: for college students, an easy way to do this is by becoming a campus ambassador for a notable company. Check out The Campus Job for a quick way to find these types of “campus rep” positions.
6. Follow The “Rule of Seven”
Tip: Great resumes send a consistent message. They convey a personal brand. They make recruiters think, “this kid has done this before. If we hire him, he’ll fit right in.” To accomplish this, follow the Rule of Seven. Find buzzwords (and their derivatives) on the company’s website and repeat them seven times in your resume. For instance, when applying for marketing jobs, use verbs like “marketed,” “advertised” and “promoted” to describe your accomplishments. When applying to a startup, use verbs like “built,” “created,” and “initiated.” And so forth. If you’re really crafty, you don’t have to change much when tailoring to different jobs.
- For Marketing Job: “Marketed YouTube Campaign Video featuring CNN’s Larry King (9,400 views)”
- For Startup Job: “Created YouTube Campaign Video featuring CNN’s Larry King (9,400 views)”
(by the way, see how I dropped CNN in there? Everyone knows Larry King but CNN is another recognized brand that recruiters gravitate towards. Tip 5 in action.)
Reason: The old adage says customers must see an advertisement seven times before they take action. Apply the same thinking here. After all, your resume is the ultimate personal marketing tool. Make sure you position yourself properly so recruiters know you’re a fit.
Bonus Tip: One of the biggest missed opportunities is when people write “summer intern” on resumes. Stop doing that! Specify your role (ex: “marketing intern”). It’s another branding opportunity. Another way to fulfill the Rule of Seven is through your “relevant coursework” section (if you have one). When applying for a finance job, for example, list statistics and quantitative classes first.