The Surprising Secret to Selling Yourself

There was a recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D that contests the conventional wisdom that a person’s track record of success (or a company’s, for that matter) is the single most important factor in determining whether or not they get hired. Many of us tend to think that we need to put most of our focus on proving our value in previous roles, when in fact, people tend to be much more interested in what we CAN do rather than what we have ALREADY accomplished.


From the artice:

… when we are deciding who to hire, promote, or do business with, it turns out that we don’t like the Big Thing nearly as much as we like the Next Big Thing. We have a bias — one that operates below our conscious awareness — leading us to prefer the potential for greatness over someone who has already achieved it.

A set of ingenious studies conducted by Stanford’s Zakary Tormala and Jayson Jia, and Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton paint a very clear picture of our unconscious preference for potential over actual success.

For candidates in the midst of a job search, this should be a wake-up call that the approach you (and almost everybody else) have been taking, may not be working that well.

… they found the same pattern when they looked at evaluations of job candidates. In this case, they compared perceptions of someone with two years of relevant experience who scored highly on a test of leadership achievement, versus someone with no relevant experience who scored highly on a test of leadership potential. (Both candidates had equally impressive backgrounds in every other way). Evaluators believed the candidate with leadership potential would be more successful at the new company than the candidate with a proven record of leadership ability. (Incidentally, if you ask the evaluators to tell you whose resume is more impressive, they agree that it’s the one with experience. They still prefer the other guy anyway.)

So is it still important to highlight major accomplishments and career achievements on your resume? Of course! However, this research re-emphasizes what we preach to clients every day – in order for the resume to do its job, you need to demonstrate the specific value you can bring to an organization and prove that there is still upside and room for growth that can be cultivated in the right environment.

All this suggests that you need a very different approach to selling yourself than the one you intuitively take, because your intuitions are probably wrong. People are much more impressed, whether they realize it or not, by your potential than by your track record. It would be wise to start focusing your pitch on your future, as an individual or as a company, rather than on your past — even if that past is very impressive indeed. It’s what you could be that makes people sit up and take notice — learn to use the power of potential to your advantage.

Dr. Halvorson hit the nail on the head.

The Rise of the Creative Resume

Over the last several years, there has been a massive increase in the use of artistic and creative resume designs. Graphic designers have actually opened up an entirely new niche by providing job seekers with unique designs that are meant to help them stand out from the traditional black and white text resume.

Picture courtesy of Loft Resumes

The question many people have about this new phenomenon is “do they really work?” The answer is a bit convoluted and it really depends on who you ask, but my official answer is yes…and no.

The Pros


  • They look really, really cool and definitely stand out in a pile of resumes.
  • For a designer, it is a useful example of your creativity.
  • It gives the impression that you’re taking the job search seriously.
  • It enables you to more easily cover up any perceived deficiencies.
  • You can draw the reader’s attention to very specific parts of the resume.


Because creative resumes are still a relatively new trend, designers who submit them now are able to capitalize on the initial “wow” factor that they have. In certain niches of the creative world, this type of resume may become the standard rather than the exception, so first-adopters may have the advantage. Unfortunately, these resumes do have their fair share of detractors.

The Cons


  • The design may keep them from passing applicant tracking systems.
  • Many HR managers feel they are over-designed and lack substance.
  • From a scannability perspective, they can be very difficult to read.
  • Editing or creating alternate versions could be a nightmare.
  • It loses effectiveness if everybody starts doing the same thing.
  • You lose valuable space to detail experience and accomplishments.


Anybody in human resources will tell you that they don’t expect to see a seismic shift in the way resumes are written any time soon. In order for a hiring manager or recruiter to adequately assess a candidate’s qualifications, they need to see a clear, easy-to-read summary of where the job seeker has worked and what they’ve been able to accomplish. Because applicant tracking systems are set up to scan text files, Word docs, and PDF’s, the creative resume will be limited to a small sub-set of the workforce and will work most effectively as a complement to a traditional resume.

Five Insanely Cool Creative Resumes

Vicky Frenkel – The Resume Shop

The French Press Loft Resumes


Orange Resume

Steve Pratt

When a Free Resume Critique Isn’t Really Free

If you google “free resume critique”, just under half a million results pop up. So clearly, there’s no shortage of options out there for people who are looking to get a little unbiased feedback on their resume, LinkedIn profile, or bio. Right? Wrong.


The vast majority of the companies out there offering free resume critiques have an agenda – they ultimately want you to buy their full (and usually overpriced) resume writing services. It makes sense. Resume writing companies make money by writing resumes – not by giving free advice, so they need to be sure that prospective buyers know that there are major issues with their resume and the only way to fix it is with a rewrite.

Some companies are much more unscrupulous than others. For example, at least one of the big job search sites uses ridiculous boiler plate templates to scare the bejeezus out of people. They will tell you people that your resume is the most worthless document they’ve ever seen and there’s no way you’ll ever get a call for an interview. Unless, that is, you pay upwards of $500 for one of their “professional” resume writers to handle the rewrite. This company is so shady that clients that did end up paying to have their resume redone, sent their new resume to the critiquer (without them knowing that their team had already rewritten it) and got the same critique that shredded the resume to bits and suggested paying for their services. Unbelievable.

I don’t want to label all resume writers as shady opportunists. Reviewing somebody’s existing resume is the most logical way to get new business, and many writers act in a highly ethical manner. I’ll admit that I used the same approach for years, but there’s one thing that I was always sure to do. If somebody wanted me to review their resume and I thought it was in pretty good shape, I told them so. And I usually gave them a handful of suggestions that they could use to make some improvements on their own. If they didn’t want to mess with it, I’d be happy to do it for them, but I always game them the option. Scaring people into signing up for our services was never my thing.

Five things to think about when getting a “free” resume critique:

1) What are the critiquer’s credentials? How long have they been in business and what do people have to say about them? The barrier to entry into the resume writing business isn’t very high, so make sure that you’re dealing with is unquestionably qualified to be giving you advice.

2) Does the critiquer give you big picture overview of what is working and what isn’t? Many times, reviewers focus on the negative aspects of the resume and fail to take a step back and evaluate the document as a whole. A good reviewer should be able to put themselves in the mindset of a recruiter or hiring manager and give you honest feedback if the resume is accomplishing its primary goal – positioning you for your ideal job.

3) Are you getting specific recommendations to improve the resume’s strategy, content, design, and readability?

4) Do they provide you with a professional design framework or samples from your profession/industry so that you can see what a professional resume is supposed to look like?

5) Does the reviewer cross-reference your resume with your LinkedIn profile, bio, or job search letters to ensure that you are delivering a consistent message across multiple platforms? Resumes don’t operate in a vaccuum any more, so a good reviewer will

If all you’re getting is a water downed evaluation along with a sales pitch that your resume needs to be written, I’d seek a second opinion before you spend the money to have somebody rewrite your resume.

The Truth About Resume Templates

I’ve seen more than a few resume writers who claim that they don’t use resume templates and that every resume is written completely from scratch. It’s a bit confusing to me because I don’t really see any benefit to not using a template. I have a dozen or so resume design frameworks that I use for about 90% of the clients I work with…because they work! It makes very little sense to start with a blank Word doc and just wing it, creating text boxes and experimenting with borders and fonts as I go along, because I know that I have a file full of “templates” that make the writing process much, much easier.


Imagine if your tax accountant told you that he wasn’t going to use some of the tried and true forms or worksheets to file your taxes. Or your home builder wasn’t going to build your home using plans for similar homes in the subdivision. I’d question their sanity because they’re making their jobs much more difficult than it has to be.

Now I can assure you that 100% of the content is completely unique and that the strategy in place to make the resume stand out is uniquely tailored to your specific background in goals. True professionals use tools…and know how to customize them appropriately for each client. Using a design framework saves time, and ultimately for the client, money. If I had to start each resume project with a blank Word doc, I’d have to double my prices because it would take twice as long to complete each project.

So if you ever hear a writer say that their firm doesn’t use resume templates. Ask why not.

What a Middle Reliever Can Teach You About Resumes

Recognize the guy in the picture above? Probably not, but we could all probably learn a thing or two from a guy who has a multimillion-dollar contract but only “works” about 80 hours a year.

randy choate2

Randy Choate is a left-handed relief pitcher for the Miami Marlins who is primarily called upon in the seventh or eighth inning of a close game to face one or two of the opposing team’s left-handed hitters. In other words, he is the epitomy of a specialist, and has made a career out of doing one thing extremely well. How have the Marlins rewarded this guy who may only pitch 60-70 innings per year? They pay him a salary of $1.5 million because they know that in the right situation, he is the best person suited for the job.

What in the world does this have to do with resumes?

Companies are looking for specialists – people who can handle specific functions and perform them extremely well. If your resume presents you as somebody who is a “jack of all trades”, you’re doing more harm than good. When applying to different positions, think about the one thing that they really want you to be able to do well, and make that the focus of your cover letter and the Summary of Qualification of your resume. Show them that your background and skill set uniquely position you to help with the problem that they need solved.

Now, I guess I should go back and say that with off-season work-outs, spring training, in-season practice, traveling with the team, sitting in the bullpen, etc., Randy Choate works way more than 80 hours a year. But come on, he’s a baseball player. Who pitches a max of 70 innings per year. And makes well over $1 million a year.