Posted: February 23, 2009
You are not your resume
Introductions are the key to job-search networking - not resume passingBy Liz Ryan
When I was very young - too young to be cutting school and hopping a bus to Manhattan to catch a Broadway show - a friend and I did just that. We went to see "A Chorus Line" on Broadway, to learn for ourselves what the fuss was all about. I remember lots about that show, including my consternation at arriving at the Port Authority bus terminalto catch my bus back to the 'burbs and spotting my father in the line just ahead of me. One of the things I remember vividly about "A Chorus Line" is the scene where the young dancers hold up their headshots in front of their faces. The show, of course, revolves around the angst of young Broadway wannabes during an audition process. A line in one of the songs asks "Am I my resume?"
We can ask the same thing of ourselves, thirtysome years later.
Most of us would have no trouble answering the question, "Who (or which) is more impressive - me in person or my resume?" Most of us would say "I am." It's hard to put a career's worth of accomplishment, of creativity, of talent and style on paper. It's nearly impossible. It's not just the nuts and bolts that make resume writing hard. Tone is a huge consideration. We shoot for gravitas and come off sounding pompous. We add a bit of zing and verve, and end up sounding like leftover dot-communists. Resume writing is no joke. Pinpointing our signal accomplishments, nailing a warm and human tone without becoming flip and bringing our most impressive attributes to the fore - these aren't trivial pursuits. It's no wonder that some of us tinker with our resumes incessantly. We're searching for that elusive adverb or one more pithy bullet point to bring me-on-a-piece-of-paper to life. It's taxing.
Here's what I wonder. When we know that our resume doesn't make half the impression we do - when we know that in person, we can tell our story much more convincingly than we can on paper - why do we still, so often, send our resume into the void and ask it to the heavy lifting for us? Many of us are stuck in a 1980's, pre-networking job search mode that valued above all the pivotal moment in time when a Certain Somebody took hold of our resume. That world is gone. That moment has less heft and less import than it ever did. What we need today in our job searches aren't hand-to-hand or e-mail-to-e-mail resume passings. We need introductions. We need phone conversations, face-to-face conversations and LinkedIn correspondences.
And still we toss that resume around. I receive about twenty unsolicited resumes per day. I always feel bad about getting them. What am I supposed to do with them? "If you hear of anything in my area of expertise, please pass my resume along" goes the typical note accompanying one of these vagabond resumes. Let's deconstruct the situation to see why the request, sincere as it doubtless is, makes no sense whatsoever. First, I'd have to open the stranger's resume in order to know his or her area of expertise. Yet every screen in view, at home and abroad, screams "Don't open attachments from strangers." Let's say I take the risk and open the resume. I scan it. What do I retain? Joe Blow is a sales-and-marketing guy (there's no such thing, but I keep getting resumes from this sector, regardless) and Jane Doe is a results-oriented marcom person. So far, so good. Now, what is the process whereby I retain the information about Joe and Jane; match it up with job openings that may cross my desk; and then - here's the really big breakdown - write to the person with the job opportunity to say "Here is the resume of Joe, whom I've not had the pleasure to meet"? Same with Jane. Wherefore am I recommending these folks when I know next to nothing about them? Who would do that? No one would. This is why sending your resume to a person you've not met or conversed with, asking him or her to forward it as appropriate, is folly. It doesn't work, and I hate to say it, but it's also impolite.
If we want to move the job-search ball down the field, we need people not to have simply scanned our resumes. We need them to know who we are, what we're good at and what we're looking for. That's why the best networking starts with your inner circle and proceeds outward. Your friends will make introductions for you. Those introductions are golden. Coffee-dates, lunches and breakfasts will follow. As people feel good about you (that's you, not your skills, not your resume) they may make additional introductions for you. People make introductions when they trust and respect a person for his or her thinking, values and worldview. If you spend a lunch or coffee offering up an audio version of your resume, the thinking/values/worldview piece may never come through. On top of that, most networkers don't like to be treated as means to an end. If at least half the coffee conversation doesn't revolve around the person you're meeting, you won't have created the glue that might lead to another meeting, or something even better.
It's important to spend time on a resume that tells your story, but it's even more important to remember that the story behind the story is Joe, the Guy or Jane, the Woman. No two-page document will ever convey what's wonderful and impressive about you as well as you will, yourself. When you've got a choice between having a conversation and getting your resume into a new person's hands, always choose the conversation - no exceptions. Every Broadway chorus member learns that what directors most recall and value about them has less to do with singing and dancing than one might expect. As in the business world, reliability, good judgment, warmth and good humor count for a lot. When people around you - friends, ex-colleagues, bosses and new contacts you're accumulating - like and love you, it's less for the deals you've made and the products you've launched than for less tangible and far more fundamental things. Your resume will try but won't ever get those attributes across, but you will. So what are you waiting for?
Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR exec and an advisor to organizations and job-seekers. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.asklizryan.com.