Every few weeks I come across an article on Pinterest (or listicle, if it’s Buzzfeed) that provides examples of resume formats that help applicants “stand out.” “25 Resume templates that you’ll want to steal” or “Watch design turn this resume from hack to hired” or… whatever. You get it. Whenever I see them, I get frustrated and want to yell at the editor. Because yes: colors, cool design elements, and charts will definitely help you personalize your resume, but they might not be industry appropriate. In this post, we’ll talk about how to stand out when your industry doesn’t allow for such overt creativity.
For creative jobs, you should absolutely have a nontraditional resume. Those employers will appreciate the effort and skill involved in creating your unique document. In such industries it’s expected that applicants will come in with a brand, so it won’t be off-putting to HR. (Unless your brand sucks.) More conservative fields like law, financial services, and accounting would scoff at a resume that was in a non-standard format. I’ve heard stories of banking recruiters pulling out rulers to ensure that all of the margins are the same width… so yeah, no fancy-shmancy resumes allowed!
Still, people seeking to enter these industries should try to stand out. Your resume shouldn’t be completely devoid of personality, you just need to do it in the content rather than formatting. (And even if you can have cool formatting, this should not exist in lieu of killer content. Don’t ever think a dope font will make up for no experience!) Many resumes for these industries – especially those of recent college grads – look exactly the same. Same majors, same coursework, same activities. There could be differentiated by school attended, but often that’s it. I meet with so many clients who are concerned about getting off the proverbial pile – “How can the recruiter remember me if I look the same as everyone else?” And I have the same advice for all of them: Focus on ‘the human quarter.’
But… wtf is that??
TBH, I probably made up the term on the fly somewhere in my career, but it makes sense if you think about it. The human quarter is the end part of your resume, after your work experience section, where you share your extracurricular involvement, volunteer activities, skills, and interests. I call it the human quarter because it is 1) roughly a quarter of your resume (if it’s a one-pager) and 2) it is where you can show who you are outside of your education and work experiences. Show that you have a life. Show that you have interests and activities outside of the ones required for the job. Show that you’re a human, not an industry robot.
The skills and interests part is pretty straight forward. For skills, you write out the things you’re good at and qualify your level of expertise in each one. There is no limit to the number of skills you can have, but you do want to be strategic. Make sure…
1) The skills are either relevant to or a value-add for the job you’re applying for. Reference the job description for the ones they are looking for and if you have them, write them down. Then think about the skills that you have that aren’t referenced but you believe would be attractive for employers. For example, if you’re applying for an editorial assistant job at an online publishing company, adding skills in SEO and Google Analytics would be great. Even if they’re not asking for it, those are valuable skills to have in your industry.
2) You only include hard skills that you can prove you have. Things like “strong communicator” and “hard worker” are soft skills that should not be in a skills section. Instead, they should be discussed (or at least implied) by the way you describe your experiences.
3) You’re honest about your skill levels because you never know if you’re going to be tested. When in doubt, downgrade. Write the level just below the one that you think you have. Therefore, if someone questions you, you over-perform rather than under-perform.
The activities part depends on where you are in your life. For this section to be effective, you have to be involved in things. If you’re still in school, this is super easy. Join clubs, go to their meetings, get involved in an activity or two (bonus points if you hold a leadership position) and write it down. Easy-peasy. You’re a human. When you’re a working professional, it becomes significantly more difficult to make this part meaningful. Depending on the combination of your location and interests, there may not be a lot of opportunities for this. If this is the case, you need to be get creative. Sites like Meetup.com are great for finding productive activities to engage in. Also, local (and virtual) chapters of national organizations could provide a way to connect with groups who are doing things that you care about. Finally, volunteer projects, whether formalized or just you stepping up, is a great way to fill in this section.
In addition to showing employers that you care about things other than your job, the human quarter of your resume also shows that you have concrete ways to switch gears from work. This is really important in demanding industries where employee burnout is a major concern. Contrary to the popular idea that companies want workers to commit their entire existence the company, more and more employers have recognized the value of allowing their employees to lead full lives. They know that you can be great at your 9-5 while having a completely different 5-9. Therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid to show personality and humanity on your resume because any employer worth their salt won’t be offended by it. And if they are, then you should think about whether or not it’s a place that you even want to work.
Now practice! Download the workbook Resume Writing Workbook and use it to write the perfect resume. It’s an interactive PDF, so you can fill it in without printing it! Super dope, right? Right.