I missed out on an incredible employee because of a bad resume, and the things he failed to include. It hit my inbox when I was looking for a manager to run my wine store. His experience wasn’t particularly relevant, the covering letter was generic, it just didn’t resonate. I didn’t even give him an interview.
It took me three months to work out that I actually knew him. He was a customer of the store’s, a really enigmatic guy, very intelligent and after my rejection, he landed a gig as a manager at a craft beer store in a neighbouring town which he singlehandedly grew into something rather amazing.
I’ve kicked myself ever since.
Too many resumes are boring. They say little else other than a list of education and experience, perhaps a gap year that looks like every other.
Yes, education and experience can be important (depending on the kind of job you’re going for).
But take it from this hirer and ex-recruitment consultant. Every resume we see has the same education, the same linear career progression, the same stuff. Because that’s what we asked for in the advertisement.
Very rarely do we see them include anything that signifies what the person behind the resume is like. Which, frankly, is very important because we’re going to work with that person, manage them, mentor them, socialise with them, and in some cases spend up to 50 hours a week with them.
Don’t just focus on your experience — we can glean enough information on that from your job title and the company you work for — after all, we were once you.
Instead, focus on your personality, because it counts for a lot. A 2016 study which explored personnel selection methods found that prior experience only accounts for predicting good job performance by 16%, whereas personality predicts up to 78%.
So let’s see yours.
Here are four unconventional things I love to see included on a resume — and one that would make me drop it in the nearest garbage can.
1. Career Gaps
Times have changed. Gaps in your working career are no longer a problematic indicator of someone who is flighty, or can’t hold down a job. 59% of working Americans have had a career gap at some point in their life, and thanks to Covid-19, redundancies are at an all-time high.
So long as I see something — anything — that you did with your time off that doesn’t include watching Netflix all day, that’s fine by me. Proactivity is a very attractive quality in an employee, in fact, it makes me positively weak at the knees. If you
- travelled and gained new insight into the world, it demonstrates a need to explore new ideas and concepts.
- took time out to spend more time with your family, an ailing parent, or to have kids, it demonstrates compassion.
- were made redundant but spent the time re-training, it demonstrates initiative and drive.
- began a business but it failed, it shows that you have balls.
- were furloughed but spent the time volunteering, it demonstrates kindness.
You may not be able to control a career gap, but you can control what you do with it. And that is what counts.
2. No Professional Experience
Granted, this depends on the sector you work in, but a lack of professional experience does not have to stop you from getting a job. You can turn your other experiences into a selling point and include this in your resume.
I work in wine. It is a vast, complex, difficult subject full of geography, history, chemistry and biology, and that’s before you get to the fun drinking bit. You’d think that I’d only want to hire someone with professional wine experience.
But one of the best hires I ever made was a young guy who came in off the street. He loved wine so he’d written a blog talking about what wines he could afford from the supermarket. Having no money to buy quality bottles, he went to tasting events where he could try hundreds of wines. He saved his birthday and Christmas money to put himself through a wine education course. He bought wine books from charity shops and listened to wine podcasts.
It didn’t bother me that he’d never set foot in a wine store before and had no retail experience because he demonstrated initiative and drive.
This is the Internet age, where you ever needed to know about a subject can be found from the comfort of your sofa. You no longer need to wait for someone to give you a chance, you can make one for yourself.
3. Side Hustle Gigs
If you have a side hustle, please, please include this on resume. I’m not going to think that you’ll be too focused on it to commit to my job. Rather I’m going to think that you’re creative, dedicated, brave — all things that all employers want in their employees.
It doesn’t matter what the side hustle is. If it’s:
Writing, I’m going to think that you’re meticulous, have imagination and attention to detail.
Selling online, I’m going to see that you have marketing and selling skills.
Making thing with your hands, I’m going to understand that you’re creative and practical.
Above everything else, having a side hustle shows that you’re focused and motivated which are two things everyone on their resume says they are, but rarely demonstrate.
Show me your side hutsle. You never know; I might be your next big customer.
4. Hobbies and Interests
If you like writing, reading, travelling, making model aeroplanes, running S&M clubs for your friends at the weekend, I want to hear about it.
The problem is — final example aside — hobbies and interests can sound pretty dull. We all like writing, reading and travelling right?
So get creative. How can you demonstrate in a different way to everyone else your hobbies and interests? If you write a blog about your chosen interest, give me a link. If you vlogged your travels, I want to see the videos.
Hobbies and interests round out a human being. They demonstrate meaning in someone’s life, something beyond working, sleeping and watching TV (but hey, if they’re your interests and you make it sound fascinating on your resume, I’m happy to listen.)
I don’t want a drone for an employee, I want a human being.
Don’t include — generic resume waffle
There are many mistakes you can make in the job application process. One is sending the seen-it-all-before resume. I see them coming a mile off. They start with ‘I’m a hardworking individual’ and the covering letter is a list of accomplishments that may or may not bear any relevance to the advertised job.
There are phrases that hirers like to play ‘resume bingo’ with:
- I’m a team player
- I can take initiative
- I’m capable of hitting deadlines
- I have strong communication skills
- I have good attention to detail
Ultimately, an employer wants an employee who solves a problem, not one who provides a list of generic skills. And if you can tailor your resume to demonstrate how you can solve a problem the company is facing, so much the better.
A social media executive could include a brief social media policy to improve engagement or a sample of Tweets and Instagram posts. A freelance copywriter could write a sample blog post or copy for the website. My husband once worked with a software startup who hired someone who had sent in a few lines of very elegant code to solve a problem he saw with their product.
So tailor that resume to within an inch of its life. Think about what problem this job is going to solve and demonstrate you can solve it before you even get to the interview stage.
Hiring the right person is so much more than just experience. The best employer/employee relationships are based on connecting personalities and shared visions.
They are also symbiotic. You spend a lot of your life working and if an employer isn’t interested in who you are, in what your life looks like outside the job, then you have to ask yourself if it’s somewhere you really want to work.
Covid has ushered in a new age of work culture, with more homeworking, flexible hours and freelancing than ever before. Which means the way we hire is changing too. The best companies are eradicating rigid hiring processes in favour of what Vaughn Tan in his book The Uncertainty Mindset calls ‘negotiated joining’:
“A process that uses open-ended roles … for creating more innovative teams that are also more adaptable, and resilient to uncertain futures.”
In other words, we’re looking more at an employee’s personality and their ability to fit into a team’s culture because, in our rapidly changing world, we need adaptability and flexibility more than we need a specific skill set.
What I have called ‘unconventional’ resume practices will soon be the new norm. And I for one am happy to see it. Just make sure your resume reflects it, and include many of the points mentioned above.