Show, don’t tell

Anyone who has taken a freshman composition course has probably heard of “show, don’t tell.” In fiction writing it means, for example, to let a character’s actions, appearance and speech explain their personality.

THIS: “Larry is lazy.”

OR THIS: “Instead of doing dishes, Larry has his bulldog Albert lick them clean. The ones Albert won’t lick, Larry throws away.”

What does this have to do with job hunting? Too many cover letters and resumes are filled with phrases like “well-organized” and “innovative” and “problem solver.” When you describe yourself like that, how does an employer know whether or not to believe you? Or whether your definition of “innovative” is even in the same ballpark as hers? They can’t – so your materials go immediately to the “no” pile.

So when you’re writing about your background, use examples of specific problems you’ve solved, obstacles you’ve overcome, and money you’ve saved previous employers. In other words, tell a story.

Taking the time and space on your job application materials for specific examples – stories – of what you’ve accomplished is an important aspect of convincing the potential employer that you have what they are looking for.

Think of it this way: you need to hire a plumber. You ask two friends to recommend someone.

FRIEND #1: You should go with Gene. He’s good.

FRIEND #2: Not only did Walter fix my toilet on a Sunday morning without charging me extra, he told me about a potential problem with my plumbing, probably saving me $1,000.

Which plumber would you hire?

So tell some stories. What projects did you shepherd through to success? How did you turn that problem into an advantage? What new ideas did you bring to your organization?

Also, job titles are all but meaningless except as content headings on a resume. Don’t let the job title speak for you – show them what that title really meant, especially to your boss. That’s what a prospective employer wants to hear, and that’s what will get you in the door.

Comments

  1. Wayne says

    I particularly liked “Show, don’t tell”. In all the pile of resumes I’ve seen throughout the years, 95% of them would use the same buzzwords without providing any concrete examples of what they did. You nailed the problem in your post.

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