In a comment you posted on last week’s column, you said we should not automatically give an employer our resume, even if that’s what they ask for. You said the resume script is the wrong “cognitive script.” I’m mystified. A resume is how the process of getting hired starts, right? Are we supposed to play coy? Make them beg? Please explain further. I get the feeling you’re somehow right, but resumes are like the ante in a poker game. If you don’t ante up, you’re not in the game!
It’s difficult for people to understand why, even when they’re asked for it, it’s usually best to decline to provide a resume.
What we do with resumes — our resume behavior — is guided by a cognitive script. A cognitive script is a well-worn sequence of behaviors that job seekers follow almost automatically. We don’t question it. We just do it because it’s a kind of play we’ve performed every time we want a new job. Everyone knows their role and doesn’t question or deviate from the sequence of actions.
The resume script
The eager job seeker really, really wants to hand over that resume. Doing so is almost a relief! “Just let me send my resume! I’m looking for a job, right? It starts with my resume, right?” But like any script, the next parts of the action are already written, and with a little reflection you’ll see the outcome is not good.
The recipient of your resume does their part of the resume script and automatically “passes it on” to someone else, usually HR. (You expected them to take it to the correct manager and pitch your candidacy? When is that ever a part of this script?) Your document goes into Resume Hell where it’s lost, or thoughtlessly deemed a “reject” by some unsophisticated clerk whose role in this script is to find reasons to reject as many resumes as possible. (Just following the script!)
This is the part of the resume drama you don’t see, while you fret over when to call to find out “Is there any interest?” Your resume is going round and round in the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), and that marks the end of this story. Meanwhile, you keep repeating the final line of the script: “Why is no one returning my calls?”
Drop the resume script and slow down
The problem with the resume script isn’t the use of a resume. It’s using it too soon. Slow down!
What’s hard for eager job seekers to understand is that handing over a resume too soon is the quickest way to a self-fulfilling prophesy: A resume almost never results in an interview or hire.
You know your odds of success are tiny, but you’re falling for one of the gambler’s fallacies: I can’t win if I don’t play, even if the odds suck.
So you toss your ante in the ATS pot – even though what works best is for you to get directly involved. That is, you must represent yourself personally. Don’t gamble. You have to meet and talk to those that have a role in hiring, not in resume processing.
Don’t play any part in the resume cognitive script. Most job opportunities go south because the job seeker takes no initiative. They let the resume speak for them, and ATSes are not good at listening!
A resume test
So what should you do? Here’s my test for whether it’s time to hand over your resume.
Ask yourself, does the hiring manager already know enough about you (say, from a trusted source that recommended you) that the manager could quickly write a brief outline of your resume?
If the answer is no, then the manager really has no basis for wanting to read your resume — much less to meet you. You haven’t done the proper prep work yet, which is to make sure the manager already knows you or about you. Most job opportunities go south because the your resume cannot defend you while HR (or the hiring manager) is scanning resume after resume for the average of six seconds.
If you haven’t invested the time to talk with people in the hiring manager’s circle (or with the manager directly) so that they will introduce you to the manager, then you’re using the wrong cognitive script. In the resume script, the hiring manager is gathering hundreds or thousands of resumes just to reject virtually all of them.
But if you do this right, the manager drops the resume script and thinks about just one candidate — you. The manager sees you, not the resume. At that point, the hiring manager already has a mental resume about you and needs your resume only in order to “fill in the gaps” — after already learning what’s most important about you from trusted sources.
That’s when it’s time to hand over your resume. That’s when the hiring manager will devote more than six seconds to read it, eager to learn more about you.
Be the wired candidate
No doubt you’ve encountered job applicants who seem to steal every job opportunity from you. They seem to have a special edge. They seem not to follow the normal rules or the resume script. You know them. When you get rejected, here’s what you say about them:
“I didn’t get the job because some other candidate was wired for it!”
And you’re right. The next time you pursue a really good opportunity, it’s entirely up to you to be the wired candidate. Don’t use the resume script that ends with the main character asking, “Why aren’t they returning my calls?”
Does job hunting feel like every time you send out your resume, you’re doing little more than gambling under lousy odds? Have you ever lost a good job opportunity to someone who was “wired for the job?” Have you ever “wired” yourself to win?