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!

Nick’s Reply

resume scriptIt’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?”

Reference: Get Hired: 3 steps to become the wired insider for the job

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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?

  1. It’s like two bookends.
    1 side is here’s my resume. Now figure out what you can do with me. The candidate may say..??? the job description says that. Not quite as I as the hiring may not nail down where I’d like to work in my unit until I meet you? And meeting you may change that. But…I may be looking a 10 look a likes.

    The other book end is…I’ve met you and or got a good briefing from someone I know…I know precisely where I think you’d fit in the unit…Now give me your resume as it’s a ticket to play in house.
    The 2nd is so much quicker & clearer. & there’s on competition.

  2. @Don: There are no other comments to date either because (1) everybody already gets it, or (2) nobody wants to deal with it. Getting to that manager via other people can be a task. But so is going to the gym. :-)

    • I suspect it’s #2. on reflection I realized I’d just finished a book that hits into this topic.
      What goes on in the job hunting space from both ends of the table has a lot to do with habits. people habits, org habits. If you’ve not read this give it a look. I think you’ll see common ground & grist for your mill

  3. I completely agree! As a job candidate, I’ve seen so many professionals get stuck in the ‘resume script’ trap, repeating the same talking points and lacking authenticity. It’s time to drop the script and let our unique experiences and perspectives shine through. Thanks for sharing this insightful post!