Four Resume Tips for Human Beings

Disclaimer: I am not a certified, highly-trained, professional resume writer. I don’t write material so that its metadata can be recognized by machine code and spat out for eventual downstream HR glances.

Instead, I advocate writing human. You know, being clear about who you are and what you want.

People hire people, not keywords.

If you want to be hired by humans, I’d suggest that you write your resume for humans. <—-(tweet this)

Having nearly choked dozens of times reviewing resumes and LinkedIn profiles that are so obscured by vagueness and jargon that they are incomprehensible, I decided to create a sample “How Not-To” resume for one Phineas Fogg – enjoy:

Click to read full Phineas Fogg resume

Now, let’s get out of the Fogg. Here are 4 tips for making a more human self-presentation:

1. Have a very clear objective. Don’t go fishing for just any kind of job with obscure language like, “Driven business leader with proven track record of increasing profitability and sustainable growth by leveraging thought leadership and strategic real-time business execution…” What does this type of jargon mean? Precisely nothing – it’s generic commodity language. How about this: Seeking to help a small start-up grow to the next level by heading up all facets of software development operations (and then showing, in the rest of the resume, why and how you are ideal for this role). Now we know where you’d best “fit” – what you do, what type of company will most need your skills, and what area of responsibility is ideal for you. It’s up to YOU to know what you’re after – don’t expect the marketplace to define your best role.

2. Tell a clear story. Once you know what type of position you’re seeking, re-frame the outline of your skill sets and past positions to reinforce the “story” of how you got to where you are, and how the position you seek is the next logical advance. By this, I don’t mean that you make stuff up – I mean that you should underscore the particular strong suits and accomplishments from past roles that highlight your chosen direction. Show progression in a clear direction; don’t just seek to win a bullet-point listing contest. If you did operational tasks as well as some marketing and a bit of sales and account management, don’t treat those as co-equal facets. Let the advances in operations be at the forefront – that’s the story you’re trying to tell.

3. Less is better. People only have so much time to scan a resume or LinkedIn profile. You really have only 5-10 seconds to grab attention. By listing 43 skill sets, 17 personality profiles, 63 achievement awards, and overly florid descriptions of every task you ever undertook for each employer, you’re committing Job Search TMI (Too Much Information). Get to the point and streamline. Trying to say too much means that you are desperately hoping to get someone’s attention somewhere, instead of pro-actively putting the spotlight where YOU want it to be. Here’s a bad example:

Phineas is experienced in:

  • B2C & B2B Marketing
  • Strategic Planning
  • Tactical Execution
  • Business Development
  • Clinical and Consumer Research
  • New Product Development
  • Cross-Functional Team Development
  • Contract Negotiations
  • Database Programming
  • Change Management
  • Inspiring Leadership
  • Matrix Management
  • Visionary Thinking
  • Coaching/Mentoring/Leadership
  • Crisis Management

You’re not helping me here (and you’re not helping yourself). What this list tells me is that you’ve done a bunch of things, and you don’t know what you want next. Since I am not looking to hire a jack-of-all-trades, don’t position yourself as one.

4. Get rid of jargon. Biz-speak jargon is the plague of resumes. But also, be careful about using obscure industry-specific jargon and acronyms. You’re so used to referring to DDMAC, that you assume all your readers will understand. They won’t. You pride yourself on “re-organizing the marketplace to catalyze and scale new economic systems”? Great – save that for your geeky friends. Be sure your profile passes the human being test – have a few members of the unbaptized read it and see if they understand what you’re saying, and eliminate phrases that don’t get to the point. Your main job is to communicate your value in terms regular people can understand, not obscure it via overuse of insider-speak.

Those are my four tips. What are yours? Please feel free to add them in the comments!

If you’d like to receive brief, to-the-point tips on making yourself clear, subscribe to the Clarity Blend e-newsletter (see sidebar, above right)——>  You’ll receive a free copy of my e-book. Make Yourself Clear: Six Steps to De-Fogging Your Direction and Your Message.


  1. Steve,

    Are you sure you’re not a certified professional resume writer? You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head with the critical points in creating a resume that will pass the human eyeball test.

    What should drive the content of a resume is the knowledge of your target employers current needs, what they’re looking for in candidates like yourself, and positioning yourself as their best-fit candidate.

    This can only be done by researching those target companies, to pick up the relevant keywords so necessary in any career marketing communications, and identify the challenges those companies face that you are uniquely qualified to help them overcome.

    Great post!

    • Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time, right Meg? :>}

      • You got that right, Steve.

        Another reason identifying target companies and researching them at the start of a job search is so important — you need to conduct due diligence to be sure you’re focusing on employers who are a mutual good fit. It works both ways.

  2. Steve’s advice is worthwhile even if one is not actively looking for a new role but instead uses LinkedIn as part of their marketing message.

    As a recruiter, I rely on my LinkedIn profile to attract the attention of potential clients and candidates and have been working to add clarity to my profile over the past six months; many profiles of recruiters at competing offices fail to meet the “Clarity Test”. The response rate to my outgoing messages has improved since I re-worked my LI profile. Though I have more room for profile improvement, using the tenets of Clarity Therapy on LinkedIn have helped with my messaging.

  3. Totally agree about the industry-specific jargon. I tell clients that they need to remember that often a junior person or outsourced company will do the initial resume screening. That individual may or may not have any personal knowledge about the industry or specific job function. You may have a 24-year-old screening your resume, if you are lucky enough to have a real human review it at all. I had a client start laughing when I said this because his son was 24 and doing exactly that in a new position. I felt validated 🙂

  4. It’s genius. Dripping sarcasm along with fact. “What this list tells me is that you’ve done a bunch of things, and you don’t know what you want next. ” Brilliant.

  5. Steve, this is so needed. No matter how many articles are out there about speaking like a human being, us human beings sure have trouble doing just that. Thank you for bringing this up.

    I got so tired of seeing meaningless resumes that I also wrote a blog post about it, practically begging people to go fix those resumes. See what you think of my repair checklist:


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