Thursday night, I watch “The Real Superhumans and the Quest for the Future Fantastic” on the Science Channel. The show profiled individuals with abilities that are incredible and verge on superpowers. It was very interesting. When the show started, several of the people profiled in the show were presented in 30 second teasers. The purpose of the teasers was to get the viewer excited about the show and motivate them to keep watching. It obviously worked with me.
The teasers were very similar to a cover letter, the executive summary on a resume, or the tell me about yourself answer in an interview. The first person the show presented was the Iceman. The teaser showed the Iceman running on a snow covered road wearing only shorts. He didn't have shoes, a shirt or a hat – just running shorts.
The teaser explained that the Iceman was running in Lapland, a location above the arctic circle. Let's look at the initial statement of the narrator:
It is January and the temperature is -26 degrees Celsius. This man has been running on ice and snow, barefoot, for over one hour. He does not have frostbite. He does not have hypothermia and he feels no pain. He has the power to live in the cold. To withstand temperatures so frigid others would die. He does this by willing himself to heat up.
Looking at this, the Iceman is positioned very clearly. The teaser leads off with an accomplishment. Running in freezing temperatures barefoot for an hour. This was presented to get attention fast. The teaser then explains the significance of the accomplishment – no frostbite, hypothermia or death. Finally, it gives an explanation of how he achieves these results – he wills himself to warm up.
When you write a cover letter or resume, you want to grab the hiring manager's attention quickly. Most people provide facts about their background, but little in the way of accomplishments. This is how most people would present the introduction to their resume.
Experienced at enduring cold conditions. 10 year track record of successfully running in cold weather. Able to warm up my body at will. Experienced swimming in near freezing water.
This teaser doesn't generate much interest. It's a set of facts that don't qualify the talent of this individual. A person in a polar bear club that runs around in a pair of shorts and then jumps in a local river for a few seconds every winter could have a similar start to their resume. The teaser in the show made it absolutely clear that the Iceman was far from ordinary – separating him from everyone else on the planet.
Another thing the teaser did was present the title of the individual – Iceman – before the teaser. This helped to create a single image of the individual that could be remembered. It is very helpful if you can generate a word or phrase in the mind of the hiring manager that they can use to remember you and your background. Something that symbolizes why you are exceptional.
If the teaser for the show was in fact a resume, cover letter or interview answer, it would go too far. I don't recommend giving yourself a nickname like the Iceman. Supply Chain Superstar, Manufacturing Man, or The Energetic Engineer would all come across very badly. What you need to do is create a picture of one or more accomplishments that is so clear and impactful that the hiring manager develops their own phrase to remember you.
Another noteworthy aspect of the teaser was the choice of people to profile. The Iceman was the first. There were other people in the program whose abilities are arguably much more impressive. So, why was the Iceman picked to be first?
The Iceman's ability and accomplishments were very easy to demonstrate quickly. Some of the abilities presented later in the show took several minutes to explain. They were too complicated to capture in a word or phrase. The Iceman, with just a nickname and a few sentences, could be presented very clearly.
This is a good lesson for your resume and cover letter. The most impressive accomplishment from your background may not be the best to present first. A less impressive accomplishment that can be read and understood very quickly could be more effective. The reason for this is the same as the reason the show had the teaser – motivate the hiring manager to read the rest of the resume. If the most impressive accomplishment is so complicated that the hiring manager doesn't understand it quickly, they may move on without ever getting it. This makes it completely ineffective.