Individuality in a Job Search

Individuality is a characteristic we value greatly. Whether we are seeking our 15 minutes of fame, expressing ourselves through fashion or are proud of a small quirk in our personality, we are all unique and, hopefully, proud of our individuality.

Then, we start a job search and become automatons – little more than cardboard cutouts of robotic workers.

What happened?

In a culture of individuality, the resumes I read every day and the interviews I conduct look and sound the same. Occasionally, I find someone that breaks out of the mold to show me something unique about them. I’m not talking about their passion for fly fishing, an interest in translating ancient sanskrit or their record in competitive clog dancing competitions. These interests are unusual but I have seen all three on resumes at one time or another.

The unique, mold-breaking presentation that stands out on a resume or in an interview comes from a job seeker that understands and communicates some action they took in their career that led to an exceptional outcome. It is this experience, a demonstrated accomplishment delivering value to the organization, that sets a person apart.

There are job seekers that differentiate themselves with specific accomplishments.  In fact, this is much more common than details of a person’s clog dancing on their resume.  The probably is that many job seekers do not list accomplishments. We have completed two resume benchmarking surveys.  In 2008, our resume research indicated that more than a quarter of experienced job seekers failed to list a single accomplishment on their resume.  In the resume research report we issued yesterday, we found more than half of transitioning military personnel failed to list an accomplishment.

The Typical Resume

The typical resume is laundry list of responsibilities. There may be a  few accomplishments thrown in, but for most job seekers, the focus is on responsibilities.  The job seeker details all of the basic day to day tasks the position requires.

For some positions, the list of responsibilities can be quite impressive. A Fortune 500 CEO, a Brain Surgeon or an Astronaut all have demanding jobs with responsibilities that are tough to fathom. Despite this, there are 500 Fortune 500 CEOs, there are over 3400 brain surgeons nationwide, and by comparison, the 86 active NASA Astronauts are a very elite group.

Now, if you are hiring a person for one of the these three roles, would a list of responsibilities set these individuals apart from their peers? The responsibilities might do a little to separate candidates. If you want an expert in performing surgery on brain cancer, a specialist in spinal injuries might not be ideal, just as a space shuttle pilot might not fit a role requiring a specific mission specialist background. Beyond that, the responsibilities do little to separate candidates.

The Interview

In an interview, most candidates expect to talk about their experience, in other words, they describe their responsibilities. Often they do this in very general terms. The result is a confirmation and fine tuning of the information on the resume, but the candidates do little to set themselves apart.

Imagine the resumes of the five living U.S. Presidents, Carter, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama. Serving as President may be the highest level of responsibility possible today. A listing responsibilities would be incredibly impressive. Managed a budget in excess of a trillion dollars – leader of the free world – commander of the most powerful military on the planet. This is big stuff. Would you consider all five of these individuals as automatons that could be interchanged without a difference in performance?

How to Be Different

The key to demonstrating your unique potential is showing what you have done. It is your the presentation of your accomplishments that will make you standout. Your competition will have the same experience you do. In fact, they probably have more experience. You can still land the interview and get the job offer. The key is showing what you are capable of doing by showing what you have done in the past.