The Most Obvious Mistake You're Likely Making On Your Résumé

by Chloe Bower

Every time I look at the line on my resume that says, “proficient in Microsoft Office,” I feel like an assh*le. First of all, if I were a college student not proficient in Microsoft Office, graduation (and really even just functioning on a daily basis) would be beyond a tremendous feat. Second of all, who would apply for a job that requires working knowledge of computers without proficiency in one of the most common software suites in the digital universe? No one.

Yet, I’m hardly the only person to make the silly mistake of promoting myself as being proficient in Microsoft Office. Of all the hundreds of skills you can possibly add to your profile on LinkedIn, and with hundreds of millions of users on LinkedIn, Microsoft Office ranks as the #2 most popular skill. If you’re adding it to your profile, you’re pretty much differentiating yourself from... well, no one. Worse than that, you're suggesting that you don't have any skills more commendable than that to boast about.

Now, the point of this little rant isn’t to make you feel like an assh*le. Rather, it’s to remind you of the mission of a resume or cover letter (or even LinkedIn profile): to tell a story that positions you as uniquely qualified for a job. Space is precious, and you shouldn’t be wasting it doing anything other than that. Your resume and cover letter are an integral part of building your personal brand. If there’s anything in these communications that can be assumed, it’s not painting you as unique. Delete it now, and start writing your story.

The newest version of my resume (and the one that scored me my current job) says I’m interested in mobile technology, 90s’ hip-hop and attempting recipes from Pinterest. The cover letter I applied with included a “by the numbers” section with my Klout score, Foursquare badges and Apple product count. These are the things that make me, me, and while I can’t claim it’s foolproof, it worked. It may seem light-hearted and irrelevant to list these items, but the point is, they’re all part of telling my story. Applying your character and telling your story in the larger parts of your application are crucial, as well.

In your cover letter, instead of re-listing your prior jobs, think of an experience you had, a challenge you faced, or a problem you solved that proves you can handle the position you’re applying for. Tell that story. If you’re applying to be a community manager, it would be a lot more impressive (and memorable) if you go into detail about how you helped grow a company’s Facebook page from 200 likes to 2,000, using paid advertising targeted to a specific audience, rather than just saying you were a community manager in your last position.

Just as politicians talk about their policies, saying how they will affect “Jim, a father I met in Oregon,” you should make your job communications as personal. This will be the best way to connect with people and make them feel connected with you, whether for landing a job or winning an election.

Similarly, rather than hollowly claiming you’re something like “a hard-worker,” use a story to prove it. Tell of a time when your hard-worker mentality paid off, when being a team-player led to results or how you’re so passionate about this type of work, you do it for fun. Back up your buzzwords with substance.

More than ever, companies are hiring for personality fit, just as much as they are for skill. Prove you have both by telling your story. Not only will it make you seem like a better candidate, it can also make you stand out from the hard-working, team-playing, Microsoft Office-using competition. And if you’re wondering, I feel a lot better after removing that skill from the list on my résumé. (P.S. I did write this in MS Word. I swear.)

Photo Courtesy: HBO