4 Words to Transform your Resume

In 2012, IBM asked 1709 CEOs what traits were most critical for their employees to bring value.

"Across industries and geographies, CEOs consistently highlight four personal characteristics most critical for employees’ future success: being collaborative, communicative, creative and flexible."

Traits CEOs look for in resumes

It reflects the commonly held views that, in today's quickly moving environment, we have to be team players that can adapt and innovate.

Great! So let's use these words once or twice on our resumes, to be more relevant and attractive as candidates... Right? Won't people in the know be astounded to see these 4 qualities pop up on a single resume?

Can you trust self-assessments?

No at all. Recruiters have known for a long time not to trust these hard-to-substantiate claims. Because people in general are terrible at assessing how good they are. And when you've been a recruiter for a while, it's pretty obvious. Problems in self-evaluations have actually been studied seriously. The phenomenon is called "illusory superiority" or the "above average effect".

At Stanford University, 87% of MBA students thought they were doing better academically than the median. And on the road, 80% to 93% of drivers think they're above average. Wikipedia has many more examples of inflated self-assessments.

Who would you hire?

Would you rather hire the "self-motivated IT security advisor who thinks outside the box" or the one who "created a process to identify new devices and alert the team within only 15 minutes of the device being connected to the network"?

How about the two following candidates? Would you rather meet the "proactive business analyst with strong communication skills", or the one who "managed small development teams working on ASP.NET and SQL2005 web properties".

While highlighting traits sounds vague and cliché, accomplishments, on the other hand, are very concrete and demonstrate value. Accomplishments feel like they can be trusted. They talk about what you did along with the results or value for the employer. But words like "creative" and "flexible" (and "strategic" and "results-driven") are a dime a dozen. They've become resume clichés and buzzwords, and recruiters will tell you that they still see way too much in one sitting.

You can find lists of resume buzzwords in this survey by CareerBuilder, or this analysis by LinkedIn.

And I'm not suggesting that you should find words that are not on these lists in order to stand out. I'm suggesting that you should pick one or two traits that define you and move on.

In the CareerBuilder survey, notice the popular words: achieved, improved, trained, managed, created, resolved... Yes, they are verbs. But not only that, they bring out value from the perspective of the employer. And that's what it's about.

It is about value for the employer

The idea isn't to find a way to plug these words in your resume. Since they're the words behind accomplishments, you need to make sure your resume talks about accomplishments as much as possible. If you do that, all the cool words should naturally "appear" on your resume. But really, it's the accomplishment itself that resonates with potential employers, not a certain combination of words.

The four words that will transform your resume

Alright. As promised, here are the four words that will transform your resume:

4 words to transform your resume

(Yes, the title was a trick. And yes, I think I'm being somewhat clever.)

Your resume is about accomplishments and results, not words and phrasing. Of course, if you want to show you're a good communicator, you definitely have to tighten your style. Your resume will shine if it's concise and clear. But no amount of writing talent will compensate for a lack of accomplishments.

Resume Hacking is a book series that was developed to help you write better accomplishments (which is usually how resumes can be most improved). Each book has examples that focus on one occupation. Check it out.