Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Avoiding one of the commonest resume mistakes – the self-evaluation trap

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 11, 2010

Early in my series Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development I decided not to include a guide on how to write a resume per se, as there are so many resume prep books out there. I have reconsidered that a number of times and have written postings that touch on specific aspects of resume preparation, and this is another posting drafted in that vein. Actually, the mistake I want to address here shows up in cover letters as well as in resumes, and it is probably most common in those all pervasive, open to the public resumes we post on business networking sites as our online networking profiles. And the problem here is in use of adjectives and nouns and particularly in use and overuse of adjectives and nouns of self-praise.

“X is expertly knowledgeable about all aspects and facets of gizmo production and is in fact as one of the true visionaries of the gizmo industry as a whole. He is a true paragon of gizmo expertise and is the one person to turn to when you need to design, produce, package, distribute or sell premium gizmos, or manage their after-market servicing and upgrades.”

This comes across a bit differently when a third party observer says it than it does when Mr. X says it about himself in a summary component to his LinkedIn profile, third person writing and all. And any evaluation that a prospective hiring manager or HR department screener is going to conclude from this self evaluation is going to be colored by their experience with self-evaluations per se.

Experienced HR staff members and certainly experienced HR managers and directors quickly learn to downplay the value of self-evaluation. When you ask employees to self-evaluate their performance in job performance reviews, correlation between what they say about themselves and what outside evaluation would show can be fairly poor.

• Lowest performing employees often do not know enough to realize what they do not know, and can be equally unaware as to what really effective performance would entail for their job so they can over-rate their skills and on the job performance. On a one to five scale they will often score themselves pretty highly, and pretty consistently.
• The very best employees with real expertise see where they could do better, and where they may have missed opportunities to do so. They will take a more nuanced approach and while they will not rate themselves poorly, they will not give themselves highest possible ratings either.

Self-evaluation can end up giving the lowest and highest performers essentially the same scoring distributions.

Writing about yourself in the third person in a resume or online business profile does not make your document look more objective.
Self-praise as such does not help and can raise awkward questions.

So how do you present yourself as the best choice if you are highly skilled and still avoid this trap?

Quantify what you do, and using metrics that have meaning and that demonstrate value to your intended target audience. Bullet-point your performance in ways that others can judge your effectiveness on and let them say you are an expert and a star performer.

• Select your examples of success with your audience in mind, adding in the types of detail that would most effectively connect to what they would want you to do for them and their business.
• Include those bullet points in the short list of details you add for the jobs in your work history that you are highlighting. (Remember that quality trumps quantity here as brevity makes reading easier for that harried, time starved hiring manager or screening reviewer.)
• Leave out the “responsible for” and similar bullet points that simply indicate you did the things on the job description and focus on your bottom line results and your overall contribution to the business for having held that position.
• Then let your reader draw their own conclusions as to your value with that business in your resume, and your prospective value to their own if they hire you too.

Don’t short sell yourself – leave off your own superlatives. Write your resume to prompt your readers to supply the superlatives for you.

4 Responses

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  1. hemenparekh said, on March 12, 2010 at 12:36 am

    Most jobseekers depend upon expert resume writers which is a sensible thing to do. Such professionally prepared resumes stand a better chance of catching a recruiter’s attention.
    But it is no more enough to catch attention
    A resume must succeed in amazing any recruiter by being interactive .
    In a resume, a recruiter should be able to find additional information about a candidate by
    viewing analytical graphs rather than reading
    clicking on knowledge , skill related keywords
    clicking on Candidate Name, Birth date, City location
    You will find this at CustomizeResume
    I will appreciate suggestions for further improvements.
    hemen parekh

    • Timothy Platt said, on March 12, 2010 at 11:08 am

      Hi Hemen and thanks for bringing up a very important point in your comment.

      You are right that many job seekers turn to professional resume writers and I agree that this can help. At the same time I would offer a cautionary note that you want to know the success record of others who have used a resume preparer’s services. If at all possible, show someone you know who has been in the position of hiring manager a draft version of your resume and ask them if they see this as an effective tool for helping you get through the door and into an interview. Then decide from there as to whether you want to use this resume, modify it or move on.

      I would add one other very important note here. You want this to be your resume and to accurately reflect you and the best you can bring to that interviewing table. Sometimes the professional resume writer, walking into this assignment without really knowing you in detail, presents your case effectively and in a way you can convincing argue represents you. I have also seen professionally drafted resumes that were clearly not written by the job applicant.

      This might sound like a really unlikely situation, but ask the professional resume preparer if they have written a lot of resumes for people who would most likely be sending them to the same places you would send them. You do not want that resume reviewer, HR or hiring manager, to smile and nod as they find themselves reading familiar, boiler-plated prose they have seen in other resumes too. I have actually seen that happen.

      So use a professional resume writer’s services if you must but make sure that you learn from them how to do this better yourself – if for no other reason than the fact that you want your verbal pitch in that interview to mesh with the resume and cover letter that the interviewer has in front of them. And good luck in your search,

      Tim Platt

  2. Timothy Platt said, on March 13, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    I have been thinking about your comment, Hemem, and wanted to comment in reply on a detail I set aside in my first reply back to you. Recruiters are gatekeepers for a portion of the job market but even if you are targeting a job that a recruiter is working on, you still want to write your resume with the hiring company in mind and not the recruiter.

    I have written about recruiters and what they do in other postings in my Guide to Job Search and Career Development series and recommend you review that as a resource for better understanding and working with recruiters. For now, I will simply add that you should not write your resume specifically for recruiters unless you are looking for a position with a recruiting agency. And then you will want to specifically target consignment or retained, or what ever core business model type your target company follows, and you need to indicate you understand the difference. – that you are an industry insider.

    Tim Platt

  3. […] • Avoiding One of the Commonest Resume Mistakes – the Self-Evaluation Trap. […]

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