As a behavioral communications coach, I train clients to look for evidence that will help predict the future behavior of a candidate. As a hiring team, we key on three events to help in this phase of assessing a candidate’s qualifications; the resume/CV, conversations and the interview (and job negotiations for executives). Today’s blog will focus just on the resume and the next few blogs will touch on the other events.
“I,” “me,” “we,” “our,” “they,” “my,” and even “Dr.” for science types give hints about your social footprint. Obviously the resume is about you and you are selling yourself. But only a novice would really believe that the resume will be used just to focus on your scientific skills. Last time I checked, even scientists work with other people.
One of the first clues about HOW you work with people is your resume/CV (emphasis on “clue” because the resumes and CVs can be a product of the candidate or of a hiring coach). The pronouns on the resume are the first of several opportunities to assess your social acumen. Here are a few tips for the resume:
1. What is the social balance between self focus and team focus? To get your first social hint about the individual, just count the number of self-oriented pronouns (I, me, my, first name, Dr., or title) and the number of team or social pronouns (we, our, team, or group). I have seen resumes for executive positions to lead high-performing teams that did not have a single team pronoun; it was just all about “me.” Those candidates now have their first social red flag!
As a candidate with a red flag, you are already on the defensive as a possible “high social maintenance” person (better known as “a probable pain in the …”). The other extreme of no self focus is also problematic in that the hiring team will have to discover exactly what you have personally contributed with your skills. Balance is the operative word. There is no magic ratio of self vs. group/team pronouns.
2. How soon in the resume does some type of group pronoun appear and in what context? If there is not a group pronoun in the summary of qualifications (or whatever you use for your first paragraph), you are already headed for the bottom of the review stack to be looked at again only if we are short of candidates.
We are looking for hints of your ability to work in a team, cross-functional matrix, shared ownership, and any other social form that helps promote success of the group. We are not looking for “me” focused people no matter how brilliant.
Context is also important. When the only group pronouns we see are “and our team voted me star of the year,” that is not good! What we want to see is something like “our research team accomplished … and my role was as the …” type of language. Give credit and take credit – and watch your pronouns.
3. How important are other people to your success? “Our” and “we” are very powerful hints about your social intelligence. Is it “Our Company” or “The Company” as one example? Is it “Our research team”, “My research team” or “The research team”? All of these subtle social footprints impact the reader and set in motion a social judgment about what you are like to work with. Just ask yourself, would you want to work with the person in this resume/CV?
The resume/CV pronoun context is seldom the only reason for a rejection (but it does occur). It is more about how the phone conversations and interview questions will now have to discern your social acumen. If the hiring team can find a positive social context from your resume, then the conversations and interviews are used to confirm your sociability footprint and not to investigate or test “your social level of shared success”.