Modesty Sucks.

Modesty Sucks.

by Kerry Scott on 1 July 2009


This post originally appeared on January 15, 2009.

It really does.

Lately, I’ve heard from a number of friends who have either lost their jobs or will soon. A few of them have asked me to review their resumes before they start sending them out.

Now, I live in the Midwest, where people tend to be self-deprecating. Wisconsin is, generally speaking, not a state filled with flashy people. These folks are raised to avoid tooting their own horn at all costs. The ones who fail to hide their light under a bushel move to places like New York, or LA, or someplace else where the culture is more accepting of self-promotion.

As a result, I have seven resumes I’m reviewing here, and five of them contain descriptions of people I barely recognize. Most of these are friends I worked with at one point or another, and I thought highly of their work. That’s how we became friends.

But when I read things like, “Responsible for the ____ department,” or “I work with managers to fill jobs,” well, no. That’s not going to work. Nobody wants to read your job description. They want to read what you achieved, what you overcame, what sort of difference you made to the client or the company. Language from your job description has no place on your resume, because you’re not supposed to describe your job. You’re supposed to describe yourself, in terms of what you achieved. That’s an entirely different thing.

I sent an email back to one friend, and asked him to tell me what he was most proud in each of the positions he’d held. He wrote back with some GREAT material. It was the kind of stuff that would absolutely make you want to hire him. Modest people, though, tend not to think in terms of what they’re proud of when they write resumes. Pride makes them uncomfortable. They tend to write about what they were responsible for, which is meaningless.

Modesty is a great trait in a friend and in a colleague. No one likes working with a egomaniac. But when you write your resume, you’re writing to someone who doesn’t know you, and may never know you if you don’t make them understand why they need to meet you. This is no time for modesty.

Think in terms of the three or four things that you achieved that made you most proud, in each job. Those are the things that belong on your resume.

Photo by Billy Rowlinson

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Sabrina July 1, 2009 at 11:26 am

Honest question here, what if you aren’t proud of anything? I mean I could put “managed not to kill those F’ers” which trust me, is an achievement beyond words that should win me an award, but still, isn’t something one would put on their resume. :)

Sabrina’s last blog post..Protected: Well that was short lived

Kerry Sandberg Scott July 1, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I’ve had one or two gigs where managing not to kill those f’ers was a HUGE achievement. But yeah, that’s probably not your top resume bullet point.

I’ve had people say that, but when I ask them to just tell me about the job, and then ask questions about this point or that one, we usually find something. Maybe you improved a form to make it easier, or got a nice letter from a customer, or helped quell some sort of unnecessary drama…there’s almost always something. For some people, it’s much easier to find something if they’re just talking through the experience with someone rather than sitting in front of a computer with a blinking cursor.

Sometimes, though, it’s just a job. We’ve all seen those resumes from people who worked at Subway and were called “Sandwich Artists.” I mean, you make sandwiches. That’s the job. If it’s a job like that, where there’s very little room to be individually fabulous, people will understand. Something like, “Custom made tasty sandwiches for customers,” and “Balanced cash register and handled nightly closing duties” is fine. Entry level folks have a lot more leeway on this type of thing. In fact, for fresh-out-of-college types, I look for alternative experience…volunteer work, student organizations, balancing work and school…anything that tells me that you’re smart and responsible.

This is why it’s good to keep track of your little victories while you’re in the job, on a regular basis. Once you’re leaving, it’s hard to remember them (and if it’s the sort of job where you’re proud mostly of not killing anyone, it’s even harder, because when you’re fleeing a sucky situation, pride isn’t one of your emotions).

Claire July 6, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Thanks for those extra tips for entry-level candidates. I wrote a cover letter I’m really proud of for I job I recently applied for, and I tried to highlight my accomplishments as much as possible. Even though they’re not anything too groundbreaking, I still took a lot of pride and joy in my internship and odd job responsibilities, so hopefully that comes across to the recruiter.

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