Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Sunday, July 26, 2009

General Principle No. 782: Résumés should reduce uncertainty

No, I haven't written 781 principles in previous blogs. This was another feeble joke on my part. I merely imply that many trees have laid down their lives so that people could write on the subject of résumés.

I wanted to say that I prefer to find general ideas that I can grok—i.e. have an intuitive understanding of—using an ordinary brain so that I don't have to understand millions of individual ideas one at a time. Let me see if this general idea appeals to you.

An employer seeking new employees faces a lot of uncertainties. To begin with, some employers repeatedly experience trouble in staffing certain positions, possibly because they lack certainty about what those positions entail on the part of encumbents. Employers are uncertain about certain aspects of their own criteria. Perhaps they ask for 'computer literacy' in candidates but what would that mean in practice? Employers are definitely uncertain about the veracity of claims made by applicants, and about whether an applicant would be a good 'fit'. A few employers may even wonder whether their own prejudices are defeating them.

One way of assessing the quality of a résumé is to consider whether it will reduce the uncertainty for a given employer. Notice especially here that I have conditioned that previous sentence. You cannot expect to reduce uncertainly uniformly for everyone. You try to reduce uncertainty for one employer: one job application means you create one résumé.

Now, apart from this, how would this principle be applied?

First of all, it is clear that is implies that it makes research into the employer really important. When you apply to a given employer you want to try to anticipate what that employer might be most uncertain about. Uncertainties might have to do with current business conditions, management knowledge about your own specialty, and so on. Find out and use the information.

At the other end of the scale, the principal explains why attention to detail is important. If you allow typographical errors to remain in your résumé you are leaving doubt in the mind of an employer. She might ask herself, "Are these typos here because this person is careless or poorly educated?" From my own perspective—as someone who thinks of Shakespeare as pretty smart but a poor speller—typos are just annoying and distracting. From the point of view of most employers they raise that all-important question mark—which is synonymous with uncertainty which is why you won't be invited for an interview.

Submit résumés that reduce uncertainty. In other words, be informative. And let me know what you think.


Ken Walker said...

I love the post. I agree. I also like the line, "that I can grok using an ordinary brain." Had to look up the word "grok" though.

Bill Bell said...

Thanks for your comment, Ken. I've indicated the meaning of 'grok' in the text for the thousands of readers who aren't geeks.