It takes a hiring manager just a few seconds to look at your resume and decide whether or not they like you enough to want to meet you. That’s precious little time to stand out and convey not just your professional skills but who you are.
Nailing that challenge means striking a careful balance: You want to show you’ve got what it takes to actually do the job but also that you have the soft skills–and personality–to make you someone the hiring manager and the rest of the team will enjoy working with. Here are a few dos and don’ts.
You already know you need to load up your resume with keywords to describe your experience, education, and technical skills–to show you’re a match for the ins and outs of the role’s daily duties. But there’s much less advice out there on how to share your passions with hiring managers: Which ones reflect positively on you as a person? Which seem irrelevant? What comes off as unprofessional?
While experience, skills, and education will help you complete your assigned tasks, this trio isn’t enough to keep you motivated day in and day out. And even if only in the back of their mind, the hiring manager knows that.
So it’s up to you to offer a glimpse of the deeper factors driving your career: What are your professional passions: What motivates and inspires you to go into work each day? Is it the thrill of the unknown that accompanies startup life? A love for seeing children learn and grow? Giving back to your community?
Weave this into the bullets underneath each role on your resume, connecting a few of your key accomplishments with a sense of why those wins matter to you in the first place.
We all want to work with people we get along with. It’s a plus if they have similar (or at least interesting) hobbies as well; sports, travel, and board games are all safe bets and easily relatable for most folks, but you may think they’re totally irrelevant on your resume. They aren’t.
Even if it’s in one line at the bottom, mentioning a few of these hobbies shows you’re a well-rounded person who has interests outside of work. Personally, I love seeing applicants who are involved in extracurricular activities that promote community building, self-care, and well-being. And Deloitte researchers even found that volunteer work is among the most underrated job skills that candidates leave off of their resumes to their own detriment.
Full confession: I drink three (okay fine, sometimes four) cups of coffees a day. That may sound like overkill to some, but the simple truth is that I’m a coffee lover! So I share this on my resume because, well, many people like coffee, even if they don’t drink as much of it as I do. At a very minimum, they can relate to those who are well-caffeinated, and it’s a simple way to touch on my personality without getting too personal.
So those are a few things you should consider using to liven up your resume. Here’s how to what to avoid:
While adding personality to your resume shows hiring managers that you’re a person and not just an employee, there’s a whole category of information that can open you up to discrimination. Known as “protected class” information, these are the aspects of your identity that have no bearing on your fit for a given position and should be avoided–like signs of your age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, and disability status.
Obviously, there’s still plenty of information that can hint at these things anyhow, like your name or if your alma mater is a women’s college, for instance. So unless an employer or recruiter is using a system to cloak bias-prone data in order to create a fairer hiring process, there’s not much you can do about that. On the other hand, any personality-revealing tidbits you do want to add can still show off who you are and what you care about.
Unless you work in select entertainment industries, like as acting or modeling, where your physical appearance is tied to the job, headshots or any other images of yourself are a no-go. Similar to protected class information, this needlessly opens you up to discrimination.
And while it may sound like an obvious “don’t,” the temptation to share images might be greater than it was a generation ago, before LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram existed. But even if those profiles are all public, it’s still best to leave headshots out of your application materials. Wait until the interview for them to see what you look like.
Hot-button issues are also to be avoided, unless you’re applying for a position in political advocacy or some other cause-related work. You can still show off your personality without mentioning politics, religion, sex, or anything else that’s typically taboo. You may feel it’s important that a prospective employer shares your core values (and you’d be right!), but the better place to suss that out is in a job interview.
Remember: Your main job is to attract a hiring manager’s attention and score an interview in the first place. With just a few seconds to do that, offering just a glimpse of your personality can go a long way.
Kyle Elliott is a well-caffeinated career coach with a knack for branding and marketing, a love of resumes and LinkedIn, and a healthy obsession with details.