4 min read

Let's all be different together

Puh-leeze stop tailoring your resume to the job description.
Let's all be different together
Let's all be different together!
If you tailor your resume to the job description you make yourself easy to categorize. If you are easy to categorize, you are easy to eliminate.

Show Notes

Hey folks, welcome to The Imposters Club, the podcast for misfits in tech. You know who you are? Who am I? I'm your host, Teddy Kim. I'm a director of software engineering at a SaaS startup, here in Minneapolis. And today, we're going to talk about the job description trap. Before we get into this, let me just take a step back, because I want to tell you about a crazy trend I've been noticing. A few years ago, I was trying to hire for an open job. So I was reading through a stack of resumes. One resume, in particular really jumped out at me, but not in a good way. A lot of the words in this particular resume seem strangely familiar. And for good reason. I realized that whoever submitted this resume had actually copied and pasted text right out of the job description. Yes, certain people copy the requirements section out of a job description and literally paste it into the capabilities section of the resume. The first time I saw this, I just shrugged it off. Try harder, dude. But it's happening more and more. Why? I don't know, I have my suspicions but maybe this is just how it is in the commodity labor market.

Remember that a commodity labor market exists when two workers can only be differentiated by price. When that happens, whichever worker who is willing to work for less is probably going to get the job. So commodity labor markets present a classic lose-lose. Job seekers lose because you end up competing on price which drives your salary down. Employers lose because they don't actually get the strongest candidates, they just get the candidate with the closest resume match. So how did we get here? Let's unpack this. There is in fact one person who prospers in their commodity labor market, and that's the recruiter. Recruiters are middlemen and middlemen prosper from transaction costs.

But here's the thing. Recruiters get paid the same no matter who they place. That means that you are no more important to her than any other warm body with a pliable sense of morals. So yeah, usually the people who suggest that you tailor your resume to job descriptions are recruiters or occasionally an HR person. It's happened to me, and I suspect it has also happened to you. And here's the question, what's the matter with resume tailoring? At first glance, tailoring your resume to a job description kind of makes sense. After all, you just want to show that your skills and experience match the job description. What's wrong with that? Well, consider this.  The majority of people who apply for any given job, are doing the exact same thing. Let's all be different together.

To state the obvious, it's kind of difficult to stand out from the crowd when you're doing the same thing that everybody else is doing. Anyway, there's something more subtle at work here, I'm going to let you in on an insider secret. Hiring managers rarely write job descriptions. In fact, there's no guarantee that the hiring manager has even seen the description for the job you're applying for. In almost every company, the HR department has a library of approved boilerplate job descriptions that they trot out whenever there's an opening. In other words, the reason that so many job descriptions look the same is also the reason that so many resumes look the same. What the fuck? This right here is a vicious cycle and you, my friend are stuck in the middle. But to quote the TV show the wire, you cannot lose if you do not play. So what's the alternative?

Well, for starters, forget that baloney about tailoring your resume to the job description. Managers don't hire job descriptions, managers hire people. Ultimately, your qualities will always outweigh your qualifications. So use your precious resume space to show who you are as a person. Talk about your grit. What did you have to overcome to get who you are? Talk about your impact, nobody really cares what you're responsible for doing at your last job...tell me how you went above and beyond. Can you demonstrate intellectual curiosity? Explain how you learned a new programming language or started a side project etc.

So let me leave you with a final thought. This is a subtle change in perspective that has really helped me professionally, and I hope it will help you. Rather than try to find the right job, consider what you might gain by trying instead to find the right boss. Your manager is the person who has the most influence on your professional trajectory. He or she can be your greatest ally or your worst enemy. You want your manager to see and accept who you are as a person. Remember, a healthy professional alliance is built on trust, there is no place for deception. So don't start your most important professional relationship by fronting, be real, on your resume and everywhere else. That's how you really set yourself apart from the crowd.

I'm hiring software engineers! Check out the jobs page to see my open positions.