Breaking the mold on your resume

I tend to know and work with folks who don’t fit neatly into boxes.  These are the folks who defy stereotypes, counter people’s assumptions, take roads less traveled, etc.  You may be one of them.

Some people just travel this world differently than the rest of the herd!
Some people just travel this world differently than the rest of the herd!

There’s a problem with being one of these independent souls though: the world tends to reward people who play by the rules, and it’s often harder to be a “rule breaker” in the workplace.

Neat new study though, with a very dry title (“Linguistic Description Moderates the Evaluations of Counterstereotypical People”) – bottom-line is that people will react differently to you as someone who doesn’t quite fit their expectations depending on how you word things.  So dust off your resume and any publicly available bios and put this to use right away!  Here’s how: 

Use adjectives.

This flies in the face of what most people will tell you about resume writing (and, in fact, good writing in general).  I’m not suggesting that you turn your resume into a purple-prosed Bulwer-Lytton entry…but there are some instances where you will be better served with one or two carefully selected adjectives.

The example that the study uses is the case of a “sensitive man.”  We expect our men/male leaders to be tough, strategic, strong, etc.  Sensitivity is “counterstereotypical” in men.  But people tend to respond very positively to that juxtaposition when an adjective is used.

If you’re a man who wants to highlight “female” traits, figure out ways to put the right adjectives into your resume that shows how you break from stereotypes – collaborative, empathetic, inclusive, patient, flexible, etc.  (side note: are you horrified yet that these are considered gendered traits?  That’s a different post for a different day)

If you’re a woman who wants to highlight “male” traits, figure out the right adjectives to sell yourself best.  Again, use careful selection and good editing to trigger this positive reaction to your defiance of stereotype.  Assertive, strong-willed, visionary, highly pragmatic, ambitious, etc.

Don’t use behavioral descriptors

Looking back at the “sensitive man,” he gets much better reviews from folks in the study than a “man who cries sometimes.”  When you describe the behaviors that make the sensitive man “sensitive” instead of using adjectives to describe him, people hate that he doesn’t fit into their worldview.  He gets super negative marks.

So take heed: you certainly want to describe your professional achievements on your resume by using objective descriptions of what you’ve done, all you’ve accomplished, in very concrete, measurable terms.  You want to use very active verbs, too.  HOWEVER, take a look at what you’ve got there and scan for descriptions of stereotype defying behavior.  Are you using that bulletpoint to highlight your talent at aggressive negotiation?  Could be met with subconscious prejudice if you’re a woman.  And let’s be clear – while the study didn’t find a statistically significant difference in this effect between genders, I’m going to go with a gut feeling that there’s more penalties for women here…based on that being the eventual finding of practically every management study out there.

Don’t use behaviors to show how much you push boundaries.  Focus that section of your resume on plain old accomplishment.

Leave a comment


email* (not published)