There are two characteristics that potential employers use to seriously consider a candidate. Oddly enough, they may seem to be at odds with each other. I’m referring to the ability of the jobseeker to first, stand out from the other résumés. Once that has been achieved, another unique characteristic comes into play. That’s the ability of the potential candidate to fit in with the company culture. Both of these seemingly contrary elements have to be managed in a balanced manner. This blog explains how this can be accomplished.

Create a résumé that stands out:

Differentiation is a key part of any jobsearch and it is the first concern. This can be a challenge for many people who carefully work hard to fit in. Fitting in is important! Fitting in means that the candidate is comfortable and others are comfortable as well. However, especially during the initial screenings for a job opening, fitting in without any unique features usually eliminates a jobseeker from consideration. That’s because the jobseeker simply looks like everyone else.

How to stand out:

There are many interesting ideas on how to create a résumé that stands out from the crowd. Some of these ideas can be wild and unusual. Generally speaking, a wild idea is one of the quickest ways to get eliminated. Here are some top blunders.


  1. Funky fonts are at the top of my list.
  2. Odd paper orientation, such as landscape view.
  3. Résumés with the candidate’s picture.
  4. Multi-color fonts in a variety of sizes.
  5. Odd introductions, such as, “The Life and Times of John Doe”
  6. A dark background for the document and use of white or other light colored fonts.
  7. Generic “ho-hum” content, such as:
    • Strong communicator
    • Project manager

People sometimes shake their head and tell me that they did these exact things and landed an interview at Google. That may be true and I’m happy for them! However, in today’s world of technology screening, these attempts at differentiation are likely to work against the jobseeker.

Why these don’t work.

Please let me explain. The list above are primarily distractors. Only one, number 3 (a picture of the jobseeker), has any real content. So now the reader is distracted from his or her goal. Instead of being drawn in to read the résumé, the reader is distracted by color, the need to turn the paper to read the text and so forth.

SIDE NOTE: The picture of the applicant will immediately disqualify the candidate because companies have anti-discrimination standards which include age and race—both of which are usually discernable from a picture. There are very few exceptions to sending a résumé with a picture. Exceptions include auditions for theatre positions and so forth. When a photo is required, the job posting will have specific directions about submission.

Another argument comes from designers and other creatives that believe their résumé must demonstrate distinctive creative and innovative elements right there on the résumé. Truly, the résumé is not the place for that. However, the cover letter and résumé should certainly direct the reader to their professionally designed online portfolio. This advice also applies to writers who may be tempted to demonstrate creative writing skills on the résumé.

Distractions on your résumé will cause you to be eliminated.

These make you stand out:
Standing out from other candidates is all about quality content that is clearly presented to the reader. Here are the top picks from my checklist.

  1. Solid content is a top differentiator.
  2. Bullets: one-liners. Don’t try to cram the results statement into the description of a job activity. A two-line bullet may be okay if it is surrounded by one-liners. This simple advice makes the résumé easy to read.
  3. White space is your friend. Many people cram as much onto their résumé as they can. Less is more—as long as the content is solid.
  4. Consider the following results statements. Which one is the most credible?
    • Sales initiative raised $5MM in new revenue.
    • Sales initiative raised $4.9MM in new revenue.
    • Sales initiative raised $4.926MM in new revenue.

    I hope you chose the second one. The first one seems like a guess or approximation; the last one is too specific and will only be credible if the person is an actuary, accountant or bookkeeper. Even then, too much specificity can be a turn-off.

  5. Include bullet points that indicate personal characteristics. For example:
    • Customer service enthusiast
    • Focused under pressure

Show that you will “fit in” with the company culture.

Once a résumé has passed the initial filters in the applicant tracking systems (ATS) and initial passes by hiring professionals (aka, the 8-second review), the next step is to show the reader that you will be a good fit.

How to show cultural fit:

Capture the company culture:
Where does company culture come from? Good question!
I believe that the company culture comes from the descriptive. These words are judiciously chosen to communicate what the company believes is important and what they expect from their employees.

Before I prepare to customize a cover letter or résumé for a client, I first go to the company website and read about the company. I pay close attention to the values and mission statement. The “careers” page of company website are usually full of information that the Human Resources department want the jobseeker to know. (Having been a part of the process to select the information for these web pages, I can assure you that the vocabulary is important to the Human Resource community.) This process takes me about 10 minutes.

The second step is to read five to seven job postings that are related to the position that interests my client. If I am writing the cover and résumé for a senior executive, then I may try to find something written by the CEO. (Another 10 minutes.)

By the time I finish, I have a fairly good sense about the culture and I have collected key words and phrases that reflect the company culture. These are incorporated into the cover letter and résumé. Usually this is done sparingly and tastefully.

These will get you eliminated:
Once again, there are ways to show you will fit in. Here are my top choices:

  • Use of informal language or slang terminology. Even if the company culture is casual, the résumé is a formal document. I think of it as the “tuxedo.” I believe that finely written résumés increase the initial salary offer by approximately five percent.
  • The usual list, such as: poor grammar, poor spelling.
  • Unexplained concerns for the reader. One example came when a client, a national sales leader in scientific instruments, spent two years selling real estate. Huh? We simply added the phrase. Temporary employment while helping a parent manage a critical health issue.

* * *

The cover letter and résumé should be crafted with as much care as possible. It should have every ounce of polish—every bullet point, phrase and sentence should be a gem. This takes time and attention. This is the kind of care that is meaningful to the hiring profession.

Jobseekers frequently bemoan the amount of time it takes to prepare a well crafted résumé. My response is a simple question:

Would you like to apply for 300 jobs and get nothing back
apply for 10 and get a phone call?”

When a jobseeker qualifies for a position and presents a stellar, polished résumé, then the chances for consideration has increased exponentially.

Master these jobseeker skills to differentiate yourself, and stay ahead of the curve.

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