Just another design blog

What’s your problem?

Process: Audience

Well, I’ve finally been able to post another article. Before this article, I started another one about writing your resume as a story. But I had skipped a step. I hadn’t yet figured out what I wanted to say, or who I wanted to say it to. Of all the information I could include, what should I? In trying to answer that question, I realized quickly I hadn’t yet defined the problem I was trying to solve.

On the surface, the problem is easy. How can my resume help get me hired? If the goal of a well-written resume is to get a phone call, its function is to summarize for the person reading it, my ability to do the job. Within that statement, there are a few implicit questions. But in my mind, the more important one is, who will be reading my resume and how can I address their questions?

Everyone who looks at a resume is looking for something different. Will this person fit in at this company? Is their experience or interest focused on the skills we need? Do they have experience working in teams? How long might they stay if hired? How do they stand out from all the other resumes I’ve looked at? And on and on.

So then how do I know what questions I need to answer, what problem am I really trying to solve for? If I knew what my audience really wishes to know about me, determining what I should include would be much clearer. That begs the question, what do the people who will be reading my resume really want to know?

I have in my head an image or persona of the type of person who might hire for the job I’m seeking, based of previous bosses and experience. I have a list of notes about what I “think” my audience would want to know, but how can I know if I’m right? Before I wrote this, I hadn’t yet talked to very many hiring managers or creative directors or even my fellow co-workers about what they think the ideal candidate should be like.  

To me, design is all about people. If you know your audience well, and you can give them what they want (whether they know it or not), you’ve succeeded. But you can’t give them what they want unless you know who they are and what they are like.

It isn’t too hard to learn this. All you need is some research, a bit of empathy, and an inquisitive mind. The first place I started was relatively simple. I just asked. Do you know anyone who hires people for a living, or anyone who manages people in the field you are job seeking within? I’ve been asking my friends and colleagues for the opportunity to sit down and ask them a few questions. And this has let to other conversations as well.

In my day-to-day job, knowing your audience, your customer, is essential. We create personas, study statistics, conduct interviews. Those same principles apply to creating my resume. I’m not going to preach the importance of understanding your customers, but I will say that my own research as helped me understand the questions I should be answering in my own resume.

I conducted several interviews with people within my own field, and outside of it. And I learned some very useful things. Some of them are specific to my field, but they could be applied to other fields as well.

  • To quote Mike Harding from his The Tyranny of Benchmarking presentation, “I started thinking about what I really wanted to see as a hiring manager. I want to know achievements, I want to get a sense of the whole person, I want to know the story about that person, I want to understand their specific value add, I want to get a sense of their thinking, creativity, humanity. And, I wanted to be able to understand at a glance if there was a likely fit or not.” This is a tall order, but it is clearly more than a list of previous jobs and skills. My ability to convey a sense of who I am on a personal level was a common theme employers looked for. As well as what value I can add.
  • Keep it brief and to the point, at most two pages, one if you can pull it off. Someone with “400 resumes stacked on their desk” is not going to want a read a lot. This is also where one of the advantages of infographics comes into play, conveying information quickly through visuals rather than text.
  • Don’t make the reader feel dumb. Sometimes people reading your resume might not know all the acronyms or fancy jargon of your specialty. Big words and technical language can imply I know my stuff, almost universally, readers were looking for concise and simple.
  • There is a divide between the traditional and non-traditional. While showcasing creativity and out of the box thinking is great, not everyone is totally sold by them. Many companies use automated systems that scan resumes and allow searching. And not everyone is a visual thinker. I should either also include a traditional resume with my infographic one, or combine the two in some way.
  • Resumes need to be printable. Many people refer to them during an interview, sometimes using them as an interview outline or taking notes directly on them. This means my resume should still look good when laser printed on 8.5”x11” paper.
  • Most people with any experience in hiring can smell B.S.. Be honest, be humble. Which conveniently also happen to be part of my own personal values. In the United States, there is a tendency for resumes to tend towards exaggeration as a means of selling and promotion one’s self. For me, I’d like to find that middle ground, between eagerness and candidness.
  • Most people want to see samples of my work, after or even before reading the entire resume. In many ways, the resume is just a gateway to my portfolio. A resume just needs to be interesting enough to get the reader to my portfolio or the phone.
  • “The resume for me is a piece of work you present,” according to Andreas Woelk, UX Design Manager at eBay. A sentiment shared widely, the resume is as much an example of my work as any other project. It should show (not just tell) my values, design style and principles. In my mind, my resume and portfolio should themselves be the best work I have to show.
  • Communicating my design principles and thought process is critical. Even though this is best done through a portfolio, providing an initial sense of these things might just get the reviewer to invest the time to go to my portfolio.
  • Among the common skills employers look for, isn’t listing them, almost anyone can do that, but rather demonstrating or showing them through my experience and work. Among important common skills to demonstrate are:
    • Teamwork
    • Communication skill
    • “Surviving in an ambiguous fast paced environment.”
    • Technical proficiency with the tools of the trade
  • Of the people I spoke to, I had split feedback on whether to include non-professional activities and hobbies. On one hand, they imply related skills and help give a broader sense of who you are as a person, on the other they distract and take up space.

This whole process also confirmed a few things for me.

  • An infographic resumes would be engaging. Most people I talked to like the idea, were enticed by them, and wanted to see my finished product, when I complete it.
  • A resume is an extension of my work and style. This is in part why I started this entire project, and why infographic resumes as a design paradigm spoke to me.
  • However creative and distinctive I’d like to get, I should still consider the more traditional and conservative audience.

So then, through all this, what is the problem I’m currently trying to solve?

To create an engaging, clean, concise resume that showcases who I am and my value as a professional and team player, by demonstrating my design skills, philosophy and approach.

At least this is the problem I’m trying to solve for the present, until I produce some prototypes and get some more customer feedback. 🙂

What do you think is most important in a resume? What problem are you trying to solve, or what questions do you want to see answered in a resume? Let me know your thoughts and feedback…


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