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Your Resume: A Product Positioning Exercise

A 20-something friend of mine (let’s call him ‘Arthur’) recently wrote to me asking for a critique on his resume and advice on how to find a position he might enjoy. His resume contained a ton of interesting experience (he called it 'eclectic'), but there was no unifying theme. I didn't know what kind of job he was looking for, because his experience was all over the place.

Treat your resume like a product positioning exercise.

This was my advice, which reminded me of a product positioning exercise:

Arthur, I can totally imagine it's a tough scene out there and those who do find work are lucky and likely connected. So it's a positive thing that you reached out to me, because I think that's what it's going to take: relentless networking.

I'm happy to provide some initial advice. Here goes:

1. Your resume is jarring on first open: it starts with a table with grid lines, which is very linear and not personal. The first thing you tell me is that you can speak and write English. While important, I already assume that is true, since you are applying for a job in English.

Rather than this ‘grid’ opening, I recommend you start by answering the core questions: who are you, what are you passionate about, and what are you looking for? With the ‘eclectic mix’ you claim to have (your words, not mine), I struggled to locate those answers. I might also add the kind of things you like to do.


... I am a sensitive and caring worker who can also be firm. I always keeps the big picture in mind. I can help very temperamental people stay on track in the midst of emotional needs that range from difficult to chaotic. (WOW! I'd hire that person to be a youth worker, for example.)

... I live to bring order to the lives of creative individuals; I thrive on their creativity and make my mark by helping make their environment stable, grounding their ideas.

I don't know what your statement is, but I would start with a statement like that and then look at all my past positions (you have had several very interesting jobs), and emphasize how I lived my statement through those jobs. The jobs you’ve had are proof that you have experience bringing that kind of value or change to any situation, you just need to position it that way.

2. Once you have your statement, you should talk to as many people as possible about it. Two reasons for this: you give your network a 'positioning statement' (they will keep their eyes out for you) and second, you practice it and hone it. When you hear yourself pitch it, it will either sound great or in need of work; each time you tell it, it's a chance to buff it up or change it.

3. Last advice would be, when you're talking with people, or even when you're asking for time to talk, be clear that you are only looking for advice. Do not ask for a job. I was told this 25 years ago and it was the best job seeking advice I ever had. If someone has a job that fits your statement, they will mention it themselves; you don't need to ask. But that's one-in-a-million. Most people won't have a job lined up, but could give you advice or help you make connections. If you ask for a job, you cut yourself off from those possibilities.

That was the advice I gave Arthur. I hope it helped him - but I also hope it will help you. You can think of your product a little like your resume: when you pitch it, when you sell it, and when you make it your statement, you’ll use the same techniques. Your product, like your resume, is your way of putting yourself out there in the business world. On a technical level, it should be clear and concise. On a thematic level, it should show who you are, and how you go about doing business. If you position yourself well, you will find yourself in an excellent job - just like if you position your product well, you will find excellent sales.


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