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Most resumes look the same. Name, contact, education, work experience, interests. Without a deliberate effort to tie all of the sections together, your resume ends up reading more like a restaurant menu.
Q: My resume is a list of jobs and side-projects, how do I fix this?
Ever found that your resume or LinkedIn profile starts to feel like a bland list of cool stuff you’ve done but doesn’t get you interviews?
Earlier in the series, we’ve gone through the techniques (1 and 2) that will get your resume past hiring software into the hands of managers.
Software doesn’t care about focus or narrative so your list-of-cool-stuff-resume may do great on software search rankings but still not get you any interviews.
You may have the resume keywords that impress software, but how do you impress hiring managers?
It’s time to discover the power of the thesis.
Q: A thesis? That sounds familiar. Something, something… high school English?
A thesis is a structured argument. The central argument is declared, split into evidence categories, supported by specific proof, and reiterated frequently.
Though many of us will have learned this in the context of academic writing in high school English class, a thesis is radically applicable in so many other applications.
This post has been on my mind for over a year precisely because it is such a major key to great resumes, interview, and pitches.
Don’t believe me? Keep reading…
Q: Why do I need a thesis?
Your resume is an argument for why you deserve an interview. A thesis structure is often the the difference between a good resume and a persuasive resume.
I’ve even had success thanks to using this structure in interviews, written applications, short pitches, and competition presentations.
So yeah, a thesis works in more than just essays on the soliloquies of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Q: Refresh my memory, how does a thesis work?
My high school English teacher, Mr. Blake, drilled into our heads how to structure a thesis. So here are his 5 steps using the example of proving that Scooby Doo is a dog.
- Declare a strong, concrete argument (Scooby is a dog)
- Categorize evidence into 2-5 groups (Scooby is a dog and this is evident by his veterinary certificate, visual resemblance to other dogs, and frequency of barking)
- Support categories with specific proof (Scooby’s veterinary certificate states that he is a Great Dane dog)
- Generalize the proof (A veterinary certificate is a trusted document that is frequently used to certify animal breeds)
- Reiterate the declaration in the conclusion (Thus, Scooby’s veterinary certificate, visual resemblance to other dogs, and frequency of barking is evidence that Scooby is a dog)
D.C.S.G.R. is not a particularly memorable acronym, but this thesis structure is how humans have successfully persuaded each other for thousands of years. Stories and arguments are how we reason with ourself and successfully communicate with others.
Even cavemen had to persuade a group where to hunt next.
Q: Alright, so where’s the formal declaration, evidence categories, and proof on your resume?
It’s all hiding in plain sight. My resume still looks like anything you’d find on Dribbble.
The difference is that mine reads with a persuasive, laser-focused message.
Hiring managers aren’t looking for a declaration section, but they will be better persuaded when your resume has one baked in.
So here’s my resume highlighted with the different areas of my thesis.
- Red: Declaration
- Orange: Evidence categories
- Green: Supporting proof
Where is the generalized proof and reiterated declaration on your resume?
Most of the generalization happens implicitly as someone is reading the resume given it is a less formal document and inferences are made intuitively.
As a manager scans through the resume, their eyes will naturally keep coming back to the bold, large-font declaration, effectively reiterating it without advertising-like repetition of a large headline on the page.
Q: How do I build my own declaration, evidence categories and proof?
Ever been told your resume should start with an objective? Usually this ends up sounding pretty bland and simply regurgitates the job posting description.
Objective: seeking intern position on a marketing team in the consumer packaged goods industry
A thesis declaration gives you the opportunity to state your case:
- what position you want
- why you’re qualified for it
- how you’ll be a better candidate than anybody else
Make your declaration stand out. Use bold or large font to treat it as a headline, or feature it in an About section. Put it at the beginning and make it noticeable so it can frame your resume deliberately in the minds of the reader.
In my declaration I cover the following key areas:
- My name: Andrew Paradi
- The position I seek: intern (likely should be more specifically “dev intern”)
- The desired hiring period: summer ‘16
- My competence: ready
- The type of work I’m interested in: tackle ambitious projects
Every person’s declaration will have a different formula, so start with a base, then tweak, cut, and add until it’s your own.
Consider 2-6 specific evidence categories that can prove the competence and credibility of your declaration.
Given my declaration stating that I’m ready to tackle ambitious projects, my evidence categories are focused on proving both that I’m ready and that I have experience tackling ambitious projects. Here are my current ones:
- History of success in startups, competitions, and academic
- Strong coding & communication skills recognized in competition
- Takes initiative
- Thrives under pressure
- Learns quickly
When writing your resume, keep your declaration and categories of evidence in mind at all times.
Any experience, skills, or jobs you write about should be easily categorized and, transitively, prove your declaration.
Consider these examples of proof and their related evidence categories (EC):
Note: Seriously reconsider any experience, skill, or job that can’t be easily categorized or doesn’t directly prove your declaration. You should likely ditch it.
Unrelated proof is clutter. It distracts from your declaration. It makes your thesis less persuasive.
Q: Any other tips?
The tone of your writing is important in your declaration, evidence category names, and proof (not to mention your cover letters and writing in general)!
Passive tense makes you sound complacent… asleep at the wheel. Yawn.
As much as possible, I stick to simple past tense on resumes or present tense in general to communicate with a direct, concrete tone.
- Passive (learning, teaching, programming…)
- Simple Past (built, developed, tested…)
- Present (pitch, present, develop, build…)
Eat the elephant one bite at a time
I know I hit you with a lot to think about. Restructuring your resume to be a persuasive thesis will take practice.
Now, I don’t worry about getting my resume perfect on the first try (or the 21st try)! My resume is a fluid piece of art, so I can keep making it iteratively better (just like Kanye).
For example, I’m still considering my layout and the position of Education & Skills.
- Is this the most persuasive first proof a hiring manager could encounter?
- Does the glance-able skills list prompt curiosity for my Github projects or seem like I’m blowing smoke?
- Is the density of information overwhelming and diminish their likelihood to read further?
These are just some of the questions I continue to think about in terms of my resume.
Test and see which declaration resonates, what evidence categories address hiring manager’s questions, and which proof most concisely persuades someone to accept your declaration.
Soon your resume will be a refined thesis that persuades hiring managers to schedule you for interviews.
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