How to Present Yourself to the Market
Aka how to write a great resume and/or LinkedIn profile :)

Effectively telling your professional story is a key opening move in your career search. I am fascinated by this topic and have found people resonated with my advice, so collected my thoughts here.

This started as a guide to writing a great resume. Over time, I realized that a lot of it applies more broadly to how you talk about your career and where you want to be next. These all go together: Working hard to nail your story and highlight the essential details on your resume and LinkedIn profile are one of the best ways to prepare for discussing yourself in person.

Big Picture

Tell them who you are.

There’s a lot of research out there about the way recruiters and hiring managers read resumes: The first pass is usually a quick scan that literally takes 5 seconds or less. You think that’s ridiculous? Trying reading hundreds of resumes a day for a while and let’s see how you do it :)

The reader is trying to quickly ascertain what kind of work you do, what you’ve accomplished, and whether you’re worth a closer look. Help them out by giving them the answer right at the top of your resume. Don’t make them figure it out and don’t let them decide for you. Assert yourself.

I recommend starting your CV with a concise career headline, a few words that sum you up: “Machine Learning Engineer • Cornell PhD • 6 yrs experience” or “CMO • Developer Marketing Specialist • 3 exits over $250M.” This goes right under your name in big bold beautiful letters.

Follow your headline by a one- or two-sentence professional objective that introduces yourself and says where you are headed: “Lifelong hacker and statistics nerd with a computer science PhD from CMU. Looking to tackle computer vision problems that are fundamental to the success of a young or growing biotech company.”

Frame your experience and profile the way you want to be known, in no uncertain terms. The rest of the text then serves as the supporting evidence to back up your assertions—the proof to support your claims.

This is also the meat for how you’ll introduce yourself in conversation. Now literally introducing yourself by saying “I have3 exits worth over $250M under my belt” is not advisable and you’ll sound like an utter jackass—but think of how to tactfully weave these as bullets points into your story.

Focus on impact.

The most important thing to include for each of your career stops is what you accomplished and your impact on the business. If you didn’t realistically impact the overall business, what impact did you have on your team? How did you wow your boss?

Do not just recite what you did. For may jobs, the day-to-day responsibilities are kind of obvious. You don’t need to say that you were “doing code reviews and mentoring people” if you were a senior engineer or architect. Instead, explain in specific terms how your work and contributions made a difference. Call out things you took on that were out of the ordinary or beyond the call of duty.

Tell a story.

If you can humanize your career story, that’s a huge plus in my book. A lot of my other suggestions provide specific ways to do this. And I know this can be hard for folks who don’t feel like they’re “good writers” or when English is your second language.

Little things like speaking to what you learned or loved, touching on the highs and lows, giving kudos to your teammates or your boss, and so forth can all add up to a more engaging story of your professional life and a more compelling presentation of what you’re all about.

Be prepared to explain your career moves.

Personally, I wish everyone would explain right on their resumes why they took and/or left every job. It’s one of the first things I want to know when I speak with someone, and it’s something that you can do to help set yourself apart.

Why? This provides important insight into how you make decisions—and your career decisions are amongst the most important ones you’ll make. In an ideal world, every career move reflects some perfectly marvelous and logical progressing… but no one is perfect. If you made some less-than-stellar decisions in the past, explain what you’ve learned since then.

Now then, for the sake of brevity, you very well may not want to include this on your CV. Then again, saying “followed my former CEO to…” only takes fives words. And you can be a little more verbose on your LinkedIn profile.

Address irregularities head-on.

Sometimes life happens and people need to step away from work for a while to regroup. Sometimes people check out and go on sabbaticals to care for family members.

Whatever the case, if you have any big gaps on your resume, I strongly suggest not being silent as to what happened. If you don’t explain what was going on, the reader may very well assume the worst.

This can seem unfair: It’s your life and you have a right to your privacy. Maybe you don’t think it’s anyone’s business that you took time off to be at home with your second child, or were struggling with depression and needed to take care of yourself.

I agree with you. Nonetheless, I would still argue that it’s best to try and get in front of this. You don’t need to divulge all the particulars: You can simply say, “Took time off for personal reasons. Happy to discuss more in person!”

The same applies with short job stints or an unfinished degree. This can be tricky because, say, you got fired after a big dispute with your legitimately awful stooge of a manager. It’s “bad form” to trash-talk a former employer, so you might say, “Things didn’t work out as I hoped and so I left in my first year, happy to share the details once we speak.”

Bottom line: Don't hide from things or leave things unstated, because people tend to fill in the blanks in ways that work against you, not for you. Own your narrative.

Important Details

Use the first person.

Are you a celebrity? Did someone else write your resume? Do you say “I” or use your name when introducing yourself?

Even if you answered “yes” to all of the above, I’d still try to convince you to use the first person. Be human, be humble, and keep it conversational rather than blatantly promotional.