If you want to stand out, you have to do better than a piece of paper on the pile. Show your work instead.
What lets people know you’re someone who could create value for them?
It’s a tough question. They need to know you have some things:
- Skills relevant to the job to be done
- Knowledge of the customer, product, and problem
- Passion for the work
- Drive and persistence
- Trustworthiness and character
- Ability to learn
- Clear thinking and good communication
- Excitement about the company or project
Say you have all that. How do you prove it as quickly and clearly as possible?
Nobody can afford to spend months getting to know you. They can probably afford an hour looking at work you show them and interviewing you.
So how do you get that hour?
Resumes are limited. One page of static bullets in a giant stack is a weak way of showing your value.
You need something better. Something that screams, “It’s worth your time to interview me!”
Show your work.
Build a profile of projects hard enough and focused enough that it would be impossible for someone to complete it if they did not possess the qualities listed above.
Create substantive, meaningful projects relevant to the job.
Time-bound projects can be a good way to show your persistence and drive. For example, if you want to earn an opportunity doing data analysis, create a project where you analyze 30 different data sets in 30 days, then create a summary of what you learned, what tools you used, etc.
But there’s a catch.
People won’t immediately take the time to review projects. So they’ll need early indicators that it’s worth examining. You’ve got to earn their time.
It comes in increments. I like to think of it as a process of earning larger and larger chunks of their time with discreet versions of your pitch. It’ll go from 5 seconds, to 30 seconds, to 2 minutes, to 10 minutes, then to an interview lasting 30-60 minutes.
Once you have completed a good project or two, work backwards from there to create something that makes people willing to spend the time looking at them. It’ll probably take 10 minutes for someone to review your projects and decide if they want to interview you.
What can you give them in 2 minutes that makes them want to spend that 10? What can you give them in 30 seconds that makes them want to spend 2 minutes? And what can you give them in 5 seconds that makes them want to spend 30?
Let’s break it down.
Give them something in 5 seconds that makes them want to spend 30.
What’s the very first thing people will see when they encounter you on the market? What are you showing them that makes them say, “There’s something here worth exploring more!”
5 seconds isn’t enough time to convey a lot of information. If it requires brain power to process, it’s too much. This is more of a gut-reaction phase. It’s mostly visual basics. However you’re presenting yourself, is it clean, compelling, pretty, different, sensible?
If you use text, it’s probably no more than a few sentences about you, a clear description of what you are trying to do, a few bullets on your skills, or a small visual that describes you in a nutshell.
Whatever it is, it needs to look nice, clean, and contain just enough informational content to let them know you are relevant to the role or problem they’re seeking to solve.
If the first few seconds scream “messy” or “confusing”, they’ll stop.
If they scream “creative writer”, but they’re looking for a process-oriented spreadsheet wiz, they’ll stop.
Don’t try to win the job in 5 seconds. Just try to win 30 seconds more!
Give them something in 30 seconds that makes them want to spend 2 minutes.
This seems like a small increment, but if someone is reviewing dozens or hundreds of potential hires, the vast majority get cut after 5 seconds. Making it to the “Let me take a closer look” phase, even if only 30 seconds, is a big deal.
30 seconds gives you enough time to move beyond visceral gut reaction and actually convey some informational content. A list of experiences, a description of your personality, a short bio, a direct pitch to them, instructions on where to look next; all of these are possible.
Again, you won’t get hired in 30 seconds. You just need to earn 2 minutes.
Give them something in 2 minutes that makes them want to spend 10.
Here’s where it gets fun.
2 minutes is where you can best spread your wings and let your unique skillset, personality, and goals fly. I think video is ideal for this. Your personal “elevator pitch” is a great way to showcase your communication skills, attention to detail, energy, excitement, one or two skills, and a few things you love about the company, product, or role, all in 60-90 seconds (giving them a buffer to press play, pause, and ingest).
2 minutes is enough time to break down and describe your projects briefly and ask them to dive in. Show why you did the work you did. What did you learn? What would you do for their company?
This is the point at which you sell them hard on how awesome your projects are and why they should be excited to go take a peek.
Give them something in 10 minutes that makes them want to interview you.
This is the summary or overview of the projects. You can focus on a single project or a broader survey of your body of work. Both approaches can be effective.
Can they see in 10 minutes what you did, what tools you used, how you did it, how long it took you, what you learned, the tangible outcome, and an indication that you could do this kind of thing for them?
Projects tailored to the opportunity are best. They show not just your skills and mindset, but a deep thoughtfulness about the opportunity and a passion for it.
Hirers are people too! They want to be wanted!
A generic project can be good, but a project just for them is great.
On to the interview!
If they’ve made it this far, make it easy for them to take the next step and request an interview. Give them something. “I’d love to tell you more about what I’ve done and how I envision doing this for you. Contact me here!” is a good approach.
Go get that interview.
A resume won’t do it.
Pick a project, complete it, then work through these steps to put it to use. Repeat.
If you do, you’ll notice people don’t ask or care about education status or grades or any of those old credentials. Show your work, and the rest becomes irrelevant.
(Oh, and use the interview to talk about them, not you. But more on that another day!)