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Framing Your Experience – Some Thoughts on Resumes and Cover Letters

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman described an example of what is known in psychology as the ‘framing effect’.  Hospital patients were faced with a choice of whether or not to have a particular operation: one group was told that there was a 90% survival rate. The other was told that there was a 10% mortality rate. Those presented with the first option were far more likely to opt for the surgery.

To psychologists, this is known as a ‘cognitive bias’ but the lesson is as important to our work here at Ambit as it is in everyday life.  Fundamentally our role is about placing the right people in the right jobs at the right time. And in order to do that we need to look at several thousand resumes and cover letters a year. It’s incredibly important to get them absolutely perfect. In our experience, it’s all about framing yourself properly, using the right language and the right presentation to make that vital first impression.

We wanted to set out some advice for anyone writing a resume or cover letter, whether it’s the first time you’ve done it, or the first time in years.

Here are some tips:

  • Tell the truth. The first rule and to some extent the golden rule.
  • Make it user-friendly: don’t use anything but a standard business font. Space and format it properly. It needs to be quick to scan and should be easy on the eye.
  • Take ownership of your accomplishments.  Rather than ‘engaged in’ or ‘supported’, use –if appropriate– words like ‘lead’ and ‘key member’. If you are highly rated, say so.
  • Avoid generic statements like ‘strong communication skills’. But if you are a ‘strong presenter’ and have presented to the board, audit committee or external bodies, say that.
  • Provide the right amount of detail. But don’t overshare. Make sure your resume is consistent with your LinkedIn profile.
  • Get someone to proofread for you.
  • Avoid referencing politics or religion. They aren’t relevant here.
  • Keep your cover letter short but sweet. No one wants to read an essay.
  • Try to avoid management jargon.
  • Tell the truth.

Reposting of our May 30, 2014 blog

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