Your Third-person Resume Creeps Me Out

I apologize, I know that sounds pretty harsh, but it’s true, there is something creepy about third-person resumes, and lately I’ve gotten a run of them. They say things like “Ray is a talented designer who has built three companies” or “Mr. Johnson has twenty years of experience as a widget maker.” You know, like someone was writing an article about them for a magazine, only it’s not a magazine, and it’s not an article or a brochure or anything like that… it’s a danged resume. And I know that you wrote it yourself, Ray and Mr. Johnson, or at least oversaw the process of it, so when it’s written in the third person, it is just plain creepy, like crazy talk.

I’m sure that folks who do this are thinking that it sounds business-like, and that it’s a good idea, so maybe a quick (or not-so-quick) review of the three different writing perspectives, or points of view, is in order:

1. First person – This is when someone is writing from their own perspective. Most blogs are written in first person, and this one is no exception. I use the word “I” because I’m talking about me, from my head, and I want you to know it. When the speaker uses the words “I” and “we,” then it’s first person.

2. Second person – The key that something is written in the second person is the word “you.” Advertisers use it a lot in things like “You can’t get to sleep at night, so you should take this sleeping pill,” and you’ll occasionally find it in literature or movie narratives. I often switch into second person in my writing, just as I do when I’m speaking – sometimes I’m talking about me, and sometimes I’m talking as if I were you.

3. Third person – This is the most impersonal of the points of view. It’s how news stories are written, from the point of an observer, so you will see names, and the words “he,” “she” and “they.” It’s the most common way of writing, where the writer is separate from whoever they’re writing about.

That’s why it’s totally illogical to use the third person to write about yourself… because you are not separate from the story on your resume. Third person might be the way to write press releases or when you’re writing something up that will be included in a brochure or website, but it never works for a resume. Never. When you use third person in a resume, you end up sounding pretentious, overly impersonal and/or clueless. Not good.

I don’t want to sound mean about it or make anyone cower in shame here. It’s confusing to write a resume, because it’s like a whole different language and structure. It’s business-like, but it is also personal. Sentences are truncated and often don’t have a subject. “Tasked with creating a new company identity” works as a complete sentence in resume-speak, while if you said it in person, people would be confused. Thoughts are often pulled out into bullets. It’s not easy, and it’s not like any other kind of writing, and there are a million opinions about the “right way” to do it.

The perspective of the person who’s reading it is what you need to focus on, and they know that your resume is a document created by you (even if you had someone else do it) to recap and describe your background and talents. It’s you telling your story, and they trust that it is a personal representation of your background, and that it is submitted by you. And all of that means that if it sounds like it was written by someone else, it’s just plain weird. “Ms. Gupta has worked for ten years in marketing” might work for a press release, but on a resume, it’s just kinda creepy.

Third person is also the complete opposite of how resumes work best. You want your resume to present you as a real person, and to create at least a flavor of personality and connectedness with the reader. As a recruiter, I want your resume to show me who you are, to be a personal statement of what you’ve done and what you can do, and to give me some sense of what you want to do. To do that, you have to write it from your heart, which means you have to write it from you. It just won’t work as if it is written by someone else.

So if your resume is written in the third person, I’m sorry if I made you feel bad, but please go fix it. We already know it’s from you, and it’s just too weird when it reads like it’s not.

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