Like many hiring managers across the country, several years back I was faced with a common scenario: A stack of resumes a mile high for a single job opening (in this case, an entry-level QA technician).
As I quickly scanned the resume of an applicant named Joe – the stats you hear are true, you really do only have a few seconds to make an impression – things were looking good.
He had held jobs that were relevant to the position, he had a strong educational background, and I sensed from his cover letter that he was chomping at the bit to prove himself.
Then I saw the final item on his resume:
Interests: Competitive bodybuilding, ice hockey, ballroom dancing, alligator wrestling
Hold on a second. Bodybuilding? Ballroom dancing? Alligator wrestling?
After a long day of sifting through dozens and dozens of resumes, this brought a smile to my face and upgraded him from the “Yes/Maybe” pile into the “Bring him in for an interview” pile.
After meeting him in person, my instincts were correct. He excelled at the standard interview questions, was a perfect fit for the position, attacked his job with incredible focus, and we remain close friends to this day.
So what about when I asked about those crazy interests? He responded:
“I’ve always been very much into fitness, and just started training for my first competition. It requires intense discipline and hard work, the same skills I will bring to this job. I played hockey in high school, and recently took a ballroom dancing class with my girlfriend and was surprised how much I enjoyed it.”
“And alligator wrestling?” I replied.
“Well, I can’t say I’ve ever done it… but it interests me, so I put it there under interests.”
Should you include interests on your resume?
Am I recommending that everyone add a strange hobby on his or her resume? No.
First and foremost, the first 99% of his resume and his interview is what got him the job, but the last 1% got my attention
What works for an early-stage startup looking to blend technical skills and a fun culture (as in this case) might not fly at a financial services firm
You’re taking a chance at the person looking at your resume… will they view this as clever, or immature?
What’s definitely true is this: In a sea of competitiveness, you have to find a way to stand out.
After all, what is a resume except a collection of bullet points, all categorized nicely under job headings or templated categories.
As you progress throughout your career, your goal should be to accumulate the best possible bullet points under each category.
Let me give you a personal example. In 2009, I started teaching a social media strategy course at New York University.
A week before my 2012 class, due to some unfortunate circumstances (Hurricane Sandy, a new point of contact, a misplaced email) I was told that I was not listed as the teacher for this session.
Luckily, we were able to straighten things out in time, but for that short period, I was upset.
Why? Part of the reason was because I had already started preparing material, part was that I really loved teaching that class, and part because it was a paying position.
But more than anything, I hated losing that bullet point.
What do I mean by that? As an independent writer and speaker, having the bullet point “Jim teaches a social media strategy class at NYU” in my bio adds credibility.
How would I address it now? I used to teach? I’m a “former” teacher? It just gets messy.
So don’t underestimate the power of every single bullet point on your resume, and the ability for it to contribute toward a higher salary when you’re negotiating.
5 ways to earn influential bullet points for your resume
1) On the job numbers
When looking at resumes, the mistake I see the most is not having enough numbers under work accomplishments.
Sometimes it’s just adding them in, thus:
Oversaw yearly offsite training courses for team members
Oversaw $200,000 training program for 8 offsite courses for 300+ team members
Sometimes you need to go out grab the numbers.
Lets say your company is working on a new Android app, and you’re looking to get some mobile experience on your resume.
If you’re not involved, don’t just wait for an opportunity to happen — volunteer.
Help out the team in any way you can, through marketing, design, promotion, or other skills.
You might not get paid extra to do it
You might have to put in extra hours and work late for a few months
You might not get the recognition other team members received
However, you’re doing it for a crucial bullet point on your resume:
Mobile experience: Worked on newly-formed emerging media team to help market and promote ABC Corp’s premier Android app, which was downloaded 33,000 times in the first 14 days and has driven $120,000 in revenue
2) Special Skills
What skills are most relevant in your industry?
Better yet, if everyone in your peer group has the same skills, what complementary skills might set you apart?
Whether you’re a newbie entering the workforce, a baby-boomer trying to stay current, or a poetry major getting into the business world, there are specific skills that can stand out on your resume.
Of course, some bullets take longer than others to attain.
“Published Author” are two simple words, but might take years and years of time and effort to accomplish.
On the other hand, “Self-published author with a positively reviewed children’s e-book on Amazon.com” might take a few months and hold the same type of credibility that you are looking for within your niche.
Any one of these skills could be a valuable bullet point on your resume that sets you apart from the competition:
Computer programming languages
Financial modeling software
Are there certain awards in your industry that you are eligible for?
While some are certainly highly competitive, you’d be surprised how often you can outwork your opponents.
Sometimes only a handful of applicants try for an award, giving you a 1 in 4 chance of winning right off the bat.
The world of education is drastically changing.
Having a big-name institution like Harvard or Stanford on your resume will certainly give you a leg up on the competition. However, there has been an explosion of online learning sites in recent years that will allow you to take classes on most any topic – even ones taught at Ivy League schools.
So while you might not have a Stanford degree, showing that you are taking relevant coursework to further your education can set you apart.
This is especially important for say, an older worker who got a degree in accounting back in 1980, who is able to show that their skills are up to date by taking online, evening, or certificate courses in relevant areas.
In a recovering economy, the competition for jobs can be fierce.
In many cases, HR is choosing from several qualified candidates that all have similar skills and experience. Considering that employees will often spend more time per week with their co-workers than with their family, it makes sense to pay close attention to the intangibles when building out a team.
All things being equal, wouldn’t you want to hang out with the person that also loves to cook, can talk about sports at lunch, or volunteers in the community?
Translating bullet points to money
Building a strong resume and accumulating valuable skills can only help you when it comes time for your performance review.
Employers generally base raises on two levels: meeting expectations or for top performers.
By emphasizing the additional skills you have garnered above and beyond your peers, you can push for the higher level.
And as we discussed, when it comes time to look for a new job, you can outrank the competition – and argue for the higher end of the salary range – when you can show specific skills that make you a valuable hire.
So get out there and start improving that resume line by line. Just be careful of the alligators.
Note: A version of this article first appeared in a post for Salary.com.