In my last article, titled “Be the Batman,” I talked about how important it is to bring swagger—and a little bit of superhero branding—to your prospective employee / career “persona.”
Now, I’m going to tell you something you really, really don’t want to hear. Are you ready?
There’s no way Clark Kent would have gotten a real job. Let’s forget for a second that he’s a fictional character, working at a fictional publication in a fictional city called Metropolis. (Side note: the day I found out Metropolis wasn’t a real place, I will admit that I cried pretty hard.) Shattered childhood dreams aside, if we are to believe, as we’ve been led to, that The Daily Planet is the Metropolis equivalent of The New York Times, then Clark would’ve needed previous job experience, and references to get even so much as an interview. Let alone a staff reporter job.
And not just any references would do for such a sought-after position in a highly-competitive field, but glowing references. References he probably wouldn’t have been able to get. Because, let’s get real here for a second. Clark was a terrible journalist.
For starters, he was never actually around when the news was happening. Time and time again, he disappeared in mid-job, leaving Lois and Jimmy to pick up the slack. When censured, he always had a great excuse. Usually something along the lines of: “Gee, I’m sorry Lois.”
Which brings me to the point of this article: Professional References. Glowing ones. From people you’ve actually worked with—or, better yet—directly reported to. Every good resume needs at least three, with names, phone numbers and email addresses at the very least.
How do you obtain these magical, glowing references, you ask? The answer is painfully simple, yet practiced by so few.
- Be a great employee. (Not just an okay employee, or a good employee, but a great one. I’ll go into this more thoroughly in a moment.)
- Treat every job like it’s a potential stepping stone to a future job that will make you more money and leave you feeling more fulfilled as a human being.
- Treat every coworker, no matter how much lower on the totem pole they reside, with courtesy and respect. (Seriously, in today’s job market, even the company janitor can endorse you on LinkedIn…or not, if you were rude.)
In my experience, #1 on this list is where most people fail, when it comes to crafting their resume.
Even if Clark hadn’t been a crap reporter, even if he’d been just an ‘okay’ one, it still wouldn’t have made him a super job candidate. (Not unless he wore his cape to the interview, that is.) And his resume would’ve read a little something like this:
– Showed up to work on time, and always turned in most assignments, eventually
– Never had a sick day
– Resisted – at great emotional cost to self – somewhat blatant advances of super hot female coworker, thus complying with company policy which discouraged fraternization among employees
– Saved my super hot coworker from drowning during an assignment, kind of <(Not pertinent to job application, at any rate)
The truth is, doing your job to the letter isn’t enough to make you stand out. Putting on a resume that you successfully met all the expectations of your last position isn’t going to cut it. Being Clark Kent, likeable farm boy, is not going to give you the best possible interview-to-offer ratio you can have.
Here’s what will give you the highest possible interview-to-job offer ratio:
- Seeking out opportunities to excel in the job you currently have. (For current job-seekers, it might be a little late for you on this one. But nonetheless, keep this in mind for the future. The best reference is one that wishes you were still working for them, hands down.) Go above and beyond what is expected. Take ownership of the projects you’re given, and actively seek out assignments that fit your specialties. Never stop growing and learning new things. If your boss sees that you’re not only capable, but willing to do more, they’ll remark on it when that potential employer calls.
- When it comes to your resume, don’t bother listing the obvious. Punctuality is expected. Showing up to work is expected. Focus on the things you accomplished that you didn’t necessarily have to.
- Did you ever take charge of anything? Write that down, making sure to use words like “managed,” and “spearheaded” to show that this was something you personally took initiative to do. It doesn’t matter how small the project was. I’ve seen resumes that made reorganizing the filing cabinet sound like an epic, heroic quest of some kind.
- Don’t be afraid to exaggerate, slightly. But DON’T lie. (Ex: It’s okay to use terms like “authored professional correspondence” instead of “sent emails.” It’s NOT okay to lie about your job title, or pretend to have done things you didn’t do.)
- Finally, when you do get that coveted interview, be prepared to TALK about 3-5 situations or examples of when you took the initiative and went above your mild-mannered Clark Kent job description to achieve something SUPER.
At the end of the day, the only real difference between Superman and Clark Kent was a pair of glasses and some spandex. (Though, technically, one could argue that Clark was usually wearing the spandex all the time, just under his regular clothes. So really, it was just the glasses. Is this analogy nerdy enough for you yet?)
In the job-seeker world, confidence is your spandex. References are your cape. Humility and self-deprecation when it comes to your job performance is like wearing fake glasses—they’re just going to get in the way of letting prospective employers see how super you really are.