Bullish: Personality Qualities That Are Way More Important Than Anything on Your Resume

I have spent the last couple weeks working on a new profession I had not even been previously aware existed: textbook punch-up. Have a dry, academic-sounding textbook? Call a comedian who majored in philosophy! Now your textbook is full of logic jokes!

This has prompted me to think: while I think my resume looks pretty good, no one gives a shit. My editors at TheGloss haven’t seen it. No one at the textbook company asked for it. At the company I teach test prep classes for, it was a mere formality: my resume was looked at to ensure that I had teaching experience, and then I had to nail an hours-long audition. Once, I did some consulting for a local PBS affiliate because someone had googled “math” and “comedy.”

That is, your resume is nowhere near as important as it used to be. Your personality is your biggest competitive advantage. The personality qualities that make you indispensable are (obviously) not taught in school, but are adoptable by nearly anyone, with some practice and motivation.

Also — if I may be so bold as to suggest — if you have young children, here are some qualities and abilities I think you should guide them towards possessing. The New York Times is constantly, of late, running articles on the state of unemployment among “the so-called millennials, 18 to 29 — whose unemployment rate of nearly 14 percent approaches the levels of that group in the Great Depression.”

The explanation oft repeated: today’s millennials were raised with lots and lots of praise from doting Baby Boomer parents, and those young people who went to college persevered through the toughest college admissions atmosphere ever, so they tend to have extremely high standards for entry-level jobs, despite many of them having to move back in with Mom and Dad. Also, sadly, achievement is a bit of an arms race: if every other person your age has been keeping pace with you, you still don’t stand out, despite killing yourself over seven AP exams, internships, a double major, etc. The bar has simply risen, and many hiring managers (i.e., older people) simply don’t like the personality qualities on display from these young people. There’s no point saying who’s “right”; it is what it is.

An impressive resume is the new high school diploma. You need more.

Here are some skills and personality qualities most college graduates have not developed, and which can allow you to beat those people at everything:

Pitching Things — In the freelance world, the value of pitching is obvious. You pitch an idea, you get the gig, you deliver on schedule, you pitch again. You should be great at pitching. You should have enough good ideas that you can pitch several things to different people in a single day and not get hung up waiting for replies, because you know you’ll have more good ideas where those came from.

However, pitching is extremely important even in traditional jobs. Here’s what I mean: individuals move faster than companies. Or, at least, they should. If you’re waiting for a job opening to be posted on a job site, that company’s need has gotten so acute that the company has already gone through a dozen or more slow, bureaucratic moves to try to fix their problem. At that point, it’s resume versus resume. You want to get in there first. Even a shitty entry-level job gives you that opportunity. If you answer the phone at the front desk, you will learn enough to be able to spot problems and suggest ways to fix them — ideally, ways that involve a new, expanded role for you. If you don’t already have a foot in the door, plenty of people have made jobs for themselves by tracking down the president of a small company and saying (tactfully), “I know how to market your product better,” or “I can rewrite your web copy so you’ll sell more of your product,” or “This is great — I can help you take it to the Spanish-speaking market.”

You have to be able to pitch. In school, the only pitching I remember is occasionally having to come up with my own paper topic and get it approved by my English teacher. But there was no benefit to coming up with a better paper topic over a mediocre one; this isn’t really pitching. A teacher who wanted to teach pitching would say: “We’re going to spend the next three weeks working on this big science project, and you’ll be turning in X for a grade. However, if you can think of a way that you, personally, would learn more about this topic doing something else and turning in a different end product, please come convince me after class.” Make this offer, and the vast majority of children will ignore it. The one kid who takes the teacher up on the offer will then end up skipping all the boring stuff and doing something awesome that he actually cares about, and the other kids will be jealous. Next time, the teacher gets a few more pitches. By the end of the year, the teacher gets pitches all the time without even making the suggestion that he or she is open to them.

Whether you are a student, an employee, an unemployed person, or an entrepreneur, you are fortunate enough to live in the age of the internet: pitching can be as easy as sending an email to someone whose email address is on the internet. You can pitch 10 good ideas in a day. You can pitch in the middle of the night. Try getting something published somewhere — if you’re not expecting to get paid (yet), this should be easy. If you’ve never been published anywhere, that can actually give you more credibility, provided that you are writing about something you do know: even professional science writers are trumped by actual scientists who stop doing science long enough to pen an op-ed. If the guy who cuts my hair wanted to comment on celebs’ new looks, I’d be way into it. When people who aren’t writers bother to get something published, it’s usually because they really have something to say. (Of course, not all pitching is about writing. Pitch yourself as a hitting coach for the local Little League team, I don’t care. But it’s easy to open doors when you’re creating those doors yourself).

Share This Post:
    • Jennifer Wright

      We didn’t need to see your resume. We hired you ’cause you were real pretty.

    • porkchop

      I think you’re so right about public speaking. I’m against toastmaster’s though. I’ve seen several issues of their magazine, and heard what goes on in their meetings. They seem perfect if your aim is to de-emphasize accuracy while making your presentation hopelessly banal.

      • Jen Dziura

        Oh, thanks for the warning! Maybe I’ll start a better Toastmasters. Less Powerpoint, more beer.

    • Lilit Marcus

      I get what you’re saying about writing, but hey – some of us use our writing skills every day! And by some of us I mean “people who write things on the internet for a living.”

      • Jen Dziura

        I certainly didn’t mean to say that there’s anything wrong with writing, just that people also need to speak well. What I meant to say was: everyone should be good at everything. Does that clear it up? ;)

    • Daniella

      Excellent article! It can be helpful, no matter what your profession or aim. I remember being young and hating having a personality that stuck out…I just wanted to be like everyone else. Now I realize that was my greatest asset.

    • MC

      This is a really good article. Through different interview experiences, I can definitely agree that employers look for someone who has a good personality rather than just simply hiring someone with a good resume.

      Jen, I just have to say that I recently started reading all your articles and I find that all your articles are very inspiring. I just admire you. Please keep on writing and share your knowledge with us.

      Best Regards,

    • Precision Grace

      This is a great post and a great website and I was almost crying with happiness that there are women in the world who are eloquent and intelligent and write informative and thought provoking articles but then I got distracted by something shiny.

      Anyway, that thing about pitching. Great advice. Can’t even make it work in written form. Not even in my head. And when I’m face to face with people I actually forget to speak English. Plus I’m old. Ish. Er.

      I’ve now read all the Bullish articles (in one sitting, this evening). I can’t wait for the next one.

      Today, I was at an interview for a part-time job and the lady Professor interviewing me demanded to know why I had not put references on my resume. (the job interview was arranged through an agency). She had had to ring up a colleague in one of the other University departments where I had worked (and where her husband also works and who presumably asked around until he chanced on someone who remembered me from the 3 month stint I did for them last year) and was very pleased with the report she received but continued to berate me for further five minutes demanding to know why I haven’t put my references on my resume! (the agency should have sent them over really but they are ..um.. not always that efficient, let’s say – I had to double check the date for the interview as they’ve written the right day but the wrong date in the confirmation email. Don’t judge them, they get paid peanuts.)
      When she’d finally paused for breath long enough for me to get a word in, I explained that the main reason I don’t put my references on my resume is because it would make it three pages long and as it is not an academic resume this would be ridiculous. Ah! Of course, of course, she said, probably remembering, at long last, that she was interviewing a potential personal assistant, not a new graduate researcher.
      Anyway, sorry for the ramble, I don’t have any friends.

      • Colleen

        Really, MC? That’s a bit strange that the interviewer did that to you. Where I live, it is standard to not include references, and only provide them following an interview. Plus, as an interviewer, if you contact someone not specifically listed as a reference by the candidate, it may be considered a breach of privacy, and then your company could be in a load of trouble.

    • Katiej

      I don’t know who MC is – - – Hi MC – - – but I have to agree with his/her comments. This is a really interesting thought-provoking article. Great work, Jen.
      Having watched too many families obsess over the “perfect” resume, I wish they had put the same amount of effort into encouraging their children’s life skills and hunger for their chosen career paths. My only quibble – I don’t think great pitching always equals an article published.

    • Colleen

      Great article! Part of my job involves interviewing and hiring new employees, and let me tell you, some of the interviews I have conducted have been horrific. If you have a strong resume (written in English as opposed to text-speak is a good start), you get an interview with me. Then, the real work begins, as you have to prove that you have a brain and a personality and can be a responsible, dependable employee. I have seen some interviewees go completely blank on the simplest questions, which have made me wonder if they ever did any of the things listed on their resumes–the bullshit meter sometimes goes off the scale. For my workplace, your degree doesn’t matter as much as what you have done in the past, your willingness to learn new things, your approach to probem-solving and a good attitude.

    • Jan Morgan

      This is probably the best read I’ve had in a very long time about “personality” versus a resume. You are absolutely spot on regarding creating doors and pitching. I did this for people before the internet because it is so effective and I always got them something beyond their expectations. Creativity and research is so key if you take the time to take control of your life.

    • georgeelliot

      Another wonderful and insightful post from Jen Dziura. Your point about the importance of personality reminds me of something I read not too long ago about the lower incidence of malpractice suits against doctors who underwent personality training. Though it’s perfectly obvious to anyone who thinks about it, people are much less inclined to sue someone they like, regardless of whether or not that person actually screwed up. The same goes for hiring.

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    • Anonymous ’12

      Hi Jen, great entry, I really enjoy reading your column. I am a 20-something recent grad as well, and your article is one of the many I’ve been coming across lately about the gap between grads’ high expectations and the reality of entry-level jobs. One phrase got me confused though: you mentioned that many hiring managers “simply don’t like the the personality qualities on display from these young people.” Can you elaborate on these qualities? I’m just a little confused on what you’re arguing for. Is it that companies these days think new grads are too arrogant, have too high expectations that snub most entry-level job, and not enough skills to actually do the job well? That was my first guess, but if you could clarify, that’d be great, as this issue is something my friends and I have all been discussing, since most people I know in my age group are dissatisfied at their first jobs.