Is Your Resume Cursed?



QUESTION: What’s the number one problem rendering your resume ineffective?

ANSWER: The curse of knowledge.

What is the Curse of Knowledge?

The curse of knowledge manifests when you know something that your reader does not know and you have to communicate it in a way that sticks but you don’t know how. The curse of knowledge is detailed in the excellent book analyzing the critical factors of sticky messages, Made to Stick by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.

In resumes the curse of knowledge can look like:
1) Long summary sections.
2) Bullet pointed work experience that sounds like a job description.
3) A three to four page history of your career that could be condensed to two pages.

Understanding the Curse of Knowledge

To better understand the curse of knowledge, the writers use the example of a study done at Stanford University assigning people to one of two roles – tappers or listeners. The tappers were to tap out on the table one of 25 well-known songs, e.g. Happy Birthday, Yankee Doodle, Mary Had a Little Lamb. The listeners’ job was to identify the song being tapped out. The tappers assumed 50% of the listeners would be able to guess the song. In reality, only 2.5% of the songs were identified by the listeners. This study highlights two critical points about the curse of knowledge that are good to keep in mind when composing your resume.

1) The tapper or the one with the knowledge took for granted what he knew and assumed the listener, the one without the knowledge, would be able to pick it up.

2) What seemed obvious to the tapper was incredibly difficult to decipher by the listener despite the fact the listener was very familiar with the tune being tapped out.

For tappers, it was impossible to imagine that the listener could not pick out the tune because the tappers could not comprehend what it was like not to know what they knew. As the subject of the resume, it may be impossible for you to imagine that someone might not grasp your value based on the content you’ve provided. You may also assume the reader is familiar with your industry, job responsibilities, etc. But what is obvious to you is not always obvious or easy to decipher by your reader. This is called an information imbalance. As the writer of the resume, your goal should be to create an information balance so that your reader readily picks up on who you are, what you offer and why they should interview you.


Reversing the Curse on Your Resume

Keep it simple.

This means that you bottom line the information and only leave in the necessary details that might provide context giving the reader insight into the scope of what you were dealing with. Focus on quantifiable accomplishments. This is a good example: “Raised $5 million to launch phase two of product development.”

No need to tell your reader, “Traveled across state and presented to five different investor groups to raise $5 million for phase two of product development.”

You can tell the rest of the story during the interview while artfully articulating why you are the right person for the job.

When developing your personal brand, focus on telling a credible story in as a few words as possible. For example, you might see several statements like this in a summary section, “Utilizes prioritization and time management skills to resolve problems in a timely manner.”

Instead, you could say, “Proactive Leader delivering effective solutions under tight deadlines or in high-stress situations.”

Is reversing the curse of knowledge easy? No. It will take time and concentrated effort. BUT if you take an hour a week to develop your achievements, your personal brand, your simple statements, you will have the foundation of a great resume that communicates your value and what sets you apart thereby reversing the curse of knowledge.

Remember don’t take for granted that your reader knows what you do or can decipher what you’re actually saying in the narrative of your resume. Keep it simple. Keep it succinct. Keep it compelling.

The best is yet to come,