An article from Business Insider (BI) has been doing the rounds for a couple of years and keeps appearing in my Facebook feed. It’s a discussion of Elon Musk’s supposed résumé. It explains how remarkable it is how such an accomplished individual can use such a clever and even cheeky document. It’s stripped down to a single colorful page that looks more like a website page or magazine page. It “proves you never need more than one page” asserts BI’s writer. The Elon Musk résumé is entertaining enough, but I have huge problems with the content with regards to the advice: it’s terrible and it goes against most of what I practice as a CPRW. It’s also not his résumé.
Clickbait content mills such as Business Insider profit on high-volume clicking and ad revenue, so I understand their approach. Caveat emptor. I only get upset with them when the perpetrate harmful information. I’m upset because I care about ethics, honesty, and people’s happiness. This dumb article is hurting employment chances.
Many very qualified and capable individuals will copy this résumé style when they would be more successful with a conventional, neat, and precise résumé in black and white. Other than those applying for a job that requires a certain sense of flair or humor, this style of résumé is going to irritate more hiring managers than it will impress. Even if you’re not well-suited for the current opening, you won’t even make it to the “future possibilities” folder. Your email will get dragged into the Trash with the other silly time wasters.
But you’re qualified and you deserve a shot. You’ve just been mislead.
I want to go through some of the reasons why Elon Musk’s supposed résumé wastes everyone’s time. It has a few nice features, but on the whole it’s a joke.
This is all advice I have learned over the years writing résumé for very competent people, and I stand by it.
First things first, to reiterate…
It’s not Elon Musk’s résumé
Given that Musk is an entrepreneur of great standing and accomplishment, owns multiple companies, and hasn’t had a proper job interview for decades, who does he have to impress? He doesn’t need a résumé. “Hi it’s Elon Musk” on a sheet of paper will do.
Read the article closely and you’ll find it’s a mockup, which is actually a hidden ad for yet another auto-résumé app-type of service. After reading the headline and comments, it’s easy to be mislead. If you think that copying the style and general layout of the résumé is going to turn you into a hot property, you’ll be disappointed.
Creating a résumé or CV is an individual process, and until hiring managers prove otherwise, gimmicks are just that: gimmicks.
No photos and no interests
There’s a strangely gamey feel to the phony Musk résumé. It’s as if one earns points for making a résumé cute.
First of all, a résumé should not include a photo unless one is requested. If your résumé is actually read by a human, that human has biases; to err is human, and to judge is human. Try as we may to not discriminate, everyone has some sort of bias, be it against a gender, age, race, reminder of a past relationship, you name it. Humans discriminate. I’m not hear to get into the politics of that, but you have no idea what’s going on in the head of the hiring manager. They may just not like the look of you. If you don’t have a photo, this won’t be a factor.
I’ll add here, though, that a photo is sometimes required. Sadly, in Japan where I live, it’s usually mandatory. And don’t tell me the 54-year-old section manager with the bad combover isn’t picking the pretty girls with lesser qualifications. There is also a bit more of a precedent with the European CV in attaching photos. However, I have helped plenty of applicants succeed without them. Also, do not include interests unless they are directly related to the job. Your love of Pilates and your collection of samurai swords are interesting party talk (maybe), but employers didn’t ask and don’t need to know. Interests waste space, too. Your résumé or CV needs to be professional, to the point, free from distractions. Finally, the faux Musk résumé includes self-rated skills. There is debate on this and my Facebook posts against this tactic have garnered some angry responses, but I stand firm that most employers are not interested in how you qualitatively evaluate your skills. Do you really think that your giving yourself a 90% rating on creativity will in any way sway a hiring manager? Use that space to documents experiences that “show don’t tell” what you have done.
Skills need to be quantified and detailed
We’ll stay on the subject of skills for a moment, as it’s an increasingly important point. As we discussed above, the Musk résumé covers a broad range of skills, but the result is a little meaningless. There is an element of cheekiness. For a professional résumé to be anything like this would be criminal. Every skill you have you need to quantify and qualify with detailed examples. Don’t give yourself a 4 out of 5 for typing—be specific about your word per minute speed. Never say you are “good” with Google AdWords—tell the prospective employer you are certified. I’ve reviews a lot of résumés and CVs and in fact I find this fluffy trend is on the rise. You’ll stand out above the competition if you steer clear of these gimmicks and give solid examples of your value.
Colors should be kept to a minimum
You may have a fondness for red, so you put it in your résumé. Or you may think a bit, or a lot, of color helps you stand out from the crowd. I don’t totally disagree on this point. I like color and I commonly add a bit in my résumés. It is subtle, limited, and generally muted. Particularly for more conservative jobs and in academics, colors can often be avoided with no negative consequence. So use colors sparingly, very sparingly.
Ultimately, you don’t know how the hiring manager is going to be looking at your résumé—it could be on paper, or on a computer screen, which could lead to the colors not showing up properly. Whatever a prospective employer can’t see, they will assume isn’t there at all. And if all your key skills are in red and don’t show up on the screen they are using, your résumé is off to the Trash.
You’re not Elon Musk
So, is this fake Elon Musk’s a complete failure? Absolutely not. Why? Because everyone knows who Elon Musk is – and he doesn’t even need a résumé. You, on the other hand, are going to struggle if you take the same path and use this type of résumé as a template to get yourself on the next step up in your career. Ultimately, when no one knows who you are, your résumé or CV, together with your cover letter and LinkedIn and/or personal page, is the first experience of you that someone will ever come across. To make sure it isn’t their last, you need to make an instant impact, and leave a positive, uncontroversial impression. You will need to describe yourself a lot more than Elon Musk has, and involve a lot more detail. Skills, experience, and your relevant qualifications all need to be up there in plain sight, and you will need to drill down into each of them to ensure the hiring team understand everything they need to know. Even if you look like a supermodel or a Hollywood star and have magnetic charm and athletic prowess, your employer is seeking someone with a CPA, 5 years of client-facing digital marketing experience, or awesome C++ skills. Get the interview first, show yourself and get more personal (to a certain degree) later. Who knows, maybe you really are the next Elon Musk; just not yet.
The ubiquitous one-pager dilemma
The BI article strongly suggests that you should avoid using more than one page for your résumé. Again, this is incorrect for most people. It’s true that if you’re fresh out of college or maybe only have a couple of years of work experience under your belt then a single page is a good rule to follow. However, if you’ve been in the workforce for a few years, have accumulated an impressive record of results, and have been headhunted a couple of times, you may be ready for another page. If you’re an academic, use as many pages as you wish. If you’re bent on using a more traditional CV, that’s case-by-case, but probably at least two pages. The one-page rule is long outdated. I’m not sure where it originated or if it was every really a rule.
One thing you should bear in mind, however, is that there is no need to write full essays of every single task in every single role you have ever had. Any jobs that are irrelevant to the role you are applying for don’t need much explaining, or can even be excluded. When you hire a résumé writer, especially a CPRW such as me, you can let me worry about that for you. Throw your life story at me and I’ll pick out the parts that matter for the job you’re seeking.