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Building the bottom line is not the whole story

Specific corporate jobs exist for many valid reasons and contributing to profits is only one of them. The same is true in freelancing and consulting, our work may contribute directly to the bottom line or it may not.

Current advice to job applicants is to write the resume so it presents benefits, specifically measurable achievements that result in profit. The alternative is to write features that describe our activities on the job.

As a result, it is tremendously difficult to write a resume that targets a non-sales or non-line (rather than support) function. The same is true in writing our “about” page for freelancing and consulting.

Take my own experience, for instance.

My last “good” corporate job was as a financial writer for a mutual fund company. The job is much more about maintaining legal / regulatory compliance than it is about increasing sales.

In fact, any piece of written communications that is persuasively effective is also illegal. Corporate attorneys review everything published for compliance, and for the financial writer to obtain all the required signoffs can take far longer than the original writing.

This is a real problem in resume writing. There are no measurements of profitability that can honestly be attributed to the financial writer.

Even measures of compliance, such as meeting regulatory deadlines for issuing client reports, are so far beyond the control of the financial writer that it’s a joke.

An honest resume for a financial writer is a description of features, not measurable benefits.

What to do about this?

I’ve had years of experience addressing the problem. I’ve been a certified résumé writer and have specialized in critiquing résumés for PR and communications professionals. One way around this problem is to cite sexy wins, such as the client’s mention in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.

Sometimes people even do volunteer work for impressive-sounding charitable institutions to add some cool achievement to their accomplishments.

However, it’s often the case that the most important work is highly repetitive and does not lend itself to quantifiable impact. Then the temptation is to twist explanations of the work completed into irrelevant or untrue profit measures. One alternative is to guesstimate a large number of readers—especially for online marketing—or to go with the number of copies printed, even if many of those copies languish in the supply cabinet.

This dilemma must provide a lot of laughs to hiring managers (for both full-timers and solopros) who review qualifications and know what the jobs they oversee really entail. I suggest that the manager who hires the financial writer or anyone else in the same benefits-versus-features boat knows better, even if HR challenges selection decisions.

Or at least I hope so!

Originally posted 11-4-13

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