tl;dr: The rapid increase in trying to “optimize” and “tweak” resumes and book sales copy will first push competitors to the side in an optimization race, then implode when strategies become widely known. Be awesome and/or write a good book instead.
How can you be honest on your job resume? Or with a job interview?
There are so many guides on tailoring the perfect answers, becoming the ideal candidate, or crafting the most effective resume that it seems an insurmountable task. Resumes are evaluated based on current styles and trends or the resume equivalent of SEO optimization. When you can be blacklisted by multiple HR departments for “unreasonable” things like asking about work conditions or refusing to give up your passwords (not joking), it’s pretty easy to conclude that any degree of honesty is going to cost you that job.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – if you’re wanting to select for the skill of “selling yourself”. If you’re trying to find the best engineer, the best writer, the best teacher, the best medical assistant, or any other set of skills other than “being good at selling yourself”, this method will turn away a lot of good talent with no guarantee of having the best rise to the top.
Your Sales Copy Is Your Resume
This problem isn’t limited to literal resumes. It applies to anything where you try to sell yourself – or your work.
When you write sales copy – like the blurb or back cover of a book – it serves the exact same role as a resume in front of HR. It’s a quick document that either hooks the reader or doesn’t in thirty seconds or less.1 For authors, there are already tons of words about what words to use, where to place your promotional text, how to format things just so in order to raise that conversion rate.
As readers, we search for our own keywords to determine if a book is worth reading or not. And just as with resumes, this is problematic at best.
The Failure of Sales Copy
If the idea of all this optimization reminds you of creepy “pick up artist” tactics – or scammy SEO optimization schemes – then congratulations! You’re a real human being. And the rest of us are starting to catch on as well. Much like “free” or “$0.99” book promotions are not as effective as they once were, much like people are skeptical of that one word “…excellent…” blurb for a movie, we’re learning that people who have to rely on such optimizations – tricks, really – don’t have as much to sell.
I’ve watched the idea of SEO optimization go from standard practice to being viewed as something akin to a 409 scam over the last decade or so… largely due to the people who learn how to game the system and have no value to add. Then Google changes its ranking algorhythm again and people rate SEO expert as a profession just below [insert job you revile here].
The techniques – whether used as tools for legitimate folks or as scams – become more and more obvious to people. (See the XKCD comic below.)
It keeps coming back to the same thing: Honesty – whether in resumes or in book blurbs and reviews – is really the only effective way to go.
1 The astute among you will realize that this applies to book covers as well.
2 For that matter, some of the movies lumped into slasher films – Psycho and Silence of the Lambs comes to mind – don’t really belong there either.
3 I heard a story that people were taking children to see that film under the impression it was more like the Labrynth with Muppets.