March 12, 2009

Meaningless Metrics and Jargon in Resumes

Notes from a Career Counselor
by Amy Lindgren

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks in career-land, but here’s a topic I’ve been concerned about for quite some time.

Meaningless Metrics. In my last blog, I mentioned a disagreement with a client over using jargon in her resume.

Well, not to pick on the same client, but here goes.

Now we’re scuffling over the use of metrics – probably in part because my head still throbs from the jargon issue. Actually, I think I just resist the term “metrics” because I’m still a little attached to “measurements” and “goals.” In my experience, people talk about achieving their metrics when they’re trying to cover up not having reached their goals.

Not this time. This person had worked like a dog to reach all the numbers set out for her by previous bosses. Naturally, she wanted to take credit for those achievements, which I heartily endorse.

The problem? None of the numbers – or metrics, if you insist – meant anything to me. I will concede that I’m not the person they have to impress, but I won’t give up on having them mean something to somebody.

An example of a meaningless metric? How about “Increased sales by 100%?”

What’s missing here is context. Are we talking about selling two notebooks this year when only one was sold last year? Or 200,000 over 100,000? Or maybe the doubled item brought in a million dollars in revenue. There’s a difference.

This candidate was also using numbers that she couldn’t back up.

It wasn’t her fault, exactly. She believed they were accurate – she just couldn’t remember what they stood for, since they were from old resumes she had written years back.

To be honest, I run into this issue more than I’d care to say and I’m nearly always holding the position that using numbers in a resume is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, as advisers are quick to tell you, numbers tell a story. They pack a punch. But on the other hand, as advisers may forget to tell you, numbers have to make sense, and they have to be verifiable in an interview. Good heavens, what will you do if the employer asks for details and you can’t provide them? How embarrassing.

Tip of the week: Do use numbers, but only when you can explain how they were derived and what they measure. Numbers are powerful, but only within a context.

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