linkedin billboard

There’s a reason resumes, cover letters, and interview processes exist, and it’s because they allow recruiters to filter applicants based on their professional qualifications quickly. If you’re completely unqualified for the position, you’re unlikely to convince a recruiter that your charming personality will make up for all the skills you lack. So, is there a way to keep your job search focused on your professional qualifications while making it clear that you’re not a corporate robot? The answer is yes, but it’s important to tread carefully here by following these do’s and don’ts:

Do write a strong summary

A strong narrative summary is an excellent way to give your resume a small dose of personality. The keyword here is small—you still shouldn’t use personal pronouns or mention anything unrelated to your career. However, it’s possible to have a clear voice still while employing a professional writing style. Let’s look at an example:

“Enterprise account executive with a strong background in hardware infrastructure, server/storage virtualization, and emerging cloud technologies. Typically manage quotas in excess of $10MM annually, with a history of exceeding sales targets, leading acquisition efforts, and creating innovative selling approaches in conjunction with in-house marketing as well as extensive partner networks. Experience managing small inside teams, including inside sales representatives, customer success agents, and implementation teams. Strong hunter mentality with a relentless drive for setting and exceeding personal goals for excellence.”

Notice how this summary starts with a clear introduction, gives some background information, and spends the rest of the summary discussing what this person does well. The focus is on this person’s career, but still, you get a strong sense of what kind of personality this individual might bring to the role. Keep in mind, your tone matters, and this isn’t the same voice you’d want to bring if, say, you’re an attorney.  In that situation, something a little drier and to the point might be best. On the other hand, resumes targeting positions in startups, marketing agencies, and other roles where a candidate’s personality actually matters a great deal (customer-facing roles, too), could potentially benefit from areas like this where a little personality shows through.

Do use a cover letter

Your cover letter should be focused on your professional career (sensing a trend here?), but like the summary, it’s another opportunity to explain who you are in your own terms. You’ll still want to come across as a professional, so avoid focusing on your personal life or telling your life story. Instead, talk about who you are in the context of your career.  Have great attention to detail? Great! Talk about a time you oversaw a project that allowed you to use this. Communicate well with others? Provide an example of when you worked with others to accomplish a goal. A strong cover letter can give recruiters insight into your personality while maintaining a level of professionalism if you focus on how you use your personal strengths in a work environment.

Do strategically mention your interests in the interview

The key here is to use some strategy when discussing your personal interests. Don’t whip out pictures of your cat in an interview. Alright, not unless you’ve felt out the vibe and you know without a doubt your interviewer loves cats as much as you do. In that case, it just might work. But in most situations, you’ll want to focus on interests and hobbies that, on some level, relate to who you are at work, as well. An interview might not be the best time to mention that your weekends are spent binging Netflix. Instead, focus on volunteer work, artistic pursuits, family activities, athletic events—things that can indicate a healthy work/life balance and point to transferable skills. For example, if you volunteer to work with animals, this shows you’re a compassionate person who will look out for the interests of others. If you’re part of a flag football league, this could point to your ability to thrive in competitive environments while demonstrating your commitment to physical fitness (also a healthy stress management choice). Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, but do focus on those hobbies and interests that will drive the conversation forward and help you appear well-rounded.

Don’t put personal interests on your resume

You might find conflicting advice on whether or not to include personal interests and hobbies on your resume, but our official stance is that they don’t belong on your professional resume. To understand the reasoning behind this, you first have to visualize the climate that many recruiters are working in. Recruiters may have 100 resumes to review by lunchtime and only a few seconds to spend on each. With this kind of timeline, they’ll be focused on your professional experience, not the fact that you enjoy baking or can play the piano. Once you get to the interview, you’ll be able to explain that you don’t live under your desk, but early on in the job search, recruiters are entirely focused on what you can bring to the table professionally.

Don’t come on too strong

Speaking of the interview, whatever you do, don’t spend so much time talking about your personal interests that you forget you’re in a job interview. Remember: your interviewers are ultimately trying to determine whether or not you’re a good culture fit. If you come across as the kind of person who can’t stop talking about yourself, chances are, no one is going to want to vouch for you as their future desk mate. Provide some insight into your personality by discussing who you are outside of work, while also being considerate of the context. At the end of the day, they’re going to choose to hire you based on your professional qualifications, so don’t try to oversell yourself so hard that it backfires.

Maintaining your professionalism while also having a little bit of personality throughout your job search means walking a very fine line. If you come on too strong, you’ll miss out on opportunities because you’ll be labeled a bad culture fit. If you’re completely forgettable, well, you could still miss out on opportunities because you’ll be labeled a bad culture fit. If you’re having a hard time striking the right balance, look no further. Our writers at Executive Drafts can help you craft a professional resume and cover letter with just the right hint of personality. Or, if you’re struggling to communicate who you are in an interview, our interview coaching services might be your next step.  Whatever your needs are, we have the expertise to support you!