Is Your Resume a Hallmark Card?

DenaMarch 4, 2010

This is a guest post by David Pinkley, The Resume Sage.

How do you describe yourself in your resume: team player?…quick learner?…detailed oriented? Do you really believe those self-proclaimed descriptions? Consider this: so does everyone else. That’s the problem. When it comes to describing ourselves we use the same words as everyone else. I know this because in 15 years working as a professional resume writer and executive recruiter I’ve seen nearly 40,000 resumes. Virtually all of them used works like: high energy, results oriented, uniquely qualified, detailed oriented, out-of-the-box thinker…and the list goes on. I call these Hallmark words.

What is a Hallmark word? Example: You go to the store to buy a greeting card for your Sweetie whose birthday is approaching. You are overwhelmed because there are so many cards to choose from. You select your first one and it says something like: “May you experience all things bright and beautiful on your special day. Happy Birthday.” It’s a nice try but the message is contrived so we put the card back and pick another. The second one says: “Here’s a card just for you. You’ve always been tried and true. Happy Birthday.” Again, nice words but the message isn’t meaningful. (Who writes this stuff!?) You repeat this process numerous times until you find one with a message that resonates: “It just always felt right…and it always will. Happy Birthday.” Found it. You’re done.

Hallmark words are words that look great on paper but don’t have any real meaning. It’s the same with resumes. Certain words look great on resumes but they are meaningless. If everyone says they’re a quick learner those words become diluted. (Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant.) Using Hallmark words on your resume will make it seem just as contrived as most greeting cards. The reader (i.e. hiring manager) won’t believe your message and will continue reading other resumes in search of one that resonates.

The reality is we really don’t know how to describe ourselves. So we borrow words from other resumes and convince ourselves that these words really describe us. We don’t realize they have no meaning. Great resumes find authentic ways to communicate familiar themes. How do you do that?

If you are really honest with yourself – you probably don’t know what you really do anyway. The only way to discover exactly what makes you unique is to look closely at your job. This takes introspection and self examination; a process most people dread because it seems like hard work – hence why most resumes are homogeneous. This is difficult to do for yourself. Self examination is much easier if you do it with someone else. But that’s another post.

Blow the dust off your resume and take a look at the words you’ve used to describe yourself. Are they Hallmark words? If they are, you need to recognize that you are not saying anything unique. And no matter how true they are, they are not as meaningful or impactful as you think.

Have questions? Contact David Pinkley at (704) 358-6000 or To learn more visit:

David Pinkley is the founder of The Resume Sage, a custom resume writing service. The Resume Sage critiques and writes resumes for accomplished professionals and executives. Those who work with The Resume Sage are purposeful about navigating their careers. They need more than just strong writing skills; they are seeking insights about how to differentiate themselves from their peers/competitors.

David is a sought-after public speaker and has been featured on local news and NBC’s national news. He earned a B.S. degree from the University of Michigan and started his career in Chicago as a CPA at Ernst & Young and at Bank of America. He has lived and worked as an executive recruiter for 15 years in Charlotte, Raleigh, New York and Hong Kong.

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