Laszlo Bock and Google’s resume advice is good, but it isn’t the be-all and the end-all

This article from Thomas Friedman that ran in Sunday’s New York Times “How To Get A Job At Google, Part 2” — has drawn a bunch of attention (if you’re curious, Part 1 of the same article is here). Part 2 is more like a straight-up interview — and you will see a lot of articles by Friedman in the coming weeks around “How’s my kid going to get a job?” because that’s the focus of a conference he’s speaking at/headlining in San Francisco in mid-May — and this is one of the comments from Laszlo Bock (essentially the head of HR at Google) that’s getting the most attention:

“The key,” he said, “is to frame your strengths as: ‘I accomplished X, relative to Y, by doing Z.’ Most people would write a résumé like this: ‘Wrote editorials for The New York Times.’ Better would be to say: ‘Had 50 op-eds published compared to average of 6 by most op-ed [writers] as a result of providing deep insight into the following area for three years.’ Most people don’t put the right content on their résumés.”

In case you couldn’t tell from context, that quote is about how to write a great resume. I 100 percent agree with him on surface — who am I, as a currently-searching-for-a-job grad student, to argue with the head of People at Google? — but I also think it’s not entirely that simple. You can write a great resume, but the conventional logic is that recruiters/resume scanners look at it for six seconds (tops). Obviously, defining accomplishments in terms of tangible ROI is tremendously important, but I would argue that in six seconds, a lot of recruiters don’t even get down to the bulk of what you’ve been doing. It’s all about the top and the immediate context you provide — who are you? what’s your current situation? where do your skills lie? what do you want to do? — and while I’m not saying all those questions should be answered in the first 2-3 lines of a resume, I do think that setting up your brand near the top is perhaps more important than defining your accomplishments in the X-Y-Z format mentioned above. If you don’t set up the personal brand off the top, I don’t even think many recruiters will get down into the accomplishments that deeply.

Simply put, there’s no real science to a resume — ask 18 different people and you’ll get 18 different responses. For example, some believe you should never put your address on there. Others believe it’s essential. I’ve had people tell me to never use the first-person (“I”) and others tell me that doing so gives it a different voice that will stand out. I’ve had people say “Don’t put an About Me section right at the top,” and others say that can be helpful as a screening process idea. No one really knows if people read cover letters — in all honesty, that will vary by company/recruiter — and that’s another challenge. In sum, though, it’s not a science. The hiring game is doing the best it can, but is a bit flawed.

So, should you define your resume as “did X compared by Y by Z actions?” Of course. (Hell, Google knows work better than most.) But even if you’re a tremendous candidate with an amazing resume, that strategy might not work. A lot of it is about context, presentation, connections, and (quite simply) timing.


Ted Bauer