7 things your interviewer doesn’t care about

Job hunting is stressful, but job seekers often make it more stressful than it needs to be, by agonizing over details that most employers don’t care about at all. Here are seven of the most common things that job seekers often stress over – but shouldn’t spend any time worrying about.

1. How you address your cover letter. Job applicants often spend time trying to hunt down the name of the hiring manager so they can address the letter to “Dear Ms. Smith” rather than “Dear hiring manager.” Most managers don’t care at all if you took the trouble to find their names. If it’s not readily available, “dear hiring manager” is just fine.

2. Your resume design. What employers want from your resume design is a document that’s clean and uncluttered, easy to scan, not overly fancy, and puts the information we want in the places we expect to find it. Whatever design you choose that achieves those goals is fine with us.

3. Whether your resume is one page or two. Unless you’re right out of school, it’s fine for your resume to take up two pages. Consider this license to stop using small fonts and narrow margins to cram everything into one page; we don’t mind two (and would prefer to spare our poor strained eyes).

4. Your “personal brand.” Employers don’t care about your personal brand; we care that you do good work. The evangelists telling you that you must build a unique and recognizable personal brand are looking for a new concept to sell you in an overcrowded marketplace. Employers – the people actually thinking about hiring you – could care less. Do good work and build a good reputation, and forget the branding hype.

5. Whether your post-interview thank-you note is handwritten or emailed. What we care about is the content of the note. Is it well-written? Does it express enthusiasm? Does it build on the conversation we had in the interview? If it does these things, it’s done it’s job. It doesn’t matter if it arrives via a handwritten note card or in an email.

6. Your college major and your coursework (in most cases). With some exceptions, employers generally care that you have a degree, but much less about what field it’s in. And (again with some exceptions) they really don’t care about what classes you took or what you wrote your papers on. They want to know that you attended a reputable school, did well there, and graduated. Beyond that, most of us really care more about work experience.

7. That summer job you got fired from in college. One job that didn’t go well isn’t going to kill your candidacy. We all made mistakes when we were new to the workforce. As long as you have other work experience, it’s not a disaster. In fact, you don’t even need to include the job on your resume, although if you do, be prepared to talk about what you learned from the experience.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 129 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Regarding #1…. that has never helped a candidate while I’m hiring. I can’t say I’ve held it against anyone, but addressing a cover letter to our president, who has NOTHING to do with the day-to-day of our department and is certainly not involved in the hiring process is a little off-putting. I’d prefer to see “hiring manager” since our department structure is not obvious from job titles on our online staff directory. I’ve tried not to let it color my opinion, but looking at the directory and picking the name at the top, assuming that would be the person screening and hiring for a front desk position seems a little lazy and out of touch.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I find it mildly annoying when instructions specifically say to email me, and someone addresses it to someone who they’ve decided is more important. It doesn’t impact their candidacy in any way, but I notice it and think it’s silly.

    2. Lisa*

      I feel the same way about “Dear Sir or Madam”

      I hate it and immediately think Nigerian email scam when I see it.

      1. sam.i.am*

        Ack! I use “Sir or Madam” if I don’t know the hiring manager’s name. I default to formality and I don’t know if I could write to “Dear hiring manager.” It’s taken me 10 years to address the letters to the hiring manager’s first name!

          1. ag*

            It drives me nuts, though, when I list myself as the contact/hiring person on a job post and I get a “To Whom It May Concern” cover letter back.

          2. ChristineH*

            That’s part of my philosophy too. I think I used to write stiffly, but now try to write in my own “voice”, so-to-speak.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s all fine. Seriously. I like “dear hiring manager” if you don’t have a name, just because it’s less formal — but seriously, it’s all fine. People need to stop worrying about it. (I’m shocked by how often people ask me this.)

  2. K.*

    I’m in marketing and I loathe the term “personal brand.” A new college grad at my part-time job just landed a full-time one that starts in October. He’s going to be working at one of the big accounting firms and is nervous about it. He made a comment to me about “growing [his] personal brand,” and I was like “Show up on time and get s*** done and you’ll be fine.”

    1. Bridgette*

      “He made a comment to me about “growing [his] personal brand,” and I was like “Show up on time and get s*** done and you’ll be fine.”


      1. K.*

        Thanks! From what I can tell at our part-time gig, he’s smart and a good worker (he shows up on time, gets s*** done, dresses appropriately); I think he’s just been reading too much career counseling, possibly talking to his alma mater’s career center, etc. And to be fair, he’s going to be working at one of the biggest accounting firms in the world and it’s his first grown-up job, so his nerves are understandable. When I told him that he laughed and said “Is that all?” I replied “Basically, yeah.”

        1. Lexy*

          As someone who works at one of the biggest accounting firms in the world, there are three steps to a good reputation: 1) show up on time, get s*** done, dress appropriately (h/t to you K.) 2) know how to form complete sentences and don’t make an ass of yourself in front of clients 3) get your CPA.

          SHAZAM, you’re in at least the top 25% of your class.

    2. Kelly O*

      Totally agree with the brilliance of “Show up on time and get sh*t done and you’ll be fine.”

      There is so bloody much “personal branding” advice floating around out there, it will make your head spin. People are designing logos using their initials or name, spending all sorts of time and money on letterhead and matching business cards and putting that out on a visual resume everywhere they can… I mean really just make sure you’re presenting an authentic you.

      And by authentic, I mean be yourself. Don’t worry so much about what other people think, and just be true to yourself. Yes, you’re going to need to avoid the mohawk if you want to be an investment banker or an attorney (most of the time.) But you can still do good work and keep your own personality.

    3. Anonymous*

      I believe in a personal brand, which to me means: gain relevant work experience, participate in professional development, contribute to professional literature (if applicable). To me, that is creating your brand. Never, ever, ever should you mention it in your cover letter or resume or interview. Who cares? The work should speak for itself.

      1. Ellie H.*

        That’s just doing good work and being proactive about your career though. Why do we need to have a dumb-sounding, “New Media”-type name for a basic and eternal concept?

        1. Shannon Terry*

          I’m loving this discussion because the “personal brand” is definitely being pushed in the resume writing world. I too feel that there is sometimes (maybe too often ) a gap between what “real world” hiring folks want and what the “professionals” in the career counseling/job search coaching field tout as necessary. This is why I love following AAM’s blog, I want my clients to have that real world hiring insight, and I do, too.

          Yes, many writers add personal logos & design details (outside creative fields), which I think can be a bit much. I think it impresses some clients, the drastic change in the look and feel of their resume.

          I choose to keep my designs simple so the focus is content, and I think most importantly, making the resume easy for the hiring manager to discern what exactly this candidate brings to the position and company.

          My approach (and please, feel free to disagree if you do!) is to often use headings and sections titled with the 3-5 key skills sets we are highlighting (and making sure these match the job requirements (and real skills of the candidate — no fiction writing!)

          I think of this as clear communication, and a”branding” that helps the reader and respects his/her time in reviewing resumes by making it quick & easy to see what this candidate brings to the table. Of course the skill sets highlighted in those headings must be backed up by just as clearly sharing the accomplishments in those skill areas.

          I’m wondering if that approach (the headings and sections labeled with the key skill sets) comes across as superflous “branding” or, as I hope they do, simply make it clear and quick for the reader to get the jist of what this candidate is all about before reading in detail. I get good feedback on increased interviews, but in service to my clients wanted to see what this community thinks if they want to weigh in.

          I acknowledge all readers prefer different styles and approaches, though AAM’s opinion is one I almost always agree with, and her community gives great real world feedback as well. Thanks everyone!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Do you have a sample you can link to, by any chance? That would make it easier to see exactly what you mean. In general, I’m more impressed by accomplishments than skills, but I might be envisioning something different than what you’re talking about!

  3. Catherine*

    “Personal brand” and “evangelist” (used in the business world) are terms I detest. If I meet a business person using those terms I immediately think, “They are all flash and no substance, and have no idea what they are talking about.” I tune them out after that. I think those terms probably fall under the “gimmicks” category.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Totally. And it pisses me off when I see people trying to convince people that they need a “personal brand.” As far as I can tell, the people who do this are all either trying to make money off the concept or just clueless about giving good advice and grasping at straws so they have something to write about.

      1. ChristineH*

        I have to giggle at your aversion to the “personal brand” because I attended a workshop on this very subject a couple of years ago, and I actually thought it was kinda cool. In hindsight, I definitely see what you’re saying…it’s such a bloated technique. In fact, I dislike any technique that forces you out of your comfort zone, such as insisting on an interview in your cover letter or unsolicited calls to follow up on an application.

        I still think the best way to go is to be genuine and let your accomplishments speak for themselves.

        1. Anonymous*

          I wish people like you would be so honest in interviews…. I would hire a manager in a moment who had this as a personal philosophy. If I hear one more response about “finding each individual’s personal approach and harnessing their potential blah blah blah” fluffy response, I may consider vomiting. Can we not worry about making everyone a unique snowflake and fretting over “personal brands”? Someone willing to encourage and enforce “get s*** done, be polite and professional” as departmental policy is exactly what I want!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Honestly, a manager who thinks her job is to “find each individual’s personal approach and harness their potential” is a manager I’d never hire, not in a million years. Your job is to get shit done. If helping people develop makes that easier (and it generally does), then great — but it’s a means to an end, not your purpose.

            1. Patti*

              Thank you… thank you… thank you!! It is not my job to make you better at your job!! I have had a few employees who feel like it’s my fault if they can’t meet expectations. One of them even said it outright in an email she sent me right before she walked out the door at lunchtime and never came back. It is my responsibility to provide the tools and information needed in order to perform the job to my expectations. I can’t make you a rock star if you don’t want to be one.

      2. Jamie*

        I’ll be honest – I hear it all the time but I’m not even sure what having a personal brand really means.

        I do know I don’t have one – other than that, I’m lost so I’m glad it’s not needed.

          1. Josh S*

            Wow. That’s probably the best, most accurate description of that piece of self-help jargon I’ve ever heard. Keeping that in the pocket for the next time I’m at a ‘networking event’.

      3. Cassy*

        Personal brand and personal identity are taught and used widely in the design and art world. Maybe it is how it is defined and created that makes a difference?

        I’ve never been at a conference or under the guidance of someone using this outside of the design world, so I’m not sure how they are presenting it. In the design realm your personal identity is your thinking processes, how you work, how you position yourself from other workers and your personal morals/thoughts/ideas, etc.

        I would find it odd if someone didn’t know where they stood on the above, no matter what field they were in. However, I have a feeling this is not how personal brands/identities are being promoted in the hiring sphere?…

        1. Josh S*

          It almost makes sense in design/art. A ‘personal brand’ is more of a philosophy/approach to the work for each person. And a person’s style will be reflected in the portfolio of work, perhaps alongside a short statement.

          But that’s a style issue. It doesn’t matter whether a wedding photographer uses a traditional portrait/posed style or if she uses a photojournalist style if she can’t deliver an album of photos at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter how cool/modern/retro/stylized your graphic design work is if you can’t deliver a functional website (or the relevant style components).

          So in a sense, you’re right. There’s very much a personal style/brand when it comes to creative work. But that is secondary to your ability to fulfill a commission and get s*** done.

          For the rest of us outside of creative fields, the self-help/self-marketing people talk about a personal brand as though the style reflects (and is more important than) the substance–even if the two are unrelated. I could be a completely kick-a** Chocolate Teapot designer, and have a plain ol’ resume. In contrast, the self-help/self-marketing people want you to have a beautiful resume, website, and business card that represents you in every professional interaction you have, and they insinuate that having this personal brand will make you more attractive to employers, even if you can’t design a Chocolate Teapot for crap.

          They’re talking about style over ability for us non-creatives. And that just doesn’t matter. Really, “Show up and get s*** done” is all the personal branding you need.

          1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            Except I don’t think that personal brand proponents are advocating for developing your personal brand at the expense of skills and experience. It’s like any bit of advice on this website, about how to address your cover letters, or how to build a resume… they’re all things that improve your candidacy, but AAM would never say that those things will (or should) get you a job if you’re just plain unqualified. The difference is that developing your personal brand often involves enhancing your skills and experience, whereas other stuff (like design-heavy resumes) don’t.

            1. Jamie*

              The extraneous stuff that falls under this branding umbrella like the matching business cards, resume, etc. can hurt you in some industries.

              I’ve been know to get shit done on occasion, and have a fairly respectable track record. But I’m in manufacturing, and I may have a white collar job but it’s a blue collar industry. If I showed up with a personalized logo and motto on my own business cards, letterhead, etc. it would absolutely work against me. It would be seen as precious and frankly, kind of bizarre in my world.

              When it comes to the flair it really is a know your industry situation.

    2. Kelly O*

      The “evangelist” thing bothers me too. (And maybe it’s because I was raised Southern Baptist, so when I hear “evangelist” I start looking for Billy Graham.)

      And I know people who are truly gung-ho about their company and its image and brand and all that. To me, they’re kind of boring, because they’re one-note people. You get the same thing, no matter what. Yes, I get that you’re a cowboy or cowgirl at heart, and you love country music and riding horses and all that, but that’s all? Nothing else? You’ll preach the company line to the rafters, but underneath all the pomp, can you tell me why?

      (And yeah, for those who are truly cowboys and cowgirls, and that’s really their life, I totally get it and I respect that. But when you live in a suburb and the most mud your giant full sized gas guzzling truck gets is when we get a few days of rain and you’re running over branches… then I have questions.)

      1. Jamie*

        The evangelist thing never bothered me – because I’ve only heard it used in a kind of off-hand humorous way.

        I had a boss who wanted everyone to take a basic accounting class – no matter what their role – because it will help people understand the language of business and minimize the amount of exposition required in meetings. People referred to him as the evangelist of t-accounts.

        The same people said the same about me with ISO – because I’d not only stop to share procedures with you, but why they are important, and how they will improve your life.

        It was all joking around – I’ve never heard it used with the pseudo serious tone like when I hear people talking about personal branding.

        1. Catherine*

          If used in a humorous or informal way, I have no problem with it. It’s when you put it on your business card or email signature that I can’t take you seriously. I am much more likely to listen to the Director of Sales or something similar than I am to an Evangelist.

          1. Jamie*

            On a business card? Oh my.

            That’s not the kind of thing you would see in my industry, but in that context it’s beyond silly.

  4. AdAgencyChick*

    Maybe it’s because I work in advertising, but I do think there’s some merit to the idea of building your own brand. If you can become known for something in particular that you’re stellar at, then you stand a better chance of being memorable than if you try to be all things to all people. It’s the same principle of “positioning” that works with real brands — that is, staking out a position in people’s minds so that you stand for something to them.

    Also, I’m a firm believer in the rule of “never be good at anything you don’t want to do” — because anything you are good at will become part of your “brand,” so to speak, and you will be asked to do more of it. I loathe flashy PowerPoint presentations. People know that I am not good at creating them, but that I *am* good at creating solid content for such presentations (and I do enjoy doing that). So I am very happy that my “brand” is Content Gal, and someone else can be Smoke and Mirrors Guy who turns my content into something flashy.

    That being said, the way you accomplish positioning, whether for yourself or for a real brand, is NOT by coming out and saying, “My brand is that I am Mr. Accuracy!” or “I’m positioning myself as the best TPS report writer in the industry!” It’s much subtler than that, and takes a hell of a lot more work, or people like me wouldn’t have jobs!

    1. Lisa*

      If you are in advertising then yes personal brand matters. You can’t be in the marketing world without a public facebook page, G+ page, Twitter accounts, etc otherwise you look like a fool for recommending things that you don’t practice. But to AAM’s point, “grasping at straws so they have something to write about” its nuts to just post drivel just so you have a presence out there.

    2. K.*

      I agree that it’s good to be known for something. I’m a content person too. People do know this about me – my crappy part-time job (which does not involve writing) discovered that I’m good at it and let me rewrite a bunch of their stuff – and it needed it, believe me. But I think you just … do those things well. We do position ourselves, sure – we present ourselves a certain way to employers, bosses, clients. But I think generally, the way we do that is simply by doing it. Those who talk about how you need to create your personal brand often take an “all flash, no substance” approach to it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, it’s just reputation, which is a concept everyone understands and so these personal-branding-pushers can’t make money off of it, but that’s all you need.

        1. Catherine*

          Yes, I believe we are revolting against literal branding and not just building a reputation, which is what AdAgencyChick is describing. It’s when people make cutesy logos and slogans or other pieces of marketing that are well beyond what a normal person would do. One of my relatives redid my resume (without asking me if I was interested) and stamped our family crest on top and edited it to include my name. It looked very gimmicky.

            1. Catherine*

              Sigh, yes. We’re Scottish heritage and have a distinct clan insignia. Normally I’m quite proud of this but a resume is not where it belongs. He was very proud of himself and told me he made my boring resume much better.

          1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            I actually think a family crest is kinda cool. It would have to be something real, and something you were proud of in your day-to-day life, but I actually kinda like this.

            But if you don’t have a signet ring to match, your resume is going in the trash. ;)

  5. Eric*

    Really? You don’t care what my college degree is in? I got a degree in underwater basket weaving and I’m applying for a finance position. I got a degree in English and I’m applying for an engineering position.

    I would think the exception would be not caring what field the degree is in. If I don’t have a degree in the field you are hiring and my competition does, I better have something really really intriguing to make it past the “skimming the resumes” step.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Finance may be one of the exceptions I referenced in that part. Although if I’m hiring a finance position (not in the finance industry), I care about work experience and track record of success doing the work. It’s always going to trump degree for me.

      1. Anon*

        Yes, finance industry is an exception. I always look at school and degree, and GPA for people <5 years out or so.

          1. Jamie*

            One of the best production managers I’ve ever worked with – brilliant at engineering – has an MA in Philosophy.

            I wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years – but it’s kind of fascinating what people major in and then how it can diverge in the course of a career.

            1. JT*

              One component of philosophy is logic, and I knew some philosophy majors who has considered studying math or applied math due to interest in logic and proofs, so a philosophy-engineering connection doesn’t surprise me.

            2. Eric*

              Exception and not the rule. Engineering jobs predominately require engineering degrees. If employers are not commonly checking degrees then the message I’m hearing from AAM is to go to a research university and get the easiest Bachelor of Arts degree you can.

                1. Eric*

                  I would wager that there are more fields that fit your “exception” than do not (thus making them the rule).

              1. Kelly O*

                Eric, you might be surprised to find out the number of “analysts” who have degrees in things like sociology, history, English.. very liberal arts backgrounds.

                I sort of wanted to get a more liberal arts degree and my parents said no way. There endeth my quest for the double major in English Literature and History.

          2. Jyoti*

            Well, that’s fascinating to hear. I have my masters in Philosophy and over 6 years of very successful record work experience in manufacturing Finance. Unfortunately for me, any interview I give, my degree in Philosophy always makes people skeptical about my skill set. Recently, I had 2 very successful interviews, cleared 3 rounds when there was no question about what I majored in, but in the final round, the question came up and my answer made them skeptical. I did’t get the job. I wish it were true that what you majored in does not matter…

  6. AnotherAlison*

    Personal Brand

    I think we all have a personal brand. I think there is gimmicky stuff, like always writing your notes in purple pen and having some cheesy line on your email signature (i.e. Don Smith, your answer man in accounting), but even without trying to create something, you will eventually have a brand, or reputation.

    You don’t want this to happen, but I’d say “Dan” does have a brand:
    Guy 1: You should go ask Dan that question instead. Sorry, but he’s the expert.
    Guy 2: Mmm. Dan. Who’s Dan again?
    Guy 1: You know, Dan. The guy with the wrinkled pants that writes the really long memos.
    Guy 2: Oh, yeah! I know Dan.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s reputation though….which is a concept most people instinctively get, doesn’t stress them out, and thus isn’t a concept that the advice industry can sell to them.

      1. Anonymous*

        I think the disconnect for some of us, particularly those that come from an advertising background, is that “personal brand” and “reputation” mean the same thing.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I do think there’s a subtle difference & I’m trying to put some words around it.

        To me, reputation is solely how others view you for the work you produce, while brand is how you market/promote that reputation.

        I’m thinking Jane the Analyst who writes Chocolate Teapot reports vs. Jane the Chocolate Teapot Expert. In normal reputation-building, I draw the conclusion that Jane is the Chocolate Teapot Expert based on my natural work interaction with her. In brand-building, Jane actively sends me her Chocolate Teapot reports to show me how much expertise she has in the field. My conclusion about Jane is ultimately based on reputation – I don’t care if she TELLS me she’s a Chocolate Teapot Ninja, if her report sucks, the branding doesn’t convince me, but I think when your reputation (or evaluation of your reputation) is being pushed to people outside your natural circle of influence, it tips to the branding side of things.

          1. Josh S*

            Quoting from above: “Creating a personal brand= Marketing the reputation you wish you had.”

            This still holds. Even when it’s not a stretch. It’s still marketing your reputation.

            The challenge is that most ‘branding experts’ don’t care if you actually have the reputation or not. They want you to market the reputation you want to have. The distinction is important.

    2. cf*

      I didn’t know until the marketing director at my old company told me that I had a personal brand. Apparently, my wearing a hat any time I was in the sun meant I was the Hat Lady. Who knew that a desire to reduce glare (a headache trigger) and to protect my skin, which I so sorely abused as a teenager, would lead to my professional identity?

      1. Yup*

        Ah, but this proves the whole point of the problem with the ‘personal brand’ concept. Just like with corporate brands, the seller doesn’t determine the brand — the buyer does. The seller can put ideas out there, but it’s the marketplace that shapes the brand. So we can all run around creating Unique Personal Brands like “analytics rock star” or “wordsmith extraordinaire,” but our de facto brand is “nice lady from accounting who wears hats” or “long memo writing guy”. Despite my desire for a personal brand of Office Superhero, I’m pretty sure my actual brand is “sarcastic over achiever.”

        Thumbs up on the sun protection, by the way. :)

      2. Blinx*

        Referring to someone as the Hat Lady isn’t branding, it’s labeling. This practice has got to stop! You should be known as “the go-to person for _______” and not what you wear! We used to have a vendor that everyone referred to as “No Socks” since he never wore socks with his dress shoes (ick). I finally had to interrupt someone and ask just WHO they were talking about. I also find that this nickname practice is rampant among cliques.

        1. cf*

          Nobody sees me in my hat at my new job, so I have become known, in 8 weeks, as the Person Who Knows How To Get Stuff Out of IT and Who Can Format It and The Person Who Can Do Financials, Which Is A Relief Because Our Financials Guy Just Quit.

              1. Kelly O*

                IT guys are really fond of cupcakes too. They won’t admit it, and they’ll act weird if you bring them in, but that plate will get licked clean.

                1. Jamie*

                  IT women however, have marginally better social skills and we won’t act weird…we’ll just be very grateful.

                  I did something very wrong in my career as I almost never get bribed.

                  I have to stop accommodating people who don’t leave a frosting covered offering.

          1. danr*

            There was a period of time at my old company when I got all the bits and pieces jobs, and some folks referred to me as Lord High Everything Else.

  7. De Minimis*

    I worked at a large accounting firm back in 2008-2009 and they forced us to attend multiple workshops about “personal branding.”
    It was ridiculous, but a lot of people bought into it, I guess because the partners believed in it. It might have been somewhat relevant for managers and above…people who were more involved in marketing and gaining clients, but it wasn’t all that useful for most of the employees who were just out of school.

  8. Elizabeth*

    But if the employers “could care less” then that means they care a little and haven’t rid themselves of caring completely. Sorry–my own personal pet peeve!

    I just could never take the personal branding stuff seriously. There is a high school friend on my Facebook feed who is *constantly* going on to us about building our personal brand. While I do think there are job markets where this is useful, I think the majority of us are in markets where a well-tailored resume and cover letter are all you need (with the skills to match the position, of course). I think he sounds like an idiot and he thinks he sounds like a deep guru. Blech.

      1. Elizabeth*

        I finally got his reply today (apparently his personal brand doesn’t require speedy replies). I asked him what he considered to be personal branding and if it was different from a person’s reputation. He said (copied and pasted directly):

        I think a Personal Brand is very closely compared to a Business Brand like W Hotels, or Starbucks. Reasoning: When you see the “W” you think of your experiences, the design, the smell, the people who you interacted with during your stay. Good, bad, or ugly. So when you talk about Brand now, it does not speak just to Visual Identity, It does not just speak to Reputation, it is the full experience, and the way that Brand/Person makes you feel from first-hand knowledge or word-of-mouth. This is a very broad response. I hope that it helps. With Starbucks it may not be the best coffee ever, but the experience and perhaps the memories you make their builds the Starbucks Brand in your mind; assuming your experience with them is positive. Talking about Personal Brand: It is different that your resume or your reputation because you can be an awesome writer. People can think you are really talented, but they also can think you are a jerk. All that matters. Not just the skills. I heard a great quote the other day. Something to the effect of “People will not always remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

        I don’t really see a difference between reputation and personal branding no matter what he tried to say. Just thought I’d pass it along!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Thank you! And I agree, I don’t really see how this is different, from practical purposes, from reputation. Aside from him throwing in the whole “it’s how you make people” feel thing. But I’m really not sure individual people (as opposed to companies) should be focusing on that, aside from being reasonably warm, friendly people. Otherwise it starts feeling … a little prostitutey.

          1. Jamie*

            Apropos of nothing: the next time someone asks me how I’m feeling I am going to answer ” a little prostitutey.”

            I love that – and I can make it work.

        2. Jamie*

          That’s what I’ve been doing wrong – I haven’t been trying to make sure people associate me with my smell.

          Which right now is a combination of cocoa butter soft soap, hand sanitizer, and toothpaste.

          Once I get everyone to think of me whenever they get a whiff of Crest or rubbing alcohol I’m sure my career will take off like gangbusters! :)

          Seriously though, I don’t see how it’s different than reputation, either.

  9. Lisa*

    Can we all list our “reputations”??? What people say about us …

    I am :
    “most amusing employee”
    “psychotically thorough”
    “all in”.

    I like being referred to as the 2 last ones.

    1. Jamie*

      Ha – kind of like those little blurbs next to senior pics in yearbooks summing up “who are you?” in three sentence fragments.

      I was once told I had the focus and rabid attention to detail of a serial killer. It was meant as a compliment, albeit the weirdest one I’ve ever gotten.

      I would also be up for awards in the following categories: Most nitpicky, most silently aggravated, and most likely to stare at the ceiling tiles trying desperately not to laugh inappropriately in the big meetings, least likely to serve on the Party Planning Committee.

      Probably a lot of far less pleasant nominations as well.

      1. Catherine*

        My reputation around my office is akin to that of a certain Sith lord we all know and love. My coworkers even put “Darth” before my name. I call our new employees “My Young Apprentice.”

      2. Kelly O*

        I was once presented with a “Most Diplomatic” award, which I am certain might surprise some. My boss told me she wanted to put “Most likely to tell you you’re being an asshole without actually coming out and saying it in front of everyone” but it wouldn’t fit. (We did awards for each other at a Christmas party one year, and it was awesome.)

        1. ChristineH*

          LOL your comment just made me think of a Christmas party my department had one year (we usually went out for 2-3 hours to a restaurant). Someone made up a song to the tune of “12 Days of Christmas”, and everyone had a part based on some quirk or a common issue in their job duties. Mine related to treats because I was always running to the vending machine. I wish I could remember the song…it was so funny!

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I am referred to by deliverables that I create & distribute (one is a type of chart that I do ~quarterly & is maybe 2% of my job…very irritating that this is how people know me. The other is maybe 20% of my job, but still annoying.)

      I WAS going for the hot blonde analyst, but then another division hired a German woman (looks more stereotypically Swedish) and yet another division hired a blonde new grad, so forget that : )

      I was also voted most sarcastic in high school and will accept that moniker at any time.

    3. Xay*

      At some point, in every job I have had, I have been referred to as “the calm one”. I also usually start off with a reputation for being quiet, but that goes away once I settle in and figure out the office culture.

  10. Tiff*

    I’m just grateful to be old enough that my college disgrace (got fired from a pot-washing job at the cafeteria) is so far in my past that I never have to mention it again.

  11. ag*

    The only personal brand gimmick I use is a specific spelling of my full name. My name isn’t incredibly common, but it’s not the only one out there on the Interwebs, so I insist that my business cards, LinkedIn page, letterhead, etc. list my full name. After that, I let my work and references speak for me.

  12. Hari*

    I agree with all on the list except for #2. I have customized my resume and cover letters with special font (still professional, nothing like MS Comic Sans) and added slight splashes of color (one color) and I constantly get compliments on it in interviews for the layout and design aspects. I do think there is a very fine line though (so fine its almost invisible) between tastefully modern and way too much. However I am in the advertising industry too and although I am not a creative I find that HR still appreciates that design aspect showing through my resume. While its definitely not going to make or break my candidacy, it is a nice touch (especially if you claim to appreciate creativity and design). I would suggest to other’s that if you aren’t artistically inclined (or understand relationships between color and negative space) to just stick to the plain old format with Cambria font lol.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I’m sure it can be done well (and it sounds like yours must be). The problem is that 95% of “creatively” designed resumes that I receive are not done well, and no one realizes that they fall into that 95%. It’s better for people to realize that a creatively designed resume isn’t going to get them a job anyway, so they should stick with the basics, which are what matter most.

      1. some1*

        Also, I would add that be careful about trying to stand out by using different color ink/paper. Like Allison mentioned, it might scan too grainy, but also the Hiring manager might be color-blind.

        1. Kelly O*

          Either that or you think the color combination is cool and artistic, and the hiring manager tosses it because it’s too hard to read the contrast.

          Tangent – I wish we could abolish light print on dark background for websites. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen that and just kept moving on. So, when you’re doing your personal branding keep that in mind.

          1. Laura L*

            Interesting fact: According to the professor of the web design class I took a year and a half ago, teens really like the light print on a dark background sites. Adults and kids don’t.

            They like white backgrounds with black print and sites with lots of bright colors, respectively.

          2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            My blog is like that, because websites that use a darker background and light print require less energy use (this is somewhat in dispute, but I think on the whole it’s still true). It’s the “green” thing to do.

  13. Job Seeker*

    Alison, this article was so good. I have followed what you suggested here lately. I do not have a personal brand but I finally have a good cover letter and I am not going to fall for stuff that isn’t important.

  14. KayDay*

    Alison, this was a really great article!

    There is so much advice out there adding more and more pressure to job seekers, so it is really nice to see something that says we don’t need to spend days tracking down the exact name of the hiring manager or else!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Thank you! And yeah, that’s kind of what I’ve noticed — people making job seekers stressed out about things they really don’t need to be stressed out over.

      1. ChristineH*

        I wish I’d discovered your site when you first started…2007, right? That’s when I was looking for my first post-MSW job.

    2. Kelly O*

      Just this morning on LinkedIn, I read another article from a person who is clearly trying to start a blog to help new college graduates on their career path.

      Seriously, this person thinks hyperbole is the BEST THING EVER and all her articles are full of “must-follow” advice to get a “phenomenal” interview. And it’s really all the same thing, just in different quantities. But she keeps on, and people keep encouraging, and it’s just kind of sad.

      I sort of want to tell the author – “look, just go read Ask a Manager, but don’t plagiarize!!”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Will you please? :)

        Or will you at least point out that she shouldn’t be giving advice on this unless she has extensive experience hiring?

        Seriously, the reason people do this is because no one calls them on it. That’s why I try to point it out when I see it.

    3. NewReader*

      I sooo agree.
      This site has cut my energy loss in half. (Well, I can ditch half the things I was doing- for starters…. hahaha)
      I am very grateful to Alison and to everyone who posts here. I have learned so much in a very short time.
      I feel better about my setting and about what I am trying to do here.

  15. some1*

    Thank you for #1 a decade late. When I was a receptionist at a busy government law office, every time we had a call for resumes, I had to field a ton of phone calls from applicants asking either Who to send the resume to, Who the Hiring Manager was, and How Do You Spell That and is Chris Smith male or female and would be that be Mrs. or Miss Smith then? Argh.

  16. Rob*

    ‘Personal brand’ is right up there with other nonsense such as putting an ‘objective’ on a resume (isn’t the point to get a job?) and corporate ‘mission statements’ (just a way to say ‘to make money’ without saying ‘to make money’).

    As someone up near the top of the comments said: show up on time, get your sh*t done and do a good job. Do that, and everything will take care of itself.

  17. Carrie in Scotland*

    (Sorry this is OT)
    Alison, what has happened to emailyourinterviewer?
    It won’t work for me! (it just comes up with a not found/search engine message)

  18. Hello Vino*

    In the design world, we’ll sometimes talk about personal branding. Applicants are expected to have some kind of logo and consistent look and feel throughout their application (resume, cover letter, website, portfolio, business cards, etc). I’ve even seen designers incorporate the accent color of their logo into their interview outfit in a professional manner.

    That said, I have a hard time seeing how personal branding applies to most industries outside of art/design/marketing/advertising. It makes sense in creative fields since everything is so visual. In other fields, it just comes across as trying too hard… and rather obnoxious.

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