Resume Advice from American Idol Judge Harry Connick Jr.

2.23.14 connickSpeaking as a music lover and an accomplished resume writer and job search advisor, I firmly believe every job seeker must enter a job search with the same mindset as every contestant who enters one of the myriad of talent contests on television today: “You’re In It To Win It!”

Their primary goal is to come in first and win a guaranteed recording contract. If they don’t come in first their secondary goal is to convince a record label they have enough talent and Star Quality to merit a recording contract. In job search parlance this translates to “every job seeker’s goal is nothing short of getting a job interview and a job offer.” 

As you might guess I watch all the music talent competition shows and IMHO over the past few seasons American Idol was on a downward trend. But this year it’s back; in part because of the addition of Harry Connick Jr. as a judge. I say this because, in my eyes, Harry is like no other judge ever on AI. He understands performers from both a technical and from a business aspect. Also, he is exceptional at evaluating talent, better than any judge on any talent show today, and he always tells it like it is no holds barred.

A prime example was a comment he made Wednesday evening that caught my attention and I think is worthy of writing about because it is something I myself tell job seekers all the time.

The contestant was a talented country western singer who put on a strong performance that got him into the Top 13. But what Harry said to him is something every job seeker must take to heart on your resume and during an interview.

Harry told this young man that he has enormous talent. Still he wondered out loud that although his performance tonight may have been lights out in the moment, going forward Harry rhetorically questioned that in a crowded country-western genre what is going to differentiate you from all those equally talented artists already in the business.

To me Harry hit the nail on the head with one word that divides winners from the also ran in any competition. That word is DIFFERENTIATION.

When I critique resumes, and I critique a few dozen a week now, and when I screen piles of 100+ resumes for a client or my own business, the first thing I look for is differentiation – what makes this candidate different from the other talented people vying for my approval.

What I find is out of every 100 resumes I read 40% of the resumes (that does not necessarily mean 40% of the people) are losers and that resume should never have been submitted. Of the remaining 60%, I find nearly 55% are what I call inclusionary documents. This means the message I receive is “I am qualified to do this job as good as everyone else in the pile of resumes you’re screening so why not interview me.” That is the wrong message to send because it lumps you in a group of 50+ other hopefuls. On the other hand, in that same pile I’ll see 5 resumes from people whose message is “I am well qualified for this job and can do it as well or better than anyone else. Furthermore, this is what differentiates me from the other 99 people in the resume pile and this differentiation is why you should interview me.”

The same holds true during a phone or face-to-face job interview. I don’t want to hear about what makes you another good candidate. What I want to be told is what Harry intimated to this young man. “In a field of ultra-talented people to choose from what is it that differentiates you from all the others in the crowd.” 

So when you self-critique your resume and practice your interview pitches ask yourself this one important question, “Is what I have written and what I am about to say inclusionary or differentiating.”  Unless you can say it is differentiating you from the pack it is time to go back to the drawing board and start preparing your resume and/or your interview pitch all over again from scratch.

Thank you Harry, I think you are a great American music icon and a magnificent judge of musical talent as well.

As always I am happy to critique U.S. resumes, LinkedIn pages and job search action plans at no cost. Email me at

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