Resume tip – the disaster in saying you think outside the box

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“Outside the box thinking.” “I think outside the box.” “In order to get ahead, you need to think outside the box.”

That damn box. It seems to be at the core of everything we do on our job. And getting outside that box is the goal for all effective work.


I’d contend how well you do is what is IN the box, not outside of it. All of your customer, work, and effective management processes you deal with are all IN the box. How well they work is the key to delivering value to your customers and team.

Put “outside the box thinking” on your resume? I can see your resume floating into the electronic trash bin as I type.

Resumes should avoid cliches

Don’t you hate corporate speak? I do humor with it. “Outside the box” is one of the biggest corporate speak cliches out there. The reason? It tries to imply creative thinking when all it does is provide meaningless chatter about your work.

Recruiters take one look at “outside the box” on the resume and quickly increase the probability of trashing the resume as worthless. Put that cliche as part of the first paragraph on your resume and I’ll almost guarantee it goes into the trash pile within 30 seconds.

Resumes should focus on accomplishments

While resumes need keywords to get noticed by resume scanning machines, corporate speak cliches are not keywords. In the extremely tight space available on a resume, every word needs to sell your work through the results you accomplish. What, exactly, did you accomplish with that “outside the box” phrase anyway? Why not put that on the resume instead of a cliche?

Resumes need to concentrate IN the box

Resumes are designed to get you an interview. That’s it. No more. In order to get the interview, your resume needs to show you have the job skills to meet the requirements of the job. It is the first test and where most applicants are dumped into the electronic trash can. That means what is “outside the box” of your job is completely irrelevant to getting the interview.

Instead, you need to show what you accomplished in your baseline work. Provide great numbers that help validate your accomplishment. Focus on the core of your work – what is IN the box.

Keep the right perspective

Sure, you need to be creative about what you do and how you do it. You need to make constructive suggestions for improving a wide range of processes you touch. But “in the box” versus “outside of the box” is the wrong paradigm. What you need is simply perspective on the problem. Move up to 10,000 feet and start looking at the bigger picture. Then find a problem in the bigger picture, drill down, and figure out how to solve it.

That’s what recruiters are looking for: how you solve problems. Tell them. And forget the box.

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