I grew up in New York City, intimately familiar with the song New York, New York, written by John Kander and made famous by Frank Sinatra. The lyrics opine, “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere!” I have lived in many cities, including New Haven, CT, Oakland, CA and now Madison, WI, and I’ve always “made it”—so I suppose the saying has proven true for me!
I never used to think of the implications of the New York, New York principle for other aspects of life, where I am selling myself to others who are evaluating my ability to “make it” with them. But as a resume writer and student of leadership, I apply this idea all the time. Here are a few places (your resume summary section, bids for leadership positions, and proposals for business) where it’s important to keep the words of Mr. Kander in mind.
Resume Summary Section
Your resume summary, located at the TOP of your resume, is usually the very first thing that a hiring manager reads about you when you apply for a job. It’s a prime opportunity to highlight a past workplace or project that would clearly qualify you for the position you are now targeting.
But many resume summaries describe the candidate as something like this:
Results-driven, successful professional with x years of varied experience in widget industry. Proven track of leading cross-functional teams to profitable results. Skilled in multiple technologies and methodologies.
What if this same candidate wrote the following summary instead?
IT Director with expertise in Quality Assurance (QA) who has managed up to $20M annual budgets at Amazon subsidiary. 15+ years of experience across retail, financial, and health care organizations. Strong partner to company departments, ensuring repeatable, scalable testing solutions. Solutions have saved company up to $2M annually.
I don’t know about you, but as soon as I see the number $20M and the word “Amazon” I think: This guy is someone I’d probably want on my team! If he can make it there, … Plus I learn right away that he is not limited to one industry (this is good if I am a hiring manager at a finance organization, for instance) and that he has saved at least one company $2M. Yep, I think I want this guy!
Of course, not everyone has an Amazon or IBM or Coca Cola to put on their resume. If you don’t, you can still be specific about the size and type of organizations you worked for, giving the reader a clear sense of what you’ve done and where you’ve done it.
One (perhaps obvious) flaw in the New York, New York principle is that many New Yorkers would probably not make it “anywhere”; they might, for instance, lose their minds if dropped into a podunk town in North Dakota. But when you’re crafting your resume, I trust you’ve chosen a target where something from your past does make you highly qualified for this next position. Don’t make the reader work to figure out what that is. Tell them up front and get their attention!
Bids for Leadership Positions
On my annual June leadership retreat with the Wright Foundation, leadership roles come up for grabs every day. I was struck by how reluctant people were, in the 30 seconds to 1 minute they were given, to say what they had done in the past that qualified them for the position they wanted. One woman unsuccessfully ran twice for the “Reflecting” role, which entails overseeing the audio and video quality and presentations at the event; then, on the third try, she included in her speech the small details that she had filled this role on multiple previous trainings, and that she manages audio/visual projects at a high level in her work. She was elected.
And she wasn’t the only one who failed to portray herself accurately. Even a long-time leader in the community, who actually stood up and advised people to include their past roles and qualifications in their speeches, did not take his own advice! Like so many others, he painted a vision of what he wanted to accomplish in the role and put forth enthusiastic energy, but didn’t ground his bid in his past experience. He was ultimately elected, though I think that was because people knew more about him than he shared in his talk.
I also noticed a lack of New York, New York awareness in the speeches delivered at the annual meeting of my local food coop. One guy stood up and, as I remember, said he had gray hair and therefore was the right person for a board position. He must be very well known by many voting members as someone well-qualified for other reasons, because he was elected. But I did not know him and did not vote for him based on his presentation. I would have advised him not to mess with the New York, New York principle!
Proposals for Business
A potential client called me this week who had been referred by another client. But just one referral source was not sufficient to convince her that we were the right company to write her husband’s executive-level LinkedIn profile. She wanted to know that we had written profiles for other executives, and she wanted to read them for herself. She figured if we could write for them, we could write for her husband. I sent her samples and she said her husband would contact us shortly.
If you’re writing a proposal for new business, consider whom you’ve worked for in the past that will put you in good stead according to the New York, New York principle. And let your potential client know about your successes up front and center.
Of course, no matter what you’ve done in the past, you’ll still need to prove yourself worthy of the trust the New York, New York principle has conferred upon you. As the last line of that famous song goes, “It’s up to you, New York, New York!”