If You Really Want to Make Your Point, Start Stripping

Oct 10, 2012 -
Get our best career advice delivered to your inbox. Sign up today! Have you ever looked at your cluttered desk or closet and gotten the feeling that you have too much stuff? That all the possessions you own are actually starting to own you? Be careful, because having too much stuff can become a habit that could harm your job search as well. In 2008, I moved from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. I desperately wanted to use movers, but they were too expensive. At my roommate’s advice, I sold most of my stuff, packed what was left into my car, drove to Chicago and used the furniture proceeds (plus what I would have spent on movers) to buy new stuff. Reducing my possessions to the bare essentials was powerfully liberating. It taught me the virtue of “less is more”—that, given the chance, we all keep too much stuff; but when forced, we can make drastic cuts in our lives. And stripping away the unnecessary doesn’t lead to any real downside. Actually, such cuts allow us to move more freely and even communicate more clearly. The same mentality has implications for resumes, elevator pitches and interviews:

Your Resume

Parkinson's law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” I like to think of that when traveling. Bring a large suitcase, and I’ll probably fill it. Commit to a backpack, and I’ll bring only what’s needed and probably be fine. (Obviously this isn’t true in every instance.) Same goes for your resume—commit to one page and stick to that. It will force you to keep your most relevant experience and ditch the fluff. Recruiters spend about six seconds looking at your resume, so even if you have tons of other info, it probably won’t even be noticed. If you’re worried about getting past resume robots, you can always include keywords from the job description to optimize the one page you have. But keeping everything to one page shows your best information in the most digestible way. While the one-page-only advice isn’t applicable in every instance, unless you’re applying for a C-level role, stick to one page.

Your Elevator Pitch

As with your resume, if you try to cram everything into your elevator pitch, you’re doomed. Attention spans are short and getting shorter, so you need to distill what you offer, how you add value and why someone needs to hire you into a brief pitch. Conventional wisdom says your elevator pitch should be 30-60 seconds, but the shorter the better. One can’t overstate how easily distracted or bored people get, so you need to make your point right away. Brevity is key!


If you’ve ever caught yourself rambling through an answer at an interview, you can certainly appreciate the “less is more” virtue. An interview isn’t just about whether you give the right answers, it’s also about how you communicate the right answers. If you ramble and wander through a response, eventually coming to the correct answer, you’re dead in the water. If you can distill your answer down to the most essential elements—and communicate those elements clearly and succinctly—your chances skyrocket. You could even get the answer wrong, but if you deliver it in a clear, thoughtful and brief way, you’ve still got a shot. It’s all about the delivery. Since my D.C./Chicago move, I’ve been constantly reminded of the power of brevity and eliminating the unnecessary. It’s almost like an immutable law of physics. Keep only what’s critical, strip away what’s not, and you’ll think, write and communicate more effectively. Tim Murphy is a writer and the founder of ApplyMate, a free job application tracking tool. When he’s not writing about career issues and entrepreneurship, Tim is running, writing gear reviews and eating his way through Chicago.