I’m sure all of you out there have heard the old saying that “imitation is the highest form of flattery.”  There’s one along these lines that I like even better, however.  It’s from playwright Wilson Mizner and it states: ““If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research!”

Today’s blog article is written In the spirit of these two quotes and their relation to the job hunting world.  Simply put, when it comes to putting one’s resume and other career documents together (e.g. cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, executive bios, etc.) I encounter quite a few people who go about things the hard way — staring at a blank sheet of paper or computer screen, hoping they can come up with something brilliant, from scratch.

While a bold strategy, this go-it-alone approach isn’t the least bit necessary in the modern age.  There are simply too many great resources out there that you can borrow from, when compiling your career materials, to put yourself through the torture of trying to write something completely in a vacuum.  Not only will referencing other peoples’ materials speed up the process of creating your own documents, but it will likely improve your results, too, since reviewing the materials of your peers could easily remind you of an important keyword — or concept — that you missed.

So let me give you a quick rundown of some sources you can beg, borrow, and steal from when producing your own job search correspondence, if needed:

1) The Indeed.com Resume Database:  For those not already familiar with this resource, this website has collected thousands of resumes from around the globe, searchable for free!  And while the formats of these documents tend to be vanilla, given the text-based interface, you might turn up some useful content if you scour the site for the resumes of peers in your field or industry.

2) Word Cloud Scanning:  Another trick you can use to ensure your job search documents contain all the right keywords is to fire up a “word cloud creation” tool (such as the popular one called Wordle we’ve linked in the header) and then paste in a few appropriate job descriptions from the web to see which terms pop up most commonly.  Or, as an alternative, you could also use a “word frequency counter” tool such as TextFixer to count the frequency that certain words appear in a given passage of text, such as a job advertisement, and then review the final count in list form.

3) The LinkedIn “Skills & Expertise” Page:  While LinkedIn removed this page months ago from its main menu structure, for whatever mysterious reason, I recently discovered that this very useful tool still exists — if you know where to look for it — and I’d encourage you to use it to brainstorm some alternative keywords for your resume and LinkedIn profile.  All you need to do is click the link provided above and then type in a competency you already know you have (e.g. Project Management) to then see all the “related words” that you might have missed, which are presented as a list down the left side of the page.

4) LinkedIn Profile Reviews:  Boringly obvious, I know, but another trick you may have missed for sprucing up your documents — especially your LinkedIn profile — is to simply “act like your target audience” and run a search on LinkedIn for somebody who works in your particular field and profession.  See which profile comes up first.  And second.  Or even tenth.  For better or worse, these are the people whose profiles are currently ranking higher than thousands of other people on the site, in terms of searchability, so you might pick them apart to see what language they’ve incorporated and how they’ve structured their presentation.

5) Google Searching:  Lastly, and a step you could carried away with pretty easily, if you allow yourself, you can literally find millions of resume and cover letter samples on the web to study — and borrow from — if you type in an appropriate search phrase on Google (e.g. cover letters for marketing managers) and see what turns up.  Now granted, there’s no quality control involved, so some pretty crummy examples may turn up along with the good ones, but if all you’re looking for is rough inspiration to get you started, it’s not the worst idea to try.  In fact, it’s even more enlightening (in my opinion) to run this type of search on Google Images, instead, to see the EXACT format that people have used in the letters and resumes they’ve submitted.

So there you have it — a laundry list of inspiration and illustration sources you can consult if you’re a) either writing your resume from scratch or b) trying to fine-tune your documents to the maximum degree based on comparisons to your peers.  Ultimately, I think it’s a great idea for any job seeker to go through at least a couple of these steps, to help polish their documents, since they quite often reveal some blind spots in your materials that you may have overlooked.

And for whatever it’s worth, the idea of “borrowing ideas” from the resumes of others in your field isn’t a new one — and isn’t totally dependent on the Internet.  While I won’t name names, I literally had a family member 20 years ago who was not having much success in his job search and who suspected his resume wasn’t up to snuff.  His rather unorthodox (albeit morally-questionable) solution was to fork over a few bucks to post an advertisement in the local newspaper, mentioning the type of job he was targeting and asking any qualified applicants to submit their resumes to a blind P.O. box — which, of course, was his own!  After reviewing a few dozen sets of the materials that were sent in, he realized “oh, so that’s all the stuff I’m doing wrong!” and made some corresponding changes to his resume that led to MUCH better response rates, going forward…