Getting To Know You

Salesman tips hatRemember that episodic Seinfeld character named Jimmy? The guy who only referred to himself in the third-person? He’d say to Elaine, “Ya know, Jimmy is pretty sweet on you,” or to Kramer, “Jimmy might have a compound fracture.” Well, Jimmy’s way of speaking is referred to as Illeism. And it can really get annoying.

Now that Seinfeld is in syndication, Salvador Dali has passed, and you’re not watching Elmo on Sesame Street so much, the illeists you’re mostly likely to encounter are on LinkedIn, where many folks still display a profile written in third person. Some of them are my own friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, and one of them might be you. So I don’t wish to offend, but besides the fact that the practice is widely considered incorrect, I’ll suggest at the end of this post how the simple change back to first-person could give your writing an appeal that’s particularly timely.

But first, I’ll address best practices: I understand why most people think writing about themselves in first-person comes off as egocentric, but such a negative impression is far more likely to be implanted by the adjectives you use to describe yourself (I recommend not using any) or by the general tone of your profile, than by the pronoun that is the most logical to use in this situation. But here’s a good test: do you sense egocentricity when others write about themselves in first-person, or only when you do? All else being equal, and absent a self-aggrandizing attitude or adjectives like “amazing” and “award-winning”, I’m betting you’ll find their first-person descriptions quite natural and not at all self-serving.

I’d even suggest that third-person descriptions can in themselves seem egocentric; citing a quote from our Surrealist (Salvador, not Elmo), what sounds more pompous than, “Dali is immortal and will not die.”

And now to how the first-person voice can make your profile more appealing, and why it’s timely: In a day when job applicants are subjected to background checks with drug screening, and when you’re presumed guilty until proven innocent on charges of submitting a padded resume, a third-person profile can read as not only self-aggrandizing but also deceptive. Do you really think your reader believes it was written by someone else? Again, absent an inflated attitude and accompanying adjectives, there are few descriptions more powerful than a straightforward personal account, and no pronoun that carries more credibility than the first-person singular.