Taking Yourself Out of the Picture

Poster for a magic show

I had no sooner published my previous post (Getting To Know You) about first-person vs third-person descriptions in online profiles, when I remembered a different path some take.

Rather than be forced to choose between first-person voice (“I invented the Internet.”) and third-person (“Jim invented the Internet.”), they will reject both, dispensing with pronouns and subjects altogether in favor of using incomplete sentences (“Invented the Internet.”).

At this very moment, someone out there is thinking, “You make it sound like a bad thing.” Well. Yeah. It is.

Like most languages, American English is kind of organic, in a constant state of change and growth, and yes even decay. So there must be an explanation for how this became standard practice in resumes; that is, enumerating one’s skills and accomplishments in a detached manner, using sentences with no subject as if they were items in a bulleted list. I’m sure some would say it’s just more business-like.

And while I’m not ready to argue against that construction in a resume, at least online it’s a whole new paradigm, one in which the rules bend a little. For better or worse, the DIY, Easy-Bake Oven that is LinkedIn for instance, with its multiple options for personalization, not only allows but encourages other formats.

More than Vive la différence though, I’m advocating first-person narrative in profiles because they just plain work better. If there’s one thing I learned from Florence Brooks, the feisty little creative director I endured years ago working for a Dayton Hudson company, it was that any reasonable accommodation that makes your copy easier to read and retain is a good thing; and conversely, any unnecessary adherence to by-the-book thinking only works against you if it’s slowing down the reader’s eye one nano-second.

In a culture where brains are trained to construct and read logical, complete sentences, detaching yourself from your own narrative by writing in third-person is disconcerting enough, but detaching reference to any person whatsoever just, to me, gets weird.