Skip to content

Are you a Swiss Army Knife?

February 17, 2012

Brendan TrippToday’s featured job seeker is facing a dilemma that is increasingly common.  Brendan Tripp has had a long, diverse career that has developed his skills in a variety of areas.  He’s doing a lot of things right in his search – he’s active on social media, and he’s a regular contributor to a Chicago area job seeker blog.  Though he is qualified for more than one kind of role, employers are not responding, which has resulted in extended unemployment.  I asked Brendan about his experience, and at the end I’ll share some tips that may help Brendan, and others in his situation.

You describe yourself as a Generalist. If you could write your own job description and get hired today, what would that job look like?

It would be a communications gig that encompassed classic Public Relations, Web development, Social management, Conferences/Events, Publications (dead tree and digital), Audio and Video production, various Marketing elements, even Graphic design.

What have you done to try to target specific jobs?

I try to steer the attention in the cover letter to terms used in the job description.  I’m happiest when “wearing many hats” but am willing to go into a job that’s only using 1/5th or so of my skill sets. I’ve described the situation as my being a Swiss Army Knife .  One employer is looking for a Phillips screwdriver, I have all the function of the screwdriver, but they’re looking for something with a yellow handle, and the next is looking for a bottle opener.  I have 100% of what’s needed for the job, but they’re envisioning something else.  Most places [employers] these days are looking for a particular complex polygonal piece to specifically fit into a tightly defined hole, and if you’re bringing MORE to the job, it just confuses the recruiters and other gatekeepers.

Which of your previous jobs gave you the most inherent personal satisfaction? What was it about that job that made it a great fit for you?

I ran my own publishing company for a decade. While I worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week on that (literally), I loved the immersion in it all … I used to quip that “I did everything but write the books” (which included editing, design, typesetting, contracting printing, negotiating deals, warehousing, pr/advertising, and yes, even sales) in that role.

I also really liked my last job, where I was Director of Communications for a “metaverse developer”, working primarily in the virtual world of Second Life. I had to invent systems for doing publicity “in world”, which was fascinating.  As the company shrank in the economy of ’08-’09, I kept taking over parts of the business when other people left … by the end I was publishing a line of books, cranking out almost all of our web code, doing the graphics, developing events (both live and virtual), and writing all our proposals, pamphlets, and promotional materials, on top of my main PR functions.

It’s bragging time. What career accomplishments are you most proud of?

  • I led projects where some simple regional PR grew brands (in the absence of any advertising) for major blue-chip clients
  • I turned what had started out as just a way to publish my own poetry into a respected niche press
  • I took a client’s mess of scattered web elements and pulled them into a Social Media based hub that hit “the Alexa hundred thousand” within a few months of its launch.

How does this illustrate your personal brand?

I suspect I have to go back to the Swiss Army Knife concept for a “personal brand” image.  I have experience doing a wide range of different functions, and producing excellent work in each.


Are you a Swiss Army Knife too?  Are you facing similar challenges in applying for specialized jobs?  If so, here are some tips from ResumeSmith you may find helpful:

  1. Use multiple versions of your resume.  If you are qualified for 5 job types, have a specific resume targeted to each kind of role.  While remaining honest about your work history, you can select only the accomplishments and skills most relevant to that kind of position to highlight.  Chose only the key words or skills required for that job to include in the summary, and instead of using a “Summary” heading, use “Qualified for JOB TITLE”.  In these cases, less is more.  To use Brendan’s polygon analogy: if the employer is asking for a hexagon, and you’re an octagon, leave off the additional two skill sets so you appear to be a hexagon.  By having  multiple versions of your resume ready, it saves time during the application process.  Any additional targeting can be addressed in the cover letter as Brendan has been doing.
  2. Only include the most recent 10-15 years of work history.  Many job seekers in Brendan’s situation are baby boomers, and are victims of age discrimination as well as discrimination as long-term unemployed.  There is no rule that says you must include your entire career history – in fact, many recruiters prefer that you don’t.  The only exception to this would be if you are targeting jobs where your oldest work history is the only relevant experience you have to offer.  For most job seekers, this is not the case.  So, leave older jobs off your resume and LinkedIn profile.
  3. Remove graduation dates.  Unless you are a recent graduate and you are relying on your degree as a primary qualification, there is no need to list a graduation date.  It reveals your age unnecessarily.
  4. Be sure to use the right resume format. Recruiters prefer Word documents (in .doc format, not the newer .docx) over PDF format.  Some ATS systems can’t scan your PDF for key words the way it can scan a Word doc.  Set your margins and page breaks to be sure it will look the same with other print drivers and on Macs. Additionally, if the employer’s ATS requires you to paste a text-only resume into a web form,  format it so that it’s still easy for a recruiter to read.  Even ASCII (text only) resumes can have line breaks to add white space, and you can use tildes ~~~ or equal signs === to create borders, as well as ** for bullet points.  Spend some time formatting your .txt resume once, and it becomes easy to paste it into web forms quickly and still have great formatting.
  5. Conduct a social media audit. Up to 80% of recruiters will Google you before calling for an interview.  They’ll check more than just your LinkedIn profile.  They’ll read your Facebook posts, blog posts, and anything else they find.  If you have anything public that you wouldn’t discuss in a job interview, you should either remove it or adjust your privacy settings to keep your personal life personal.
Certainly Brendan’s situation is not unusual.  Have you experienced a similar “overqualified” or “over generalized” issue?  Do you have any other recommendations for Brendan?


25 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2012 3:52 PM

    Ohhhh, Karleen, I’d love to do an INFOGRAPHIC for the Swiss Army Knife guy…it’d be a cool concept visually!

  2. February 18, 2012 1:13 PM

    I love the concept of the Swiss army knife! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  3. February 18, 2012 5:20 PM

    Great analogy, Karleen. I think a lot of folks suffer from Swiss Army Knife Syndrome. 🙂 One approach is to have CV’s, bios, resumes that are customized depending on the target market you’re going after, as you point out in #1. I’ve seen this approach used very effectively by entrepreneurs as well.

  4. TaxCoach permalink
    February 18, 2012 5:59 PM

    Thanks for sharing great tips. I like the most is to prepare different version for different jobs. Another question is how to pass automatic screen and get an interview opportunity. I wish you could address it in your future blog post.

  5. February 18, 2012 6:13 PM

    Thanks Karleen. I love the imagery of the Swiss Army Knife. Great read!

  6. February 18, 2012 6:18 PM

    This is very helpful for me right now. Thank you so much for this post!

  7. February 18, 2012 6:28 PM

    Great Post Karleen! I Don’t know whether I am a swiss knife or not but i do use multiple versions of resumes.

  8. February 18, 2012 6:33 PM

    I had been thinking of updating my resume and was not sure what to prune. Your blog showed up at the right time with the much needed advice I had been after.

  9. February 18, 2012 6:54 PM

    The Swiss Army Knife concept is great but as we can see it doesn’t produce the desired results. So the advice #1 from Karleen is very important: tailor your resume and the whole job search tactics for a specific position. Employers want someone who can help them to solve their specific issues. Simple as it is.
    Don’t get me wrong. The branding idea is awesome!
    Being an ATS user, my advice would be: follow the instructions when submitting your resume – if asked to submit in *doc, just do it; if there is an option to upload pdf, use it as well. And a couple small tips for proof reading the resume: 1. Do the final read backwards, it helps to catch typos; 2) Print the final version before online submission and make sure everything looks good (fonts, formatting etc.)

    • February 18, 2012 7:09 PM

      Great tips Alex! I also recommend never proofing at midnight – how many times to people stay up late working on something important like a resume and the next day notice that big mistake they were too tired to see?

  10. milieunet permalink
    February 18, 2012 10:56 PM

    Thanks, great post

  11. February 19, 2012 2:20 PM

    Hi Karleen, I love the Swiss Army knife metafor! It is hard for most people to remove experiences but it is necessary and cannot agree more with your first recommendation.

    However when you post a general resumé on a site like for example, recruiters usually don’t like to see too many versions of the same resume. In that case write your resume as if you were applying for your ideal job. Search Google with various titles to select keywords that lead to your ideal job description and design your CV accordingly. Highlight unique set of skills and experiences that attract potential employers/recruiters.

    Really good recommendations here Karleen and what a wonderful idea to have a job seeker of the week!

    • February 19, 2012 2:31 PM

      Anne, I completely agree! When clients hire me to write their LinkedIn profiles, I target it to their first choice role – even if they are qualified for and would accept, several other kinds of positions. I subtly work in the key words for those other jobs, but the primary message will be targeted to their first choice.

      To piggy-back on your Google recommendation, I often use job aggregators like and Simply Hired to help a client identify key words and skills required for their target role.

      Thanks so much for your comments, as always, they add value to the message.

  12. February 19, 2012 3:31 PM

    Hi, Karleen,

    Great post! I was attracted to the title! Well done.

    Whilst my interest in in network marketing rather than writing a resume, I can see that there are sililarities. We do have to have a clean social media record. For job seekers who have not started to audit their online data, it is time to get started.

    I totally agree with you about branding. When the message is clear, people who resonate with our purpose and/or expertise will like to connect with us. When what we value aligns with the company mission, we would fit in the recruiters’ criteria (I believe).

    My purpose is to help others to live a better life through network marketing…

    Hence, this tag line explains it all:

    “Building Trust… Building People… Building LIves”.

    Viola Tam

  13. BGT permalink
    February 20, 2012 9:06 AM

    Great analogy and I totally see how this can happen. I recently wrote an article from a different perspective, and I like how you really gave some great ideas on how to combat the swiss army knife

  14. February 20, 2012 9:42 AM

    Great tips you’ve shared here. Tweeted about it too as you’ve listed great pointers for many people to learn from. Thanks!

  15. February 20, 2012 2:26 PM

    Hi Karleen, I love the Swiss Army knife analogy! This can be so helpful for anyone looking to spruce up there resume…Great article!

  16. February 21, 2012 5:31 PM

    These are really good points for job seekers. As for the right resume format, I would suggest not adding horizontal lines or using the table format that some resume documents provide. These are usually added after the person’s name and address, and before the body of the resume. Many an ATS will read that line as the end of the page and move on to the next resume. As a result, the system will stop reading after your name and address.

  17. February 21, 2012 8:18 PM

    I sympathize with the Swiss Army Knife dilemma, but do believe in the targeted approach, and the first or best choice approach. This is a great article to open the dialogue of decision making, and choosing the right message for the target, something we can all learn more about. Thanks for making us think. I will share this.

  18. February 22, 2012 5:44 PM

    What a great blog post. Loved reading about Brendan and I sure hope he will find a job soon. The Swiss Army Knife is great. Would that apply to moms? I feel like one some days..:) Thanks for your expertise, Karleen!

  19. February 28, 2012 12:35 PM

    I’m not really sure if I’m qualified to comment here Karleen, because I left my last job over 25 years ago and made my own way ever since. This is what I would advice anyone to do in this current climate, don’t be obsessed with having to work for someone else – thik about branching out on your own.


  20. March 22, 2012 5:37 AM

    I like your points on resume format and reviewing your online profiles. Similar to making spelling mistakes, the wrong format makes the applicant look sloppy. Your online profile gives an employer insight into who you really are (when you aren’t wearing a fancy suit/outfit on interview day) and what kind of “troublemakers” you might hang around with 🙂
    Thanks for the post,

  21. March 26, 2012 10:13 PM

    I am finally learning just how important your personal brand is when it comes to your online success. Great tips and information. Thanks so much for posting.


  1. The Swiss Army Knife ... | Job Stalker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: