Show Me the Numbers!

It took a recession, but résumés finally are receiving renewed scrutiny. The ability to embellish and obscure shrinks when one out of every six workers is under or unemployed. More than ever, recruiters want to see accomplishments, not responsibilities; numbers, not adverbs.

Certain professions have it easier than others. If you’re a lobbyist, you cite legislation passed or defeated. If you’re a fundraiser, you count dollars raised. If you’re a political operative, you record a win-loss record.

Alas, if you’re a social media consultant, you probably shun such metrics. Sure, you’ve helped clients tweet and blog, but who among us hasn’t? Sure, you have 10 years of experience, but what have you achieved?

With the ever-growing pool of amateurs marketing themselves as authorities, the need to distinguish the talkers from the doers is urgent. And what better way to draw this distinction than through the crucible of numbers.

For instance, does your résumé refer to “viral videos”? Sounds impressive, right? Well, how many views have these sensations attracted? Have you supported a Web site redesign? How much did that bolster traffic, and how many unique monthly visitors did that result in?

Did you manage an e-mail list? How many people subscribed to it, and how many joined under your watch? Did you conduct blogger outreach? Name five bloggers you’ve successfully pitched.

Did you execute search engine optimization? By what percentages did that drive up organic traffic and referral traffic, and how many negative and positive stories did you navigate in and out of the top 10 search results?

To be sure, numbers don’t paint a perfect picture. They omit client satisfaction, can elevate quantity to the detriment of quality, and can be massaged.

Moreover, numbers are only a means to an end. So, you doubled the audience for your podcast? Nice! Now tell us how this affected the bottom line. Did it engender a 30% bump in donations? A 50% jump in e-commerce sales? A 100% spike in membership?

Taking these extra steps requires extra work. Yet those confident in their CVs should embrace this charge. After all, there’s nothing like cold hard data to reveal that the common claim, “increased significantly,” was in fact a trivial 2% uptick.

Indeed, like the SAT, numbers serve a crucial purpose: They constitute a uniform, relatively transparent credential. As such, they help to address perhaps the biggest complaint about social media: How to measure its return on investment.

A version of this blog post appeared on (December 21, 2009), GovLoop (December 22, 2009), and K Street Cafe (December 31, 2009).

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