Word Swap: Leader vs. Manager on a Resume

QuestionsI have a pet peeve phrase that I am on a one person crusade to eliminate, especially during the interviewing process: people person.  Ick.  That is my professional, grown-up synopsis of that phrase: ick.  When someone would tell me they were a “people person” I always wanted to respond, “I’m a dog person.”  It is just such a meaningless, ambiguous phrase.


The word manage or manager has the same effect on me.  It is generic.    It is another ick word for me.


I have seen a trend in replacing “manager” with “leader” in a general way on resumes.


That would be great if it were earnest.


However, replacing the word does not negate the meaning.


In my opinion as a professional resume writer and coach, manager and leader have a much different meaning.  In a nutshell a manager oversees while a leader creates and drives.


When you use the term manager or manage in your resume you are leaving your audience short-handed.  Because it is such a generic term they need the parameters of what you do in order to determine what type of manager you were – and if you were any good at it.


Think about it, in your own experience I am sure you have had different types of managers.  There are those that tell you what to do, retreat to their office, never communicate and bring more of a dictatorship style environment.


Then there are managers that coach, mentor, communicate, roll up their sleeves and dive in to make sure you and the team is on pace, progressing and surpassing expectations.  They listen, they help you become a better individual contributor while bringing cohesion and engagement to the team.


If you were a manager, which one were you?  In not giving the parameters you are allowing your audience to decide based on their personal experiences.  Not a wise move.


Replacing manager with leader is not enough to demonstrate which type of manager you were or are now.


I’ll say it again: you have to give parameters.  How did you lead, what were your actions, how did you contribute, what did you do to help individual performers, the team overall and the company as a whole and what were the results?


Unless you prove it, simply giving yourself a better sounding title is not enough.


In business communication you have to prove it.  Consumers are wise, we don’t believe everything we read, we are skeptical, we want proof and then we want you to prove it again.  Consumers in this situation are your clients or prospective employers.


Now don’t get me wrong, there are certain environments where you need managers who are setting the targets and hands off – type one above.  It is fully dependent on the environment and industry.  If this is what is needed by your prospective employer and this is you then by all means sell it.  Be the manager they need.


Know your audience, their needs and your value.  When the two match then it is your job to prove it.  Not just by using one word over another, but by demonstrating your value by describing all the parameters and results.


Don’t get lazy and do a word swap – take the time to identify what you bring to the table and articulate that to your audience in order to assure they have a full understanding of who you are, what you do and most importantly what you can do for them.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW



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