The Power of Headlines: Captivate to Enhance Career Search

You may know about Newser.com. This is the news aggregation site that summarizes the news item in a catchy two paragraph lead in, and then gives you the deeper links so you can see the original article. The site wins because of clever editing, headline writing and artwork selection. Try it for a few days and see if you are more addicted to the news.

How does this apply to your job search?

There are a couple of learnings here. First, it really demonstrates that we are a nation of fast skimmers and headline readers. So, next time you slave over the wording on page three of your resume, forget it. Most hiring managers people may even get that far. They give your resume 20 seconds. Next, it also shows the importance of having a voice in your communication efforts, resume or cover letter.

Let your personality shine through.  This is one area that is almost never discussed in the career arena. It’s almost like we all become professionalized and non-personal. Newser’s editor have a bit of an attitude, certainly a voice that comes through on each news item. Does your cover letter show something important? Anything valuable?

Your career is filled with Newser-style artwork and headlines. We know this. How would you create a Newser style resume using artwork and short headlines? It might give you some new ideas on how to present yourself to get noticed.

I realize that certain people are going to cringe at these ideas. Still, for some of you, your resumes are BORING. It occurs to me that one needs to stand out and be a bit different. So why not try?

First place to start would be your headlines, those phrases that break up all those accomplishments and objectives. Those are what the hiring managers, recruiters and HR profesionals read, don’t forget. So, take a tip from Newser, and spend more time on them.

To get started, here are 20 tips from How To Write Headlines by Leo Babauta:

Catchy  The first job of a headline is to grab the reader’s attention. It should do so appropriately and honestly, of course, but the headline is the way that you draw a reader into a story. If it doesn’t grab attention, it doesn’t matter what else the headline does. However, do not overdo it — if your reader is drawn to the story, and the headline oversold it, the reader will feel cheated and swindled. That’s not exactly the emotion you want to incite in your readers, I would guess. My note: There is a difference between catchy, clever and just weird.  Find the balance.

Be useful  The best headline will tell the reader what he will get out of reading this story. Will it teach you something you’ve always wanted to learn? Will it help you become smarter, stronger, better looking, better in bed? Will it help you become more informed? Will it give you the juicy gossip you’ve been craving? Whatever the story will do, it should have some use to the reader. The more useful, the better. My Note:  If the job description is clear on what they want, work that into the headline.

The main point  The headline should summarize the main point of an article. This is another of the headline’s biggest jobs (some would argue the biggest job). So to write the headline, you need to read over the article (or re-read it, if you wrote it) and figure out what the main point of the article is — and if it’s well written, that shouldn’t be too hard. If you don’t get the main point, or think that there’s 3 or 4 main points, the article hasn’t done its job. It should be rewritten. But at any rate, find that main point and summarize it in the headline. My note:  what is the ONE thing you are most proud of.  Announce that.

Curiosity  The best headlines will summarize a story, but leave you curious to find out more. “Why You Should Care About Technorati” or “The Secret to Making the Perfect Snowball” will leave some readers wanting more (maybe not all of you). My note: or why should they give you an interview, to find out MORE…

Succinct  Wordy headlines will lose a lot of readers. Sure, people should be able to read 15 little words, but they expect to get their info quickly. Don’t ask me why. Shorten a headline down to 5-10 words, eliminating all that’s unnecessary.

Controversy  There’s no better guarantee of catching a reader’s attention than to stir up a little controversy. Be bold, dare to incite a little indignation, or get the pulse racing just a bit. Don’t be moronic about it though. You don’t need to incite a riot. My note:  Here is where you can think about solving a problem they might have.

Specifics  Specific headlines are better than vague ones. Throw in a detail or two that will catch a reader’s interest — but don’t throw in the kitchen sink. This is why numbers in headlines work, no matter how many people hate them. You’re not going to give me “A bunch of tips” but instead “10 tips”. My note: key in any sales situation “Specificity sells.”

Magazines  If you want to get inspiration, look at the cover of magazines. Half the time they get them wrong, but sometimes you’ll find a great headline. I hate it when they oversell a story, but those magazine editors sure know how to write sexy headlines. Skip the Enquirer — they oversell. But magazines know the secret of headlines: it’s the headlines (and the sexy model) that sell the magazine. Same thing with your blog headlines.

Blogs  This should go without saying, but I’ll say it nonetheless — read good blogs. The successful blogs got where they are because they provide awesome content with headlines to match. And blogs that have been successful for some time have usually perfected the craft. Use them for inspiration.

The How To  There is probably no type of headline more likely to do well than the How To headline. Start a headline with those two words, and follow them with a skill that many people would like to learn, and you’ve got a winner. Well, most of the time. Don’t overdo it.  My note:  how to solve your problem in customer service will be better than 95% of the resumes that company gets today.

Lists, with numbers  Yes, they’re overdone, but that’s because they work. Look at a list of the most popular articles on delicious or Digg, and you’ll find list headlines — at least a few. I overdo them, actually, because just about every post I write has a list. It’s just the way I think. And if my post has a list, my headline will likely have a list as well. I had to resist suggesting a list headline for this post. “20 Tips for Writing Great Headlines”

Write several versions  Challenge yourself to write the best headline possible. Don’t just go with your first attempt. Write that down, then do 3 or 4 more tries. Test each headline by saying it out loud. Look over these guidelines and see if any of them will help the headline. Say it out loud to your spouse or best friend or your mom. Which one catches their attention? Sometimes a clever headline will sound confusing to others.My note:  you should have a new resume for every job you want, done after you have done the research.

Question headline  Sometimes the best headline poses a question. It makes the reader want to find the answer. Or it alerts the reader to an interesting debate. Give the question headline a try — it might work for your article. My note: or resume.

Write a command headline  Tell the reader what to do. Sometimes a command headline can be too bossy — but other times, it’s just the advice the reader was looking for.

Be detached  In print journalism, a detached editor writes the headline. The writer is too close to the story, and is biased. She thinks every word is important, every point is the main point. And no headline is good enough. If you’re writing your own blog headlines, you should become detached. Write a headline, leave it for awhile, come back to it. Try to see it as an outsider would see it — someone who hasn’t read your article yet.  My note: friends, spouses and even HR people are great add-on readers. Just ask.

Find balance  You need to find the middle line between being boring and being crazy. It’s not always easy. “20 Ways to Write a Great Headline” is better than “Headline Writing” but not as strong as “Write a Perfect Headline or Your Blog Will Fail and So Will You”.

Key verb  Try this exercise: find a strong verb that best fits the story. Then find other words in the story to go around the verb to form a sentence that summarizes the story. Then shorten that sentence to make a great headline.  My note: this takes work and should include a dictionary, at least.

Short, active words  Prefer short words to long ones, and active words to passive ones. Avoid jargon and acronyms. And feel free to be creative and break any of these rules if it works.

Double check  Before you go to print with your article (or press “Publish”), check over your headline again. Read it for spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, punctuation mistakes, factual mistakes (the headline is the worst place to make these mistakes). Make sure it makes sense, and that it does its job.

Write it first  Don’t save the headline for last. It’s too important, and when you’re done with a post you just want to write the darn headline and be done with it. Write the headline first — this allows you to know your main point before you even start writing. Then rewrite the headline later, and give it some time to get right.

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