Resumes and Cover Letters

The Curse of Knowledge: How it Affects Your Career and What to Do About It

curse of knowledge

For those of you that are not familiar with the term ‘Curse of Knowledge’, it means that the more familiar you are with something, the harder it is to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is not. It creates a cognitive bias when you unknowingly assume that others have the background to understand.

In 1990 Elizabeth Newton, a PhD from Stanford, conducted a study with two groups of people – Tappers and Listeners. The Tappers were given a selection of common tunes (think “Mary had a Little Lamb” and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”) to tap out. The Listeners had to guess the song.

The Tappers predicted that the odds the Listeners would guess the song was 50%. In reality, only 2.5% of those songs were correctly guessed.

Because the Tappers had been given the knowledge of the song, it’s nearly impossible for them to imagine what it’s like to hear the taps without the tune, which is exactly what the Listeners had to do. They were “cursed” with knowledge and it’s why they thought so many more Listeners would be able to guess the song.

When it comes to your career, no one knows the details of your career better than you. However, you may also suffer from the “curse” of knowledge when you try to communicate the value you bring to an organization or what you have accomplished.

Also read: 3 Resume “Power Moves” Only Older Executives Can Make

Use Storytelling to Communicate Your Value

Let’s first examine communicating your value. Does your summary section start with something like “results-driven marketer”? Is results-driven marketer unexpected? No. Concrete? Not at all. A story? No.

Now, you may know in your head that every organization you ever worked for earned the #1 rank in their industry because of your efforts. Therefore you summarize it with “results-driven marketer” but it doesn’t tell your audience anything memorable or exciting.

What if you had something like “Fan the flames of strong brands to spread like wildfire. Partnered with C-level executives to consistently elevate brands to #1”? It would be much more memorable and unique. Plus it’s more credible with some actual results stated.

This is an example of how to use more of a storytelling approach for your resume. It provides more visual context so people can paint a picture of the type of value that a candidate can deliver.

Using storytelling can really come to life in your LinkedIn profile. It’s the perfect platform to fill in the missing pieces of your resume and show more of your personality.

This especially comes in handy when you are trying to make a career transition or have a background that doesn’t line up perfectly with what you want to do next. Think of your LinkedIn summary as an open cover letter to attract your ideal clients or potential employers. Here is an example:

Also read: Executive Challenge: I’m Good at What I Do – but Struggle to Say it on Paper

DATA GEEK. PEOPLE PERSON. These two terms usually do not describe the same person, yet they both apply to me.

I realized I had these paradoxical skills early in my career when I was a business analyst at Acme, Inc. Our clients always encountered challenges making their different back-end systems communicate with each other and keeping accurate data.

I thoroughly enjoyed being the liaison between the client and coders. I found I had a knack for translating business needs into requirements.

Getting exposed to the bowels of benefit administration inspired me to go back to school and learn more about the intersection of technology and people.

 While earning my degrees, I launched some entrepreneurial endeavors, one that is still active today, to continue to help small businesses and nonprofits improve processes and create better customer and employee engagements.

 These experiences sharpened my ability to communicate complex concepts clearly to all levels. My favorite way to explain complexities is to use analogies and some even call me Master of Analogies.

Currently, I’m in a clinical environment, and I promote community by leaning heavily on both my data and people skills to find the best solutions for improving both internal and external processes.

Someday I wouldn’t mind going back to a corporate environment to apply what I’ve learned in an organizational development capacity.


Whether it’s integrating systems or connecting vendors with complementary services, I crave opportunities to improve ways people and technology work together. If you’re facing a challenge like this, let’s connect.

Add Context to Provide a More Complete Picture of Your Accomplishments

The other place the curse of knowledge can occur is writing about your accomplishments. For example, imagine you read a bullet on a resume that said, “Monetized all points of value chain.” What does that really mean? How many sales did that turn into? Did it create new revenue streams? Did it improve customer lifetime value? Was it the first time certain parts of the value chain were monetized?

Without the right context around it, the reader of that resume is just going to move on to the next resume because there are too many unanswered questions. Hiring managers don’t have the time to figure out what you mean.

With every bullet on your resume, ask yourself, would someone outside of my company have an understanding of what I accomplished? If you’re not sure, give your resume to a friend and ask them to tell you what they believe you accomplished.

So, while writing your resume, LinkedIn profile or any other career marketing materials, remember to think like someone first learning about what you do. How can you provide enough context to make it easy for someone to visualize and understand your value? What stories can you tell to make yourself memorable?

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About the Author

Self-proclaimed job search geek, Michelle Robin takes the often frustrating and miserable task of job search and makes it more enjoyable, perhaps even fun, for her clients. An award-winning dual-certified resume writer (NCRW, CPRW) and founder of Brand Your Career, Michelle helps sales and marketing executives transform their career marketing materials into a package that wows their target employer. Click HERE to register for Michelle’s free training, The 5-Step Game Plan to Land 6-Figure Marketing Roles Without Resumes or Attending Networking Events.