5/16/12 - The Problem with Resumes: People Will Lie About Anything

It's a colossal bore to talk about resumes, even though they generally are poorly done and understood less.  People produce lousy resumes and most employers can't read them for what they are and are not.  Everybody's got a car, even if it's not kept up, and most everybody's got a resume.

You'd be hard pressed to find another example of a person's abilities that's in more disarray.  No one sets out to look incapable of doing a job, yet many resumes communicate that.  Appearances matter, just as honesty does. 

Example:  most people who have a yard agree to cut their grass, even if they don't enjoy it.  There are few who cut only part of it, and fewer still who let it turn to seed before doing anything.  If for no other reason, those people just don't want to be judged based on how their yard looks.  And of course there are those who enjoy yard work.

But resumes are a bit like that half-cut yard.

More capable, qualified people turn out awful resumes than most any other piece of evidence of someone's professional capabilities. No one who refuses to cut his grass would be surprised if others judged him based on this, but people think little of providing a resume that is out of date, contains grammatical and typographical errors, and worse, inflates past accomplishments.  There are also millions of resumes that are nearly indecipherable, including a battery of software or acronyms designed to make the resume match broad searches.

See, it's already pretty boring, isn't it?

Yet there's something to look at on this idea of resumes -- which is to question how often honesty drives the content of a resume.  The recent news includes examples of fabricated education on resumes.  It's hard to believe people making millions of dollars a year would not tell the truth about their resumes, but as my father told me once, People will lie about anything.

So, if you can accept my simple theory that a novelist's bio on the inside of the book jacket serves as a sort of resume, let's look at how one novelist describes himself.   This is the biography of the writer Pete Dexter, from his novel Spooner (which is a very good book if you care to buy a copy).

Pete Dexter began his working life with a U.S. Post office in New Orleans, Louisiana. He wasn't very good at mail and quit, then caught on as a newspaper reporter in Florida, which he was not very good at, got married, and was not very good at that.

In Philadelphia he became a newspaper columnist, which he was pretty good at, and got divorced, which you would have to say he was good at because it only cost $300.

Dexter remarried, won the National Book Award and built a house in the desert so remote that there is no postal service. He's out there six months a year, pecking away at the typewriter, living proof of the adage What goes around comes around--that is, you quit the post office, pal, and the post office quits you.

What does this witty bio tell us, beyond the fact the author clearly doesn't take himself too seriously?

  • It tells where his career began and in what role
  • It admits he was poor at multiple jobs, and implies it had something to do with geography
  • It confesses an inability to stick with things, both personal and professional
  • It demonstrates a turning point in a career, if that point can be judged by a prestigious award
  • It suggests the writer works hard and doesn't need fancy surroundings to do that
  • It presents a man who has learned some valuable lessons; under the wit of the last sentence is a man who's learned something and is willing to say what it is.

5 resumes out a thousand have something in common with this bio.  The unique resume includes humor, honesty, and facts to present a capable person at a point in life where experience matters.  The normal resume is littered with facts and figures and is as mixed up as the Jumble word puzzles my mother works each morning in the newspaper.

It's daring to break the accepted norm.  It's risky to tell how you've actually done in various roles.  It's extremely rare to admit you've failed, yet admit what you learned in failure.  Yet that's what today's resumes lack.

Pete Dexter is the author of one of my all-time favorite novels, Deadwood, but his bio above appeals to me because in spite of what some might assume is a superficial set of details lies a life lived and learned from.

Posted by Jack Williams at 07:51


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