A Guts-for-Brains Resume?
One resume that is attracting a lot of attention on the Internet and blogosphere is that of a 28-year-old Brit named Benedict Le Gauche, apparently living in Manchester—“apparently”, since he provides no address or contact information (assuming his name is not a nom de plume as a cartoonish variant of “Pepe Le Pew”). What seems to be sparking this interest is the posted resume’s seeming candor—actually, ostensibly brutal, surreal honesty, if the veracity of the details and the ITN UK news network interview with him can be assured.
Because of, or perhaps despite, his self-effacing, if not self-eradicating blunt pitch, Le Gauche does have an employment history, however humble it may seem (including a current stint as a “caretaker”, which he cites in a blog to blunt allegations he’s trying to get on or be eligible for the dole).
What’s So Bad about Telling the Unpleasant Truth?
What caught my eye and interest is the question his resume implicitly poses: Its apparent comic entertainment value aside, does a brutally frank and refreshingly revealing resume have merit as a serious resume form, and if not, why not?
This question discounts the aforementioned possibility that the real purpose of such a self-incriminating resume is to qualify for or retain unemployment benefits through a persistent job search that carries no risk of being hired. However, dismissing this possibility may be unwise, given that, as mentioned, Le Gauche provides no contact information, apart from his blog—which, of course, raises the possibility that the whole thing is a genial hoax, yet, from a recruiting standpoint, an instructive one, as will be argued below.
But first, to get a taste of that kind of no-holds-barred candor—the kind that will elicit a gasp, shrug, laugh and the thought that the guy can’t be “serious”, here are excerpts from Le Gauche’s ostensibly self-shredding resume, revealingly given the peculiar URL, “http://curriculumvitiate.wordpress.com/the-cv/”,which is based on his online I.D.—perhaps through a self-sabotaging Freudian slip or wry sense of humor“(Boldface and italics, mine and “vitiate” construed as “spoil, pervert, or invalidate”.)
- “My name is BENEDICT LE GAUCHE and I was born on 02/05/83 which makes me 28 and ripe as a lemon. I’m looking for a job I’ll like. As a man of integrity I’m not about to try and give you the impression that all the jobs I’ve had previously were brilliant learning experiences tailor-made to equip me for precisely the job I’m applying for (hello you) when in reality they have been, for the greater part, boring and drudgerous (sic) and disheartening. I should state I was not bad at them. The capacity to bear such trials whilst retaining an at-most-times sunny disposition might be called something like ‘the ability to work under pressure’.”
- “…via some kind of weird pride or fear of being disliked I have hitherto been inspired to perform above averagely for every company I’ve ever worked for and believe that I can harness this same fear in the furthering of your company goals. Who knows? I might even like the job! Though this is statistically improbable.”
- “I like working on my own if there isn’t anyone fun to work with but can also stand the company of people I hold in contempt and am, in this sense, versatile.”
- “I really excel at customer service and do, through great force of will and habit, hide the worst of my qualities.”
- (One of his prior jobs) “Telephone Guy; GOVNET, Manchester; 15/8/2009 to 28/8/2009 Duties included: Pretending to be on the phone. Joining my irrevocably compromised colleagues in the morning chorus of ‘I’M GOING TO SELL SELL SELL (my soul)!’. Trying to work out what it was the company did and what part of that I was supposed to be doing. Hiding.”
- (Job at Blackwell’s Bookstore)” Duties included: Daily use of the full suite of Microsoft Office programmes. For two years. So now I can’t look at a latticed window without seeing, in my mind’s eye, Excel and everything that follows.”
- (A Market Street retail position) “Duties included: Resisting the desire to fold my arms. Resisting the desire to yawn. Resisting the desire put either of my hands into either of my pockets. Resisting the desire to scream aloud.”
As for his Manchester Metropolitan University bachelor’s honors degree in philosophy, he succinctly sums it up in one word: “Pointless.” His candor apparently boundless, he adds that, as of January 11, 2011, he was/has been “free from all venereal disease” (which may be a job credential in some movie studios in L.A., although it does raise the question whether his integrity would have remained intact had his lab results been different).
So, assuming that the purpose of Le Gauche’s resume, tongue-in-cheek or not, is not to avoid being hired, a variant of the question posed above can now be fully addressed: Why aren’t there more resumes like this and why shouldn’t there be?
The Rare Blunt Worker
Although such full professional self-disclosure is not limited to resumes and is more common in unrecorded conversations, it still is rather rare. One such uncommon instance of uncommon candor that I can report occurred a few days ago, here in Qingdao, China, where I am saving thousands of dollars by having my local dentist, from two years back, revisit my mouth, a kind of micro-economy. One of his staff, a very personable young woman stationed at my dental chair’s side divulged her secret: “I want to change jobs.” While her timing may have been questionable—given her critical role in assisting with the tricky procedures and providing comfort, her openness was refreshing. The dentist working on my root canal topped that: In the middle of our second complicated 3-hour session in two days, he unnervingly—or is it de-nervingly?–volunteered, “I don’t like doing root canals”. I guess what I’ve often been told is true: I have a way of getting people to open up to me.
He and the assistant, like Le Gauche, have made me wonder why there isn’t more candor like that and to ask what exactly is wrong with being honest. True, honesty per se isn’t necessarily a virtue: Among the most honest people in the world are armed robbers who say, “Gim’me the money or I’ll shoot you!” Completely truthful. Hence, while honesty may earn you and indulgence, it isn’t a “plenary indulgence”, i.e., full absolution. However, the fact that sometimes honesty is not only a social, legal and professional liability, but also frequently a moral one, as in the case of the mugger, seems insufficient to account for its rarity.
Before answering that question—why such blunt talk is so rare, it will be useful to ask why job applicants or disgruntled employees would attempt it at all. Here are some speculations, some less obvious than others:
- To avoid working in general or escape having to take the job under consideration (previously mentioned)
- To continue to collect or qualify for unemployment benefits (previously mentioned)
- To paradoxically display admirable employee traits, e.g., fearlessness, “integrity” or openness, by disclosing bad ones, the admirable ones being expected to more than offset the costs of being honest (“You are X, BUT HONEST!” offsetting “You are honest, BUT X!”)
- To gain a competitive edge by being “distinctive”, edgy and hard-to-forget
- To lay down the challenge to match that honesty with comparable recruiter and company honesty
- To create the appearance of a personal, intimate bond between applicant and recruiter or employee and client based on mutual honesty and openness
- To find a fun outlet for oral aggressiveness
- To carry on a personal crusade against hypocrisy, which, at a deeper psychological level, translates into resentment of unfairness, manipulation, deception, conformity and/or powerlessness.
- Miscalculation of the consequences of being completely frank.
So, these are worth keeping in mind when taken aback by the unexpected candor of any job candidate.
Why So Few Blunt Workers?
It may seem needless to ask why so few applicants and employees are as candid as Le Gauche has been reported to be:
- You won’t get hired
- You may get fired
Of course. Right?
But then there’s Jack Nicholson’s classic phrase in “A Few Good Men”—“You can’t handle the truth!”, and its simple follow-up, “Why can’t we handle the truth—or at least more of it?” That’s the question to be extracted from Le Gauche’s posting and his jiggling of the Web. Were Socrates alive today, he might expand on his deceptively simple question, “What is truth?”, and add, “Why can’t recruiters, clients and employers handle it?”
The Workplace Truth Taboo
Understanding the inconvenient truth is like committing a crime: Those who do it don’t want to get caught making it clear that they did it—“it” being the crime committed or the act of understanding the “inconvenient” truth. When it comes to workplace truth, there are the
- awkward truths: “There’s spinach on the applicant’s teeth.”
- accusatory truths: “I know you haven’t read my resume.”
- Incriminating truths: “I haven’t read your resume.”
- disqualifying truths: “I have mastered no software.”
- disillusioning truths: “Nobody really needs the junk we sell.”
- cynical truths: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the masses.” (P.T. Barnum)
- insulting truths: “Your breath will even kill the bacteria that cause it.”
(Note: these are my examples, not Le Gauche’s.)
The Sad Truth
The sad truth of the matter is that every one of these kinds of tabooed truth is bad for business. This is sad, as a commentary about both the frequently delusional, deceptive, timidity-driven preconditions of staying in business and about our general intolerance for truth, irrespective of how heavily the likes of Socrates have promoted appreciation of facts, veracity in reporting them and the willingness to face and report them in the first place. So that’s why an awful lot of truth is taboo in the workplace.
But, notice this peculiar fact: On a re-reading of Le Gauche’s resume (authentic or not), it can be seen that many of the inconvenient truths he expresses are, in fact, not among the kinds in the foregoing list of tabooed truths—booed, perhaps, but not tabooed. The rest of his curiously candid comments directly or indirectly challenge the list, without adding to it.
For example, his characterization of some of the jobs he had as “boring” would be taboo only for the truly and completely delusional Snow White seven dwarves who can’t help chirping “we whistle while we work”. Virtually everything else he says in his resume also passes the taboo-list test (by not being an instance of the list’s categories) or invalidates a given list category as a test:
- “I should state I was not bad at them.” No problem here, except perhaps for comic humility.
- “I’m not about to try and give you the impression that all the jobs I’ve had previously were brilliant learning experiences tailor-made to equip me for precisely the job I’m applying for.” Again, no problem. Obviously, for most of us some past jobs are better matches for prospective jobs than for others.
- “…via some kind of weird pride or fear of being disliked I have hitherto been inspired to perform above averagely for every company I’ve ever worked for and believe that I can harness this same fear in the furthering of your company goals.” The knee-jerk response to this one is that it expresses a taboo “disillusioning truth”, namely, the hard truth that employees sometimes work for reasons other than abiding love of the corporation. Come on—do we really have to pretend that we don’t work for other reasons, such as a paycheck, status, pride in our skills (rather than in the company that recruits them) or fear of having nothing to do?
- ““Duties included: Resisting the desire to fold my arms. Resisting the desire to yawn. Resisting the desire put either of my hands into either of my pockets. Resisting the desire to scream aloud.” Although this one seems to clearly disqualify Le Gauche from working in retail, in fact it does not directly express a truth, tabooed or not. That’s because his core or specified duties did not include resisting the desire to yawn or to scream aloud. So, humorous mischaracterization of the job’s duties? Yes. Tabooed truth? No. Hence, no workplace “truth taboo” has been violated here, even though every joke contains a grain of truth.
What disqualifies him is not the truth he expressed, but the truth he tacitly implied, viz., work is often only a means, not an end in itself—which, in virtue of being only tacitly implied, approximately conforms to the workplace requirement of a collusion of silence about tabooed truths. So no truth taboo directly violated here.
Maybe (Le) Gauche, But Not Dangerously Truthful
Accordingly, most, if not all of the attention his resume has attracted based on his alleged honesty and candor, has been misdirected as a result of a misconception about what it says. His comments may be too informal, too humble, too humorous, too insightful or too off-target (like the STD report or mention of people liking his ginger hair). But how many among them really are, with respect to a prospective employer or recruiter, too awkward, accusatory, incriminating, disqualifying, disillusioning, cynical or insulting for him to get the job done and done decently?
If you insist on being conventional or hard-core about job applicant candor and on toeing the conservative workplace truth line, you could still rationalize hiring the playfully candid Le Gauche in at least two ways: first, to hire him despite his resume, rather than because of it, on the grounds that he is willing to take on the challenge of a job compounded by the severe challenges posed by his attitudes, as a kind of cognitive or emotional disability, expressed in his resume. That’s spunky—for both of you.
Or you could do the next best thing.
Hire him as a comic.