August 7, 2014

Spoken For

Stock Traders Conducting InterviewI hate resumes. I hate resumes. I hate resumes. I HATE resumes.

Ostensibly, they’re simple, no-nonsense things, short documents that highlight relevant work experience and skill sets. Plug in your work experience, responsibilities, special skills, maybe a couple references, and you’re good to go.

In reality, however, they’re awful, needy, bafflingly amorphous sources of endless stress and frustration. Experience only counts until it doesn’t anymore, and you can’t quite know what goes where or how to word it when you do or what to leave out or include.

And you’re not good to go. You are, in fact, never good to go.

Here’s how resume prep happens:

Scenario A: You don’t have a resume because you have no experience. You’ve worked at a restaurant or grocery store or the dining hall in college but that’s about it. And maybe you interned at that one place when you thought you wanted to be a journalist a year and a half ago, but you’re applying for an entry-level position at an insurance company, and you’re not sure if that internship experience “counts”. In fact, you’re not sure if any of your experience “counts”. A light but persistent panic sets in. You have a brownie or watch a movie, and the panic fades into the background, an annoying pop song that you can easily ignore.

Scenario B: You have a resume, but it is woefully out of date. You haven’t had to write a resume since you last looked for work, which was forever ago. You’re well acquainted with what your job is (or was) but struggle when it comes to descriptively enumerating your duties and responsibilities. Your job is barely anything like your actual job description, and you want credit for the full sum of your experiences. You helped Molly with that project one time and saved the day, remember? Oh, and let’s not forget the time you were asked to take on half of Jim’s responsibilities when he left suddenly, and you, being the trooper you are, made it a part of your day-to-day routine. But how do you work that into your resume? What’s the right way of wording it? A delicate but dangerous and familiar feeling of panic rises from its grave. You remind yourself how capable and experienced you are, reasoning your panic into silence.

Regardless of the scenario, you ask around for help, hitting up people with much more work experience than you. Your uncle Jim the accountant, your mom’s best friend, Angela, the office manager, your brother Vic the mechanic—all of them give you conflicting advice. The big take away is that all of your experience is relevant. Unless it isn’t. Then only some (or none) of it is. But include it anyway.

“Spin it,” they say. “Tailor it to the job that you’re applying for.”

And you get that, but you have no idea how to tailor it. You’re not a tailor, and even though they know this, they won’t help you tailor. Panic is now tempered with confusion and frustration. They’ve tailored and are clearly good at tailoring. Their resume tailoring clearly got them the job they have now. Why won’t they help YOU tailor?

“Draft a resume, and I’ll have a look at it,” they might say. “Put something together, and we’ll sit down and work on it.”

Armed with distant hope that this may all work out, you cobble together everything you can think of that might “count”. You search the web and do your best to make your resume look something like the ones you’ve found. You borrow a professional sounding phrase or two and insert it some place where it will be noticed, but perhaps, not stand out as not entirely your own. You dutifully avoid silly grammatical errors, wordy descriptions, and comic sans font. And, in the end, you think you’ve done an okay job.

Hours tick by, days, more days—time you can’t bear to waste. You remember things you’ve left out and update your resume further. Now it’s too long, so you delete that bit about horseback riding lessons you gave for two summers. Now it’s not long enough. You think that maybe you want to add something about being a team player. Would that count as a skill? You don’t know. You’ll never know. A moody panic thrums and rattles deep within you like an angry, smoke-belching generator. There is no ignoring it now, this, the nightmare soundtrack of your waking life.

The worst thing about having little to no experience is that your resume—the very thing that is supposed to speak for you—is going to have very little to say. You’re tempted to lengthen and pad and embellish, all of which is noticeable and off-putting. Resumes feel like a game you’re completely unprepared to play.

The worst thing about being employed is how it necessarily insulates one from the job search experience. When you’re happily employed, updating your resume feels nigh irrelevant. And then you’re laid off or things change dramatically and you’re no longer happy. You dust off what once was an elegantly polished piece of professional poetry to find that it has not aged well. What’s more, you find that you’re not up to the task of breathing life back into this dead document.

This is the demonic paradox of resumes: they rank among the most important documents in the job search arsenal, and they’re constantly changing and/or in need of being completely rewritten. However, the best time to do that is when you are least inclined or motivated, when revisions and updates are the furthest thing from your mind.

Treating resumes like living things that need to be tended to and cared for is a lesson many of us have to learn the hard way. Building one from the ground up takes a decent amount of time and attention. And, once it’s in hand, it requires occasional love and attention, as a neglected, atrophied resume is often difficult-if not entirely impossible-to rehabilitate.

So even though I hate resumes—hate them—and wish there were an easier way to catalog my professional experience, I must tend to my hateful little resume like a dutiful parent, responding to the textual temper tantrum with love and kindness. Because, like it or not, it’s the first of first impressions that I’ll get to make, the lone voice speaking for me in a room crowded with many other voices.

I should probably add this realization under “skills” but… how would I word it?

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Drew Brathwaite is a contributing writer for A musician, author and an American politics enthusiast, Drew brings a solid knowledge of the employment markets and the candidate experience.