I’ll be looking for a job pretty soon. I realize that people who can give me a job will expect me to tell them what I’m qualified to do. I don’t mean that resume crap. That stuff’s almost fiction, even if it’s technically true. If my skill was begging in the gutter for burrito wrappers, I could make it sound like “acquiring recycled commercial materials in atypical urban areas.”
No, I’m talking about looking someone in the eye and telling them, in one breath, just what I can do. After which they’ll feel that if they don’t hire me they’ll live in regret and never be happy again for the rest of their lives. My challenge is that I’m a senior manager, so the things I’m capable of sound stupid. For example, I could look my prospective employer in the eye and say:
“I’m great at saying no. Really, I’m like a negativity machine.”
Based on that statement, even I wouldn’t hire me. Hell, I’d spray for me, like I was a chinch-bug.
It’s a problem.
By the way, any grammar fans may have noted that in the earlier paragraph I should have written “…the things of which I am capable sound stupid.” I didn’t do that because it doesn’t flow well. I know it’s wrong, but I offer a quote that’s been attributed to Winston Churchill:
“This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”
On Saturday I interrupted my musings on unemployment long enough to visit my father. I go there to talk about building things, and stupid politicians, and grilled cheese sandwiches, among other things. I also go there to write checks to pay his bills. His hands shake too much for him to write because of a raucous and unwelcome party in his cerebellum, so I help out. I’m hoping that my wife will be kind enough to write my checks when I get older. To be truthful, she writes most of them now, so things wouldn’t be that different.
My father and I found ourselves talking about job qualifications, just after we’d been discussing how much useless crap is in his attic. Right away he told me that he didn’t learn anything in college that helped him get a job, or that helped him at all in his career, for that matter. I found that discouraging. When he was still working he supervised the construction of schools and hospitals and so forth. However, in college I think he mainly knocked people down and pulled semi-larcenous pranks on the Texas A&M football team. So maybe this wasn’t entirely surprising.
We backtracked and talked about whether his military service had given him qualifications he could present to future employers. He said that had been problematic. After the Korean War his discharge papers stated that he was well-suited for any civilian job requiring a “small arms technician.” He didn’t feel that was too helpful, since it meant “move about silently and kill people.”
We agreed that it can be hard to explain what you’re qualified to do.
I guess I’ll keep working on it. I may need something more generic, like, “I don’t usually screw things up,” or, “I haven’t been killed by my own employees so far.” Maybe I can adapt one of those common sayings about success, like, “Success is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I could turn that into:
“I sweat a lot. You ought to see it.”
Or here’s another one I like. “Ninety percent of life is showing up. Nine percent is paying attention. One percent is getting laid.”
Like so many people today, I will soon be looking for a job. I haven’t hunted a job since before Y2K. For young people, that was midnight January 1, 2000, when we all expected airplanes to fall out of the sky and every single machine in every hospital in the world to stop working at midnight. Anyway, it was a long time ago, and my job pursuit skills have atrophied.
It doesn’t help that my main professional skills are being sarcastic, predicting disaster, and drinking Diet Coke all day. Oh, and saying, “No.” I can say no to orphans and puppies and people who want us to do stupid stuff for free. I have no problem with that.
Now that I’m sneaking back into the job market, I have to deal with one of the dumbest things humans ever invented—the resume. I understand its theoretical purpose. I’ve read hundreds of resumes. If I want to hire someone, I can’t talk to every person who applies for the job. I have to weed them out somehow. Thus, they send resumes, and I interview the ones who sent me a cool resume.
I’m sure you see the flaw here. I don’t necessarily interview the people who would be good at the job. I interview the people who are good at writing resumes. I can’t tell the difference, because the key to a good resume is being accurate in every detail, but presenting things in a way that will make your future employer want to talk to you more than they want to eat leftover cookies in the break room.
It can confuse things, or even be misleading. To show you what I mean, think about the villain from the Lord of the Rings books by J.R.R. Tolkien. His name is Sauron, and if you’ve never heard of him or read the books, don’t worry about it. Everything I’m about to say makes sense even if you haven’t read Tolkien’s thousand or so pages.
Anyway, let’s just say that at the end of the books Sauron is out of a job. If he still had a material body and wanted to get a new job in corporate America, he’d need a resume. Here’s an example of how a resume coach might take his basic information and craft it into an interview-landing resume.
GOALS – Sauron begins with his career goal.
Career Goal: Dark Lord of a Malevolent Empire Dedicated to Bringing Misery and Destruction to Everyone Everywhere
This is a bit too specific. He’d cast a wider net by generalizing while still being clear about what he wants.
Career Goal: Executive Leadership Position in an Aggressive, Goal-Driven, World-Class Organization
CORE SKILLS – It’s often wise to list your core skills so that they stand out from your work history. Sauron’s skills show a lot of promise. With the exception of a few details, he’s in the sweet spot for a corporate executive position. However, the unvarnished description fails to include the kind of key words that hiring managers look for when plucking good resumes from the mass of mediocre ones. My proposed rewording appears just beneath each core skill.
Plotting the Destruction of All Goodness and Light
Long Range Strategic Planning
Tyrannizing the Land of Mordor Until It’s the Apotheosis of Depravity and Evil
Forging Wretched Scum into an Unstoppable Army Capable of Slaughtering All My Enemies
Workforce Planning and Development
Imbuing Undead Monsters With the Powers of Sorcery
Professional Growth of High-Potential Employees
Crafting Magical Rings With Which to Enslave Inferior Creatures
Innovative Product Development
Showing No Mercy
WORK HISTORY – Work history can be a tricky area. Fortunately, Sauron was a high achiever. The strict details of Sauron’s most recent jobs show strong capabilities, but companies need to see how those capabilities relate to their organizational challenges. A slight re-casting is in order.
Dark Lord of Mordor, 2942 through the End of the Third Age
Fortified Mordor into a virtually impregnable stronghold
Identified and mitigated the organization’s strategic vulnerabilities
Fielded mighty armies of foul creatures
Mobilized a multi-national workforce to execute company directives
Killed thousands upon thousands of pathetic humans
Carried out a successful campaign to deny competitors critical resources
Subjugated various ghastly tribes
Executed hostile takeovers of smaller organizations with complementary capabilities
Poisoned the minds of arrogant sorcerers and kings
Led a successful disinformation and PR campaign against key competitors
Necromancer of Dol Guldur, 1050 – 2942
Brought undead monsters back into existence
Recruited key personnel critical to future organizational success
Destroyed the city of Minas Ithil
Achieved 100% market share in an important geographical area
Remained undetected by wizards for almost 800 years
Implemented a successful corporate counter-espionage program
Escaped to Mordor as planned when attacked by nosy wizards and elves
Developed a comprehensive disaster recovery plan that ensured uninterrupted operations when an actual disaster occurred
WORK HISTORY CHALLENGES – Now Sauron reaches one of the most difficult problems in resume writing—how to deal with a gap in employment history. This doesn’t show the kind of drive that a corporate employer is looking for, and a little spin is required here.
Shapeless and Dormant Evil, Beginning of Third Age – 1050
Floated insubstantial while followers continued to perpetrate evil in the name of Sauron
Volunteered without compensation to provide inspiration and moral support to those advancing industry goals
LENGTHY WORK HISTORY – When a job-seeker has a long work history it’s a bad idea to show every job in detail. Since Sauron has existed since the beginning of time, his work history is longer than most. An abbreviated explanation of his prior work is still a little too specific, so generalization is in order.
Mighty and Powerful Lord of Evil, First Age and Second Age
Titles included “The Dread Abomination,” “The Abhorred,” “The Nameless Enemy,” “Ring Maker,” and “Base Master of Treachery.”
Worked in various positions of increasing responsibility
Notable achievements included:
Served as lieutenant to the world’s ultimate evil being
Served as second-in-command to the chief executive of the industry-leading organization
Served and then betrayed the gods
Secured intellectual property and then spun off into an independent operation
Created the Rings of Power
Developed unique and market-changing products
I won’t go on with Education, Special Awards, Publications, and so forth. You get the idea.
So as I sit down to write my resume, I’ll keep all this in mind. If it’s possible to create a compelling resume for The Dread Abomination, it should be possible to create one for a sarcastic, soda-swilling doomsayer. Who’s good at saying no.