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Published 18 July 2012 05:14, Updated 19 July 2012 10:09
Resumes have become works of fiction. Like historical novels or biopics they are based on real events, but the resume has evolved into a flashy selling document. If the resume was ever an unadorned source of information it certainly isn’t now.
Despite the evolution of the resume as a creative selling document, savvy recruiters, human resources professionals and hiring managers know that the resume cannot be taken at face value and must be interpreted, second-guessed and, above all, verified. Yet it was recruiters and HR who originally encouraged candidates to be creative and expansive with their resumes, urging them to list in exhaustive detail their strengths, values, skills, attributes, interests, every training course ever undertaken and, for each position held, achievements and highlights – all written with a deliriously positive spin.
In the 1990s a whole new industry of consultants specialising in the preparation of resumes was born. During this time resumes became massive documents, often stored in colourful ring binders. Impressionable and faddish hiring managers were swayed by increasingly powerful HR departments to expect this level of detail in resumes.
A significant contribution to the rise of the meaningless resume was the fact that HR departments assumed greater responsibility for recruitment from the hiring managers – the managers to whom new employees would report when hired. HR wanted resumes to be creative expressions of candidates’ individuality. What they got was a ream of dross.
Had managers retained principal responsibility for recruiting, chances are resumes would not have become such pointless documents. Left to their devices, hiring managers would have insisted on resumes being a more practical and reliable source of information.
Fortunately, the most extreme fashions in expansive resumes have been reined in and hiring managers are slowly reclaiming some of the influence ceded to recruiters and HR in a bid to improve the quality of candidates. But fluffy, fanciful and even fabricated resumes remain an enduring legacy of those excesses.
As a business journalist I see a lot of resumes and career summaries supplied by public relations firms on behalf of their clients and from the subjects themselves. These career histories are presented as a seamless, tightly interconnected series of jobs and business activities. There are no rough patches, no failures, no odd interludes. The hero is invariably responsible for superhuman increases in sales, dramatic turnarounds and stunning strategic insights.
Given the perilous state of the economy, diminishing levels of job security and the difficult jobs market, this is a time when many people will be updating their resumes. For those who have been well established in current positions, this won’t come easily.
Before preparing, revising or updating your resume, take advice. Talk to colleagues and peers – particularly if they are hiring managers or have recently changed jobs and gone through the recruitment process. And use recruitment consultants as a (free) resource.
Recruiters are happy to develop and mentor potential candidates because it provides them with a wider talent pool to draw from. For the candidates, recruiters are not only a potential conduit to jobs but a rich source of expertise and counsel. This includes guidance on the composition of resumes, because for all their failings, and despite the social media revolution, the resume still determines whether you get your foot in the recruiter’s or hiring manager’s door.
The information that recruiters look for in a resume is changing. One example of this was highlighted over lunch with recruitment firm Watermark Search International’s managing partner, Nick Waterworth.
He told me that a recent trend in executive search is companies looking for candidates who have experienced failure, because today’s economic climate demands familiarity with difficult conditions – whether it’s losing market share, falling profits, high staff turnover or rocky industrial relations. They want candidates with experience in the real world.
Those who treat resumes as a fairytale narrative would instinctively paper over such blemishes – and on that particular criterion would not attract the attention of Watermark consultants.
There’s much to be said for resumes that tell it like it is. Of course the resume is a selling document, but its primary purpose is to inform and compel, not to whitewash or embroider. As with most other things in life, resumes that seem too good to be true probably are.