Career Advice

The Bland Leading The Blind

“So Liz,” asks my friend Garrett on the phone, “do you want to be on a committee?”

“I doubt it,” I said. “What does the committee do?”

“It’s a committee of HR people who volunteer to review resumes for job seekers,” Garrett said. “People send in their resumes, and the HR people give them feedback.”

“Oh no!” I said. “HR people giving resume advice? That is scary.”

“How is it scary?” Garrett wanted to know.

“Look,” I said. “HR people are the undefeated world heavyweight champs of bureaucratic boilerplate. Have you read any HR memos lately? ‘Effective immediately, it will no longer be permissible to access the front lobby through the loading dock. Please be advised and alter your route accordingly.’ Who speaks that way outside of an HR memo?”

“I see what you mean,” said Garrett.

“I wouldn’t let an HR person within ten yards of my resume,” I said. “Asking HR people to give resume advice is like writing a screenplay and taking it to an actuaries’ convention to get help spicing up the dialogue.”

“You make a good point,” said my friend. “But HR people read resumes all day. So shouldn’t they know what a good resume looks like?”

“HR people write job ads all day, too,” I said. “Here’s what a typical job ad sounds like: ‘Our growing team seeks a motivated self-starter to enhance our ability to serve customers through world-class, efficient service. Must have a proven track record of success.”

“As opposed to a track record of failure, or maybe an unproven track record of success,” said Garrett. “With end-to-end solutions based on cross-functional paradigm shifting best practices,” he added.

“If you wanted a resume that didn’t sound look like a bottomless pit of corporate-speak boilerplate, you wouldn’t have an HR person help you with it,” I said.

“So who would you ask for resume advice?” Garrett wanted to know.

“That’s a great question,” I replied. “College students. Acupuncturists. Circus performers. Cab drivers and hairdressers. Almost anyone who speaks English would do. You’d hand your resume to one of these non-HR people, and you’d say ‘Let me know which parts of the resume you don’t understand.'”

“That would get the boilerplate language out,” Garrett agreed.

“I write resumes,” I said, “and I show excerpts to my kids. If the kid doesn’t understand what a phrase means — ‘multi-platform strategic alignment of core values,’ for instance — the phrase goes.”

“Why do we write resumes in such a stiff, formal way in the first place?” Garrett wondered aloud.

“You got me,” I said. “We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that corporate junk-speak sounds more grown-up and professional than regular speech. So we stuff our resumes full of boilerplate dreck, and end up sounding like little kids playing a dress-up game of business under the kitchen table. We sound ridiculous and puffed-up and uncreative and sheep-like. We suck all the power out of our resumes when we write that way.”

“But don’t hold back,” said Garrett. “Tell me how you really feel.”

“It kills me that HR people would be advising job seekers on writing resumes,” I said. “That’s sure to perpetuate the problem.”

“I’ll tell you what, resume critique-writing could be a nice sideline for an underemployed circus performer,” said Garrett.

“You’ve got a point there,” I said.