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people matching: resume and image
by catherine daly

Are resumes useful? A networker is only as employable as her links. Many technical resumes don't describe work experience. They list technologies and technical certifications. Paper and interviews don't show leadership skill or "team playing" ability. Even links are not always possible to share, since technology work on intranets is closed to potential employers.

A truism in the job market: networking is the way to a job. If a resume cannot communicate a coherent image, familiarity might, although image and substance diverge. The divergence between networking and the realities of networking is even more obvious.

Careers are no longer spent at a single company. To advance in a career, one must develop an "image" in a field by publishing, attending conferences, and joining clubs. It is not enough to be effective at work; it is necessary to be involved in job-related activity outside of work. Maybe this piece will serve that purpose for me.

Outside the United States, resumes are often called curriculum vita (CV), the name used in the U.S. for an academic resume. The difference is interesting. A resume is a summary, and carries connotations of "assumption" and "taken up again." Curriculum vitae means "course of life." A CV is one of many possible narratives.

An American resume usually starts with an "objective," since a summary does not supply the obvious: a narrative through the summary. "Objectives" are rewritten to guide each manager's reading of the summary. In the place of an objective, many CVs overseas have attached photographs. Image literally replaces narrative, even prejudicially.

Related to the "objective" is the targeted resume. These show only skills and experiences that lead to qualification, using jargon from a single vertical market. The targeted resume is similar to a CV, but it must display continuity and unity of style even though it skips some experiences to stress others.

The process of resume writing is contradictory. The resume is supposed to be as objective as possible, while it must both present experience and interpret itself as one possible narrative of that experience. The resume is objective and subjective at the same time. It must display the characteristics of an image: coherence, continuity, concision, and clarity.

Narrative of experience is difficult to quantify. The demand for quantification leads to a requirement that facts and figures narrate, while jargon describes. Time spent is stressed over efficiency. Ability to show experience is more important than mastery of new technologies, since resumes can't show mastery. Unfortunately, experience doesn't indicate mastery. Another example is the importance of "showing" time spent on a project or discipline rather than "telling" what groundbreaking work entails. Therefore, testing and certification are stressed over accomplishment.

Facts and figures don't deliver information about knowledge. Jargon indicates industry familiarity. Jargon by nature obfuscates or abbreviates. Interviewers demand brevity and jargon while demanding clarity. Since interviewers hold the script to the interview (the only job marketing tool other than the resume), controlling resume image while satisfying paradoxical demands is important.

Marketing ability differs from job skills outside marketing. Does the resume and interview "image" misrepresent those skills? How can difficult-to-quantify skills be represented? In technology, for example, management, budget, staff size, and detail of project reporting are emphasized over end-product functionality or innovation. Consequently, technology management is notoriously poor. It is more likely that any given technology development project will be unfinished and over-budget than not.

Successful resumes provide an image matching an employer image. Employer assumptions, created from employer desires, are not the same as employee desires. A resume must create a false image.

Job switching makes it hard to show the continuous employment and growth necessary for a positive image. Yet, low unemployment rates increase demand for productivity, and employers occupy workers with familiar tasks so they will perform optimally. It is increasingly difficult to apply for a job which does not involve more of the same type of work. This slows career growth. Evolving software and economic changes mean responsibilities continually change. This creates a chicken/egg problem formerly limited to the entertainment industry. How do you get a break? How do you show years of experience with beta technologies?

Employees want increasing vestment or other direct or indirect compensation. This was formerly tied to increasing, not changed, responsibilities. Stasis leads employees to target companies with explosive growth, such as Internet startups, which grow rapidly and hire few employees relative to the amount of available work. They demand employees grow in their positions and assume more than full time work, and may compensate eventually. The risk of their failure is lessened by low unemployment rates; large companies no longer offer job security, anyway.

Employers are more likely to load employees with disparate tasks ("many hats") than with tasks which lead to career progression and pay raises. An overqualified or under-worked employee is an employee ready for a better position at another company. Employers don't hold employees back, but they can give employees difficult-to-quantify, company-specific, or divergent experience.

Resumes are images, but they are peculiar ones. They are supposed to be subjective and objective at the same time. They are supposed to be clear and tell a story, but they are supposed to be specific and use jargon. They are supposed to match a potential employee to an employer image of an employee. The employee guesses, and provides an image which does not act in her best interest.

Copyright © 2000 Catherine Daly All Rights Reserved

Catherine Daly is sole proprietor of e.g., a software development company. She is also a poet.

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