Thursday, 11 August 2011

Rant about resumes

I just read a couple or three very funny resume bloopers columns online.

I have a couple of questions about my resume, and job-hunting in general, which I'll throw out to anyone, really. The first question is: do kindergarten resumes really work? You know the type: a long list of 10 or 20 "plays well with others; shares her toys; doesn't eat sand" and that ilk that goes right up top above the list of what you've actually done for the past 20, 30, 40 years and which -- and I may be wrong here -- I had always assumed to be what employers were really interested in. 

I'm presently a self-employed sub-contractor in a business (transcription) where reputation, reliability, accuracy, adherence to sacred deadlines and discretion, as well as the Who's Who list of companies and agencies you've done transcription for, are paramount. Oh, and I can spell. And I know English grammar. Unlike 95% of transcribers today. What was once a highly-skilled, very well-paid profession has become a highly-skilled, less-than-minimum wage job that has gone to India. The low Indian wages are dictating what we are now paid in North America. How? We're bidding against them for North American work. Confidentiality? Privacy? Phht! Your medical and legal transcriptions are now being done in India.

The second thing that pisses me off to no end is that I have been loftily and repeatedly ordered over the last 20 or so years to dumb down my resume. Why? Because HR personnel don't understand what I do. What the...? Let me try to understand this. They're trying to fill a position required by their company. I'm applying for that job that's been advertised because, if I understand the advertisement, I have the qualifications and prior job experience. HR doesn't understand my resume, which has everything to do with the company for whom they work, which means they must have no clue about what type of person and their qualifications are needed to fulfill the job requirements. What calibre of person must HR be hiring, if they only hire what they and not the applicant know about? Don't the management people who are the ultimate employers notice that whoever has been hired is woefully... underskilled, inadequate for the job...? I was actually told in Whitehorse, when I was applying for a job as a YTG highway signpainter, to never go through HR, because they never like people like me. Always go to the person who's hiring. Who has given these HR people all this power and why are they permitted to abuse it? I have worked far too hard for far too many years to be the best at what I do -- no matter what that is -- and for someone to tell me to dumb it all down? What the hell is going on?

The third thing that really bugs me is when resume writer columnists tell you to talk about your accomplishments -- "I brought the X project in on time and under budget by $3 million" -- versus a list of mere job/skill descriptions. Could someone please tell me how to rephrase the following, and how to put it in a cover letter?

"After I quit the job I loved in 1991, following eight years of offensive bottom-feeder pay, I subsequently discovered that the president had had to hire THREE full time people to do what I had been doing part time while also attending a post-secondary institution full time, not to mention that this was work for which I was always paid the least amount of the least of the three jobs. Hiring three full time people would easily cost the company a minimum of $100,000+ annually in wages alone following my departure. Additionally, the company would then have had to return to outsourcing all advertising, design of government-mandated public information displays and graphic work (PowerPoint artwork adaptation, scientific journal illustrations, etc.) at an estimated $150+ per hour because I've never met a draftsperson who knew anything about advertising, printing, copywriting, etc., which is what I used to do. Additionally, company executives would have had to provide labour-intensive paper copies of all work to be done by one of my successors, thereby doubling the executives' own workload with grunt work. Since executives are usually on salary, it meant they were absorbing the cost of hundreds of hours of labour annually that I used to do for them and, BTW, for which I wasn't paid anything near their salary grade."

This is the first time I've ever calculated what I actually saved them over the years! Holeee, it's unbelievable. I think that guy reeeeeally screwed up.

Yes, I get the idea of accomplishments and saying something like "I brought the X project in on time and under budget by $3 million", but tell me how to write the truth: they screwed up big time by not paying me even a token part of what I was really worth to them. And oh, yes, I did ask for raises periodically. But there was only so much begging I could stomach: "Please, sir, I want some more." I considered and still consider myself to be "a professional", not just an employee doing only what they're told to do and when to do it. I took on so many tasks, drew on past experiences and knowledge, learned so much about this company's business along the way, and basically created my own standalone business that was still inextricably enmeshed within the company. Then to have someone I respected and who I thought of as an equal, each in our own spheres, to tell me to my face that he didn't believe I was really doing as much work as I said I was, and therefore didn't deserve a raise? That's a bit of a smuck upside the head, isn't it? Yes? No? Am I wrong?

"As a contractor of almost 40 years' standing I parachute into almost every job with a big fat zero's worth of knowledge of that company; however, what I do know how to do when I parachute in is hit the ground running, analyse and resolve the problem right from the get-go. Often they've run out of time because either somebody was practising major avoidance -- ignore it and it will go away, somebody else will figure something out -- or they're just plain an idiot, and now their job is on the line and they don't know what to do. Because money is no longer an issue, they hire me, I save their sorry asses, and I get out."

Why do I need to know anything about a specific business? Work is work and except for minor details, it's pretty much exactly the same wherever you go. Silos are an artificial construct, a concept. In philosophical terms, concepts don't exist; the fact that people talk about them and have agreed they exist and conduct business as if they're truly bricks and mortar edifices means they're... what, delusional? And we wonder why business and governments are going down the rathole! I have always adapted skills from one industry and tweaked them to apply to another; I don't start over. Therefore, why would an employer assume that I should perennially be paid entry level wages?

"Incorporating skills learned in disparate sectors (which are listed in the attached 2-page resume) means I am hyper-organised -- think of moving chessmen up, down, through and around a 3+ level Lucite chessboard. In the case of the one company, I constantly juggled umpteen separate deadlines (ours and service providers), all the different facets involved in production, paid attention to budgets and contingency allowances for projects headed by different executives, in different stages of completion and often located in a different country entirely with the added legal requirements that that would entail. I was living, thinking and breathing outside the box long before the rest of the world was informed there was one." 

And what's with all the cliches, those gob-smackingly irritating lists of so-called "power verbs" and jargon that resume writers and HR looooove to death and post online? Are they really sitting there and checking them off, thinking, okay, this person used thirteen power nouns, ten power adjectives and twenty-three power verbs. Since our cutoff is a minimum usage of X, nope, buh-bye, Bubba. Into the circular file you go.

"I have lived and worked overseas, I speak three languages, albeit two poorly (I am unfortunately a linguistic dolt), but have, eh, I dunno, a quasi-mystical ability to communicate with just about anyone, whether we share a verbal language or not, and I'm adaptable to circumstances: I have worked with Vietnamese boat people on an assembly line and have had intense one-on-one sit-downs with government leaders, judges, top-level military personnel and executives; I've tutored third world refugees, helping them find their first jobs in Canada; and I've done work for the World Criminal Court, NATO, UN agencies, banks, police, etc."

If I were an electrician or a plumber or airline pilot or a librarian I could find a job so frickin' easily. Just open the newspaper. It's those damnably elusive, so-called "soft skills" -- and there's one of those pesky power words again (ewch, "power" word: it's so '80s, innit? I hear the '80s have come back. Dallas remake is in the works, big shoulders, big hair, makeup trowelled on... oh, Gawed, I'm doomed again). The "soft skills" have made me virtually unemployable... the irony being that I get what work I do have virtually. If it weren't for the Internet -- and there's the poster child of a concept, 'cause you can't touch it, taste it or smell it, but I think we all agree it exists -- I wouldn't be working. And now I'm really in trouble, because since 1998 most people don't believe I do any work at all.

Gaaaaaaah I'm so screwed, and I've got to somehow find a real job.

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