Todd Solondz’ excellent but controversial 2001 film, Storytelling, shows how “non-fiction” can be used to tell lies and to mislead and how “fiction” is sometimes the best way to tell the truth. We've all seen reports that say anywhere from one third to one half of job applicants lie on their résumés, but I keep waiting for the report that explains how a résumé that contains no factual inaccuracies or omissions can completely misrepresent the applicant.
I’m not a Mormon but a few years ago my favorite Mormon, Dave Kravetz, arranged for me to get a seat at a 2-day career workshop conducted by Doug Mallory, a manager with the Latter Day Saints Employment Resources. Last night I was re-reading one of Doug’s excellent pamphlets in which he says he worked for 16 years at a job which was a “mismatch from the start” but he kept working at it only because he was succeeding and making good money. Doug’s résumé contains the facts about those 16 years but it doesn’t tell the truth that, as Doug puts it in that same pamphlet, he had “simply refused to make changes” in his career path “in spite of the obvious warning signs.” After years of, in a sense, living a career lie, working at a job for which he was a “mismatch from the start”, Doug launched a new job search that had “no passion” and “no enthusiasm” and “no goal except to get a job” that would support his family. Doug didn’t lie on his résumé but his 16 year career at a job for which he was a “mismatch from the start” misled prospective employers about who Doug was and what he was called to do with his life and made it harder for Doug to find the truth about that calling.
“The fact was, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew what I didn’t want to do,” wrote Doug.
The truth of Doug's calling to be an outstanding employment expert who would help unemployed and underemployed Mormons reverse what Mormon President, Gordon Hinckley, called the "crucifixion of their souls", was obscured behind the fact that for 16 years he was a successful salesman.
Many people's résumés are the history of what they don't want to do anymore.
My résumé could be the basis of a Doug Mallory book or a Todd Solondz film about how the facts in my résumé present a totally false and misleading impression about me.
When Bill Gardner (@oncee) asked me what kind of work I’m looking for I reflexively said I would send him a résumé but sending him a résumé won’t tell him about the kind of job for which I am best suited. The facts contained in my résumé will mislead more than they will enlighten and inform Bill about Joseph Higginbotham.
For example, an unguided reading of my résumé will reveal the fact that I was a sales rep, a branch manager and a general manager in the healthcare industry, that I’ve had hiring and firing authority and budget and P&L accountability and that I wrote professionally for a bunch of business magazines and even got paid a few ridiculous honoraria for speaking to business groups but what it won’t tell you is that I would have gladly taken a cut in pay to apply my skills at a charity or a non-profit organization but simply didn’t know how to get there from where I was.
Then there are the Lexmark years. Talk about misleading. My résumé would be more truthful if those seven years of words like “program manager” and “software development” and “project manager” were omitted or if I substituted a brief essay on how I would have rather used my skills, but résumé convention dictates that résumés continue to obscure truth behind misleading facts.
Small employers see the word “Lexmark” and get the idea that a guy who worked for a Fortune 500 company wouldn’t be happy in a small organization.
That’s a lie.
Or they get the idea that if I spent 7 years with a manufacturer I must like manufacturing.
I hated project management with a passion. Project management violates the first thing I learned from favorite business professor, Susan Hitt, who taught me that good management never gives an employee responsibility for getting a job done without also giving that employee the authority necessary to get that job done. Project management violates that rule.
And then there's the misleading fact that I have sometimes kept the bills paid through self-employment. For some reason, a lot of employers think that anybody who's ever worked for himself will not be happy having a boss. The truth is that, except for my freelance writing and speaking activities, all my "self-employed" consulting work came about by accident, not because I sought it. Yes, it's true that some people become self-employed because they have a problem with bosses, but self-employment can limit the sort of work a person is able to do and, for most of us, I think career satisfaction is about the work itself, not about who's the boss. For example, if you've always dreamed of building a better car but you know you can never raise the kind of money it takes to start a car company, you might be quite happy to work for an existing auto maker if they are committed to letting you find a way to build a better car.
Every once in a while the truth comes out in a job interview. An interviewer once asked me which of my past jobs I liked the most and why. I told her about my first general management job with a company that had what I call "walking bankruptcy". Because I have what Justine Menkes calls a "healthy skepticism" about data, I was able to find hundreds of thousands of dollars in overstated sales numbers and inflated receivables and write a new reality-adjusted budget. I did something previous managers didn't do: I questioned everything. I didn't accept what the stacks of green bar computer paper were telling me about sales, accounts receivable, etc., and I bothered to find out how our software worked. Working as it was designed to, the software was doing some very strange things that nobody noticed because nobody had asked enough questions. I enjoyed that job because it gave me a chance to use my problem-solving skills and to go to work everyday knowing that I was making a difference.
"So you're a software geek?" an interviewer once asked me.
"No, I'm a problem solver."
"You're a numbers guy" said another.
"No, we had a CPA looking at the numbers and drawing the wrong conclusions because he wasn't looking behind the numbers. Smarter numbers crunchers than I were looking at the numbers. It took looking behind the numbers, questioning the numbers to solve this problem. I'm a problem solver" I said.
I like the challenge of getting a job done on little or no money. Because an interviewer once asked me the right question, I remembered something I really liked about another GM job. In this role, the company's financials were in great shape and the operations and billing were humming like a well-oiled machine but the company was losing market share and there were almost no sales. The previous manager didn't like sales and marketing and hadn't budgeted any money to solve this problem so my first challenge was to figure out how to increase sales revenues without any advertising budget. Early in my career, a Charleston company had put me in charge of their advertising, events and PR so I learned how to write good ad copy and press releases and I learned how to use press releases to get "earned media" or "free media" for my company, so, without an ad budget, I managed to get radio and newspaper coverage which led to invitations to speak in venues where I could meet the professionals I needed to reach.
And I networked with everybody, joined everything. I went anywhere I thought I might meet a professional who could refer business to us.
Our sales tripled in 2 years.
I don't think I solved this sales and marketing problem because I am a "marketing guy" or a "media guy" or even because I'm a good networker. I saw a problem. I solved it. That's what I was paid to do. I was the manager and my company was paying me to see and solve problems.
I like to solve problems.
And I like to find cheap or free ways to solve problems.
I brought in my first Lexmark project at 5% of projected cost because I approached the project differently than other project managers would have. And the executives loved the outcome.
But I still hate project management.
Over the years I’ve recruited, hired and career counseled enough people to know that what I’ve just said about my own factual but misleading resume can be said of dozens or hundreds of people who read this blog. So I’m going to send Bill Gardner that résumé I promised him, but I’m also going to tell him that the truth is lost in the facts. Perhaps sometime this weekend I’ll find the box that contains my copy of Storytelling and see how Todd Solondz illustrates how facts can be used to tell lies.
My favorite fiction writer, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., wrote ""Be careful who you pretend to be because you are who you pretend to be." One of Vonnegut's Mother NIght characters had survived the second world war by pretending to be a dedicated Nazi. He was so good at pretending to be a dedicated Nazi that he became, in effect, Hitler's PR man.
Yeah, I know, it was just a novel. But just because it's fiction doesn't mean it isn't true.
I know from experience that dozens if not hundreds of people reading this blog have survived by pretending to be sales reps or accountants when their teachers , spouses and friends knew they were gifted to be writers or consultants or something else that's not in that pack of misleading non-fiction facts we call a résumé.
And now if you'll excuse me, I need to find a job so I'm going to get back to what I was doing before I wrote this post. I'd like to tell the truth but the employer didn't ask for the truth, he asked for a résumé.