Monday, February 4, 2008

Career Fun Fair: The Resume Rodeo and the Importance of Career Trajectory

Today was the first in a series of Career Fair Events hosted by my university. We'll call it the Resume Rodeo, because it's real name was equally silly.

The hook? Get a free resume critique by local HR representatives.

The catch? What you have to do while you wait.

I showed up, resume in hand, expecting to be able to sit quietly and read The Amber Spyglass until my name was called. Instead, they shepherded us all into rows of chairs where we had to listen to employer pitches from Giant Fast Food Franchise and Giant Big Box Store(s). Sure, the fast food reps were theoretically telling us "helpful interview tips," like "don't chew gum!" (Seriously? People don't know that?) But what they were really doing was promoting how much fun it would be to work as a shift manager, or, in the case of one Big Box, an "Executive Team Leader," who does all of the same things everyone else on the retail floor does but has the ability to decide who's turn it is to go on break.

I was really disappointed in my university. Yes, fast food places need shift managers; but (as I blogged earlier), as graduates of the flagship public institution in the state, shouldn't our Career Services program be promoting careers that are a little more... career-oriented? Or at least something that pays in salary instead of wage?

After an hour of this, it was my turn for the Resume Rodeo. I think I was the only graduate student getting her resume critiqued, and my HR rep wasn't prepared for what I set before her. She couldn't find anything wrong with the layout, or the wording (although she did suggest I reframe my directing credits as management credits; this prompted her to ask "as a director, how many people were you directly responsible for supervising?" and I responded "usually between 30 and 50," which made her jaw hit the floor).

Then we got down to the real question; the reason I was at the Resume Rodeo in the first place. I asked the HR rep how I could present my combination of directing credits, professional theatre management credits, professional writing credits, and all of my unrelated but transferable "doin' it for the money" office experience as a package that an employer would understand or appreciate.

Her answer surprised me. She said "When I look at your resume, I see a person who must be very talented at a number of things, and that's good. But as an employer, I see a person who doesn't know what she wants. You've done so many different things in the past four years that you seem unfocused. I'm looking for someone who's been climbing a path towards a specific goal."

Barbara Ehrenreich
wrote about this in Bait and Switch -- her discovery that employers found any deviation from a traditional path a justification not to hire someone. It didn't matter if the deviation was because of health issues, or parenthood, or an attempt at entrepreneurship or freelancing; once you stepped off the path, you were sunk.

The "I see a person who doesn't know what she wants" comment was stranger still, because all of the resume books in the world say not to make it about you want, but about what you have done for other employers and what you can do for this new potential employer. Ironically, at this point in my career I don't know, exactly, what I want; but everything on my resume is something that I very much wanted to do, and don't feel like I should regret doing.

When should I have started aiming towards the goal? And what should the goal have been?


bombaygirl said...

What was your response to her? Curious.

Blue said...

The only thing you say to a HR person trying to help you:

"Great! Thank you!"