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Truth, Consequences and Branding

(May 21, 2007) Remember the old story about the blind wisemen and the elephant? Recently I was turned on to this parody:

Six Blind Elephants Were discussing what wise men were like (never having seen one).  Failing to agree, they decided to find one and determine what  it was like by direct experience. The first blind elephant felt the wise man, and declared, "Wise men are flat." After feeling the wise man, the other blind elephants agreed. (NLP Comprehensive)

Both parables illuminate the fact that "truth" is often a case of perception. Even the clearest truths are subject to some degree of interpretation. Many are subject to a great deal.

There are some raw facts. Names, places and dates are more or less fixed things that can be audited for accuracy. Much of our experience is not like that.

Resumes are particularly tricky things to expose to a truth audit. It's really surprising that the media is going through another cycle of the "truth in resumes" BS. Anyone with a brain will tell you that a resume is a marketing document designed to produce an interview.

That's not to say that marketing is a sport of liars. It does mean that no one releases a resume that casts their history in a bad light. No one is that foolish. Like lipstick on a pig, resumes are intended to give a brief glimpse that can be illuminated.

Here are some examples from my own history:

  • I attended the John's Hopkins program in Applied Behavioral Science for several years and accumulated about 90 graduate credit hours. On my resume, I always called it "Organizational Development" so that people knew what it was.
  • I once hired a guy to run a company that I started. I always called him the President. On his resume, he calls  himself the CEO. He definitely ran the company (into the ground). I'm not sure whether or not his actual title matters. I founded the company (how else could I hire him?) but, he did all the work. Is he entitled to call himself a founder? My opinion is far too biased to be worthwhile. You can imagine that there are several valid answers to this question.
  • In my very early career, I was a lowly Xerox Boy (by title, back when calling me a boy and photocopying by its brand name were both okay). It so happened that I was pretty good at a number of things and ended up negotiating a contract with the Jordanian Army. That job was about twenty levels over my head. The work needed doing and I did it. My official title was "Xerox Boy". I often list it as "Contract Negotiator". Am I lying?
  • Then, when my job was really negotiating NATO contracts, they called me a program manager. We were called program managers because no one knew exactly what we were supposed to do. Kinda like editor.
  • When I was the Executive Director of the Point Foundation, I spent a huge amount of time throwing parties and washing dishes. While they don't seem to be very executive responsibilities, they were what was rtequired. Jobs are like that.

Resumes are marketing documents. They are designed to shine the brightest light on a career. Of course, there are dark places and facts between the lines. By their very nature, they are subject to misunderstanding.

The facts of organizational life are fluid and often, very, very political. Resumes are not the appropriate place for a discussion of the politics and personalities of a given workplace. Imagine getting a resume that said:

  • I was a part of the team that founded the company. When the greedy idiot had finished stealing my ideas, he fired me. I had to sue him to get my share of the wealth I helped create. We hate each other. He'll bad mouth me any chance he gets. or,
  • I didn't get the big promotion I had worked for over the course of ten years. The backstabbing jerk who got it banished me to lower Siberia in case a good idea might enter the new culture. I got out as fast as I could. or,
  • Several of my colleagues were sexually harassed by our boss. When he asked me to stay late and work closely with him, I said I'd need someone else to be on the team. He had me terminated for insubordination.

If you believed the numbskulls who write about truth in Resumes, this stuff would be the first thing you disclosed to a new employer. These morons have never heard about manners or discretion, apparently. Honesty in Resumes is an ideal that will always be subject to interpretation.


(It is dishonest to claim someone else's work as your own. Here's an example.)

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