Bullish: Basing Your Career On A Resume Is Like Competing In A Brothel Lineup

I was once talking with an old classmate who planned to move cross country and (I’m fictionalizing here) become a drama teacher in a San Diego private school.

“Oh, great,” I said. “Do you have a job locked down, then?”

“No, I’m just hoping,” she said.

“Well, what are your chances?”

“I have no idea.”

I thought that was curious. “Who have you been speaking with?” (Who do you know in San Diego? There can’t be that many private schools – which ones have you been making inroads into? Etc.)

And then the conversation became…sad. It turns out that her entire life plan revolved around emailing her resume to people in San Diego she had never spoken to. She had no plans to contact anyone, Facebook friend anyone, engineer a run-in at a conference, put up a blog or write some articles about youth drama programs, send a DVD of an amazing production she had put together, or…anything. She certainly had worked hard on that resume, though.

She was 35 years old at the time. Blindly emailing resumes is unfortunate but sometimes necessary when you’re young; it’s a terrible plan 10 plus years into your career.

Resumes are about 5% of what’s important in getting hired and promoting yourself. Everyone has a really impressive resume. Yes, you need one too, but: having an impressive resume is like showing up to an interview in a clean shirt. Those are the basics.

In the Internet age, what are resumes even for? If you were hiring, how satisfied would you be just looking at a resume before deciding to meet with someone?

An impressive resume is check number one that the applicant can spell (or proofread) and knows that “To make money” is not a good objective.

It is also a document commonly kept on file – if you are hired – as proof that you have presented yourself as having gone to college and had certain types of work experience – that way, if you don’t work out, the hiring agent can cover his or her ass.

It is also a written invitation for your future boss to Google you.

Last month, I was talking with the great Molly Crabapple, who hires numerous part-time employees and contractors. She said something fairly amazing, for which I give her full credit and will soon buy her dinner. I shall paraphrase:

Resumes don’t tell you anything. They don’t show the person’s prose writing skills. They remove everything cool or individual about you. It’s like one of those lineups in a Nevada brothel where you’re not even allowed to talk. If you’re going to be a sex worker, why not be an online escort who actually seduces people?

(This part of the column is like that line in a romantic comedy when one of the leads references the movie title!)

I’m going to talk about sex work for a bit, but I promise it’ll all come back to resumes. (And I mean no disrespect to sex workers, BTW. I support their right to career self-determination, and I support effective marketing for everyone.)

I was curious about Molly’s metaphor and did a bit of research. This article in the New York Times reports that, at one Nevada ranch, women are required to “respond like Pavlov’s dog to a bell that might ring at any hour of the day or night” (and, sadly, most of the women have outside pimps and don’t end up with much of their cash). According to this site, which seemingly is advertising Nevada’s brothels:

What happens at lineup: They yell out “Company Ladies!” and all the girls who are awake/available lineup and introduce themselves. The first girl introduces herself by saying “Welcome to the ___ my name is ___.” Every subsequent girl after that states her name only. We are not allowed to ask questions or to speak other than saying our name. Even if we are spoken to during lineup, they request that we just stand and smile.

Yikes. It was right after I heard about this that I saw a link on Digg for “pleasure coach” Bob Patrick (NSFW) and his sensitive nips site (NSFW), in which a shirtless Bob discusses nip-manipulation methods while sitting, shirtlessly but professorially, in his library, like a gay muscledaddy Winston Churchill.

Mr. Patrick is a marketing genius. If you don’t, in fact, have sensitive nips, he will dash into a phone booth and transform into … The Butt Master! (All links in this paragraph are NSFW). He certainly does get his clients off (“Don’t settle for a happy ending when you could be happy the whole session”), and/or will be your muscle master, or just cuddle you (horizontally, he assures you!) or work through your family rejection issues with a “Daddy” massage (“My clients range in age from 18 to 85. For all of them, I’m easily their daddy.”) Mature? So’s Bob Patrick! He’ll also help you talk about aging. He will discuss your erection issues and retirement finances, assure you that he respects you for your wisdom and experience, and then massage and/or get you off. If there is anything in the world that will cause a closeted eighty-year old man to unashamedly hire an erotic service provider and have a healing life experience, this is it!

What I love about Bob Patrick is that, while he does discuss his background, his many websites are not about him so much as they are about you, the gay man who needs a cuddle, spanking, or prostate massage. Each website has a single, clear message with many photos. He tells you exactly what to expect and what it costs ($140/hr for most services) and assures you that you’re in the right place and that he won’t embarrass you. If you’re still not sure, this video (extremely NSFW) shows you exactly what you can expect. And then he stops just shy of giving away too much – now you have to call him.

Obviously, I am not a gay man in West Hollywood, but I feel as though I know Bob Patrick already. In fact, I thought of him again just last week when I needed to hire a theater tech for a show I’m doing. I put it off way too long, and by the time I emailed a few people who were recommended by the theater, I felt pretty stupid: “I have three shows coming up this month, and I need someone who is available on these particular days, and also I’m terrified about the system in this particular theater not working the way I need it to.”

One of the techs replied, and I quote, “Don’t be frightened!”

She didn’t make me feel like an idiot for waiting so long, either. I most certainly did hire her. She made me feel warm and fuzzy, which is far more important to a good working relationship than whatever credentials she could’ve quoted to me. I think that more employment related emails should begin with, “Don’t be frightened!”

In Bullish: Personality Qualities Way More Important Than Anything on Your Resume, Part II (Part I is here), I talked about the importance of dredging up genuine emotions for professional purposes, as well as the value of pitching things, public speaking, and having a sense of humor. (Also see Bullish: How Business is Like Dating.)

While you certainly do need an impressive resume (don’t trust spellcheck; if you can’t spell, enlist a friend who can!) – or probably a few different versions of an impressive resume for different types of opportunities – you really can’t just leave it at that.

Here are a few more ideas.

The ideal is to never let a resume be a first point of contact.

At many companies, resumes must be uploaded to the hiring portion of the company’s web site, even if the hiring is sort of a done deal. But behind the resume-upload site are real people who live in your city and might even be your age, and who may not like the resume-upload site any more than you do.

Ideally, you don’t want to feed your resume into the machine and wait. You want the person receiving the resume to already be waiting for it, to email you when she receives it, and for the technology serving as a barrier between you to be viewed by you both as a necessary annoyance and mere formality.

You do this by networking, of course, but also by finding an excuse to email or otherwise befriend the right people – for instance, maybe whoever updates the company blog would like to post or link to something you’ve written, or maybe you send a friendly email to someone to let her know that you’ve linked in a complimentary way to something on their company blog. Which brings me to…

A writing sample is relevant for virtually all jobs these days.

When Molly was hiring an assistant, she commented that resumes were useless if you couldn’t actually see the person’s writing skills.

A cover letter can fill that gap somewhat, but some people also have those proofread by other people and generally spend way more time on them than they’d be able to spend for every three-paragraph document, email, or blog post they’d be writing on your behalf. So, dear god, give people access to writing samples so they can see that you’re not an idiot.

You should have a 1-3 paragraph bio somewhere. In an artistic or unconventional field, you could dress it up and make it look nice, and email it as a PDF along with a resume. You can also put it on your website, of course (and certainly you should have a professional website). If you are involved in a very staid profession, then your bio goes, at very least, on your LinkedIn page.

I have a four-paragraph bio for my GMAT tutoring services. There are a lot of fancy facts about me, to be sure, but I think more important than “She is the author of a GMAT book” is “She is ridiculously excited about helping people.” Which do you care about more when you are entrusting yourself to someone’s teaching?

Everyone can (and therefore should) be published now.

The Internet has torn down virtually all the barriers to being published. Write articles in your field; if you’re not trying to get paid, it’s very, very easy to get your name on some articles that get posted someplace respectable.

I’ve also written about the value of whitepapers (see Bullish: Using Your College Skills to Succeed After College). I’m actually sort of afraid that my obituary is specifically going to mention, “People lose their shit over whitepapers!” If you were able to write an “A” paper in college, you can do it again, hit “print to PDF” and post it on a website also featuring a photo of you looking professional, standing in a park.

Personality is allowed!

When I was in my early twenties and often revising my resume, I always imagined it being read by someone the age of my parents or professors. Not usually! The first person to read your resume is often someone in their twenties, whose job it is to weed out the good ones and pass them along to a superior. And everyone involved in the hiring process wants to pick someone they actually want to spend 40+ hours a week in the same building as.

Resumes do strip you of all personality. This is what a bio, a website, and your publications are for. If you don’t have these things – a penumbra of personality – then whatever a hiring manager finds when she looks you up on Facebook is going to be all there is.

Speaking of which – everyone who is thinking about hiring you wants to see what you look like. Because we are human beings, who are strongly wired to look at faces. So, make that easy for people. Again: a website featuring a photo of you looking professional, standing in a park. And make sure your Facebook photo isn’t actually your dog or (*sigh*) ultrasound.

It’s time now to build that penumbra of personality around your kickass resume. What sense does it make that you should express your professional worth in a single-page Word document, when the entire Internet is at your disposal? For what kind of job would you want to hire someone who doesn’t know how to take advantage of the Internet?

Ultimately, you may find that that penumbra of personality functions instead of a kickass resume, and that no one ever even thinks to ask you for a one-pager about yourself anymore.

(See also Bullish: Are You Thinking Too Small? and Bullish: How to Go To There. And if you get a chance – at home – to revisit this column, I truly invite you to observe the marketing genius that is the “sensitive nips” guy.)

originally published on The Grindstone