I Can’t Tell From Your Resume… What is it you want to do?

Yep, that’s a real line from a recent job interview.

My resume covers a lot of ground, and a straight chronological layout would drive people nuts, as there’s any number of overlapping positions (especially adjunct teaching positions and the Army National Guard), gaps in employment (usually, but not always, related to school) and multiple industries represented.

But crafting a meaningful-but-succinct resume as a Raleigh is a major league pain in the ass.

I finally settled on breaking up my work experience into three broad categories: IT Management & Analysis, Education & Training, and Military & Defense Experience (which still overlaps with IT work some). What drives people batty is that there’s a 2 year gap in the IT positions while I was off teaching at local community colleges. If I lead with teaching and training, then there’s a bunch of different schools, plus some corporate training responsibilities that were not a primary part of my job requirements, but nevertheless pretty important.

So I’m sitting in an interview for a potential online training facilitator position, at a place I’d previously interviewed for an IT role (and apparently didn’t get b/c they were unwilling to pay the headhunter fee even though they had no negatives about my candidacy). And I rearranged my resume to pull the education and training content to the top. What I got was a confused look.

“Have you not worked in the past 14 months?”

“Sure I have, but I pushed the IT stuff down to page 2 so the education and training would be on top.”

“Well it’s not clear that you’ve been employed for the past year, and that doesn’t really look great.”

“Yes, ma’am. I understand. But out of curiosity, if I’d led with my Product Owner position from Cisco and my other more recent IT work, would you have taken my application seriously for an online training position.”

“Ah, I see your point.”

And right there — when she finally sees my point — that’s the face-palming, head-slapping, forehead-scarring, neck-snapping moment that every polymath has seen in way too many conversations.

When you defy so many conventions, in employment history, areas of interest, and past performance, the conventional tools of the marketplace are hopelessly ill-matched to expressing who you are and what you’re capable of.

Look, in the 1987, I worked a 6-week session as a summer hire kid on a military base helping with maintenance and upkeep of the gymnasium on post. I mopped floors, checked out keys for weightlifting machines, and chalked up softball fields. I have never once in my life listed that job on my resume, despite it being my first “real” paycheck (i.e., not babysitting or yard-cutting money).

But I’m also wondering whether or not to list my time as a social media coordinator for a local soccer facility because it was just a part-time gig that overlapped several other places I was working, and it’s tough to explain that sort of consulting position, even in this era of the “side-hustle.”

What we need is a new resume that somehow expresses the depth and breadth of the intellectual capabilities, flexibility, adaptability, and fearlessness that comes with being a Raleigh. We need something that doesn’t force us into ladder-climbing hierarchical paradigms that are appropriate for single-track specialists with their careers on rails, but not for those of us who chose to pursue divergent interests. There has to be some way to capture non-linear career paths without looking like we just bailed out on the workforce for 2 years, and that ties those alternate experiences back to what can be brought to bear in our current job hunt.

I was job-hunting for about 6 months over this past year, and literally every single person who looked at my resume said there was some major flaw with it. And every one of them had a different flaw they pointed out. Moreover, every flaw they pointed out was a change I had already made in reaction to previous feedback. So the answer on how to capture everything we can do in a resume format appears to be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I don’t have a good answer for how to do this, so I’m more than happy to hear suggestions from everyone on how to re-craft a resume to get people to pay attention to the totality of your experience instead of just those tiny slices that might seem relevant to them during this specific moment.

I’ve covered the challenges of the polymath a whole lot: here, here, here, here, and here. If you enjoyed this, please hit that magic clap button down there on the left, so other folks get a chance to see it, too. And please feel free to share your feedback — it’s great to read your reactions. Thanks!

Dad, husband, game commando, veteran, Army brat, writer, teacher

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