It’s Time to End the Tyranny of the Resume

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By Mitchell Friedman, Associate Dean of Career Development and Student Affairs

Published 8.30.12

I meet with many graduate students and other professionals to discuss job search and career development challenges. I am struck at how most of these individuals initiate such conversations with some variation of the phrase "I'd like some feedback on my resume."

On the one hand, this approach makes perfect sense.  The resume has been the focal point of job search efforts for time immemorial, and seemingly maintains this standing as even a breezy perusal of employment opportunities would suggest.  The vast majority of postings I've viewed over the last several years request a resume, making it on one level an essential component in a job seeker's toolkit.

That said, ongoing transformations in the world of work and concomitant technology seem to relegate the resume (and even its younger social media cousins) to a far less distinguished place than it once had.  This continued tyranny of the resume, moreover, threatens to distract job seeker from ever more critical objectives that are increasingly likely to serve short and longer term career development goals.

Let's consider three key developments that cry out for a radical rethinking of the resume's role, and how professionals at all stages of their careers should adjust accordingly.

1. The increasing importance of ongoing and informal job searching.

It's discovering opportunities by networking -- trumps the formal job search process in terms of its value in finding work.  This process places a premium on skills such as connecting with others, relationship building, and employing technology effectively -- not to mention personal attributes such as persistence, resilience, and the like.  A resume MAY come into play here, but only at a certain point in the process after the groundwork has been laid over time.

2. The primacy of LinkedIn.

This social network's 24 hour availability and widespread use by professionals seeking employees, contractors, and business partners makes it much more useful than any resume ever could be. That makes the need to create and maintain a LinkedIn profile, build a network, and reach out to contacts to build relationships here potentially far more lucrative than the effort put forth to develop a resume.

3. The need for skills in personal storytelling.

Social media has ushered in an emphasis on the importance of personal storytelling. In terms of career development and job search, that means the ability to articulate – orally and in writing -- your interests, professional history, and career aspirations with clarity and passion. It takes considerable effort and skill to be able to do so effectively in myriad contexts, as I’ve learned over the course of my own career. A resume, at best, should grow out of this personal story as it relates to career and work—but it’s no substitute for it. So one’s time would better be spent in crafting and sharing this personal narrative rather than in developing a resume.

In short, resumes still have a place in job search and career development but lag in importance behind other critical more critical competencies in today’s networked world. It’s therefore time to end the tyranny of resumes and redirect our efforts to more substantive activities better geared to achieve short and long-term goals.

Mitchell Friedman, Associate Dean of Career Development and Student Affairs

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