Executive Thoughts | The Merits of an Authentic Resume – Even if It Doesn’t Land the Job

Writing a resume is rarely anyone’s favorite thing. For me, it ranks right up there with going to the dentist and shopping for swimsuits. So several years ago, when I needed to write my first resume in decades, I was quite sure some of the “rules” of resume-writing had changed over those years. Thus I was even more apprehensive about the task. Thinking that I would benefit from some assistance, I hired a professional resume writer.

Much more recently, I ran across an article by another of those professionals which listed eleven words every resume should contain (accountable, innovative, decisive, supportive, dedicated, objective, focused, passionate, inclusive, observant, influential – for anyone who is keeping track). Out of curiosity, I dug out my old resume (the one with which I had received assistance years before) and promptly located all eleven words! I gave some thought to each, and I asked myself if those words really described me. More importantly, I wondered if those were the top eleven traits I should highlight if I wanted the reader to understand what kind of person I am, how I approach my work, and what I bring to the table as an employee and as a leader. In short, I thought about whether I was really describing my authentic self on that resume. I also noted that words like “authentic,” “honest,” and “candid” weren’t on the list.

Thinking about this, I’m reminded of many well-meaning parents I’ve run across in my life who worked hard to “help” their children. There’s the grade-school parent who assists with the science project, thinking that the experienced teacher won’t be able to tell that the perfectly erupting volcano was not independently crafted by a seven-year-old. Then there’s the high-school parent who drafts the college essay – or perhaps even bribes or colludes with college coaches or admissions officials – all in an effort to gain admission to an elite university to which the young adult would not otherwise be accepted. And of course, there are many ways in between second grade and college that parents can “help” their kids get to a level or a place where the kids cannot thrive on their own.

What all these scenarios lack, my old resume included, is authenticity. They strive to land someone in a school or a job which doesn’t align with the person’s inherent abilities, skill set, values, desires, and/or personality. When I’m reviewing resumes, I want to hire the right person with the right skill set and the right values for the job. I want someone who truly loves our corporate culture as much as I do, and I need someone who can genuinely work well with me and others in my department. If you’ve led me astray with the eleven words someone deemed necessary to put in a resume but they don’t describe what you’re all about, odds are that you won’t end up being well-suited for the job or the organization, and neither of us will be happy.

I strongly encourage resumes (and school projects and college essays!) that genuinely reflect who you are. Perhaps your authentic resume won’t land you this job, but that makes neither you nor the job bad, it just means that this job is not the best match. For the same reason, I also strongly encourage companies to provide prospective employees with a genuine and authentic description of their culture, along with a candid and complete job description. At the end of the day, the important thing is alignment between the company, the job, and the employee, and it’s unlikely such alignment will happen if all parties haven’t put their most authentic selves out there.

There probably aren’t many people who haven’t, at one point or another, been truly desperate for a job – any job! And that desperation can lead us to say – and perhaps even to believe – that we can do a certain job even when we know that we hate many of the tasks listed on the job description or that we will be bored with the position or with our role in the organization. I don’t have a good answer for that. I can remember walking out to my car after one particular interview and asking myself why I said, “Oh, I love doing that,” when in fact it was a dreaded task. I promptly answered myself, “Because you REALLY need a job, Anne!”

Authenticity has so much value in today’s world of social media, where self-presentation can be easily curated. We have Zoom meetings where you spend part of every meeting wondering which participants are pretending they aren’t still in their pajamas and online job searches which may never evolve to in-person interviews. For that matter, we have jobs which may never result in leaving the living room to set foot in an office building! Regardless of the circumstances, there’s tremendous merit in making sure that your resume truly reflects your most authentic self, whether that takes more than eleven words or fewer. Find the words that genuinely resonate with you, and then find the organization that values those traits. That match is a win for everyone, allowing for your full value to be realized within an organization that provides meaning and purpose to your life – in addition to a paycheck.

For the record, (1) that resume I paid for never did land me a job, even though it included those eleven all-important words, and (2) one of my most memorable parent-teacher conferences involved a discussion of a rather sub-par school project turned in by my second grader, where the teacher nodded wholeheartedly when I said, “Well, at least you know he did this project all by himself!”

Anne Bain is the Head of Accounting at One Energy.

Learn more about Anne and the One Energy team.