Resumes Are Mostly Useless

October 16, 2008

If you look for a job, you must have a resume. If you look for employees, you must assume that all resumes you see are full of lies (since many if not most of them are). Therefore what is the point?

I simply can't understand how something so useless is also so necessary. It's like suborning perjury to ask for a resume.

So what do employers do to verify a resume (or more accurately verify the prospective employee isn't a ditch digger)? They ask you to take tests to see if you know something the employer deems useful. Assuming you pass this gauntlet they ask you to interview and answer specific questions about the useful items.

So, again, what was the purpose of the resume? I've always wanted to send out a resume that said nothing but:

Will write good code for good money

It's just as useful, and a promise to boot.

Resumes are also useless to indicate particular skill that isn't a single technology. My full resume (one not edited for some useless reason to focus on the job being applied for) has all these technologies that I have used in my career in a professional environment (i.e. someone paid me or otherwise (I do a lot of volunteer development) for producing an asset):


I spent a lot of time learning and mastering every one of these things. Some I've practiced for many years, some only for a year or even less (EDI and HIPPA). I've used languages for varying amounts of time (from 10 years of C, 5 of C++, 2 Obj-C, 10 of Java, and so far less than 1 of PHP) and not necessarily in any continuous fashion.

What does this tell you? That I am so incompetent at everything I have to keep switching technologies to get a new job? Or that I am able to learn anything on the fly and apply all my skills to master its use? Or that I like to make up stuff and use big words without knowing what they mean?

I guess people will assume the most negative view given that huge amount of lying that goes on in resumes. So why put anything in a resume at all? To attract the few people who might actually believe what you say? Or to pass the HR or recruiter filters who think that matching buzzwords on the resume is the surest way to weed out ditch diggers (as if they can't google for likely words)?

I did a really short term contract a year ago, only a single week, in South Carolina trying to adapt a "free" tool for a use it wasn't really supposed to be able to do. I had never seen the technology before (an XML publishing tool) and it had to interact with a system I knew nothing about (J.D. Edwards) and a week was all the time I had to learn, master, hack and deliver. I managed to succeed in 4 days (the fifth was a half day of just documenting) despite all the barriers and left on a real positive note from the customer and the agency. How do you put this in a resume? An ability to do anything that's needed by learning rapidly, applying a lifetime of skills and a creative mind. Yeah, that's a real good resume line:

Able to rapidly learn anything you need and deliver professional results

Talk about a useless resume. Yet it's true, but lost in a sea of lies on resumes the statement may as well read "234234 dsfsjkhsdf = %432".

Maybe resumes are still necessary, since the industry can't figure out how to match employees and employers with a better method. Maybe people should write tests and challenge anyone to pass them (I think some people have tried that) instead of trolling for perjury. Even that isn't foolproof since tests can be googled and passing tests doesn't really prove you can actually deliver (I once knew a guy who passed the Java Developer Certification but couldn't write two lines of code together that worked). Maybe people should read your blog and see if you know anything meaningful. I don't have an answer, I just wish there was one people could agree on.

Meanwhile maybe I will try with the one line resume "Will write good code for good money". I'd like to do some short term PHP work in the DFW area, so a short resume would be a plus.

At least it's not a lie. Who knows, someone might believe it.