Field of Science

Who benefits from giving advice about résumé writing?

Interesting little commentary on how (not) to do a résumé: Final Cut: Words to Strike from Your Resume.

I don't have a résumé, 'cause in science that isn't expected. I have a CV, and the difference is that there we just list pretty much everything we've ever done, as opposed to write about how great we are. But I used to have one when I was working as a programmer, and I made just the mistakes that Elizabeth Lowman cautions against:

  • Saying what you hope to do in your next job (you should list your top accomplishments)
  • Saying you're experienced (you should give details of that experience)
  • Saying you're a team-player (you should give examples of how you have been a successful team-player)
  • Saying you're dynamic and energetic (you should accurately describe your skills instead)
  • Saying references are available upon request (you should assume that the prospective employer knows this)
These all sound like great points to me, and I hereby pass them on. However, my point with this post is to ask what use it really is to do so. What use is it really to do so? Why should anyone give away this advice at all?

The reason I ask is that the job-market surely is a zero-sum game. There are at any one time only a finite number of jobs, and presumably those jobs will be filled. At least, those that won't probably aren't filled because applicants didn't have the world's best résumés. Of course, passing this advice on to your friends has a direct benefit to you - that is, if you care more about your friends than about everyone else. But giving away this advice on the internet? Is that because one cares more about job applicants who read stuff on the internet?

It's seems a little like commercials and advertisements: Who do they benefit? Ignoring the fact that commercials are very often misleading and deceitful (and if you don't know which ones tell you lies, then how can you trust any of it?), nearly the best thing one can hope for is that they shift market shares. A new detergent - no different from the nine brands already on the shelves - can conquer a large percentage (though not more than 100) of the market with an enticing ad campaign. But it doesn't make people do more laundry, does it? (Not that that would be a good thing, either.) Rather, it takes away market shares from other companies. And it's not that I care which company survives, or even that we have 9 rather than 10 that do (though I guess I don't prefer monopolies), but I care that so many resources are spent making and watching commercials. It is, like coffee, wasted resources on a planet that is already not able to feed everyone the way its resources are currently managed. If the people who make commercials were made to do something useful (and lands for coffee beans were instead used to grow food), perhaps we could make this place a little bit better.

So why? Who benefits from giving away this information? The answer is, of course, that Forbes and Elizabeth Lowman benefits. It's a known fact in evolutionary theory that what benefits the individual often doesn't benefit the whole population. What is good for me is not always good for society. It needn't be bad for society, as in the case of this advice being given away in Forbes, but it definitely does look nice in Elizabeth Lowman's résumé. And I'll admit that it is good to have an educated and competent citizenry, and it certainly doesn't hurt that people can sell themselves well in their job application - as long as it doesn't skew the hiring results in a way that makes it less likely that companies will hire the best person for the job.

Nevertheless, the résumé building advice is hereby passed on, and I think it's pretty good advice, too. And you may very well then ask me why I blog about this in the first place. What's in it for me? And the answer is that I don't know. I just felt like it, I guess. There are definitely people who I'd like to do well, such as friends currently looking for jobs. I could of course just have sent you an email with a link to the article, but I know you read this...

Good luck hunting for jobs!


  1. I was considering looking for a new job not too awful long ago (I thought I had started to hate what I was doing, but no, I just hated the particular project I was on, and as soon as I moved to a new project I've been totally re-energized) and I found a lot of good resume advice on places where their incentive was obvious: They wanted you to pay them to write your resume, with the idea that giving away some free advice would reel you in to the idea that they knew what they were doing. heh...


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