Every hiring manager and recruiter measures themselves on how well they can tell the future. They have to, because that's what judging a person based on their resume really is. When we talk about resumes, be it applicant or employer, we talk about it like it’s your permanent record, the complete and total summation of your career thus far.
When you read all those resume books, they tell you that there's some standard format you have to follow, as if there were any rules anymore. These books try to teach you to game the system, stuffing keywords into scan-able resumes or how to hide your age or lack of experience in a certain area.
But really, a resume is more like the tea leaves at the bottom of the cup, there for a recruiter or hiring manager to look at and discern the future. A resume is the loose collection of factoids of my career thus far, that I choose to show hiring managers trying to translate it into a useful understanding of who I am.
We build and read these resumes pretending that we are looking for certain experience or skills, but that's not really what's going on. Experience tells us what happened in the past. Skills go stale in a heartbeat. Reading most resumes is like reading Melville: fascinating tales of times that are no longer relevant.
In a perfect world, a hiring manager wants to know the future. Barring that, they want the best information that will allow them to guess the most likely future. If I can't put in my resume, "will increase department sales by 15% in two years" (…and I can't), the hiring manager has to try to figure out if I'm the guy who's going to become a shark or the guy who's going to need a push every morning. Nothing in a resume will really tell you that.
Can you see all the levels of translation that have to occur in the modern resume process? I select what to show you, you try and read between the lines about what I chose not to say, you try to turn that into a more complete picture of who I might really be, and then decide if that's the kind of person you need right now. And you need to do it in about 30 seconds.
That's why I hate resumes. We pretend they are something they aren't, and they end up being like kabuki theater: I show you what I think you want to see, and you look for what isn't there.
But what if we started to think about what a resume really is?
Instead of our usual "facts and dates" understanding of a resume, we should see it as a set of stories that indicate the applicant's patterns. Patterns like how ambitious and driven to lead this person is, or that they are a team player who seeks consensus over leadership, or that they take a deep ownership of tasks. If you look properly at my patterns, you can see that I seek glory and fame, or that I work well within a cohesive team, or that I need independence to get things done. My patterns will indicate that I fall apart when things get stressful, or that I have a hidden fifth gear that only kicks in when things get intense.
Because a pattern is as close as any of us are going to get to seeing the future. Patterns are patterns because we do those things again and again, regardless of title, employer or situation. If you have a pattern, its likely you'll continue that pattern if hired here (regardless of where "here" is).
And that's what a hiring manager should be looking for. Skills can be taught. Experience comes from doing. Patterns are deeply set and very hard to change.
Which is why I love resumes. It allows me to understand and showcase my patterns to a potential employer who can make a better decision as to whether or not those patterns will align with this job, this manager and this company.
It’s not fortune telling. A properly considered and written resume is as close to telling the future as we can get.