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Resume Blasphemy

In the August 26, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker asks whether I’m serious about the Working Resume:

I recently stumbled upon your website and found it most useful. Thank you for sharing your insights and advice. I am starting to implement them in my job search. With respect to the Working Resume article (Resume Blasphemy), are you simply referring to a pitch book or some kind of presentation that acts as a discussion facilitator? Do you have any examples to guide someone looking to build something similar?

Nick’s Reply

resume-blasphemyHere’s the blasphemy: You write your resume only after you’ve talked to the hiring manager. It’s not your “marketing piece” and it doesn’t “introduce you.” You introduce you.

I have many examples of blasphemous resumes, but I do not publish them — everyone should create their own because the point is, each is and must be unique and tailored to a single employer. Besides, the examples I have belong to people who wouldn’t want their edge shared — it’s an enormous amount of work.

You can think of your blasphemous resume as a pitch facilitator or whatever works for you — but I intend it as an actual resume that takes the place of the traditional one. (See The truth about resumes.)

The reader follows up

At what point do you submit this “alternative” resume? Most trolls in HR don’t know the difference between a Working Resume and a blank piece of paper. I can see how preparing a Working Resume would help with the interview because one would be very well prepared, but getting through the screening round is usually the toughest part (unless of course someone within the company recommends you).

Are you still helping people find work or are you mainly focused on publishing?

Nick’s Reply

You’d never give a Working Resume to HR — that would be like needing a doctor but asking the doctor’s receptionist for a diagnosis! HR is usually clueless.

You need to get the document to the hiring manager. The catch is, if you can’t identify and talk to the hiring manager in advance, then you can’t possibly produce a Working Resume — that’s why virtually no one tries this and why, when you do try it, you have virtually no competition. It’s a lot of work. (That’s part of what’s so blasphemous about it — nobody wants to do the work!) But I believe that without this effort, no one has any business in a job interview. It’s the reason most interviews result in no job offers — just a waste of time.

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention, there’s a How to Say It box that suggests how to get the information you’ll need from the manager:


How to Say It

“I’d like to make our meeting as profitable as possible for both of us. It would help me to know a bit more about the job, so that I can prepare to show you how I would apply my skills specifically to the tasks you need done. May I ask you a couple of brief questions?”


That’s a powerful request and a powerful indicator to the manager about what you’re going to deliver in your interview — and in your Working Resume.

Unfortunately, job seekers and employers have it backwards. They start with the resume when they should start with a conversation about what the manager needs a new hire to do. So, commit resume blasphemy: Talk first, plan your Working Resume next, share it with the manager — and only then should you meet to show why you’re the profitable hire.

As a headhunter, I don’t help anyone find work. My clients pay me to find them the people they need. I publish Ask The Headhunter to share my expertise with job hunters. I also do very limited one-on-one coaching by phone, one hour at a time — I don’t believe in long-term “career coaching.” I think it’s a racket.

How blasphemous is your resume? Do you throw resumes around and wait for employers to catch them and call you? A Working Resume is a lot of work — but so’s that job you want. Do the work to win the job. Let’s talk about how.

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17 Comments
  1. I fired the company two years ago and went out on my own. When I’m asked for a resume today, I don’t have one. I point them to linkedin for my job history, but then say…tell me what you need done and I’ll tell you if I can do it.

    The client interview is a total, two way value proposition discussion.

    The consulting relationship is different than employment but the process is the same.

    I’ve got an issue with you, though, Nick.

    Doing the upfront work to get to hiring manager is LESS work than the HR two-step once you factor in all the excrement,time wasted , and waiting for updates anxiety. Moreover, regardless of outcome, what is more professionally pertinent….polishing a resume by adding the latest SEO keywords -OR- writing a value oriented business proposal for a manager?

    If you were careful with conflicts and confidential information, you could even use your unsuccessful proposals in another interview as work product!

  2. What I have found is that people that know me and worked with me want to help me find new employment etc…

    So those who know what I can do offer if they are in a position to offer but at the least recommend me. No resume’, not interview simply we want you.

    I do try to find the HR hiring manager directly and not deal with the low level recruiters or HR types because they don’t have a clue.

    I agree with VP sales also.

    @VP sales -love to connect with you.

  3. Unless all your years of work experience are with one company, you don’t want to put everything on your resume. Meet with the person who can hire you and then send in your resume, tailored to the expertise they’re seeking. I have been working for over forty years so I group my experience rather than a chronological recitation that nobody reads anyway. The hardest part, in my experience, is building the contacts within the organizations I am interested in. It takes connecting with somebody and then building that connection through informational interviewing. And, by informational interviewing I don’t mean a foney seeking of information when what I really want is a job. I’m really trying to decide where I fit in a profession or an organization, not just trying to get any job. Employers respect that.

  4. This week’s installment is another home run. Nick, you are “in the zone.” Your advice and comments are right on the mark, deadly accurate and precisely correct.

    Most will not follow your advice because, as you repeatedly point out, it involves WORK. Extra work, going above and beyond what everyone else is doing in order to land the right job, a better job, and thereafter to stay employed (perhaps at the same place, perhaps at different places) requires effort -more effort than the next guy. (That’s why we call it “WORK,” , not “Play.”)

    Your weekly columns should be put together and taught in a 4th year required college course for soon-to-be graduates. Thanks for telling the truth, not just the rewarmed feel-good lollypops and ice cream crap that passes for job hunting advice today.

  5. Once you’ve identified the hiring manager, which itself can take quite a bit of time, how do you convince them to meet with you?

    Actually, how do you get past the assistant answering the phone who’s screening that person’s phone calls.

    My experience is the assistant always asks what your call is in reference to? Do you say, I’m interested in the job that’s available in the hiring person’s dept. and would like to have a preliminary conversation before I send in my resume?

    I work in the news business. I’m not sure this approach would work. I imagine being blown off, either by the assistant, or, if my message were to reach the hiring manager, by that person.

    Bottom line: How do you get the hiring manager to take your call?

    Susan Lund

  6. Seth Godin had a a few enlightening quotes about resumes in “Linchpin”:

    “Find a company that hires people, not paper.”

    “If you don’t have a resume, what do you have? How about three extraordinary letters of recommendation from people the employer knows or respects? Great jobs, world-class jobs, jobs people kill for, those jobs don’t get filled by people e-mailing in resumes.”

    “You are not your resume. You are your work.”

  7. @VP Sales: Okay, you busted me. It IS less work to get to the hiring manager than to do the HR 2-step. But nobody wants to believe that.

  8. @Mike Bullis:

    “The hardest part, in my experience, is building the contacts within the organizations I am interested in. It takes connecting with somebody and then building that connection…”

    Yup! It’s a lot more fun than slinging resumes.

    @Albert Strausser: I suppose I could create a curriculum from my Fearless Job Hunting set. Good idea. Thanks.

  9. Let’s talk nuts and bolts.

    Getting to the hiring manager. Frankly, the first time you do this it’s scary, because we all fear direct rejection. It’s much more comforting to send in resumes and follow the HR approved circuit because we are doing as we are told. The rejection comes later, but it isn’t so personal

    I did 20 years in direct sales and got pretty thick skin to rejection, but that doesn’t help an early career person get over this hump.

    Every hiring manager ….you want a career with…..wants to meet potential candidates, even if HR says they can’t. The ATH approach has you talking to the manager BEFORE the req is open, of course, so HR rules don’t apply.

    If the hiring manager doesn’t want to talk, the excuse doesn’t matter ; you aren’t in the running.

  10. I usually work for firms not in the realm of a MS, Adobe, etc., yet even getting in front of the decision maker, my past is questioned- several short tenures in the last 5 years;various reasons, yet I am viewed as unstable, or??? and that is an issue whether they see the resume or not, so what can I do to get past my past?

  11. @Steve Amoia: Thanks for sharing that from Seth Godin. His is one of the very few daily newsletters I read. Guess we all think alike… You are not your resume…”

    @VP Sales: If I could count the number of times I placed people with hiring managers without HR being involved… and, boy, sometimes they were pissed… It all depends on the manager and whether he or she really manages their area of the business, or whether they cower to administrators. In the end, if the company is healthy, the manager wins. That’s why it’s best to throw your lot in with the hiring manager. And, like you said, if it goes nowhere, then the job’s not for you. Don’t be offended. Move on to the next!

  12. @scott: This will sound a little too pat, but managers will focus on your past only if you can’t focus them on their own future – and how you will make it better. Any smart manager wants to hear how you’re going to do the job profitably. Steer the discussion in that direction, and your past becomes what it should remain – a footnote. “Can you lay out a live problem you’d want me to handle, so I can show you how I’d go about it? If I can’t do that to your satisfaction, then you shouldn’t hire me.” That’s very powerful.

  13. I agree that making contact with the hiring manager (NOT to be confused w/”HR manager”) is the most effective way to get one’s foot in the door as they know what they want (most of the time). However, of late it seems that these individuals will not even make contact w/o passing it thru HR first. As tho corporate has mandated that HR is the only entity to conduct the business of hiring. That is also one of the only ways to justify HR’s existence, for the most part.

  14. ” As tho corporate has mandated that HR is the only entity to conduct the business of hiring.”

    This is usually a clear sign to stay away.

    Remember, in the ATH model, you have prospected the company and the hiring manager 12-24 months before the job opp opens.

    Even HR can’t stop two business people discussing their problems.

  15. @marilyn: I’ve noticed the same thing–a current or former colleague, friend, family member, etc. will tell me they know someone who is looking to hire for a vacancy and they know I can do the job. They call the hiring manager, tell him about me, then pass along the hiring manager’s name and number to me. I call the hiring manager, and we have a great conversation about the job, the company or agency, the skills the hiring manager requires the new hire to have, etc. Sometimes we even progress to the point of meeting in person (and I follow Nick’s wonderful suggestion of asking the hiring manager for a problem they have so I can show them how I’d solve it or how I’d do the job efficiently/profitably). I’ve already been recommended to the hiring manager by someone he knows well. Then I get “oh, before we do that, you have to apply online through HR, and HR will decide if I can interview you” or something to that effect. WTH? More often than not, the job isn’t even posted yet, though there is a vacancy, and I hear the same story from the hiring managers–the position is vacant, he absolutely NEEDS to fill it because….pick your favorite reason….but I’m supposed to fill out an online form or once in a blue moon the hiring manager will tell that HR MIGHT accept a résumé but if they do, then I have to do both the online application AND the résumé. Without a job description posted, I can’t tell which key words HR’s ATS wants, so tailoring a résumé to the job and skill sets is impossible. So is filling out the online form HR requires. For the last couple of years, I’ve learned to walk away from these “opportunities” because I’ve learned that the hiring manager either lacks the authority to hire (he has ceded his authority to HR) or they really don’t want to hire anyone. Months later I’ll hear from my current/former colleagues, friends and family that the hiring managers I spoke with are bemoaning the fact that they “can’t find any talented, qualified people” and the position is still open. In the meantime, I’m still underemployed, and would love to work full time. A few times I’ve called HR after I’ve spoken with the hiring manager, and asked them for details about the job, the skills required, education required, etc. Not a single HR employee could answer my questions. So they know nothing about the job, the skills required, the hiring manager’s needs, why that job is critical to the functioning of that dept. and/or the company/agency, but they are in total control of sorting out who is qualified and who is not. The hiring process isn’t a process, it is insanity. I know that there are hiring managers out there somewhere who haven’t ceded their authority to HR; the challenge I am facing is figuring out who they are and how to reach them.

    Yes, it is a lot of hard work to tailor your résumé to each job and company, but that is what you do. The generic résumé won’t get through the obstacle course and medieval defenses (moats, drawbridges, dragons, dungeons, etc.) that today’s automated systems have devised.

  16. “This will sound a little too pat, but managers will focus on your past only if you can’t focus them on their own future – and how you will make it better. Any smart manager wants to hear how you’re going to do the job profitably.”

    Nick, I have an issue with this. They do not want to hear how I will make them more profitable. I’m shocked and frankly a little depressed about the whole thing. What kind of ego does it take to turn down fact-based profitability? 1.5 years unemployment in the Balto/DC/Annapolis triangle.

  17. Nick, I gotta say I have NEVER met a manager sophisticated enough to appreciate a Working Resume. Ever.

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