In the November 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants a resume from the employer.


Don’t you think jobs should have “resumes?” Assuming an interview has been scheduled, should an applicant ask for a formal, printed description of the job to retain and review before a job offer is made, or only after an offer is presented?

submit-resumeHere’s what I’ve never understood. Employers insist on having my resume before an interview. But all the applicant has is a scant job posting, or sometimes only a general verbal description of the job. It seems having a formal, written job description would help the applicant, just like a resume helps an employer. The applicant could look closely at whether there’s a good match.

Should the prospective employer be expected to provide this type of document to the applicant? If it’s not provided, should I just roll the dice?

Nick’s Reply

You’re raising an excellent question. (But I’ve got a bigger question. Read on.) If HR needs to know all about you before an interview, doesn’t it owe you all the information about the job? (See Now THIS is a job description!)

Recently a reader told me that after an employer decided to hire him, it learned he had an advanced degree that he did not report on the resume. (He’d heard it might actually hurt his chances, so he left the degree off the resume. So it was an omission, not a falsehood.) The employer rescinded the offer because the applicant “lied”!

What happens when an employer fails to disclose all the information about a job until after an offer is made? If it’s never happened to you, I’m sure you know someone who accepted a job, only to learn it wasn’t what they interviewed for.

Many employers don’t seem very concerned that the job you interview for is not the job in the ad. This is even more important when a recruiter solicits you for a job — they usually tell you very little, except that the job is “perfect” for you. Who has ever gone on a job interview suggested by a recruiter and found that the job was “exactly” as the recruiter described it? (Gimme a break! I’m still laughing! Check out Roasting the job description.)

Where’s the job’s resume?

I think it’s prudent to ask for the formal, written job description prior to the interview, “for your records,” especially when you’re dealing with a recruiter. They want your resume, right? What’s the difference?

I’ll bet many HR people would decline to provide it because it’s “proprietary” or “not set in stone.” But, again — they want your resume, which is just as proprietary, and they want it to include everything.

How are you supposed to consider the job without the formal, written job description? What risks are you taking when you don’t have the complete story? In many cases, the big risk is that the hiring manager hasn’t a complete idea of what the job really is — and you’ll be judged on whatever performance criteria the manager invents after the fact.

Now, I’m not saying every job should be exhaustively defined. In fact, I like jobs that will evolve — but the manager and employer should make that clear from the start. Pretending doesn’t cut it, a manager who doesn’t really know what she needs doesn’t cut it, and obscuring the holes in a job definition isn’t fair. (See Don’t suck canal water if you’re confused.)

Where’s the manager’s resume?

But now let’s get really serious and question authority. Let’s make the leap to the bigger question this all begs: Why don’t employers give you the hiring manager’s resume — and resumes of people you’ll be working with? After all, you’re going to be throwing in with them. Don’t you have an obligation to your career to know who they are before you sign up?

Imagine. Because your success and your career will hinge enormously on who those people really are. Don’t you want to see their credentials?

There are several questions you must ask an employer — particularly after it’s made you a job offer. That’s when negotiating power shifts to you, because now they’ve established that they want you. What comes next is working out the terms, and one of the terms is information about your new co-workers. Politely ask to see their creds. (For more about this critical point in the interview process, see Deal-breaker questions to ask employers. Don’t be one of those job candidates who miss their chance to protect their future.)

I’d love to know how employers respond to this, because they make the hiring process so irrational and one-sided that it’s actually absurd. (For more about my take on how employers recruit, see Respecting The Candidate.) A job is a partnership, so let’s see more due diligence from job applicants, and more transparency from employers before a hire is made.

Don’t you think fewer interviews would wind up being a waste of time if you had the spec sheet for the job in hand first? Does it make sense to get the team’s resumes, too, before you meet with them to interview?

Do employers and recruiters give you clear, detailed job descriptions — as detailed as the resume they want from you? Do you ask for them? Are the jobs you interview for exactly as they were represented to begin with? What happens when they’re not? Finally: What do you really know about the manager and members of the team you’re joining?

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  1. I’d take this one step further. What is the job’s resume?

    Who has this job now? Why are they leaving?
    Who had this job before them? Why did each of them leave.
    How have the responsibilities evolved?
    If this is a new job who are currently handling the responsibilities? What are each of their responsibilities? How will they interact with position going forward.
    Format this resume chronologically working backward with references.
    Please include details on how this job affects the bottom line either in increased revenue or cost savings.

    Of course using Linkedin and some research you can probably reconstruct most this info yourself.

  2. This assumes the employer *has* a position description in the first place that isn’t woefully outdated or so vague as to be worthless. The official position description for my current full-time job is two sentences: “Support the organization in all aspects of the XXX program, and ensure compliance with applicable regulations and guidance. Other duties as assigned.” One of the first things I did when hired was to write up a two-page detailed description of the activities and responsibilities and get my manager and her boss to sign off on it, just to protect me from that “other duties as assigned” sentence.

    Another thing to ask from an employer is a current organization chart. HR will probably claim this is confidential, too, but it’s worth informally asking the manager or group you’re considering working with. If they don’t have one, it could be a sign they have immature organizational processes; if it’s “secret,” it could be a sign they don’t trust their employees and want them to just shut up and do as they’re told.

    These may not be deal breakers in and of themselves, but they’re worth knowing.

  3. I think these are great ideas and very useful. Maybe I have been lucky but I cannot recall many jobs I have had actual interviews for that I did not have before or at the interview a detailed job description. As Ty says above, getting the info on the manager and co-workers from LinkedIn is pretty easy and most companies will answer the questions if you ask but not give you a written resume

  4. This process, while mentally liberating, if formally implemented will be met with the stone wall of “sorry, that’s confidential/proprietary.” Not that you can’t do the homework yourself, but to overtly ask for coworker’s resumés is an unobtainable goal on its face and if pushed may cause the rescission of an offer.

    It reminds me of back in the day, I was asked to sign onto a capitated insurance plan. The contract was short, but had a phrase that I “agree to follow the physician manual.” When I demanded a copy of the physician manual to review, I was told, sorry, that’s proprietary, you’ll get a copy when you are signed up. When I responded that in no circumstance would I sign a contract that inferred my agreement to a manual that I could not review in advance, I was told it was not possible. I told them to pound sand.

    Seems things haven’t changed any in the last couple of decades.

  5. This has been my pet peeve about employers and I have always asked softly probing questions during the interview about the job description and the players involved. Not always with receptive results. (Made me seem like a control person making waves already). Loved this newsletter! SO GLAD I’M RETIRED NOW FROM ALL THIS BS! Now I volunteer my time and what a difference! I’m respected, appreciated and treated courteously!

  6. I’d like to clarify that Linkedin will also provide you with FORMER employee info. You can get an idea of the tenure of the people who preceded you and how they described the position. You can also get valuable info on if this indeed a new position.

  7. Hidden or vague job descriptions can reflect huge problems. I’m in a large workplace of slightly less than a thousand employees. Even this number can’t accomplish goals senior management sets. Our job descriptions are notoriously vague because employees are expected to wear ten hats. So hiring managers select out the hats to be worn during the hiring process, tweaking job descriptions dramatically to fit candidates they like. Changes are afoot here, but meanwhile asking for people’s resumes in this workplace wouldn’t help applicants either understand the work environment.

  8. @Ty: I love your string of questions about the job. When possible, I like to actually talk with the person who had the job last.

    “This assumes the employer *has* a position description in the first place that isn’t woefully outdated or so vague as to be worthless.”

    Yep – that’s the whole point of asking for it! You make two great suggestions:
    * Ask for an org chart, which will tell you a lot about how the org works (or not)
    * If you take the job, write up your own job description for your own protection


    @Martin P: You can indeed check a manager’s LinkedIn profile. But I suggest asking for a resume because it sends the employer a signal: You look before you leap, and you want more information, not just the short sanitized stuff on LinkedIn – which is just personal marketing, after all.

    @Mary Davin: “Made me seem like a control person making waves already”
    THAT is the point. If an employer reacted that way to me, I’d run. Imagine – you want to know about the details of the job, and that’s suspicious behavior! Gimme a break! It’s a sign of a dysfunctional company!

  9. I need employee references, please.

    Please provide references from three people who have worked for this manager before.

  10. Some good points & advice for companies that want to stand apart from the competition. I think the underlying question is about honesty…that people want to be treated like adult professionals and have a good idea of what’s expected, and the pros/cons of signing up.
    But too much focus on jobs. I think job hunters should be advised not to hunt for jobs and fixate on job descriptions, but rather hunt for companies and within those companies a base of operation (organization & organization head) where they can add value and make a difference.
    I think Nick core point is about evolving jobs. In a dynamic organization thinks move so fast job descriptions have a short life. Far better you get a good description of the company, and most important that organization, it’s mission, operating environment and what that hiring manager is trying to accomplish. Your career is much more influenced by that than a particular job. If you have the context, a good understanding of what’s needed right now in that context is golden.
    Conversely I think an exhausting job description could be a red flag, of some hard wired set of tasks in a stagnant organization who’s manager is baby sitting the status quo.
    And keep in mind a great opportunity is when the job description changes…because of you. When you convince a manager you bring something to the table he/she didn’t think of, know about, or gave up hope of finding.
    You should have some idea of how job descriptions can materialize in large organizations, particularly if things get busy..or a manager is not much into recruiting. Think boilerplated descriptions, that are just like tickets to play. If you want to hire…HR requires a job description…just what you are asking for. HR isn’t in a position usually, to critique them for technical content & requirements, just some policy crap about hiring (degrees etc). So a manager just grabs a boiler plated description, meets HR needs and recruits with varying degrees of skill and interest. In this scenario, when you get an interview you get the real story, the one a manager was too lazy to write down in the 1st place.
    I think a manager who takes pride in their organization, goals, accomplishments should have no problem providing candidates their resume, nor those of everyone the person will be meeting with. After all they have yours, why not you have theirs? It could leave the candidate with nothing but a very positive impression. And HR should do likewise about the company. in short they should be in “sell mode” as to why you should join them, and in so doing it’s then true quid pro quo to ask you, what you bring to that party.
    When I became an agency IT recruiter, after 40 years in the IT industry, I looked around me as to who else was recruiting, …no one with actual IT experience. So when I engaged with clients and candidates I sent them my resume, which seemed to strike my bosses as rather odd because it wasn’t being done. I wanted people to know that I could swap horror stories with the best as to IT engagement.
    And to the point of the article, when I was a hiring manager, I would if asked. But you know, in about 30+ years of management I don’t think more than a couple people asked me for my background and why I was with the company. So the advice herein should be well taken. Look for people trying to sell you on the idea of joining them, and provide you with a good briefing, warts and all.

  11. If the position is a contract one, I will go to the company’s website for job openings and review a similar position. It’s amazing what gets left off a position description many recruiters will send you.

    Regarding your comment about the manager’s resume, what I have done is either gone to LinkedIn or googled the interviewing manager/or interview team for their background info (staying with professional sites or press releases).
    If it is there great, no matter how scant. If I’m unable to find a crumb, then it raises questions as to whether or not this will be a good fit.

  12. I’d be dubious about being asked for my resume. On the other hand, candidates who have bothered to research me get extra points.
    I’ve worked at places where the interviewer list is not given out by policy, and sometimes the interviewers get defined at the last moment depending on the candidate’s resume.
    And a candidate asking smart questions about the job is a definite plus in my book.

  13. @Ty asks great questions. Back in my recruiting days, these were all things I’d ask the hiring manager so I was fully prepared to properly present the job to candidates.

    As a hiring manager now, I can say that it’s been a long time since anyone has asked for or seen my resume. I’m not being coy – it’s just woefully out of date and I don’t know that it represents me very well anymore. May be just an excuse, but who updates their resume if they don’t have to? Blech.

    Also, we have a small and evolving company, so no detailed job descriptions. However, we are very transparent about our jobs, with prospective employees sitting with the team and, on occasion, meeting with the employee who left. We do this so the challenges of the job are clear – it helps no one if the new person can’t be successful in this role. We can do it because we have strong, trusting relationships with our employees – even when they’ve opted to go elsewhere.

  14. Another unsaid piece of this puzzle is that you have to be willing to walk if you do not like what you are hearing.

    That can be tough with money worries.

  15. @Annette: I love the transparency of your interview process – good for you. But, as a manager, would you be willing to interview a job applicant if he or she did not provide a resume in advance? Why should his/her resume be up to date when yours isn’t?

    @Ty: Ah, my friend, you nailed the issue most people just skirt all the time. Are you willing to walk? It’s the question everyone should ask before they go into any interview. Not just when you have money worries. I really think people talk themselves into all kinds of rationalizations, simply because they didn’t set clear expectations.

  16. How does one negotiate w/o knowledge of what’s being pursued (job)? Sounds really, really lazy (and crazy) when no job description exists, allegedly. Also implies a disorganized co. which is a signal to turn tail and run!

  17. Re the manager’s resume, usually a legit business has a bio of mgmt. members on the co. website. That can be further researched online. Having done this in recent years, the mgr I interviewed with was a bit shocked that I knew more about him than he expected (but this is a small town mentality in my experince).

  18. @marilyn: As I said above, I’ve got no problem per se with employers interviewing to hire people without a job description in place. Check out this example:

    However, the employer must explain what they’re doing and why. If they just want to meet great talent with the intent of creating a job, no sweat. But if it’s for a particular job, that needs to be defined – just like the applicant needs to be defined via resume or some other vehicle. (I prefer a personal referral and recommendation.)

  19. @Nick: “If they just want to meet great talent . . . “? Sounds like a dating service and whose time is being wasted? Sounds like some focus on the part of the employer would be nice. Respectfully disagree, partially.

  20. @ Ty: Exactly, you must be willing to walk. Just showing up for an interview doesn’t mean you want the job. I had two interviews for a job with the word ‘Assistant’ in the title. The posting said ‘support the Center’s programs’, so I asked for more details on the programs. Turns out the Assistant was to create the programs. The posting said ‘collaborate with the Center’s Advisory Board’, so I asked if they could tell me about who was on the Board. They said the Assistant was to find and recruit people. Finally, I asked who the rest of the team was. They basically said ‘you’re it buddy’. The job title should have been Director, but the pay was definitely at an Assistant level. I sent them a No Thank You note.

    Asking questions in an interview is one of the most important jobs of a candidate. You may well learn that this position isn’t for you. Smart questions also can demonstrate that the candidate has done their homework and learned as much as possible about the company.

  21. @Nick – just closing the loop here. My response to your question: if I were interviewing someone and they requested my resume because they felt that it would better help them understand me as a manager, I’d quickly update my resume and give it to them.

    Separately, I hate resumes because they rarely contain the information that I really want, but that’s an Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole and I won’t “go” there.

  22. I turned down a job offer about a year and a half ago because of this.

    No one gave me an official job description in writing. Also, people were giving me slightly different answers when I probed for more info. This, paired with some other stuff gave me a really bad vibe.

    Ironically, they filed for Chapter 11 roughly 8 months later (read: reorganization/layoffs).

  23. Oh, the dreaded vague, over-broad job description! And I hate the tagged-on phrase “and other duties as needed/required”. The last part tells me they’re lazy. If you can list 452 specs and still have to add the “other duties”, I get worried. I understand that jobs often evolve; at my last employer, my job certainly evolved, but then how hard is it for management to sit down with employees, ask them what they do, watch what they do, then update the job description?

    And only in my wildest dreams would a manager ever share his résumé with applicants! But why not? Given the amount and level of detail they require from me just to apply, why not be willing to share their own résumés?