the real reason you can’t be yourself on your resume

When I talk about being more authentic or more real on your resume the response I receive is often “stink eye.”

I’ve been told that things “should” be the way I propose (that you can be more authentic and that employers actually want you to be so on your resume), but that I live in a dream world. People have told me that they’d never get hired, in the “real world” if they did what I was suggesting.

I’m regarded as making a claim out of thin air. But, as opposed to air, my claim is actually based on sitting down, one-on-one, with more than 300 clients and their resumes – resumes they hated and then grew to have a deep affection for.

People just love telling me that I’m the crazy one.

So what do I do in such circumstances?

First, I never try to convince anyone that they’re wrong or that I’m right. Because they’re not wrong. Not based on their experience. Just like I’m not wrong based on my experience.

The frustration of not knowing how to do something differently or even that a different way exists is what I hear beneath their criticism. But if someone has energy to fight against the possibility of another way I know that, as sad as it is, that they will argue with thin air (believing that they are arguing with me). There isn’t anything I can do to help that person.

Not because what I know isn’t useful to them, but because I can’t and won’t fight you to help you when you’re not in a place to receive help (at least not yet). It’s not like we’re on a battlefield where I might try to save your literal life.

It’s a resume people.

And I’d rather invest my time and energy into helping someone that wants to know what I know to make life a little more (or ideally a lot more) wonderful.

I tell you this because if you are thinking that I’m trying to convince you that there is a better way (or to berate you for doing it wrong up to this point in your life), I want you to know right now that that’s not the case. There’s a plethora of very useful resume books out there on the market already. I’m one of many resources available and I happen to believe in finding the right resource for you.

So if you are happy with the results of your resume you should keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t read a single sentence more. Really. There’s no need.

When I work with someone on their resume, I begin the process by asking them, before we properly begin the resume creation journey, if they feel that they have been successful with their resume. So I’m asking you now:

Are you successful with your resume as it is and has been?

Success, to me, used to be: Can my resume get a job? Rather quickly?

And the answer was ‘yes’. I have never looked for more than six weeks for a job when I wanted or needed one. Good or bad job market conditions didn’t matter. These were my results that I thought of as quite successful.

To help me with my own job search, I actually bought and read and highlighted all of Martin Yates’ books. I knew how to get a job and because of his books and every career workshop I’d ever attended, I met my definition of success.

But then something happened to me that changed how I defined the success of the career tools that got me the jobs I was getting. It happened when I started to hate going to work. Not just dislike work – but hate it. So I would quit and get another job. Quit and get another job. Quit and get another job. Until I had no more energy to do that a single time more. I wasn’t just getting another job doing the same thing somewhere else either, I transitioned between three industries and became an expert at translating my experience.

When I repeated this routine for the last time, I was sick each and every day.

I had to sleep 12 hours a day just to function and I was still tired. My throat was on a rotation of being intolerably sore every four weeks for six weeks. I was cranky and fake.

My problem wasn’t that I didn’t know how to get a job because I certainly wasn’t afraid to quit my jobs and get another one – and if that isn’t the best training for a Career Counselor in “hard skills” or “real life” I don’t know what is.

My problem was that I couldn’t get a job that I actually wanted to go to – or eventually that my body would let me go to. And so I incorporated the desire of wanting to be at work into my new definition of success.

Based on my results I obviously had been doing something right (because I knew how to get hired). But, also based on my results, I was doing something wrong for me and my life (because I didn’t want to keep the jobs I got).

I kept my life “frozen” and/or “on repeat” with the same events that just seemed to keep playing out job after job. I had “one foot on the gas as well as the brake” as I went along being fearful about each step and losing all feelings of competence. I could not fathom why I had a body and a brain that wanted to be utilized so badly, but that ultimately rejected the work I offered it with each new job I procured.

Until I was ready to admit that something was terribly amiss with my original definition of success, AND until I stopped putting one single ounce of energy into repeating the cycle, nothing would change.

There had to be a better way because at this rate I was going to commit suicide. And I’m not joking even though it kind of sounds like I am.

But humor is healing. It’s a reference often for how far we’ve come.

I wasn’t myself on my resume so I wasn’t wholly myself in the interviews and in each job. After six months or so the real me would start to surface and dissatisfaction would set in. I interviewed to “win” the job [competition] regardless of whether I wanted the prize or not.

But my values, my orientation to life and where my heart was were fundamentally incompatible. The worst part was trying to get interested in things that I really didn’t care about. Like ground-breaking ceremonies with politicians and press. If that’s your thing kudos. It was worse than dying by sticking needles in my eyes.

I realize now how much energy that consumed and how much self-rejection I was drowning in by doing this out of habit pretending that it was necessity.

I didn’t really believe that anyone actually wanted the real me because I had such ease getting hired as I was. The incentive to shift into doing something different had to drown me before I would finally sit still with who I was and research myself.

So, fundamentally, the real reason that you can’t be yourself on your resume is because you don’t believe that you can. You won’t let yourself.

You will think to yourself now, “there are some things that just aren’t appropriate for a resume. I can think of lots.”

And in response I’m going to tell you this:

You can put anything you want in a resume – anything at all. As long as you can format and express it in a way that it makes sense to be there.

So the problem isn’t that there are parts of you that don’t belong on a resume, the problem lies in articulating those parts of you into a format and language that is suitable for the resume.

What currently happens when you sit down to write your resume is this:


You sit down and your ego immediately starts sorting through what it considers to be appropriate versus inappropriate to include. And mostly everything your ego deems appropriate is “pre-worded” from old ideas about who you are and what you do. Or borrowed from another source (a friend’s resume or a book that had a phrase that you thought sounded like it would get you hired). Or repeated from old resume content that you keep giving an unimpressive makeover to. Basically it’s not you.

At least not you anymore.

Most of us walk around with an idea of who we are today that’s about 10 years out of date.

At least.

You sit down to write this document that determines how others perceive you, how you will spend most of days and inevitably your life. It will also determine the standard of living that you will be able to have for yourself. And, before you get into the actual act of creating this highly influential document, the very first thing you do is disconnect. You have adopted the mindset that your work wants a version of you that is anaesthetized.

You amplify or suppress who you are in either direction against the grain of who and how you truly are.

At this point you are being asked to consciously meditate on the professional implications of removing the mental barriers you have around what you think can and cannot put on a resume.

When you actually begin to write your resume as we progress, I suggest opening Pandora’s box and writing on purpose with greater openness and authenticity than is appropriate for a resume. Because when you do that, you can edit down to what is appropriately authentic and also pristinely professional. You have better raw material to work with.

If you edit yourself before you write, nothing will look nor feel different than it has in the past.

Make the decision now that when you do the forthcoming writing exercises that you will do whatever you need to feel unwaveringly connected to yourself during the process. And resolve that your final resume content henceforth must now fulfill these two criteria:

:: It is really you – the you that you enjoy being?; and

:: It is formatted and worded appropriately for the resume?

And if it’s not BUT you feel strongly that the content is meant to be on your resume somehow, that you will make the effort integrate the content. Examples, stories, and exercises are forthcoming on how to do this.

This article is part of The Resume Project.

make. believe. for real.
Where you fuel, re-tool and attune your imagination. Get your soul to work (on purpose). Ruthless compassion. Fierce gentleness. Sassy wisdom. And oodles of insight.