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Do the Resume Thing

By Joshua M. Sharfstein

I KNEW I was in trouble when the number of hours I worked on my resume exceeded the number of hours I studied for my exams. On the eve of my Biology final, I didn't have my usual "arrive at Mem Hall in my underwear and hope nobody notices" nightmare. Instead, I dreamed I was working feverishly on a poster-size resume while dozens of pre-meds chanted my name. (I was still in my underwear, however.)

This frame of mind hampered my exam performance. As I struggled to remember the inner working of the mammalian kidney, my mind rattled off 12 different ways to make the layout of the exam more visually pleasing. "Times font would have been most appropriate for this question," I thought to myself. "Why didn't they use boldface for contrast?"

My resume had taken over my life.

After a prolonged period of introspection, I realized that my fear of death and ensuing eternity of darkness was no longer my number one anxiety. Now I worried about job interviewers blowing their noses in my resume in disgust. Resumes, I concluded, were worse than death. After all, you die only once, but you have to redo your resume again and again.

Finally I sought help. After a week of intensive therapy--which consisted primarily of repeating "Of course I wouldn't mind living at home again this summer"--I can now deal with my resume as I do with any other random piece of paper that will ultimately determine my future on this planet.

The solution is to play the game. Do the resume thing. But never, never let it pollute your soul.

Step One: Learn the Language.

Although Harvard offers no courses in conversational resume, fluent speakers populate the campus and, in time, will take over the world. (Managed, coordinated, led takeover of all population centers and physical resources on planet. 10 hours/week.)

I overheard one such schemer communicating with one of my roommates (known to friends as "The Human Resume") at the Office of Career Services.

"What font is this? Palatino?"

"No, New Century. Looks more dignified."

"Strathmore Parchment paper? That's what Ivan Boesky used."

"No, I event with 32-pound. But it's 100 percent cotton."

"Not bad. Offset printing?"

"Linotronic, 1200 dots per inch, and then I offset it."


I recommend learning to speak, read and comprehend this esoteric language. On one hand, your actual resume may improve as your vocabulary soars. And even if your resume gets worse, you will ace the verbal portion of the GRE's, go to grad school and not have to worry about employment in the real world for dozens of years.

Step Two: Become Resume Efficient.

When I applied to college, I was under the mistaken impression that a bigger resume was a better resume. "Five single spaced pages!" I would announce to my jealous peers, "although I did have to put down 'toilet trained' in the skills section."

When a friend later said, "You know what they say about guys with large resumes..." I let my imagination run wild. I soon learned, however, that guys with large resumes had small and unsuccessful job interviews. No matter how much you accomplish, your resume must not exceed one page. This is not because conciseness is an absolute virtue. Rather, scientific studies reveal that the dolts assigned to read resumes have very short attention spans.

Given this limitation, you must hone down your resume to its bare bones. Bag the mention of 12 years of violin lessons. Play up the three days you spent as a temp at IBM. If it feels like you are making value judgements about what experiences are important to you, it's because you are.

You are now entering the world of resume efficiency--a world not determined by market mechanisms or moral truths but by the space limitations of an eight and one-half by 11 inch page. With a little practice, you too can be a master of this world. Ultimately, you will be able to justify getting rid of lengthy words such as "assisted" and replacing them with shorter words such as "led."

Properly understood, resume efficiency is not just a concept to employ every spring or before you switch jobs.

It is something to think about every waking minute of your life. It means being ever on the lookout for small commitments with large titles. It means struggling to get your resume included in the Harvard Guide to Careers.

It also means having different resumes always on hand for each and every employment situation. A medical research application, for example, requires a resume that highlights your lab experience. A prestigious public service group will like to see Phillips Brooks House affiliation. And if you are looking to edge out more qualified contenders for a high-paying job in an old corporation, be sure to underline and boldface your final club ties.

Step Three: Keep It in Context.

For years, my motto was "everything in moderation, except resumes." But now I understand that there is more to life than resumes. There are also cover letters, and, of course, envelopes.

Actually, the real danger (besides going insane) in spending too much time on your resumes is that you don't do anything else. Soon "resume expertise" appears in the skills section of your resume. It slowly creeps up through "hobbies" into "activities." Ultimately, you take a job with a resume firm and "resume consultant" moves atop "work history." Your resume collapses under its own weight. You will never hold a real job again.

The solution: don't worry that much about your resume.

Worry about your job interview.

Next week: The Job Interview. Joshin' Around will appear erratically this semester in The Crimson.

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