I Am Not My Resume
Between college and high school, I lived a dark, strange year at home, working a variety of serving jobs and moping around our house, a moppet of misery. I had to defer admission to college due to a financial aid keruffle, and I was full of vitriol; I was a miserable 18-year-old convinced that this minor injustice was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I don’t remember much about that year—maybe, because my memory is notoriously bad, or because I willfully tamped it down into the box of things I’d rather not think about—but at some point my father made me apply to a state school.
“They have a great writing program,” he told me. “I went there and I turned out fine.”
I gathered my writing samples, and then, faced with the waiting blankness of yet another college entrance essay, pounded out some relative angry dreck about why I deserved a spot in the creative writing program. I was snarky and young and angry that I wasn’t chugging Keystone Lights at frat parties, or workshopping overwrought short stories with my peers. I worried that the weird gap in time on my resume would shed a light on my inability to get it together. As a high school student, I was a classic underachiever who coasted by on my ability to crank out serviceable work on deadline. My grades reflected this—neither good nor bad, but solidly in the middle.
“I am more than my grades and decided lack of ambitious extra-curriculars,” I wrote the nice people on the admissions board. Ignore what you see on paper, and pay attention to what I’m showing you now.
I started working in online ad operations, a mostly thankless job that consists of moving bits of code from one place to another, having an obsessive attention to detail and staying up until midnight to make sure the Smirnoff Ice ad that someone paid lots of money for was splashed all over the website I worked for at 12:01 a.m. My first job doing this was a means to an end, and the subsequent jobs I got doing this kind of work started paving a weird path towards a career that I didn’t really want.
Most of my friends who are my age have had a few jobs, but for large, solid chunks of time. For them, career moves come out of months and months of thought, or of behind-the-scenes machinations, carefully angling for promotions or department transfers, a situation in which they are actually taking control. This is how job changes should be done, and it’s this kind of strategy that shows ingenuity, resourcefulness, and most of all, forethought. They marvel at my ability to change jobs so easily and so often, as if it were a skill to be admired, but really, I have a resume that is longer than one page, and stands as a pretty accurate map of my thought process through the past almost-decade of working.
Resumes are an imperfect measurement of the value of a potential employee. Work history can be fudged, skill-sets can be adjusted, lies can be neatly wrangled and formatted into bullet points for easy consumption. If you have enough confidence, you can craft a resume that is made of half-truths and aspirations, walk into a job interview and walk out, an hour later, with the saunter that accompanies the feeling of knowing you’ll get the job. Your resume tells one story, but it’s a story that’s carefully controlled, a highlight reel of how your work life has been, but it does a very poor job of determining what kind of worker you’ll actually be.
At first glance, my work history indicates severe commitment issues. There are gaps that are easily explained, but my career goals seem muddled. I started out working in online ad operations and have ended up in a more creative field. I am not interested in returning to online ad operations, because I didn’t like it and it made me weary, but the new endeavor is much more unsure, dependent on inherent talent rather than my ability to successfully copy and paste bits of code from one box to another.
As I mention in every job interview, I am a loyal, dedicated, hardworking employee, interested only in doing the job well, without argument, and then being able to go home. That’s all anyone ever wants, out of a job, right? To go to work, perform the work, and then go home to watch TV or do yoga or eat a burrito, only to return and do it all over the next day. I have armed myself with this attitude at every job that I’ve had.
“A job is good, because it’s a job and because it will pay me money,” I tell myself as I sit down at my first day. “Nobody does what they really want to do all the time, so just be glad that you’re employed.”
I used to get the itch after six months, or so. The last job I had in ad ops lasted three months before I managed to get out and into something else that suited me better. I delayed my start date for a week so I could interview for another job I really wanted, but didn’t get.
Good employees are more than just their resume. A good employee knows when to speak up in a meeting, and always washes their dishes in the communal sink. A good employee does their work well, quietly, and on time, without causing much trouble for anyone. A good employee knows when to stand up for herself, but doesn’t consistently rock the boat. A good employee does what we all really want to do at work: Do our jobs, do them well, and then go home at a reasonable hour. These kind of employees are the quiet ones, the ones that slip in and out of conference rooms after meetings, and don’t say much to their co-workers. These are the workers that are grateful to have a job, happy to be doing something they kind of like, but are cognizant of the fact that they could lose it at any moment.
That is the kind of dedication you don’t see on a resume.
Megan Reynolds lives in New York.