• Otter Views: Résumé School

    by Tom Stevens

    If you could sum up your life in 25 words or less, you might not have a great life, but you’d have a good résumé.

    A recent workshop exercise got me thinking about this. You start out with a clean sheet of paper. Next, you emblazon your name, address and e-mail across the top, leaving spacious margins at the bottom and sides. Then you squeeze your whole life into the little box that remains.

    Writing that résumé brought up some old personal juju. It recalled dark days when I was desperately seeking work, and it presaged dark days to come, when I will be desperately seeking work again. But mostly it reminded me of résumé school.

    I had to attend résumé school in Santa Cruz after the weekly paper for which I worked fired me because I was cybernetically challenged. The paper then hired two bright young whippersnappers who could zip around on computers like The Flying Wallendas.

    This was a good move for the company, which was pumping up for its internet debut, but I felt badly used. I remember standing on the sidewalk holding my cardboard box full of office junk, gazing up at the company logo, thinking: “Damn. What just happened?”

    Crestfallen, I answered an ad for an “on-call, part-time custodian” for the city’s public school system. The pay was $10 an hour – about what I was making when I got fired – and the job required minimal computer competency. Applicants were to report to the school district office on a certain day.

    “I can do this,” I thought. “I’ve been to college! Besides, how many people will apply for a part-time janitor job?”

    Quite a few, as it turned out. On the appointed day, 55 of us jammed a school meeting room and spilled into the corridors on either side. Pondering how to answer the “ever been fired?” query on my application form, I had time to study my fellow job-seekers. They were a good cross-section of the city itself: men and women of varied age and ancestry, some speaking English; others Spanish or Vietnamese. A few looked crestfallen like me, but most seemed happy to be there.

    “You here for the test?” asked a bearded, barrel-chested fellow. He wore biker boots, black overalls and a plaid shirt. Clinking from his hip was a bunch of keys thick enough to choke an alligator.

    “Test? There’s a test for on-call janitor?”

    “Well sure,” he remarked. “This is a city job. You start out on-call part-time, but then you work up to regular part-time, then full-time with benefits. In 20 years, you can retire.”

    “I noticed your key ring,” I said enviously. “Are you working in custodial services now?”

    “Naw hell,” he laughed, shaking the keys. “I got these at résumé school. I’m a fired journalist.”

    Soon all 55 of us were seated in a classroom, hunched over our 30-question test forms. The deeper I got into the test, the more my respect for part-time custodians grew. “How would you remove blood stains from concrete?” one item inquired. “Can you safely apply ammonia over floor wax? Why or why not?” The questions weren’t even multiple choice.

    I completed the test and waited a week for the call-back interview, but the call never came. That’s when I decided to file for unemployment.

    “We don’t normally award claims to applicants who’ve been fired,” the lady told me. “But our records show your past employer fired 17 previous employees before you, so we’ll make an exception in your case. You will, of course, have to attend résumé school.”

    “Of course,” I agreed.

    During my nine-week stint at résumé school, I got my keyboard speed up to 75 words a minute, fooled around doing graphics and page layouts on various computers, and wrote a lot of practice résumés.

    “Keep them clean and simple, one page max,” the teacher advised. “Personnel directors don’t have time to read your entire life story. Just hit the high points.”

    There hadn’t been many of those for me lately, so my résumés were startlingly clean and simple – just a few bold-faced lines crossing vast Siberias of white space. By the time the course ended, I had shaved my résumé down to: “Will work.”

    “I like it,” the teacher nodded. “Now you can type 75 words a minute, but you only need two. Very clean.”

    Amazingly, the first résumé I sent out landed me an interview for a $9-an-hour job with a newsletter publisher in Carmel. I reported my good news to the teacher.

    “Thanks for teaching me about résumés,” I said.

    “Oh, that just opens the door,” she said. “A résumé might get you an interview, but it won’t get you hired. What you really need is a big bunch of keys.”

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 8, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views

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