May 232012

In late April, I answered the following question on padding your application:

Is doing activities just to pad you application or resumé dishonest? Some people work on mastering playing the violin, competing in tennis tournaments, learning calculus, and other activities – not because they have any interest in them or because they think they might develop an interest once tried, but rather because they think these activities will look good on an application or resumé. Is that dishonest? Is it unwise?

I’ve already given my answer, but Rachel Garrett wrote up the following comments that I thought pretty interesting and worth posting here. She wrote:

My answer is premised on the idea that you have a purpose and a career that you’re serious about. Peter Keating, of course, was merely into architecture to gain social prestige. So he had no problem with the idea of striving to master badminton (“the game of kings and earls”) in order to kiss up to a potential client. If someone is second-handed in choosing a career, of course they will choose second-hand hobbies that will look good to the clients or colleagues whom they seek to please.

By contrast, I have a hard time imagining a career first-hander pursuing any long-term, systematic course of action (including hobbies) for the sake of a mere resumé blurb or interview talking point. Maybe that’s how they account for the origin of their interest, or they semi-joke about it in conversation (“I’m only doing it for my resumé.”) But calculus? Tennis? Violin? Seriously? I can’t see how that’s practical or effective.

“I’m going to spend hours of leisure time every week keeping advanced mathematics fresh in my mind, working problems, and reading math textbooks and journals — not because I actually want to or because the knowledge is required for my chosen career, but because at the intervals every few years when I change jobs, I think there’s a chance that the line about calculus on the Hobbies/Interests section of the second page of my resumé will make a positive impression on the HR admin who’s screening applications. If I’m lucky, maybe the person who interviews me will also notice it and think nice thoughts about me.”

*sigh* “I guess I’ll go practice that Brahms sonata again. I’m getting good at the solo on the second page. Too bad I don’t actually like playing violin. I hope I get an interview at PharmCo. I heard the vice president of the division I want to work in likes classical music. Maybe if I get interviewed, he will see that part about violin on my resumé and get a warm fuzzy. We might even casually chat about it before we get down to the actual business of the interview. Yeah, that would be real nice. Crap, I’d better buy tickets for the symphony concert next week. I hate to go — there’s a violin concerto on the program — but the VP might mention it as we’re chit-chatting, and it would look weird if I claim to be into violin but hadn’t gone to see that famous soloist when they were in town.”

Let me generalize and take the question less literally. You have an objective need to signal your positive qualities to people who will make decisions about whether they want to be your friend, marry you, hire you, etc. Is it ever OK to engage in activities for the sake of sending the right signal to people who you want to befriend, work for, etc.? I already indicated that I thought this was impractical for learning-intensive, lifelong hobbies. But what about ordinary activities that don’t take that kind of investment? Are they legitimate “padding” candidates? Some of the questions you have to answer are:

1) Are you telling the truth? E.g., are you taking on a nonprofit project in order to showcase organizational skills on your resumé, when in fact you have pitiful organizational skills and it’s your professional Achilles’ heel?

2) What’s your motive for wanting the other person to have this information about you? Do you think they really need it in order to make an objective decision? Does it open up the door to conversations about shared interests and values? Or do you merely want to bask in their approval?

3) If you think you have a positive quality, you must already have supporting evidence from your own life. Why can’t you share that evidence with the other person? Why do you have to take the indirect route? You’re proposing doing an activity in order to have evidence suitable to give to someone else about something about yourself that you already know – it’s circituitous. I’m not saying it’s impossible or improper. But you might be overlooking something or making erroneous assumptions about how well the other person can evaluate you based on already-existing evidence.

Sticking to hiring, here are some further considerations. If you are assessing your professional qualifications, and you realize that you’re deficient in some area, it’s not wrong to look for a volunteer activity or hobby to fill that gap. For instance, volunteering at a local nonprofit might result in developing your leadership or project management skills. Maybe the nonprofit will let you run a big project end-to-end, while at work you’re in a junior, coordinating role under a senior project manager.

But if you are really doing it “just for the resumé,” I would question the wisdom of that. If you want to add an activity or project to your resumé, it’s because you want to show potential employers that you have a particular skill or strength. There’s two logical possibilities:

1) If in reality you don’t yet have that skill or strength, or you haven’t reached your desired level, then you want to develop it. Naturally and secondarily, you’d follow up by putting the developmental experiences on your resumé. But if this is the case, you’re not just “doing it for the resumé” – you’re doing it for development.

2) If you do have the skill/strength already, and you feel that you have to go do something extra outside of work so that people will see it, that’s a red flag. It says that here’s a characteristic that you want potential employers to find in you, but you’re not using it in your current job. You need to find or create aspects of your job that would use that skill. Then you can figure out how to frame it on the resumé.

Thank you, Rachel!

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha