Sunday, February 13, 2011

Uhhh . . . What Exactly Did I Say I Could Do?

Resume writing, as I've already remarked, can be a moral minefield, offering as it does the palpable temptation to fictionalize our exploits. As often as not, when people revise their own curriculum vitae they are under some exigency. Unemployed, under-employed, tempted to reach a bit, we become more pliant in where we draw the line between the true and the sort of true, between truth and "truthiness." But the exigencies of the situation notwithstanding, it's a decision we make about where exactly we're each willing to set the bounds of accuracy. Given our human failings, we need all the help or cudgeling we can get to keep us within hailing distance of what's fair and factual. The burden of responsibility in these cases lies with us.

Or does it? Clearly if I'm applying for a real job with plainly stated (or just plain obvious) requirements and I claim that I can fulfill those requirements when in fact I can't, I've crossed a line. If I'm applying to be a short-order cook and can't cook or have never done that sort of cooking before; or if I'm applying for a warehouse job and can't lift 50 pounds; or if I intend to become a firefighter knowing I can't meet the physical challenges and claiming that I'm within the stipulated age limits, I'm somewhere out in the ethical weeds. There is the recurrent tale of the interloper in the medical fraternity who succeeds for a while on fabricated credentials (or as in this case, because they were trying to hide and happened on some hospital scrubs).

 "I t'ink we gonna hafta take offa da head."

But it's never that simple, and the lines can quickly get blurred. Are we being imposed upon when, say, Tom Hanks claims to be an actor? or when Christo passes for an artist rather than just a drapery salesman?

Does Christo Mean Curtains for Art?

What do we say when the job description asks for "sound judgment and instincts, good analytical, conceptual and strategic thinking skills, the ability to develop and manage projects independently, the ability to adapt and respond quickly to change"? Or worse, this one forwarded by my friend, Lori: "You will lead the high level design, task decomposition, and effort estimation over a significant area of responsibility.  You will create the detailed implementation and validation plan, and execute this plan through to product release." In neither case is it clear what exactly a person is expected to do, or to be able to do. So if I say I can do these things, am I misrepesenting my "skillset"? Is it the same thing as saying that I can do 100 orders of eggs over easy in an hour, when I can't?  

High-Level Design
The problem is that what we encounter more often than not isn't a job description at all, but the obscure and esoteric "product" of the ascendant science of "human resources." Human resources -"HR" - is a shady and amorphous operation with a broad and loosely defined function. It operates, like other faceless departments known primarily by acronym (FBI, KGB, IRS), to maintain a level of control over corporate or academic employees, to reduce the legal liabilities of the employer vis-a-vis its employees, and to replace the labor unions of a bygone age with something more to an employer's liking, all in the name of employee protections. HR, like "law enforcement," has adapted the language of the social sciences to a pidgin "bureaucratese" in which job descriptions are replaced with the obscure, pseudo-precise gibberish of "skillsets" and purposely vague "capabilities" requirements.

The Human Resources Department (actual humans)

It can get even more obscure when trying to figure out exactly what a company to which you may be applying for work does. Here's a stellar piece of prosifying that resists any attempt to wade through and make clear sense of. (I reproduce it without amending the charming illiteracies festooned throughout its opacity. See you on the other side.)

"Peak P3 simply maximizes Human Capital ROI, specifically with a company's sales force. Over 15 years of working with a multitude of company's [sic] with variant [sic] financial objectives, Peak P3 has defined a systematic formula and project management approach. This formula becomes the company's master strategy plan that outlines the process that enables their ability to profile and acquire the best talent, then develop that talent through established and proprietary processes and systems and finally retain this core group so as to best meet the immediate and future needs of the company. We are a culmination of specialized core competencies, field tested best practices and consummate research in real environments and we stand to gain only when our client gain [sic]  improvements in their Processes, Performance and Production."

This kind of blather requires the pretense that interested parties have at least some notion of what exactly is to be expected if employed by such a company. To describe in precise and concrete terms a job and the requirements for performance would mean anyone's performance could be measured against that description. When the terms of employment do not admit of any precision, offer no clear standards of assessing job performance, then the deck can be stacked against anyone for nearly any cause. That seems to be one of the primary functions of human resources, the very phrase suggesting that humans are a corporate "resource," a commodity of the marketplace, interchangeable, replaceable at will.

So the lines of responsibility for personal probity can get blurry. "The Devil made me do it," might be a legitimate defense against charges of misrepresentation or downright lying about what one knows or can do. Loose language and the obscure bureaucratic solecisms of the HR world easily tempt the exigent job-seeker to trade in false coin, to forsake the factual for the facile, to substitute expediency for exactitude, perjury for probity, ingenuity for ingenuousness.

Like they say over in HR,

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