MY IMPOSSIBLE RESUME

by Russell T. Johnson

I was cleaning out a file cabinet the other day and found some old resumes. I can't believe I ever sent those things out.

I list my profession as "chemist." Whenever anybody asks me what I did for a living I still tell them I'm a chemist because chemistry is what I did. GC, Mass Spectroscopy. Real chemist stuff. However, my last place of employment advertised that "all of our chemists have chemisry degrees." It's well known that a lot of chemists are pre-med biology majors who didn't get into med school, so a claim that all their chemists have chemistry degrees is a claim to be an elite laboratory.

So for chemists without chemistry degrees they invented a new job description... "analyst." Fine. They're playing word games for the sake of advertising.

Except for one thing. If somebody calls up my old workplace to check my resume, they'll swear I wasn't a chemist. They have to in order to maintain their advertising claim. Of course, if I put on my resume that I was an analyst, that doesn't convey the true nature of my work, and if I fill my resume with multiparagraph explanations like this one, it makes me seem defensive and paranoid. So I'm stuck. How do I tell the truth and not get called a liar?

That's just one example of the problems with my resume. If you try to verify my graduate degree you'll probably hit a dead end.

I started in an MFA program. MFA programs are handled by the individual academic department. After two semesters, the faculty determined that they weren't going to waste any more time trying to teach me to have talent, so they dismissed me from the MFA program and I entered an MA program. The MA program had the same teachers, the same courses, the same classrooms and the same classmates, but it was administered throught the Graduate School instead of the academic department or the college of Arts and Sciences.

So if you call the department to verify my degree you'll verify only the first half. If you call the College of Arts and Sciences you might verify the second half. It's the Graduate School that issues diplomas, and if you don't call them I'm going to look like a liar. The trouble is, anybody verifying my resume would find a fragment of coursework here or there and assume that's all there is to find and not look further. My little game of clerical musical chairs created a resume problem that I never recognized until once when I tried to check out somebody else's resume. You don't just call "the school" and get "the answer." Most academic administrations are a real mess as far as I can tell. By scattering one curriculum among three administrative offices I might as well have destroyed my own records.

The first job I had out of school was another resume problem. I got a note from the business manager offering me a not an internship, but a "full staff position," which qualified me for free health insurance through the company. Well, you've probably guessed what happened. About nine months into the contract, the business manager discovers that he can save a lot of money by removing people from the company insurance roles. He catches me in the lobby one day and tells me, "By the way, you know you're just an intern and not really eligible for the company health insurance."

Not true, I say to him, and I remind him that I have a letter signed by himself saying that I occupy a staff position and I am covered by the company health plan.

He walked away and I naively thought I had won the argument, and I've always put on my resume that I was a staff member and not an intern. Looking back on that incident with the business manager, I'm sure I got called a liar many times, and all for the sake of saving a few bucks on the company health plan. All these things I thought about years later and mentally tried to add up how many times I've shot myself in the foot simply because I expected people would play fair and keep their word.

Another odd thing. At that company I was the "Assistant Literary Manager." I looked up my listing in one of my alumni directories and discovered they had me as "Assistant Light Manager." That's quite a typo for somebody trying to verify your resume. I must have abbreviated "Literary" as "Lit." thinking somebody working for a college directory might make the obvious assumption.

I had another job for a short time at a prestigous historical place. I used to have it on my resume, but I don't even mention it any more because it can't be verified. When I was hired I was not informed that the company was a temporary ad-hoc summer affair that was closing in six weeks. I was hired directly by the Artistic Director after the season started and paid out of petty cash. The programs had all been printed before I showed up, so there's no record of me ever working there.

So there you go. Another resume blunder creating the false impression that I try to create a false impresson. I'm not saying I've never told a lie, but I tell the truth a lot more that I get credit for.

Heck, you can start with my very first resume credit. The college where I earned my first undergraduate degree changed its name the year after I graduated. That's got to cause some confusion, and when combined with all the rest it's probably easier for an employer to just go on to the next candidate and not take a chance. There are plenty of resumes out there that match up nice and snug.

People ask me why I retired so young. It wasn't my choice. I couldn't get hired at Wendyburger's with my resume.

RTJ -- 8/15/08


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