Interpreting resumes

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Interpreting resumes

The presidential campaign has brought to mind the importance of interpreting resumes. Resumes require interpretation because words can be somewhat unclear: As Bill Clinton noted during his 1998 grand jury testimony on the Monica Lewinsky affair “It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘is’ is.” For example, when does experience start and end? As an example, one of our editors got a Masters degree at Columbia Teachers College in 1975 or 1976. He has taught sporadically over the years. If his resume were to say “over thirty years of teaching experience” would this be meaningful? Would his teaching experience be the equivalent of someone who has taught in a college for thirty years?

As another example, two of our editors are pilots. One has been flying for several decades, but only sporadically. When you go flying, you want to know not how long they have been flying in terms of when they started, but how long they have been flying in terms of hours logged, and their recency. As an example, one instrument simulator instructor with whom we studied mentioned that he had almost three-and-a-half years of flying experience. That doesn’t sound like much until you realize he had flown Pan Am Clippers, and had logged over 30,000 hours of flight time!

We are never finer than when we put down on paper. A candidate for a local city council seat claimed a great deal of civic service. All of this held up until one checked his claimed credentials. All of his public service was a result of work done with the American Lung Association, and related to his business. The boards of directors he had claimed to serve on have no idea who he is, and it turns out he is still a registered voter in another state. So we end up juggling what is written in the resume, what is left out of the resume, what needs to be interpreted in the resume, and finally the judgment as to the person. This last can be very tricky, and cover a lot of areas. One friend of ours used to ask potential hires in his programming group if they were fun. He figured that finding a competent coder was easy, but finding someone he could put up with when tempers were frayed at 2 am was hard.

All of these issues – combined with greed – conspire to make life difficult when dealing with swindlers. Swindlers generally come with great business credentials, great family credentials, great religious credentials, and great personal charm. Because of this, investors – particularly investors wanting to find improbably good returns – tend to avoid exercising due diligence before plunking down their money. It is sort of like dating: Women want a prince, and doing background checks turns many of them into frogs.

Nonetheless, whether in politics, hiring, investment, or dating, it is important to take off our blinders and understand the person with whom we are becoming so intimately entwined. While it can be painful and seem a trifle embarrassing, our professional experience tells us that the alternative is significantly worse.

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