Episode 22 - Resumes
Jen: Hey Pete.
Peter: Hey Jen.
Jen: I took one of my classes through an exercise today that I think you might enjoy, and I would like to share it with you. And the title of this exercise is, "Resumes are Sunk Costs on Display."
Peter: I already love where this is going. Let's jump right in.
Jen: This is The Long and The Short Of It.
I've recently been sort of ranting - what a surprise - on this idea that I'm done with the conventional notions about resumes, and resumes are essentially, as I mentioned, sunk costs on display. And it's just ludicrous to assume that someone giving you information about their past will help you to determine their future. It's just sort of crazy. And the reason I'm particularly riled up about this is because in the theatre industry, every actor is expected to hand over their resume before they do any work. And so we're sort of setting up an idea of who this person is and what they're capable of that's based on their past, as opposed to who they are in this moment, what they can bring right now, and how that might shape the future. So in class today, I asked everyone to take out a blank sheet of paper, and then I used the Seth Godin framing device for how to talk about sunk costs, which is, "a gift from your past self to your present self." And so, the way I articulated it was, "Hello, I'm your past self, and I'm offering a tool to you that is going to doom you to a life where you only get to do what you've always done. Would you like it?" And of course they all said "no." So the exercise was this: take the blank piece of paper, and completely erase in your mind the resume that you usually hand out, and instead think about reorganizing it to only include things that you actually want people to know about you, and things that you're proud of. If it is a credential and it's not something you want someone to know about you or it's not something that you're proud of, leave it out. And be audacious about formatting it, and just get crazy with it. And you've got five minutes: go.
Jen: Yeah, it was, it was pretty fun. So we go for five minutes, and at the end of the five minutes, you could sort of feel this monumental energy shift in the room, and people started sharing their experience about how they decided to go about this exercise. For some people, their experience on the other end was, "Wow, what this taught me is that I'm actually prouder of myself and the things that I've been a part of so far than I thought. Here I've been self-talking all this negative comparison to the other people who, you know, I wish I had their career, but I'm looking at the things that I've done and I'm able to say, like, I'm really proud of the work that I've done." For other people, they completely eliminated any past job experience, and replaced it with categories like, "things I'm looking for in an ideal collaborator," or, "people who inspire me," or, "the ways I believe theatre can change the world, or like, things they wanted people to know about them. And then for some, for someone else in the group, he said, "I'm really inspired by this, because I see the parts of my past artistic work that I want to share, and what I'm realizing the pattern is is that they're all projects I would have never believed I was right for, and now that's going to change the way I'm looking ahead at opportunities. I can't possibly know what I'm right for. I just have to go for things I believe in."
Jen: And then someone else said, "This has pointed out to me where my weak spots are, and now I know what parts of my life I need to fill up with inspiration, because I'm missing something that I would want to hand to someone and say, 'I'm proud of this,' and this has to do with music, or this has to do with academics or whatever it might be." So it was a super useful exercise.
Peter: Yeah, that is incredible, and it's taken my brain in, like, fifteen different directions, which is pretty standard for when you have a riff - I know you called it a "rant," I'm going to call it a "riff." So a few things that popped into my mind, to throw them out there: in keeping in line with the Seth Godin thing that you mentioned, the first thing that came up when you started talking about this was, firstly, you're so right about resumes being sunk costs, but then also I started wondering, what are resumes for? And the answer that I think is to make the role of the person reviewing applicants easier, right? Like it's basically a way for them to make their life, make their job, make the process of selecting someone for a position or a role as easy as possible. And, and so thinking about what it's for, yeah, if you read fifteen, twenty, thirty, a hundred, a thousand resumes, that all basically say the same thing (here is the list of the past stuff that I've done, here are my credentials that I've done in the past, here is the past, past, past, past, past), then how could anyone possibly get an idea of who you are and what you're going to bring to this job, this role, this production moving forward? Like, it's a very backwards-thinking idea, a resume. And if the "what's it for" is to help that person in charge find the right person for the role, what better way to stand out and prove that than to show the things that you believe in, the ideas that you care about, the people you want to work with, and to make their life even easier and make yourself, you know, again with Seth Godin, "a purple cow," and make yourself stand out and be something that someone is going to remark at. So that was the first thing that sprung to my mind.
Jen: What's really funny is, in the context that actors are using the resumes in, much of the time, they are going to present their actual work.
Jen: So they hand the resume first, and then they share their work. It's so ridiculous.
Peter: It is. Yeah. And, and the other thing, the other direction this took me was, it was - back to my favorite topic of imposter syndrome - is no wonder people are afraid to, or were conditioned to try things that we haven't done before, no wonder we are feeling like an imposter if we're presented with an opportunity that we haven't necessarily had a chance to do before. Because through processes like resumes, we are, like I said, conditioned to focus on only things that we've done in the past, and then by definition, putting ourselves in positions that are things that are similar to things that we've done in the past, which to me is avoiding a growth mindset. To me that's avoiding your imposter, because as I mentioned in earlier episodes, I think imposter syndrome comes up when we're trying something new, or when we're trying something for the first time, and we feel like a fraud because, "Hey, I've never done this before." And so this idea that you're talking about of resumes, it just amplifies that, that imposter syndrome, which, you know, I know that you've mentioned to me in the performing arts is a really common thing to feel, this idea of imposter syndrome.
Jen: Yeah, I feel this sometimes too, when I am asked to give a keynote for a group of people who work in an industry I know nothing of, and then I start going over my own credentials, and I'm like, "I'm not qualified." But the truth is, I'm totally qualified to give the talk on the thing that I know. And when someone is presenting their work, whether it's as a keynote, or in the case of my clients, as you know, actors interpreting material to determine that worthiness based on their credentials is to eliminate possibility; it's whatever the opposite of "celebrate potential" is - like, it's the opposite of that. And that's not really a world I want to live in, where only people who are "credentialed," quote, and "qualified" get to make things. I mean, that's just crazy. So the challenge I have set up for the people who were in this class today is, "I dare you to actually turn this into something that you would hand over to the people behind the casting table, instead of a traditional resume." Now who knows if any of them will follow through on it cause it's really scary to do that; but on the other hand, if you do hand over a piece of paper, it has your name on the top, and then it says something like, "I'm inspired by theatre pieces that allow me to advocate for the underrepresented," let's say there's something like that on the page, and the person behind the table goes, "Advocate for the unrepresented?" you know, you don't want to work with that person.
Peter: Yeah, exactly.
Jen: But if they just look at your resume and they go, "Oh, you played Pippin in Pippin? You must be qualified," well now you have no idea what, what each of you are about. All we know is that somebody else thought you would be a good Pippin in Pippin and cast you, but it says nothing about what you believe.
Peter: Hmm. Oh, it reminds me, yeah, it just reminds me of, like you said, you want to, we want to work with, and we should want to and work with and surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe, and you want to identify that as early as possible so that you don't get into a position, like you said, where you get into the role, and you go, "Oh wait, I can't show up as the person I want to show up as in this environment. That's, that's not the environment I want to be in." So if you can get that out there as early as possible, it's, you know, starting with "why," which I know you and I have spoken about quite a few times.
Jen: I think there's, like, a light version of this exercise if someone wanted to test it out, but maybe wasn't ready to do the head-first dive, and that is to take the current version of your resume and to consider two things: One, cross out anything that you're not proud of, so if it doesn't fill you with some sort of pride, get rid of it. And consider the order that you're listing your experience for its narrative value as opposed to its chronological value. So the things that are most important to you, put those up at the top, or think about reordering things so that you can create sort of categories of your work. So instead of most recent to least recent, or most high-paying contract to lowest-paying contract, what if you were to group things by theme, or group things by dramatic content, or think creatively about categorizing. So if you're not ready to hand over a blank sheet of paper that just has your name at the top, and then when someone says, "Why are you handing me this blank sheet of paper?" you say, "I believe that resumes are sunk costs on display," if you're not ready to do that, at least think about how you can reconfigure the thing that you are handing someone that is meant to represent who you are and where you see yourself going.
Peter: Yeah, I love this. It's an artifact of what you believe in and the work that you want to do, so, like you said, make it something that you're proud of.
Jen: Exactly. Okay. Another way to sort of assess the ways in which you are displaying your sunk costs and pretending somehow they're carving a path for the future is if you are someone who has a personal website, and you are using that website to help move yourself forward, this would be another place to take a look. So the way I look at this through the theatre industry lens is, and I'm going to have to revise this with my new rant on - or riff - on resumes, but I've always said that resumes are a snapshot of your past configured to try to help make sense of the present, your headshot - so this is the photo that actors use - should be a snapshot of the present, and your online presence should function as a portal to the future. And because there are really no rules about how you have to configure yourself online, it's important to note that if all you're doing with your online presence is doubling down on your past, it's not really a portal to the future. This is a chance for you to get to show what you believe in, in the way that feels most authentic to who you are and how you represent yourself. So this would be another place to sort of take a digital red pen to your personal website and ask yourself, "Is this really about the future or am I simply explaining where I've been?"
Peter: Yeah, I think this applies in corporates and startups and for people who are employees as well, because, like I said at the start, if the "what's it for" of a resume or personal website is to help other people see why you would be a good fit or see why you are going to add value to their company or the production, then why would you want to appear like everybody else and just have a resume of past accomplishments? And so I got, I got right into this a while back when I was working for startups and corporates, and I made myself a website, and I made myself a resume that was very much "the anti-resume," I guess - I've only just sort of started connecting this now that you're mentioning it, Jen, but to give the example of I, I - yeah, I made a website that was more about my "why" and what I believe and what I think that "why," how that plays out in the particular roles that I want to work in in the future. And I had, actually had job interviews with Google, with Tesla and with Slack, and every single one of them said, "I love the story you told in your resume slash website." And it really caught my attention. And so the message there was, like, I don't even think that they really, in a corporate, in a, in a startup environment, I don't necessarily think they even read most of what is in front of them, but if you can make it look and feel and sound a little bit different, then you're going to get their attention. And to me that's kind of the point of, of the - the first checkpoint of a resume is to get them to take notice, to see you, to realize you are slightly different, you are able to contribute to their company, their startup, their production in a way that no one else can. So I love this idea of bringing it into the website and bringing it into a different way of even just formatting the resume.
Jen: I agree with you. And the sort of "icing on the cake" layer here is, "so that what?" "For what purpose?" So if it's just to stand out and be different, it's not really worth the energy. But if it is to stand out so that you can make a contribution that could have some sort of an impact, that's a totally different story.
Jen: So if it's fueled by purpose and vision, then I'm all about finding out how to be the purple cow.
Peter: Totally. I think that's a really important point, because the Google, Tesla, and Slacks of the world, like, I specifically, I knew I was going to apply for roles at those companies because I believe what they believed, you know, in challenging the status quo and building products that are making an impact, so there was that intention behind the resume and the website. So thank you for calling that out.
Jen: Something that is a sure giveaway that someone needs to revise the materials they're using to represent themselves is if you ask to take a look at it, and they go, "Oh, don't look at my website," or, "I'm working on the resume, I'm working on it." So I do what I call, "The Broadway Jesus Test," which is, you think about the person, you know, for the people I work with, most of the time it's Broadway, but you can think about it in whichever industry you work in, and like, who is the, who is the God or Goddess of that industry that you admire so much that you would, like, bow down to and build a shrine to? So for me, it's Audra Mcdonald. She is my Broadway Jesus. And so the question I have to ask myself is, "If Audra Mcdonald saw this, would it make me feel proud?"
Peter: I love that.
Jen: And if the answer is "No, she's the last person who I would want to see this work," then it's not the best representation of me at my best.
Peter: And so to, to go full circle, I guess, this idea of making a resume that you're proud of is really standing out to me as a, as a theme, and having intention behind that resume, whether it's a website or a physical piece of paper, is talk about things that you're interested in, talk about things that you're proud of, and present yourself in a way that makes you puff your chest out rather than, like you said, have that reaction of, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. I don't want you to see that."
Jen: Exactly. So that's our challenge to the listeners this week. Take a look at how you are representing yourself to the rest of the world, because it matters. Intention is everything. And that is The Long and The Short Of It.